Feb. 3 is “Four Chaplains Day” in America by unanimous act of Congress in 1988. Unfortunately, it is generally not taught to the children in the schools, observed by governmental bodies, nor reported on by media. Consequently, the truly inspiring story of the Four Chaplains, who they are and why there is a day honoring them is unknown by most Americans.
American Legionnaires in California, wartime veterans, believing that the lives and example of selfless service of the Four Chaplains should always be remembered, have by resolution initiated an effort to honor the Four Chaplains in a special and enduring way on Four Chaplains Day 2014:
On Monday, Feb. 3, at 1 p.m., ceremonies will be held dedicating a permanent plaque at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial honoring the selfless heroism in World War II of the Four Chaplains – Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Goode, Father John P. Washington (Roman Catholic) and Rev. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed).
It was on Feb. 3, 1943, that the troop ship Dorchester, with 900 soldiers and the Four Chaplains aboard, was torpedoed in the dead of night on its way to Greenland. The explosion ripped through the Dorchester from below the water line. Many troops drowned below decks as the Dorchester flooded and swiftly began to sink in the frigid sea.
The Four Chaplains acted to calm and aid the troops, in part by distributing life jackets to those who became separated from their own in the chaos and darkness created by the torpedo blast. When there were no more life jackets, each of the Four Chaplains, knowing that it meant certain death, took off his life jacket and put it on a soldier without one. They continued to help troops into lifeboats, until no room was left.
Then, as surviving soldiers who witnessed it later testified, the Four Chaplains went to their deaths together, their arms linked, praying for the troops and singing hymns, until the Dorchester sank and they disappeared beneath the sea, selflessly sacrificing their lives “so others may live.”
It was and is an awe-inspiring, magnificent act of quiet heroism, of selfless service and sacrifice for others, of faith and love lived, an example to be celebrated, commemorated and emulated, and never to be forgotten. (The Four Chaplains story in more detail is available in this previous column of mine.)
Congress awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross to the Four Chaplains in 1944. The Medal of Honor was proposed but was not awarded due to the requirement that it can only be awarded to combatants. In its stead, Congress later created a Four Chaplains Medal and an unprecedented Congressional Medal of Valor in 1961. The American Legion continues to advocate that an exception be made and the Medal of Honor be awarded to the Four Chaplains.
A measure of how the Four Chaplains are honored and revered by veterans of today is expressed in statements issued by two of America’s greatest living military heroes, to be delivered on their behalf at the ceremonies dedicating a plaque to the Four Chaplains at Mt. Soledad on Feb. 3.
Retired Maj. Gen. Patrick H. Brady, Medal of Honor (Vietnam), considered America’s most decorated living veteran, who has described the generally unknown or ignored humanitarian acts of American troops while in war in Vietnam in his book, “Dead Men Flying: America’s Battlefield Angels” (WND Books), issued this tribute to the Four Chaplains:
“As one who has been honored by many great men up to and including the president of the United States, no honor has been more satisfying than my Humanitarian Award from the chapel of the Four Chaplains. Their legacy of courage and sacrifice is vital for our nation’s survival. Our youth need to know that courage is the key to success in life and that God will give us all we ask for. You can’t use it up – and their faith is the foundation of their courage. Sacrifice is love in action, the source of happiness and our eternal inheritance from the Four Chaplains.”
Retired Adm. Jeremiah A. Denton, seven years and seven months a prisoner of war in Vietnam, later U.S. senator (Alabama) and author of the classic book on the tortures inflicted on American POWs by their communist captors, “When Hell Was In Session” (WND Books), issued this statement on the Four Chaplains:
“The Four Chaplains proved their faith with ultimate sacrifice – not in a flash of combatant action – but with peaceful discernment, humble devotion and extraordinary valor. They lived this life knowing God’s real presence and eternal promise. Blessed with men of this caliber, our nation must do the same.”
These tributes of Gen. Brady and Adm. Denton will be included as other veterans and patriots honor the Four Chaplains at Mt. Soledad, beneath the cross there honoring veterans – which the intolerant secular extremists of the ACLU, which has become the Taliban of American liberal secularism, have been suing to destroy in an abusive and fanatical litigation attack now in its 24th year.
San Diego Attorney Charles S. LiMandri will be the keynote speaker. As founder of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) and past western regional director of the Thomas More Law Center, LiMandri is credited with having done more than any other person to save the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial “as it is, where it is,” with the veterans-honoring cross still intact.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a former Marine, will speak unless needed for a vote in Washington, in which case a representative will speak.
Other veterans and American Legionnaires will also participate.
The Four Chaplains Day ceremonies are public, and all are invited to attend and honor the Four Chaplains at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, Feb. 3, at 1 p.m.