Sunday, May 25, 2003

A remembrance of four chaplains who sacrificed all on a troop ship in 1943

The freezing waters of the North Atlantic were sapping the life from young Ernest Heaton as he floated next to a lifeboat too full to take him aboard.

"So I asked a guy, 'If I put one arm in the lifeboat, could you hold it against the side of the boat?' He did."

The 19-year-old U.S. Army Air Forces soldier hung there until dawn, when a Coast Guardsman pulled his near-lifeless body from the water.

Heaton, now 80 and living in Vero Beach, is one of 230 men who survived the sinking of the Army troop transport ship Dorchester. Another 672 died during the terrible early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, after Nazi submarine U-223 torpedoed and sank the Dorchester.

The incident has become an American legend because of a stirring example of faith and courage shown by four chaplains who were aboard the Dorchester.

The four lieutenants, all of different faiths, went down with the doomed ship. After working to calm hundreds of scared GIs, the chaplains gave four of them their own life jackets.

Alexander D. Goode, a Jewish rabbi; John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; and Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister, were last seen praying on deck with their arms linked as the ship went down.