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Remembering the Four Chaplains

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Eighty-one years later, a memorial service honors the selfless acts of the brave men of faith who gave up their life jackets so others on board the torpedoed Dorchester could live; they joined in song and prayer as the ship sank


By Joanie Allbee


Saugonians Shirley Bogdan, Diane McConnell (Shirley and deceased Veteran U.S. Army SGT. Peter E. Bogdan’s daughter) of American Legion Auxiliary Post #210 and District 8 Commander & Speaker John Cannon went to Haverhill last Sunday (Feb. 4) to attend the Four Chaplains Memorial Service at the Temple Emanu-El. This year’s Memorial Service was sponsored by the American Legion Post #4 and hosted by Rabbi Ashira Stevens in the Temple Emanu-El in Haverhill. The American Legion Post #4 hosted a luncheon for all those in attendance.

Each year an American Legion Post puts together the Special Service that Commemorates the selfless heroism acts of the Four Chaplains. When there were no more supplies of life jackets for the desperate men of the sinking USAT Dorchester, the Chaplains each took their life jackets off and gave them to the next man in line. No race, creed or religion discussed – only the next man in line. The torpedoed Dorchester sank in minutes with the Chaplains aboard.

Sgt. Maj. David Tuttle, U.S. Marine Veteran and American Legion District 8 Chaplain, organized the annual Service. District 8 covers several communities in Essex County, including Saugus. District 8 Commander John Cannon gave the Welcome address. PCC Ted Butler of Post 277 read the saga of the four Chaplains; how they gave their lives for their fellow man, then perished into the sea; united while singing hymns as they perished.

  • Chaplain George L. Fox (Methodist Minister)
  • Chaplain Alexander D. Goode (Rabbi)
  • Chaplain John P. Washington J (Catholic Priest)
  • Chaplain Clark V. Poling (Minister of the Reformed Church)

In the early dawn hours, on Feb. 3, 1943, after these four Chaplains gave their life jackets to the next man in line, they prayed and assisted putting the men into rafts. Raft survivors later told of how they witnessed the four Chaplains with arms linked together praying, singing hymns and losing their lives as the ship sunk to the depths…immortal heroes.

This year, Chaplain Tuttle added another hero to the memorial service to remember; Coast Guard Sailor Charles Walter David Jr. Sailor David rescued two of his shipmates and those who were victims of the torpedoed Dorchester. Charles Walter David Jr. was a Coast Guard Steward’s Mate First Class, USCG Sailor and aboard the USS Comanche, a Coast Guard Cutter. Comanche was assigned to escort a convoy of three ships: Escanaba, Tampa and the Troop transport ship the USAT Dorchester. In the North Atlantic near Newfoundland, the Dorchester was torpedoed by a U-boat. As the Dorchester was sinking below the horizon line, hundreds jumped into near freezing waters because lifeboats were unable to be released fast enough to keep up with the rapid demise of the Dorchester. When his USS Comanche shipmates Lt. Anderson & David Swanson had grown too weak from helping the men to safety, Sailor David dove into icy winds, 10 foot waves and hypothermia-inducing waters and saved lives of his shipmates and assisted with Dorchester rescues.

Sailor David, on all accounts, was a pillar of strength and encouragement to his shipmates. He was known as an instinctive leader and was quickly promoted. He had enjoyed playing his harmonica with other shipmates’ instruments during their off duty times. Together these shipmates rescued 93 men from the Dorchester.

There were 902 men aboard the Dorchester; 672 died. Most of the men died within minutes of exposure to the frigid temps in the icy waters; there were 230 survivors.

Sailor David got hypothermia from jumping into the sea to rescue others. He later contracted pneumonia and passed away 54 days after the rescues from the torpedoed ship. In 2010, he received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal posthumously. David’s widow and son received the medal from Stanley V. Parker and Lt. Anderson; David’s shipmate he had rescued that fateful night.

A U.S. Coast Guard Sentinel-class cutter was named in sailor David’s name. The USCGC Charles David Jr. was officially commissioned on November 16, 2013.

All five gave their lives to help others in brave acts of courage, sacrifice and strength – watching out for their fellow man.

” It’s important to remember,” Chaplain Tuttle said last Sunday after the service. District 8 commander John Cannon commended Chaplain Tuttle for his devotion to the Memorial Service.

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