Veterans celebrate Four Chaplains Sunday
By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Enfield - posted Fri., Feb. 17, 2012
As many veterans' organizations across the nation did on Sunday, Feb. 12, the veterans of American Legion Post 154 - along with those of other local veterans' organizations - gathered at St. Adalbert Church in Enfield to commemorate Four Chaplains Sunday.
The ceremony commemorates the courageous acts of four Army chaplains who died on Feb. 3, 1943, in the waters of the North Atlantic.
Those four chaplains, the Rev. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, the Rev. John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest, and the Rev. Clark V. Poling, of the Reformed Church in America, were “united by faith, rank, service, dedication and love of God,” said Deacon Vincent Motto in his homily. “They handed out life jackets, they handed out their gloves and their hats,” he continued. “They stood there on the deck and offered prayers over those who were imminently going to meet their maker.” Motto tied the bond of faith shared by the four chaplains to the message read in the service minutes earlier from the Gospel of St. Mark.
The U.S. Army Transport Dorchester, converted from use as a luxury liner, was en route across the icy waters of the North Atlantic, carrying more than 900 troops to an American base in Greenland. While passing through the waters off Newfoundland, the Dorchester was torpedoed by German submarine U-223, below the waterline on the starboard side near the engine room. The severe damage knocked out power, as well as communication with the ship's three Coast Guard escort vessels. In less than 30 minutes, the USAT Dorchester sank beneath the surface, taking with it 672 men.
Amidst the rush of soldiers to abandon the ship, four chaplains on their way to their assignments in the European theater helped to bring order and comfort to the wounded and those who had a chance to survive. All carrying the rank of lieutenant, the men of faith helped men move from the decks below toward lifeboats, all the while giving them words of comfort and courage. In the process, each gave his own lifejacket to another serviceman. Many of those who survived attested to seeing the four chaplains linked arm-in-arm and praying, as the Dorchester went under.
The four chaplains were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, as well as a Purple Heart posthumously on Dec. 19, 1944, and Congress authorized that a Special Medal for Heroism also be given the four courageous heroes of the Dorchester.
Joining the veterans of American Legion Post 154 were the Legionnaires of Post 80, members of the Polish American Veterans Association, the Disabled American Veterans, and Boy Scout Troop 108 from Hazardville. The Legion's State Commander Mary-Ann Bergeron-Roczynski led a delegation to the commemoration Mass.
"As veterans, our motto is 'God and country,'" said Post 154 Commander Lucien Lefevre after the ceremony. "No matter what religion people were, there was always faith in the military and the armed services." He said the "selfless acts" performed by the four chaplains of different religions on the Dorchester were a testament to the faith they shared.
Post 154 Commander Lefevre is a veteran of the Iraq war. Most of his fellow Legionnaires are World War II and Korean War veterans, with a few veterans of the Vietnam War.