A convoy of three ships and three escorting Coast Guard cutters passed through “torpedo alley” some 100 miles off the coast of Greenland at about 1 a.m. on February 3, 1943. The submarine U-223 fired three torpedoes, one of which hit the midsection of the Dorchester, a U.S. Army troopship with more than 900 men on board.
The four Chaplains on board, Father John Washington (Catholic), Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Jewish) and Rev. George Fox (Methodist) were among the first on deck, calming the men and handing out life jackets. When they ran out, they took off their own and placed them on waiting soldiers without regard to faith or race. Approximately 18 minutes from the explosion, the ship went down. They were the last to be seen by witnesses; they were standing arm-in-arm on the hull of the ship, each praying in his own way for the care of the men. Almost 700 died, making it the third largest loss at sea of its kind for the United States during World War II. The Coast Guard Cutter Tampa was able to escort the other freighters to Greenland. Meanwhile the cutters Comanche and Escanaba, disobeying orders to continue the serach for the German U-Boat, stopped to rescue 230 men from the frigid waters that night.
In 1960 these four Chaplains were honored by the Congress and the President. Congress recognized them by creating a special Congressional Medal of Valor, never to be repeated again, and gave it to the next of kin of the “Immortal Chaplains “for their selfless acts of courage, compassion and faith.”