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Legion to host Four Chaplains service - The Star Democrat - Easton, Maryland: Life

Legion to host Four Chaplains service

Program honors sacrifice of World War II ministers

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Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 9:00 am

EASTON - Hours before the big game begins on Sunday, a ceremony of a very different kind will take place at American Legion Post 70.

A Four Chaplains service to honor men who gave up their life preservers during World War II to soldiers on board a sinking ship will take place at 1 p.m.

On Feb. 3, 1943, the USAT Dorchester, an Army transport ship, was sunk by a German submarine U-223, 15 minutes off the coast of Greenland. On board were four chaplains of varying denominations: Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.

As the ship was going down, the four chaplains spread out across the boat to comfort the dying and frightened men. In a final act of sacrifice, the chaplains removed their own life preservers and gave them to four men without their own and prayed together as the ship went into the water.

According to fourchaplains.org, the men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart posthumously in 1944. Because criteria for a Medal of Honor require sacrifice under direct fire, the Army was blocked from awarding that, but instead was able to create a one-time-only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism, which was award in 1961.

Each year, on the first Sunday in February, American Legion posts nationwide hold a ceremony to honor these men. Post 70 and 77 in Easton are working together to do this on the local level.

Jim Seeders of Post 70 said the service, which he expects to last for 45 minutes, will be a moving one.

"If you read the actual material on it, it was very, very moving. It brought tears to my eyes," Seeders said. "That's understating it. Four ministers of different faith working together for the betterment of the veterans on that ship, and they sacrificed their lives for them. It's quite a moving story."

During the memorial service, four local chaplains will be on hand to tell the story of the heroic men and deliver a nondenominational program to honor them. Speaking will be the Rev. Brad Anderson from Seafarer Anglican Church; the Rev. Robert Shafer of United Anglican Church; Terry Stackpole, a retired Roman Catholic from Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.; and a local rabbi.

The service, which involves ringing bells, lit candles and the power of a good story, is free and open to public. Seeders invites anyone interested in learning more about the selflessness of the chaplains to attend.

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