February 3: The Dorchester Chaplains: Lieutenant George Fox, Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode, Lieutenant Clark V. Poling, Lieutenant John P. Washington, 1943

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About this commemoration

On January 23, 1943, the Dorchester, a converted cruise ship, set sail with a troop convoy from New York City for Greenland with 902 persons on board. Among them were four U.S. Army chaplains, Lt. George L. Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Lt. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed), and Lt. John P. Washington (Catholic).

George Fox had served as a medical corps assistant in World War I, where he was decorated for heroism. Alexander Goode joined the National Guard while he was studying for the rabbinate. Clark Poling’s father told him that chaplains had a high mortality rate. He prayed for strength, courage and understanding, then joined the Army Chaplains Corps. John Washington was a gang leader in Newark, New Jersey, when he was called to the priesthood.

On February 3, one day from their destination, a German U-Boat fired torpedoes, striking the boiler room of the Dorchester. Even though everyone was sleeping with their life jackets, many of the soldiers left them behind as they clambered topside to seek escape and safety. Unfortunately, only two of the fourteen lifeboats were successfully lowered into the water, making it necessary for most men to dive into the nineteen degree water.

The four chaplains moved among the men, assisting, calming, and passing out life jackets from the ship’s store to those forced to jump into the freezing ocean. Having given up their own life vests to save the lives of the soldiers, the chaplains remained on the aft deck, arms linked in prayer until the ship sank, claiming their lives. Two hundred thirty men were rescued from the icy waters by other ships in the convoy. Many survived because of the selflessness and heroism of the four chaplains.

Chaplains Fox, Goode, Poling, and Washington responded to a high calling from God to represent his love among men of war. On the day they died, they personified the words of Jesus found in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Dorchester Chaplains

I    Holy God, who didst inspire the Dorchester chaplains to be models of steadfast sacrificial love in a tragic and terrifying time: Help us to follow their example, that their courageous ministry may inspire chaplains and all who serve, to recognize thy presence in the midst of peril; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II    Holy God, you inspired the Dorchester chaplains to be models of steadfast sacrificial love in a tragic and terrifying time: Help us to follow their example, that their courageous ministry may inspire chaplains and all who serve, to recognize your presence in the midst of peril; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Joel 2:28–32

Romans 8:15b–19,38–39

John 15:9–14

Psalm 46

Preface of All Saints

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

Additional link: American Public Media’s Being podcast with Krista Tippett – Memorial Day special on the Four Chaplains


Four Chaplains Commemorative U.S. Postage Stamp

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17 thoughts on “February 3: The Dorchester Chaplains: Lieutenant George Fox, Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode, Lieutenant Clark V. Poling, Lieutenant John P. Washington, 1943

  1. The Dorchester Chaplains: Lieutenant George Fox, Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode, Lieutenant Clark V. Poling, Lieutenant John P. Washington
    This is a commemoration of an event rather than the more usual commemoration of a life. It is very moving, and honors in its way all who put their lives on the line, whether in military service in general, military chaplaincies in particular, or (to my mind) all who have risky and dangerous roles in public safety callings. It is also ecumenical across lines of religion as well as communions and denominations. I’m not aware of an Episcopalian military chaplain elsewhere in HWHM, but it points to a legitimate opportunity to include such in a future edition. I find the write-up very moving and worthy.
    Depending on how one regards it, we either have here a variation of our normal style in the title (name, date, role), taking “Dorchester Chaplains” as their role, or total omission of their date and role (if “Dorchester Chaplains” is not so regarded). “Heroic military service” might be the role. The date’s omission seems incomprehensible.
    READINGS: These are good readings. The Joel reading presents a difficulty regarding context. As we hear it, what are we to make of its opening promises of prophecy, dreams and visions, in verse 28? Slavery, in verse 29 (as with all verses that accept slavery as a normal institution in society) conveys an inadvertent but undesirable impression. I’d begin at verse 30 even though it only leaves a three verse passage.
    Psalm 46 is excellent. The combination of cosmic upheaval, dangers, and yet eschatological confidence, makes this a great choice for this commemoration.
    The selection from Romans skips verses 20-34, after starting with 15b-19 and jumping to 38-39. This is a very rich eschatological section, putting earthly life, death, and ultimate hope (beyond death) in the context of Christian faith. I understand the need to omit verses for reason of excessive length, but including 35-37 (quoted below) would strengthen the reading, as well as relate to the commemoration:
    35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
    36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
    37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
    The gospel selection seems perfect as is. It appropriately repeats the commemoration’s theme of, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
    COLLECT: This collect has a great deal to commend it. God’s holiness seems an excellent attribute in the invocation. It has a petition and an explicit “so that” clause, formal elements necessary in a good collect. I question the logic, though. (“Help us to follow their example, that their courageous ministry may inspire chaplains and all who serve, to recognize your presence in the midst of peril.”) How is “OUR” following the Dorchester chaplains’ example (per the petition) instrumental to the “so that” clause, viz., “that their courageous ministry may inspire chaplains and all who serve, to recognize your presence in the midst of peril”? Surely, there must be a better way for the church and all Christians praying it, to appropriate this holy manifestation of self-giving faith!
    Besides the logical incoherence, the present wording limits the congregation’s prayer merely to instances of peril, — and only for “chaplains and all who serve.” There HAS to be a broader application!
    Not to pile up objections, but whereas the readings are commendable for keeping the “big picture” of Christian eschatological hope in view, the collect mentions NOTHING beyond the merely ethical plane – as commendable as that is. They died! We HAVE to have more to say about it than, “jolly good way to go!” This collect situation cries out to have an affirmation of God’s promised gift of new life included. It would deepen the prayer considerably.

