By Mortal Men

“As the Dorchester began to sink, the four chaplains could be heard praying separately – together – in English, Latin, and Hebrew –a babel of languages that offered hope instead of confusion.”

dorchester

I am a history buff. Because of my love for the sea, I particularly love history relating to it. This morning I was reading an account of a ship that sank in 1943, and the actions of four men aboard nearly brought me to tears:

“On February 3, 1943, a German torpedo struck the SS Dorchester, a 368-foot transport ship that was carrying 902 American soldiers and sailors to Greenland. It blew a hole right below the waterline, killing many of them instantly. Some were asphyxiated by the ammonia gas; some drowned. Others were crushed under bunk beds that collapsed.

But hundreds survived the initial blast and scrambled up to the deck. There they encountered the ship’s four chaplains: John Washington, a Catholic priest; George Fox and Clark Poling, both Protestants; and a thirty-two-year old rabbi named Alexander Goode… Panic was on the verge of killing as many soldiers as the torpedo had. Some jumped overboard and were torn apart by the ship’s propeller. One became so distressed that he tried to choke one of the chaplains. Others refused to leave the ship. The chaplains calmly ushered them one by one into the lifeboats. ‘So long, boys, good luck,’ one of the chaplains shouted from the deck as the last of the lifeboats drifted away, according to eye witnesses.

One man couldn’t get a life jacket on because of an injured shoulder. Rabbi Goode pulled the laces from his boots and tied the life preserver to the man’s arm. The chaplains helped him over the side of the ship and into the water. When the life jackets ran out, the chaplains offered theirs.

As the Dorchester began to sink, the four chaplains could be heard praying separately – together – in English, Latin, and Hebrew –a babel of languages that offered hope instead of confusion. Rabbi Goode chanted the Sh’ma: ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.’

One survivor, John Ladd, said the chaplains were still standing arm in arm as the ship disappeared beneath the waves, just twenty-seven minutes after the torpedo hit. ‘It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

(Excerpt from “Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom, by Steven Waldman, HarperCollins Publishers, 2019, pp177-178.)

I believe that is the greatest sermon I have ever read by mortal men.

 

Photo: SS Dorchester, may be subject to copyright.

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