ST. PETERSBURG - The Pinellas County Veterans Liaison Council's annual Four Chaplains Day memorial observance is planned for Sunday, Feb. 6, 2 p.m., at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center.
The ceremony will include participation by numerous veterans' organizations and feature Coast Guard Capt. Daniel A. Neptun, commander of Coast Guard Group St. Petersburg, as principal guest speaker. Capt. Neptun is a 30-year veteran who commands Coast Guard units along Florida's west coast.
The heroism and sacrifice of "The Four Chaplains" - the Rev. George L. Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Father John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), and Rev. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed) - are commemorated annually by VA and veterans groups as an example of personal selflessness and interfaith cooperation in the face of certain death.
The four Army Chaplains who were serving aboard the USAT when it was hit by an enemy torpedo and sank in the North Atlantic on Feb. 3, 1943, according to information found at www.fourchaplains.org.
"On Feb. 2, 1943, the U.S. Army Transport Dorchester, a 5,649-ton converted luxury liner, was crowded to capacity, carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilian workers toward an American base in Greenland. The Dorchester, one of three ships in the SG-19 convoy, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland. Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche escorted the convoy.
According to encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com, the four priests had heeded Capt. Hans Danielsen's orders to sleep with life vests on because the area where the transport was traveling was believed to be "infested with enemy submarines.
"When the torpedo hit, there was mass confusion on the ship, and many of the men could not find their life jackets in time. Rather than go into the lifeboats, which were overcrowded, the chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to other soldiers so that they could escape, even though this meant that they would go down with the ship.
"According to the testimony of some of the survivors, the last thing they saw of the ship was the four chaplains, standing on deck with their arms linked, praying as the ship went down."
According to www-tradoc.army.mil/pao/TNSarchives/February04/022304.htm, The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously Dec. 19, 1944, to the next of kin by Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, commanding general of the Army Service Forces, in a ceremony at the Fort Myer, Va., post chapel. A posthumous Special Medal for Heroism, never before given and never to be given again, was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President on Jan. 18, 1961.