This article appeared in the Putnam County Courier on Thursday, Feb 7th 2008 and was written by Eric Gross Staff Reporter.
Southeast -- The year was 1943 when four members of the clergy serving with the military in World War II gave up their life jackets so enlisted men could live and went down with their ship in the North Atlantic.
Each year, veterans across Putnam County remember the four brave clergymen by conducting the annual Four Chaplain Memorial program.
On Monday, two dozen veterans gathered at the American Legion Argonne Brewster Post No. 71 in Southeast to reflect on the valiant men.Historians recall 1st Lieutenant Clark Poling, a Schenectady minister from the Reformed Church of America, Rabbi Alexander Goode of Brooklyn, Father John Washington, a Roman Catholic priest from New Jersey and the Rev. George Fox, a Methodist minister from Pennsylvania as "true American heroes" for turning their equipment over to others after their ship, USS Dorchester, was torpedoed just after midnight on Feb 3rd, 65 years ago this week.
Historians recall the missile exploded in the ship's boiler room destroying the electric supply and releasing suffocating clouds of steam and ammonia gas. Many on board died instantly. Some were trapped below. Others, jolted from their bunks, groped and stumbled their way to the decks of the stricken ship.
The boat began taking water and began to list starboard. Overcrowded lifeboats capsized. Men clung to the rails frozen with fear.
Survivors told of the miraculous order and the only fragment of hope came from the Four Chaplains who calmly guided the men to their boat stations. When the supply of life jackets was exhausted survivors watched in awe at the chaplains, one by one, gave away their own life jackets in order to save others. The chaplains gathered together the men around them in prayer. They linked their arms together in brotherhood and bowed their heads as they sank beneath the waves.
Father Rees Doughty of St. Lawrence O'Toole represented Washington at the ceremony while Steven Haggerty of the First United Methodist Church represented Fox. Donald Seifert of Temple Beth Elohim represented Goode and American Legion member Art Kierman represented Poling.