Unit Continues Tradition Honoring Four Chaplains

Four Chaplains Day Feb. 3

American Legion Auxiliary Unit 240 in Stephenville, Texas continues to bring history to life with its annual program honoring the sacrifices made more than 70 years ago by “the four chaplains.”

The unit has been holding an event about this act of bravery since Feb. 6, 2000. The program is always held on the first Sunday afternoon in February. Marjorie Martin, the unit president that year, had the idea of getting the program started.

pratt and littlefield
Francine Pratt, past unit 240 president, on the left and Julie Littlefield, current unit 240 president, on the right, are ready for the presentation.

The event involves the ALA unit, The American Legion Ammon Turnbow Post 240, and local students. Each group plays a role in the program.

The ALA and Post 240 Legion members help with several areas of the event, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, invocation, and closing remarks. The students read the biographies of the four chaplains and light candles in their honor.

Each year, the participating students say they have never heard the story and are very interested, unit secretary Mary Lay said.

lay and carter
Mary Lay, Unit 240 secretary/treasurer on the left and Kristol Carter, student sponsor, on the right at last year’s event.

It was February 1943 during World War II and the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was a transport ship carrying more than 900 servicemen, merchant seamen, and civilian workers from New York to Greenland.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, a German submarine spotted the Dorchester. After the first hit, the ship began sinking.

Four chaplains quickly began bringing calm to the chaos — Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.

four chaplains original
The four chaplains have been commemorated in several works of art.

Life jackets were swiftly distributed, but soon there were no more. That’s when the four chaplains removed their own and gave them to four young men. The chaplains did not survive the sinking ship and were among the 672 who died.

The ALA unit educates the public on the historical event about the four chaplains during its annual program, hoping that attendees gain an understanding and acceptance of different faiths working together, as well as patriotism and love. As the traditional program is continued, the goal is to reach a wider audience.

“We advertise it each year, but we don’t get the interest we would like,” Lay said. “Some of the parents and grandparents of the students involved come and a few others from the community.”

Lay explained why the unit should continue to honor the four chaplains each year.

“[It’s important to remember] the bravery and faith and how to continue to apply it in today’s world,” she said.

To learn more about American Legion Auxiliary Unit 240 in Stephenville, Texas, visit their Facebook page at @turnbowhiggs240. To read the full story on the four chaplains or to learn more about the Four Chaplains memorial Foundation, visit www.fourchaplains.org.

Does your unit hold an event about the four chaplains? Let us know in the comments!


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