    I wonder, too, if the situation is best described with the word “terrifying” (which describes one possible subjective reaction among others) when the situation itself might be better described by “violent,” “dangerous,” or other words. (Are we claiming and emphasizing the chaplains were terrified as they did what they did, or are we saying something about the kind of situation they were in?)

    Nevertheless, the commemoration is one I am thankful to observe.

    • In my comments on the TITLE, I mis-stated and oversimplified the “usual” format for a commemoration title. By “date” I had in mind date of death (not the commemoration date). But on checking I see it is a four part format: Date of commemoration, Name, Role, Date of Death — My point was that the Dorchester Chaplains’ commemoration title doesn’t follow that format in the two regards mentioned above (date of death and role).

      • Thanks, Callie. I need to learn to check the blog against the print edition before I run off at the end of my big fat fingers in the future. I didn’t realize the print edition already had the date! Good of you to update it, and good of you to post these for us! Your work is much appreciated. –John
        (In the print edition the size of the print of the date is so small by comparison to the foregoing print, it’s easy to miss seeing it!) (Assuming I look.)

  2. Title. The Righteous Gentiles (July 16) are not noted by name in their commemoration title. Why are these men? Or vice versa, why are not the Righteous Gentiles noted by name?

    Psalm: The ‘waters rage and foam’ seems a little over the top, so to speak. 🙂

    Bio. 1st paragraph: The ship should be identified as the USAT Dorchester.
    Identifying the Chaplains by denomination and faith might be better noted than in parentheses as: a Methodist Minister, a Rabbi, a Reformed Church of America Minister and a Roman Catholic Priest

    Again, these gentlemen are worthy men. But they are not Episcopalians and they perpetuate the myth that holy women and holy men are ordained people. I am not really against including them – they are revered in the Chaplain corps – but what are the limits of inclusion in the lesser feasts of The Episcopal Church?

  3. Number 5 in the Principles of Revision in _Holy Women, Holy Men_ (p. 743) reads: “Particular attention should be paid to Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion. Attention should also be paid to gender and race, to the inclusion of lay people (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church), and to ecumenical representation. In this way the Calendar will reflect the reality of our time: that constant communication and extensive travel are leading to an ever deeper international and ecumenical consciousness among Christian people.” These three men, although ministers (you could say that’s exclusionary) aren’t Episcopalians (therefore ecumenical). I suppose you could be like the character in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta who sings “if everybody is somebody then nobody is anybody,” and say Principle #5 lets in too many people (which then leads to questioning why still more people aren’t let in). But I’ve enjoyed reading about the people SCLM has “let in” so far and been inspired by their example.

  4. As one who remembers the sinking of the Dorchester, and the impact it had at the time., I welcome this addition to the calendar.
    The propers seem appropriate

  5. In her comment above, Ms. Scott cites principle 5, which seeks to expand commemorations to the wider Christian fellowship. Can our communion of saints expand to include those who are not Christian? I am challenged by the inclusion of a Jewish chaplain in this commemoration. Certainly these chaplains exhibited bravery, valor, and faith through their sacrifice, but don’t we celebrate the lives of saints by, with, and through Christ? This seems to represent a very different understanding of the Saints than I’m familiar with.

  6. This commemoration was requested by the Presiding Bishop’s Suffragan for Chaplaincies/Arrmed Services, and passed by General Convention as such. Greg Howe

