Today in History, February 3: 1943 – The SS Dorchester, formerly a cruise ship, had been converted to a troop ship after the outbreak of WWII. In the frigid waters of the North Atlantic between midnight and 0100 hours she was sailing near Newfoundland, part of a convoy en route to Europe. Her crew and her passengers amounted to approximately 900 souls on board. Most were sleeping far below deck when their lives changed in a flash…literally, as a U-Boat’s torpedo tore into her hull.
As they abandoned ship, four Army Chaplains did all they could to assist. Reverends George L. Fox and Clark V. Poling, Father John P. Washington and Rabbi Alexander D. Goode passed out life jackets and helped the men into life boats. Then when the life jackets ran out, they each removed their own and gave them to others.
Hope is indemic in humans. Even after you’ve buried friends, you don’t really think it will happen to you. What must have been in the minds of the sailors and soldiers in the water that morning? Only 230 would survive with the opportunity to see their families again, to grow old and live a life. But those that died of injuries or hypothermia must have held out hope til the end.
But the four Chaplains knew their fate. After having done everything they could for others, they stood on the deck together and waited. Survivors in the water reported watching them singing hymns and praying together…not for themselves, but for the men in the water. They prayed together in Latin, Hebrew and English until the bow rose up and the ship disappeared beneath the waves.