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Veterans, Holley church remember 4 chaplains who sacrificed lives in WWII

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Veterans from Orleans County fill the front pews of the First Baptist Church of Holley on Sunday, where they participated in a memorial service honoring four chaplains who died at sea during World War II. The chaplains are remembered for giving up their life vests, locking arms and praying together as their ship sank.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 4 February 2019 at 10:19 am

Chuck Eberhardt tells the story of Rabbi Alexander D. Goode during the Four Chaplains service Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Holley.

HOLLEY – The legend of the Four Chaplains, while tragic, is one which has gone down in history.

Each year on Feb. 3, it has become customary in churches throughout the country, including the First Baptist Church of Holley, to present a service honoring the four chaplains of four different faiths who gave their lives to save four other sailors during World War II.

The service in Orleans County was started by Larry Montello of Albion, who learned about it in 2007 from a lady he met after moving here from the Adirondacks. He has organized a service, with help from the American Legion, VFW and Legion Auxiliary ever since.

The first service was at the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, and Montello moved it to various other churches, but for the last four years, it has taken place at the First Baptist Church of Holley.

The four chaplains were Clark V. Poling, a Baptist minister; John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; and Alexander D. Goode, a Rabbi.

During World War II, they were all assigned to the USAT Dorchester.

In the early morning of Feb. 3, 1943 while sailing through the icy waters of the North Atlantic from Boston to Greenland, their ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

The chaplains got on deck and started handing out life vests. When all were handed out and there were still many men without any, the chaplains took theirs off and gave them to four sailors.

Larry Montello, right, reads a certificate of appreciation before he, Cathy Fox, president of the Orleans County American Legion Auxiliary; and Steve Johnson, County Legion commander (in cap), present it to Elder Todd Thomas (next to Fox) and pastor Joe Willis with the First Baptist Church.

Ron Ayrault of Holley plays Taps at the conclusion of the Four Chaplains service.

As the ship sank, the chaplains locked arms and prayed and sang in their own religions. Each was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross.

Participating in Sunday’s service were members of the American Legion in Medina, Albion and Lyndonville; VFW in Medina and Holley; Orleans County Legion Auxiliary; and Orleans County Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer Peer-to-Peer program, which provided refreshments.

Also in attendance was American Legion vice commander of Gasport, Dan Fuller and his wife Susan.

Veterans formed an honor guard, while several others read the life histories of each chaplain, followed by laying a rose by each chaplain’s picture and lighting a candle in his memory.

Readings were given by Steve Goodrich, Clark V. Poling; Earl Schmidt, John. P. Washington; Ron Ayrault, George L. Fox; and Chuck Eberhardt, Alexander D. Goode.

Steve Johnson with the American Legion in Medina explained the service, saying an act of Congress in 1988 proclaimed Feb. 3 annually as Four Chaplains Day.

There were 902 men aboard the USAT Dorchester; only 230 survived.

Todd Thomas, an elder at the First Baptist Church, spoke on the sacrifice made by the four chaplains and how they willingly gave their lives.

Larry Montello, left, gives instructions to Legion and VFW members who formed the honor guard for Sunday’s Four Chaplains service at the First Baptist Church of Holley. Lined up are Glenn Whitmore, American Legion commander in Medina; Dave Kusmierczak, a member of Medina VFW; John Pera, commander of Holley American Legion; and Fred Heschke of Medina, member of the VFW.

Ron Ayrault salutes the American flag after lighting a candle in honor of George L. Fox during the Four Chaplains service.

Earl Schmidt, director of Orleans County Veterans’ Services, shares the story of John P. Washington, a Catholic priest and one of four chaplains who died in World War II when their ship was sunk by the Germans.

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