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The Sacrifice of Military Chaplains

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends"
John 15:13

Four U.S. Army chaplains, Lieutenants George Fox, Lex Goode, Clark Poling, and John Washington (one Catholic, one Methodist, one Dutch Reformed and one Jewish), were on a ship, the Dorchester, heading from New York City to Greenland. Each of them came to their roles from different backgrounds. Fox had been in the Medical Corps, Goode was a rabbi in training and Washington was a former gang leader whom God called to ordination. Poling was undeterred when his father warned him that chaplains had a high mortality rate. He prayed hard and joined up.[1]

On Feb. 3, 1943, a torpedo from a German U-Boat hit the Dorchester. Many of the soldiers, in their haste to get topside and out of danger, left their life jackets behind. The chaplains stepped up to the plate: they gave out life jackets the ship had available, as well as their own, to provide for those men who had to jump into the frozen waters, and they helped bring peace and calm to a frantic situation. With as many soldiers to safety as possible, the chaplains were left aboard, stranded. Arm in arm they remained in prayer as the ship went down. They gave up their lives so that others might be rescued. 235 of the 900 and two soldiers and sailors rescued, many because of the sacrifice of these four men.

This is the nature of the love that God has showed us in giving us His Son: love that is costly and willing to face even death for the sake of others. This is the love God has shown us and the love that Lieutenants George Fox, Lex Goode, Clark Poling and John Washington showed the soldiers who were aboard the Dorchester in 1943. Today, we thank God for their ministry and the lives they helped save.

I still have the Bible given to my stepfather, James M. Dyke, Sr., at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio by Col. Cohee, 3rd Army, Chief of Chaplains. My dad carried that Bible with him all the way from the landing at Normandy to Berlin. You may know the Rev. John Bentley's father, the Rev. John Bentley, Sr., was an Episcopal priest and served as a Navy chaplain with the Marines on the island of Peleliu during that terrible battle, which took the lives of many Marines.

Thankfully, both these fine men survived the war and, upon returning home, carried on with their lives and families. May God bless and protect all our military chaplains.
[1] For more on this story see Holy Women, Holy Men, Celebrating the Saints, Church Publication, p.206.
The Rev. Nicolas (Nick) R.D. Dyke
Pastoral Associate
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