Local veterans won’t be doing Four Chaplains Memorial Service due to Covid concerns

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 3 February 2021 at 9:25 am

Photos by Ginny Kropf: This display paying tribute to the four chaplains who died when their ship sank Feb. 3, 1943 was created at the Holley First Baptist Church a year ago by members of VFW and American Legion posts in Orleans County. The veterans won’t be doing the honorary service this year because of Covid-19.

Cathy Fox, president of the Orleans County American Legion Auxiliary, and Steve Johnson place a wreath during a service in 2019 at the Holley First Baptist Church, paying tribute to the four chaplains who went down with their ship while trying to save fellow soldiers during World War II.

HOLLEY – For the first time in many years there won’t be a Four Chaplains Memorial Service at the First Baptist Church of Holley.

According to Cathy Fox, president of the Orleans County American Legion Auxiliary, they have decided to cancel the event this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The service would have taken place this week to commemorate the sinking of the USS Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943, off Newfoundland, killing all but 230 of the 904 passengers on board.

The Dorchester was a 314-passenger civilian ship converted to carry 900 military passengers and crew.

The four chaplains on the ship were George Lansing Fox, a Methodist minister; Alexander D. Goode, a Reform Rabbi; Father John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; and Clark V. Poling, a minister in the Reformed Church of America.

On the morning of the ship’s sinking, the chaplains had donned their life jackets and were on the deck handing out life jackets and helping the soldiers into lifeboats. It became evident very soon there were not enough life jackets to go around, and the four chaplains each took off theirs and gave them to others. A survivor in one of the lifeboats told the story of watching the chaplains link hands and start praying in their own religion, as they slipped under the water.

On Dec. 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross. Additionally, Congress later authorized a special medal, the Four Chaplains’ Medal, which was presented to the next of kin of each of the four chaplains.