Summary: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” and that is what the four chaplains gave us, that is what they volunteered to do.
(Note: Red X and numbers in parenthesis croos reference PowerPoint slides used in the sermon.)
(X) The Four Chaplains
(1) “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” These self-sacrificing words during our war for independence set the standard for American heroism, as Nathan Hale swung from the British gallows after his capture as an American spy behind enemy lines. That standard of heroism was also evidenced 61 years ago in the courageous story, which you are about to hear, of the four chaplains during WW II.
Friday, January 22, 1943: (2) The ship tied up at the Army embarkation pier in New York Harbor was rusting through her battered gray paint. Soon she would be sailing out into the North Atlantic, the bitter battleground of the second winter of World War II.
Once the S.S. Dorchester had been a luxury cruise liner, accommodating 314 cabin passengers in style and opulence. Now, guttered and refitted, she became a troop ship. This trim little coastal steamer seemed too small and too slow for hazardous duty, but with Nazi submarines sinking Allied ships faster than they could be replaced, every available craft had to be pressed into service.
This night 534 soldiers (more than half of the 904 soldiers who would be sailing on the Dorchester) trudged aboard to be berthed in below deck bunks stacked four-high. Four Army chaplains, Lieutenants Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington were aboard the Dorchester. For Lt. George Fox, it was the second time around.
(3) George Lansing Fox was not old enough when President Wilson called the nation to arms back in the spring of 1917, but Fox tells officials he is 18. He is assigned to an ambulance company and served in every major American campaign. Two days before Armistice, Fox is caught in an artillery barrage. His back is riddled with shrapnel and he is decorated with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and the French Cross.
He returns to civilian life and gets a job as an accountant in his native state of Vermont, but feels a call to preach and enrolls in a Bible Institute in Chicago. He meets his future wife; they marry and have two children. At age 34 he is ordained by the Methodist Church and rides the circuit of half a dozen villages that are too small to afford their own pastor. He is content until the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Now past 40, he volunteers for the Corps of Chaplains.
Saturday, January 23, 1943: (4) The Dorchester joins a convoy of freighters, troopships, tankers and naval escorts steaming east through the swelling gray-green seas. After seasickness, the most compelling preoccupation was guessing where the ship was bound. “Hey come on Rabbi,” someone called to Lt. Goode, “Tell us where we are going.” Pledged to secrecy, Goode replied, “What! And spoil the surprise?”
(5) Three years to the day after the Armistice that ended WW I, on November 11, 1921, a hush fell over Arlington National Cemetery. Ten-year-old Alexander David Goode stands at the edge of a crowd and watches a soldier laid to rest. No one knows his name, he is America’s unknown soldier whose name is known but to God. Tears fill young Goode’s eyes as his heart swells with love for his country.
In high school, Goode joins the National Guard. His father is a rabbi, as was his father, and his father. And so, Alex Goode becomes a rabbi too. He marries his childhood sweetheart. When WW II breaks out he is leading the temple in York, PA. Goode joins the Corps of Chaplains and puts in for overseas duty.
Saturday, January 30, 1943: (6) At a fueling stop in Newfoundland, the soldiers no longer doubted their destination. As the Dorchester left Newfoundland three Coast Guard cutters escorted it. Two patrolled its flanks, while the third, the Tampa, was 3,000 yards out front. (7) They were entering the dangerous waters where dozens of ships had been blasted to the bottom by German U-boats.
It turned bitterly cold. The sea rose (8) and smashed against the ships. Ice began building up on the decks slowing the Dorchester to ten knots as the bulkheads groaned and the steering chain clanked with every correction, as the ships continued north through gale-force winds.
(9) Clark Poling’s family had a long tradition in the ministry, dating back seven generations. As a young man, Clark tells his father Daniel Poling (a noted clergyman of his day) that he is going to break family tradition and become a lawyer.
At Hope College in Holland, Michigan, Clark gets into mischief, and his grades suffer. During his sophomore year he tells his father, “Dad, I am going to preach. I can’t deny the calling.” Clark enters Yale Divinity School, is ordained in 1938, and is called to the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, NY. When WW II comes, Clark is married, has a two year old son and his wife is expecting. “Don’t pray for my safe return,” he tells his father, “Pray that I do my duty.”