Light a candle for the Dorchester Chaplains today
Some 80 years ago today, 3 February 1943, the 5,200-ton Gulf & West Indies Steamship Lines passenger steamer-turned-troopship SS Dorchester, while sailing from New York to Narsarssuak, Greenland as part of West-bound convoy SG 19, when she came across German type VIIC submarine U-223 (Kptlt. Karl-Jürg Wächter) as part of Wolfpack Nordsturm.
Besides 1,069 tons of general cargo, lumber, and 60 bags of mail, Dorchester carried a complement of seven officers, 123 crewmen, some 23 Navy Armed Guards (the ship was armed with one 4 in, one 3 in, and four 20mm guns) and 751 assorted U.S. Army troops and civilian passengers.
It was all over very rapidly after U-223 loosed five torpedos around 0452. With lifeboats scarce, although the escorting U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Comanche, Tampa, and Escanaba stood by immediately to rescue those seeking to leave the ship, within 30 minutes the Dorchester was on the bottom, taking 675 souls with her including her master, three officers, 98 crewmen, 15 Armed Guards, and 558 troops and passengers.
Four Army chaplains representing the four different faiths: Rev Lt George Lansing Fox (Methodist); Rabbi Lt Alexander David Goode; Rev Lt. Clark Poling (First Reformed Church) and Father John Washington (Catholic) gave up their lifebelts to soldiers who have none, and all perished with the ship.
The four “Immortal Chaplains” were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the DSC.
The Army’s Chaplin Corps marks their passage every February 3rd.