A service to honor four Army chaplains who gave their lives to save fellow soldiers 70 years ago, will be held at the Le Roy United Methodist Church at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, and the public is invited.
The service will feature music, an Honor Guard, the National Anthem, hymns, the story of the Four Chaplains read by Jim Neider, Adjutant of the Genesee County American Legion and Scripture readings by various clergy. At the conclusion of the indoor ceremony there will be wreath laying and taps at the Four Chaplains Monument in Trigon Park, only one of three in New York State.
A reception will follow at the Le Roy Servicemen’s Club, 53 W. Main St.
On Feb. 3, 1943 the U.S.A.T Dorchester was sunk by a German torpedo only 150 miles off the coast of Greenland. Of the 902 young men on board, only 230 survived. Many of those survivors owe their lives to the courage and leadership exhibited by the heroic Four Chaplains who, in sacrificing their lives, created a unique legacy of brotherhood.
Since 1951, the Chapel of the Four Chaplains has spread the message of interfaith cooperation and selfless service, touching the lives of people across this great country. Thousands of Four Chaplains Memorial services are held across the nation on or near Feb. 3rd each year to pay tribute to their act of courage.
The Four Chaplains -- rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Methodist minister George L. Fox, Dutch Reformed pastor Clark V. Poling and Catholic priest John P. Washington -- met in November 1942, while attending chaplain’s school at Harvard University. They became good friends and were aboard the Dorchester when it was torpedoed.
It was just after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943. An enemy submarine fired a torpedo toward the U.S.A.T. DORCHESTER’s aging flank. The missile exploded in the boiler room, destroying the electric supply and releasing suffocating clouds of steam and ammonia gas. Many on board died instantly; some were trapped below deck. Others jolted from their bunks, groped and stumbled their way to the decks of the stricken vessel. Taking on water rapidly, the ship began listing to starboard.
Overcrowded lifeboats capsized; rafts drifted away before anyone could reach them. Men clung to the rails, frozen with fear, unable to let go and plunge into the dark, churning water far below.
The testimony of survivors tells us that the sole order and the only fragment of hope in this chaos came from the Four Chaplains, who calmly guided men to their boat stations. They opened a storage locker and distributed life jackets. Then they coaxed the terrified men over the side.
Soon the supply of life jackets was exhausted. Several survivors report watching in awe as the Four Chaplains either gave away or forced upon other young men their own life jackets. These four men of God had given away their only means of saving themselves in order to save others. The chaplains gathered together, and led the men around them in a prayer and a hymn. They linked their arms together as the slant of the deck became severe. And just that way, with their arms linked in brotherhood and their heads bowed in prayer, they sank beneath the waves.
“It is the timeless message of selflessness and sacrifice for one’s fellow man that needs to be repeated and remembered even today,” Neider stated.