Last month I provided information on the shortage of Catholic Chaplains available to minister to our US Service members, and the great work being done by the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) to help address this critical need. Thanks to the Councils and Knights who provided thoughts & feedback and contributions to our Indiana Military Chaplains Scholarship Fund to continue our K of C support.
Since 1968, every February 3rd is designated as “FOUR CHAPLAINS DAY” by an act of the US Congress. This commemorates the heroic and faithful actions by 4 US Army Chaplains (Catholic, Jewish and 2 Protestant) during World War II.
On 3 February 1943, a military sea convoy was moving US Servicemen across the Atlantic to Greenland- when German U-Boats attacked. The Troop Ship SS Dorchester had a full load of 902 Soldiers and civilians on board when torpedoes struck - instantly killing scores and seriously injuring many others. As the ship began to sink, men scrambled for life vests and lifeboats. On board were 4 Army Chaplains who worked with the ship’s crew to keep passengers calm, help issue life vests, and load rafts/ lifeboats. When life vests ran out - the 4 Army Chaplains removed their own life vests and gave them to frightened men on deck - helping to bring hope and courage to those trying to survive. According to survivors from rafts near the ship - the 4 Chaplains were seen on the ship’s deck as it went under, locked arm in arm, singing hymns and praises to our Lord (only 260 people survived the U-Boat attack and frigid North Atlantic waters). Many of the USS Dorchester survivors were very vocal and felt the 4 Chaplains helped immensely to maintain order as the ship was sinking- bringing hope to those in fear for their lives.
Fr. John P. Washington, the Catholic Priest on board, was born in Newark, New Jersey, attended Catholic elementary & high schools, and was ordained in 1935. He served at three NJ parishes before becoming a military Chaplain shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. After training at Ft Benjamin Harrison, Indiana and Ft Meade, Maryland, he was transferred to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts, where he met his fellow three Chaplains (Fox, Goode, and Poling) who would soon experience their "date with destiny".
In the aftermath of the Dorchester sinking disaster, the story of the Four Chaplains caught great public attention. In December 1944, the 4 Chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross. In 1948, the U.S. Post Service issued a commemorative stamp in their honor, and 12 years later Congress designated the 3rd of February as “Four Chaplains Day.” Today, there are memorials, Chapels, bridges, plaques, and stained-glass windows across the US to further the memory of the Four Chaplains, including the Chapel of the Four Chaplains in Philadelphia and the Immortal Chaplains Foundation in Minnesota. Knights of Columbus Council 13901 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri is designated as the “Four Chaplains Council”.
These 4 Chaplains exemplify the values and moral foundations of military chaplains serving in our Armed Forces. Please pray for our current Chaplains - and those Seminarians studying to one day join their ranks. Also, please consider having your Assembly, Council or individual Knights provide support to the Military Chaplains Scholarship Fund - (Donation form is available on the State Website).
State Veterans Affairs Chairman