Putting their faith into action

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Curt Cizek
  • 509th Bomb Wing Chaplain
Sacrifice is a part of life, especially life in the military. Life in the military is difficult. We work long hours and deploy often, spending time far away from our family, friends and the comforts of home. We are also held to a higher standard than our civilian counterparts are.

We have to maintain high standards of conduct and physical fitness. When we signed up, essentially we were all saying that we would be willing to lay down our lives for our fellow citizens.

There is an interesting story that comes out of World War II. It is the story of personal sacrifice. The anniversary of which is right around the corner. On the morning of Feb. 3, 1943, the U.S. Troop Ship, the Dorchester, packed with more than 900 servicemen, including four chaplains, was sailing in the icy waters off the coast of Greenland.

The area was known as "Torpedo Junction" because of the German U-2 boats that prowled offshore.

Because of the threat of German submarines, the captain of the ship ordered all the Soldiers to sleep in their uniforms and life preservers. Since it was inordinately hot down in the hold of the ship, many Soldiers took off their gear. At around 1 a.m., a German sub fired three torpedoes, one of which hit the Dorchester, knocking out power to most of the decks.

The Soldiers struggled to make it to the deck, leaving their gear behind.

Four chaplains, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Father John Washington, Chaplain Clark Polling and Chaplain George Fox, were some of the first people on the deck. They helped to calm the Soldiers who reached the deck and began handing out life preservers and directing them to the life rafts.

When all the preservers had been doled out, the four chaplains removed their own life jackets and placed them on Soldiers who had none.

Amidst the terror of that night, the light of these chaplains shone brightly. As Soldiers were paddling away from the ship, the four chaplains stood arm-in-arm on the deck of the ship, singing songs to encourage the frightened Soldiers.

One Soldier was heard later saying, "It was the finest thing I have ever seen, or hope to see, this side of heaven."

Of the 920 servicemen aboard the Dorchester, 690 died. However, 230 were saved by the heroism of the "Four Immortal Chaplains". Because of their bravery, Congress authorized the Chaplain's Medal for Heroism July 14, 1960.

The medals were presented posthumously to the families of the four chaplains Jan. 18, 1961, by then Secretary of the Army Wilbur Brucker.

At the times when we struggle with the duties of our day, may we be encouraged by the sacrifice of these brave men of faith who showed their devotion to God and country by the way they lived and died.