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Four Chaplains Day to be observed on Feb. 3

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  On February 3, American Legion Posts and other Veteran organizations around the country will observe Four Chaplains Day. This day commemorates the events of February 3, 1943, when the troop ship USAT Dorchester was sunk. The Dorchester left New York harbor on January 23, 1943, carrying four chaplains and about 900 passengers, including troops, merchant marines and civilians, as part of a convoy of three ships.

  Off the coast of Newfoundland at 12:55 a.m. on February 3, the Dorchester was torpedoed by a German submarine. As the Dorchester began to sink, four chaplains of different religions – George L. Fox (Methodist), Alexander D. Goode (rabbi), Clark V. Poling (Baptist) and John P. Washington (Catholic) – were helping to calm the passengers and organize an orderly evacuation. The life vests were passed out, but the supply ran out before the last remaining passengers had one. The four chaplains took their own vests and gave them away. The Chaplains continued their efforts to help as many as possible to board the rescue boats. Having done all that they could, the Chaplains linked their arms together, said prayers and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.

  There is a connected story to this disaster. A young Black Coast Guard Petty Officer, Charles W. David Jr., was serving on one of the escort cutters named the Comanche. David and his shipmates were able to rescue 93 of the 227 Dorchester survivors. David dived into the water constantly to pull people to the rescue vessels. A month later he contracted pneumonia from his efforts and died. Subsequently, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism posthumously. In 2013 the Coast Guard named a coast guard cutter for David to honor his heroism.

  The Four Chaplains were posthumously awarded Purple Hearts and Distinguished Service Crosses on December 19, 1944. In 2006 they were awarded Medals of Honor. A Four Chaplains Medal was introduced by Congress on July 14, 1960. The medals were presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the Four Chaplains of Dorchester on January 18, 1961. In 1988, Congress established February 3 as Four Chaplains Day. This day is observed with official proclamations and flags flying at half-mast.

  The four chaplains, Charles David and others sacrificed their lives so others may live. May their memories be eternal.

  Malden Post 69 will join other Posts to honor these men on Sunday, February 6 at Saint Raphael Church in Medford at 2 p.m. The public is invited.

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