American Legion Post 1995 in Long Beach for the first time this year joined other posts across the nation Sunday in honoring four chaplains who gave up their life jackets, losing their own lives when the USAT Dorchester sank Feb. 3, 1943, during World War II.
The Rev. Ronald W. Durham, a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm, spoke to a small crowd at the city park on Jeff Davis Avenue before a wreath was laid at the World War II memorial in honor of the chaplains.
Durham served as a Navy chaplain aboard destroyers, submarines and other ships. He had previously served in the Air Force. He said military chaplains must be mindful of ministering to soldiers and sailors of different faiths. He used to close prayers in the name of Jesus, he said, but switched to “in His name” after a sailor mentioned he was Jewish.
The Dorchester, an Army transport ship, was struck by a German submarine in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. The four chaplains aboard were Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, who was Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, a Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling of the Dutch Reformed faith.
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As the Dorchester sank, the chaplains guided crew members to safety, helped care for the wounded and, ultimately, gave up their life jackets to four young men. The chaplains linked arms as the ship went down, perishing with hundreds of men while 230 survived.
After the service, Durham said, “If we remember our past, it helps us think about our future. Too often, we’re trying to find our way when we need to find our country’s way.”