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Chaplains Lay Down Their Lives for Others

During World War II, a US Army Transport Ship carrying 902 servicemen was struck by a German submarine. Panic and chaos quickly set in as men raced for lifeboats in the frigid waters off the coast of Greenland.

In the midst of pandemonium, four Army chaplains worked to calm the frightened men. One was a Jewish Rabbi, one was a Methodist, one was a Roman Catholic priest, and one was a Dutch Reformed minister.

On the deck of the ship, they worked to distribute life vests to soldiers escaping into the frigid waters. When they ran out, each minister simultaneously removed their jacket and gave them to the soldiers. They didn't call out for soldiers who were in their particular tradition. They simply gave their jackets to the next men in line. One survivor would later say, "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven."

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains--arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers and singing hymns. Of the 902 men aboard, only 230 survived. Congress later conferred a posthumous Medal for Heroism, The Four Chaplains' Medal, upon the four chaplains.

Before boarding the Dorchester, the Dutch Reformed minister, Chaplain Poling asked his father to pray for him, "Not for my safe return, that wouldn't be fair. Just pray that I shall do my duty … never be a coward … and have the strength, courage and understanding of men. Just pray that I shall be adequate."


John Brinsfield, “Chaplain Corps History: The Four Chaplains,” Army.mil (1-28-14)

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