  7. Interesting discussion. I doubt it will sway anyone’s opinion, but …

    1) I agree we need boundaries about the whole book. From God’s perspective, it would be great if EVERYONE warranted a page in HWHM, and we could have 300 commemorations for each day including leap year – BUT, right now we only have guidelines for including, not excluding, people. We need boundaries and we probably won’t get them. Will the GC or the SCLM ever say, “we’ll include those with whom we’re in full communion, and exclude your grandmother’s church”? I doubt it.
    2) Twice, I’ve quoted from the Church’s Teaching Series to distinguish our tradition as Anglican/Episcopal commemorations (which is basically edifying and prayerful remembrance) from “Canonization” (which is a variation on keyhole epistemology definitively declaring who passed our rigorous quality control tests and is now definitively declared and acknowledged as being in heaven — and working documented miracles). Chris Arnold’s question (“Can our communion of saints expand to include those who are not Christian?”) assumes we’re doing something like canonizing, not just commemorating. He’s far from the only one whose comments suggest the HWHM decisions indicate “who’s on first.” The Communion of Saints is not created, expanded, diminished, or changed by anyone’s being in HWHM/LFF. We are remembering, reflecting, praying (as Christians), and, hopefully, being formed by the example of those before us, and by God’s grace. We’ll end up with “Marcion, Volume 2” if we’re not allowed to praise God for the good ethical example of faithful Jews in the righteous service of caring for God’s children.
    3) (A little impertinent, but not irrelevant, I feel – when did John the Baptist become a Christian? Ironically, he was never baptized — with Christian baptism.
    How did Isaiah and Jeremiah sneak into OUR sacred scriptures?
    Why do the creeds say Christ descended to the dead – he just had the day off and wanted to visit some old friends? Presumably, God’s ways just might not be our ways, and we might be better off focusing more on living OUR Baptismal Covenant and less focused on blowing our Referee whistle when others don’t.
    4) These four chaplains are “a matched set,” an “ensemble,” “a given,” so to speak, as is indicated by the postage stamp illustrated in the blog, and the brute fact of their being historically the four chaplains who went down when the Dorchester sank. They’re certainly not the only PERSONS who sacrificed themselves on that ship, or on that day, or in that war. I expect it’s a virtual certainty that Episcopalilans were part of that tragedy. We don’t have the luxury of accepting the ministration of only chaplains of “our” stripe in military service. We’re being selective in choosing this one instance of heroic military chaplaincy, and others could be as representative of chaplaincy, or heroic service, or altruism in general, but they come as “a given.” I can’t see debating the inclusion of one because he’s a Jewish Chaplain, or the others because they’re not Episcopalian Chaplains. Who was it that said, “if they’re not against us they’re with us”?
    5) The fact that it’s a commemoration of an EVENT – rather than one or more persons – makes this one different. Honoring the service of military chaplains, not least those injured or killed in wartime hostilities, seems right and good. If these are the ones selected for our remembrance, so be it. I’m happy to accept it.
    And when I pray in response to remembering, I pray as a Christian – regardless of any particulars about the lives of those symbolic of this event. (And no one is admitted to, or kicked out of heaven as a result. But I, and God’s world, and even God’s church, may benefit because of the commemoration.)

  8. I’m generally against adding non-Anglicans to our calendar, but I’ll make an exception here. Quite apart from their courageous witness, they – like military chaplains in general – represent the sort of inter-faith cooperation to which we should all aspire.
    I recommend truncating the title of the feast (make it just “The Dorchester Chaplains”). The first reference in the text needs to identify them as First Lieutenants, their actual ranks, not as just “Lieutenants.” All four were in fact First Lieutenants, as their citations attest (see http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/four-chaplains.htm)
    “Lieutenant” is acceptable in informal speech, but in formal usage “Lieutenant” (unadorned) is a Navy rank. Navy Lieutenants rank with Army Captains, and the functional difference between First and Second Lieutenants is far larger than the difference in their pay grades might suggest. As a one-time Marine First Lieutenant (a rank it took me 13 years to attain), I assure you the differences matter.

  9. Although I have questioned some commemorations on the grounds of relevance to TEC experience, I do support this one. And I do for totally personal and irrational reasons: my dad served in the Navy in the Pacific in WWII, and I am reasonably sure he experienced the ministry of millitary chaplains, whether Episcopal or not. Their ministry is a difficult one, and I honor their service. I don’t think God filters the prayers of military chaplains by denomination; She is too busy listening and loving.

  10. The heading should simply read “The Dorchester Chaplains”. The names should then be listed in the text.

    A sub-title (such as “Self-sacrificing Clergy”–but is a rabbi considered clergy?) would help this entry conform to the style of HWHM. Maybe “Self-sacrificing Men of God” would be better?

    Line 6, first paragraph: add “Roman” to precede “Catholic”.

    Line 2, second paragraph: substitute “for which” for “where”.

    Line 6, second paragraph: add “former” after “a”.

    Line 7, second paragraph: substitute “prior to commencing his studies for” for “when he was called to”. As printed, it sounds as if we are suggesting that the “papists” recruit from gangs!

  11. I was the author of the original submission for the commemoration of the Dorchester Chaplains. I am also a retired Air Force Chaplain. During my research I contacted the Immortal Chaplains Foundation and was greatly assisted in my research by Mr. David Fox, the nephew of Chaplain George Fox of the Dorchester Chaplains. Please see: http://immortalchaplains.org/Prize/prize.htm for further information.

  12. I was the author of the the submission for inclusion of the Dorchester Chaplains. I am also a retired Air Force Chaplain. During my research I met Mr. David Fox, the nephew of Chaplain George Fox. He was exceptionally helpful and gracious. He invited me to give the prayers I had written at the 2006 Immortal Chaplains Foundation Annual Prize for Humanity as the guest of the Immortal Chaplains Foundation. I am deeply grateful for his assistance and the priviledge of meeting the surviving family members of the Dorchester Chaplains. Thank you for your support of the inclusion of the Dorchester Chaplains.

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