GREAT FALLS — On Sunday afternoon at the First Baptist Church in Great Falls, American Legion Post 341 hosted a special commemoration to honor four chaplains for the sacrifice they made during their service in World War II.
“The commemoration is for the four chaplains and we hold it every year to celebrate or memorialize their sacrifice for their country,” said American Legion Post 341 Vice Commander Jill Harvie.
The four chaplains worked together on an Army transport ship, the Dorchester. On February 3rd 1943, just after midnight, their ship was hit by German torpedoes, causing a panic for the nearly 900 passengers on board.
The four chaplains - John Washington, Alexander Goode, George Fox, and Clarke Poling - jumped into action, saving as many passengers as they could before the ship completely submerged into freezing cold waters 25 minutes later and ending the lives of all four brave men.
After the disaster, many of the survivors reported seeing the four chaplains offering assistance to others, even taking the life jackets off their own backs to save the life of another.
“We don’t want to forget the sacrifices that they presented and their sacrifice of their lives, because without the four chaplains service, no one would know about them,” said Kim Kay C. McCarty-Martin, American Legion Post 341 Adjutant.
Of the 900 passengers on board the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, 230 were saved from the disaster, many in thanks to the four brave chaplains who sacrificed their own lives to save others.
From the website ArmyHistory.org:
In the aftermath of the disaster, the story of the Four Chaplains garnered popular notice. Many thought that they should be awarded the Medal of Honor. Instead, on 19 December 1944, they were each awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1948, the U.S. Post Service issued a commemorative stamp in their honor, and Congress designated 3 February as “Four Chaplains Day.” Twelve years later, Congress created the Four Chaplains’ Medal, which was presented to their survivors by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker on 18 January 1961 at Fort Myer, Virginia.
Today, one can find memorials to the Four Chaplains all across the nation. Several organizations exist to further their memory, including the Chapel of the Four Chaplains in Philadelphia and the Immortal Chaplains Foundation in Minnesota. Chapels, bridges, memorials, and plaques honoring the Four Chaplains are found in so many locations, including a stained glass window in the Pentagon, that it is impossible to list them all here.
Today marked the 10th year that American Legion Post 341 honored the four “Immortal Chaplains” in Great Falls.