What a wonderful month of February I've enjoyed. First, thank you to the Commanders of Posts 36, 2, 24, 8, and 33 my home post, and your associated District Commanders. Thank you all for inviting me to share the Four Chaplains Memorial with your posts. It has been a distinct pleasure to share the testimony of four amazing young men and their dedication to God the Father, to our country and to the men they served on the USAT Dorchester.
In the North Atlantic, navigating torpedo alley was rough water to cut in 1943. On February 3rd, the average water temperature was 40 degrees. In that water exhaustion and immobility or unconsciousness happens within 15-60 minutes, ultimate survival time is 30-90 minutes. The seas in the North Atlantic above the Arctic Circle, Blue Nose country, can get very rough. I've been in 50+ foot swells on an aircraft carrier inside the Arctic Circle. It is an amazing experience. One shipmate shared with me that he was up there in a sub. They had to surface for a personnel transfer to a helicopter. In 30 minutes a Noreaster came up. They took two successive waves and were driven into a 60+ foot trough where the water enclosed the sub with five men on the conning tower. A two foot diameter solid column of water flowed into the sub for 15 seconds. Though it was not that rough on the night of February 3rd, 1943, this is a taste of what this crew and their troop passengers faced.
For those who may not know, the memorial honors the service of Army Chaplains Lt. Alexander Good (Jewish), Lt. George Fox (Methodist), Lt. John Washington (Catholic) and Lt. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed). These men, during the short voyage and through the horrific incident, mingled with the 902 servicemen and crew encouraging them, praying with them. They not only moved among the men when underway, above the din of raging fires, rising seas, orders being bellowed and roaring steam ducts erupting these four chaplains continued their duties relentlessly. The Dorchester was hit by a single torpedo of the three fired. It was a perfect hit knocking out all power and the engines. The ship disappeared beneath the surface in 20 minutes. Of the 902 soldiers and sailors, we lost 672 leaving 230 to survive the event.
The soldiers and sailors were ordered to keep their life jackets on at all times, still some did not have this equipment. When the spares ran out, the chaplains handed their own to the men. They had to encourage many men to let go of the handrail, get into the water and get away from the ship.
Never wavering in their faith, not once despairing or discouraged, never anguished, our chaplains continued to inspire, motivate persuade and nurture the men. Ultimately, our four chaplains were last seen on the bow of the ship, hand-in-hand in prayer as the ship disappeared below the surface. Interestingly, the only surviving life jacked from the event is at the Army Chaplains Museum in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. It stands as a testimony in that these men gave up what represented life to provide a chance for others to live.
In this we find our Lord who said in John 15:13 – “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” As Jesus willingly left Heaven, laid down His life there to come to earth, live as a man and die on the cross for our salvation. These chaplains forfeited their life jackets, gloves and other equipment providing for the survival of others. It is an amazing parallel to the gospel of Jesus' salvation.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've had the distinct pleasure and honor to serve along side men and women of this calibre throughout my 20 years of military service. I know all of you have as well. Some of you have been blessed by another's selflessness. We have all had moments filled with challenge.
I pray, as comrades in the Legion, we see our preamble as a leading oath that bolsters our oaths of enlistment or commission. In the Navy we called that our PIM – projected intended movement. When you recite that oath before your next meeting, think about these chaplains and others who gave themselves for their comrades. Remember them and others you know like them. Make their service, leadership and example your PIM. May our Lord bless you.
Veterans, thank you. When I say that to a vet at times it feels self serving. I'm a vet. However, to me, from me, it's not about me. Let me explain. For some, this article may bring about challenging memories. Please forgive me. Regardless, I think too often we frost the cake with sweetness, or avoid it altogether. Veterans have memories, and they see their engagements very vividly. They see their challenges very clearly and at times they find them at night while sleeping. Others can only help if they understand. Sometimes vets can only accept help if those offering it have also endured struggles. This article is about providing some understanding, but it is deep, heartfelt appreciation. Everyone in the military has faced a level of challenge, some far greater than others.
For the most part, I enjoyed a 20 year peacetime career. Many did not. I want to thank the veteran that had to endure combat. Thank you. May I suggest you thank the veteran that walked into a jungle village, looked into the eyes of the inhabitants and was forced to decide if they saw fear or loathing. Thank a veteran that had to decide whether to hand out candy to that child running to them or is the child a threat to themselves or their unit. Thank the veteran sniper assigned to protect troops that has to put crosshairs on a child. Thank a veteran that parachuted into enemy territory with nothing but their team and what's on their back. Thank the veteran, injured during the jump and unable to continue the mission leaving their team a man down. Thank a veteran forced to remain awake and vigilant for days at a time in the jungle with just their team, or maybe even alone. Thank a veteran willing to take long patrols in outlying villages, sleeping in their bivouac sacks and enduring the desert. Thank a veteran that walked into a town having to have their head on a swivel looking critically at every window, every rooftop, every doorway, every person with loose clothing and every child. Thank a veteran that was on patrol wondering what traps, minefields and other dangers awaited them. Thank the veteran that hunkered behind a mudbank to avoid withering enemy rifle and machine gun fire. Thank the veteran that heard the tell tale whistle of bullets passing by. Thank the veteran that suffered injury, left their all on the battle field, saved lives of brothers and sisters in arms. Thank the veteran that was maimed, returned to a home they no longer recognize and may not have been welcomed. Thank the veteran that faced RPG's, roadside bombs and ambushes. Thank a veteran that lost friends and family. Thank the veteran that had to make a choice to take lives, even if it was to save lives.
I want to thank all my fellow veterans for being willing to engage the enemy. Like Jesus gave himself for mankind's freedom from sin, you went out willing to give your all for America's freedom and liberty. Thank you for giving yourselves wholly to protect their brother or sister in the foxhole, and ultimately to protect our freedom in this country. There are people who understand you, whether they have been there with you or not. There are people who appreciate you. We welcome you. We are greatly in your debt for your bravery and personal sacrifice. We are honored by your service and selflessness. Stand up, stand proud, your brothers and sisters in arms stand with you.