Four chaplains died as heroes
The U.S.S. Dorchester, captained by Hans J. Danielsen, was carrying 902 servicemen and a full crew on Feb. 3, 1943 — destination Greenland.
It was cold with heavy seas in the North Atlantic. The ship was overloaded as were many other transports that ferried troops to Europe. The conditions on board were unbearable.
At 12:15 a.m., Feb. 3, 1943, the U.S.S. Dorchester was hit by a German submarine. The engine room exploded, and the ship became inoperative.
The men were ordered to abandon ship, and those wearing life jackets jumped.
In the confusion that followed, the chaplains took charge, passing out life jackets, comforting the men and trying to keep order aboard the ship.
It only took 27 minutes for the ship to sink.
Four chaplains assisted the soldiers. They also checked the ship, making sure all men were out of their cabins.
When the chaplains ran out of life jackets, they immediately removed their jackets and passed them on to the soldiers.
Men in the water being rescued by destroyers noticed the chaplains embracing each other, praying and going down with the ship.
To this day, on Feb. 3, throughout the United States, many cities honor the heroic as Chaplain Day.
The four chaplains were as follows:
The Rev. George Fox, formerly of Altoona who had moved to Johnstown. He was a Methodist minister, and a veteran of World War I and enlisted for service in WWII.
The Rev. Clark Poling, an evangelist from Columbus, Ohio, enlisted with his son to serve in WWII.
The Rev. Fr. John P. Walsh, a Catholic priest from Newark, N.J., enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor.
Rabbi Alexander O. Goode from Brooklyn and Washington, D.C., enlisted October, 1942.
Many men and women have performed acts of valor, but to give up your life for another is above and beyond call of duty.
The four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Distinguished Service Crosses. And in 1961, a special medal specifically for their heroism was struck in their honor.
The veterans of WWII are aging, and many have gone to the great beyond.
We should not forget the heroism of the men and women who served.
Today, I ask that all denominations of faith in Blair County observe the 75th anniversary of the four chaplains who died heroically aboard the Dorchester.
We must honor them for their ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Frank J. Benfatta
World War II veteran