On this date, seventy-three years ago, at the height of World War II, the SS Dorchester, a converted cargo vessel pressed into duty and refitted as a troop transport ship was torpedoed in the early morning hours as the convoy of which it was a part was sailing from Newfoundland, Canada to a port in Southern Greenland.
The ship with 904 troops and civilian crew aboard sank bow first in about twenty minutes. The severe list as the ship sank prevented the launch of some of her lifeboats and the subsequent overcrowding of the remaining lifeboats caused some of those that were launched to capsize, spilling their reluctant and unfortunate passengers into cold North Atlantic waters whose temperatures were barely above freezing.
Because of the circumstances of the ship’s sudden sinking, no distress signals could be sent delaying the start of any rescue attempts. When help did arrive the following day, many who had survived the sinking were floating in their lifejackets, dead from hyperthermia. Only 230 men were rescued. The sinking of Dorchester was the largest loss of life of any American convoy during World War II.
Among those who died onboard the ship were four US army chaplains, who helped frightened solders board lifeboats, and gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out. The four, (Methodist minister, Reverend) George Fox, (Reform Rabbi) Alexander Goode, (Roman Catholic priest, Reverend) John Washington, and (Reformed Church in America minister, Reverend) Clark Poling, then joined arms, offered prayers for the living and the dead and sang hymns as the Dorchester sank.
Their deaths serve as an example of courage for us, the living, especially now at a time where as a nation we face challenges and uncertainties from without and within. They continue to this day to inspire.
The Peter Gallan American Legion Post 104, on Merchants Avenue in Taftville will conduct a Four Chaplains ceremony this Sunday afternoon at 2 honoring their selfless sacrifice and celebrating their lives.
Father Brian Converse, Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Gales Ferry, Reverend Cathy Zall, Pastor of the First Congregational Church of New London, Rabbi Julius Rabinowitz, Rabbi of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Norwich, and Reverend Scott Schuett, Pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lebanon, each representing the faith of one of the original chaplains, will deliver a benediction, representing the final moments aboard Dorchester. Father Converse, who is also an Army Chaplain will serve as the keynote speaker.
I look forward again to joining with the many others who’ve previously attended this very moving event. It is both thoughtful and thought-provoking and come away with lessons learned of lives truly lived with grace under pressure in a spirit of caring and generosity for others that I fear sometimes is lost in the tumult of our lives.
Please join us if you can this Sunday afternoon, if not in Taftville then wherever you are to remember their heroic sacrifice. All history is the sum of our collective remembrances and such memories remain our best hope for the future.