Four chaplains went down with the ship

By Betty Jass

On Feb. 3, it will be the 77-year anniversary of the sinking of the troop ship SS Dorchester.

According to Wikipedia, the “Four Chaplains,” also referred to as the “Immortal Chaplains” or the “Dorchester Chaplains,” were four World War II Chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilian and military personnel as the troop ship SS Dorchester sank on Feb. 3, 1943. The SS Dorchester was a civilian liner converted for military service in World War II as a War Shipping Administration troop transport. She was able to carry slightly more than 900 military passengers and crew.

Betty Jass

The ship left New York on Jan. 23, 1943, traveling to Greenland, carrying approximately 900 passengers, as part of a convoy of three ships escorted by Coast Guard cutters — Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche.

During the early morning hours of Feb. 3 the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. The chaplains helped the other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.

The impact of the chaplain’s story was deep, with many memorials and coverage in the media. Each of the four chaplains was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. The chaplains were nominated for the Medal of Honor but were found ineligible as they had not engaged in combat with the enemy. Instead, Congress created a medal for them, with the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.

Some people may wonder why we remember these four chaplains and their sacrifice. We honor their unselfish sacrifice because of their dedication and love for their fellow man. They didn’t ask those they helped for anything in return. Their actions continue to speak louder than words.

How about you or me? We can help each other as we go through life by being patient, being kind and being there for those in their time of need. This need could be helping someone by loading their groceries in the rain or holding their hand when they are scared, lonely or sad. We can help each other daily by caring for our fellow man.

Betty Jass is the chaplain for The American Legion Department of Minnesota.