A remembrance ceremony honoring four World War II Army chaplains was held at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock on Feb. 2.
North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith gave the introduction while Jeff Baskin, director of the North Little Rock William F. Laman Library and Vietnam era veteran, told the story of the sinking of the U. S. Army transport ship Dorchester and the heroic actions of the chaplains.
"On Feb. 3, 1941 at 12:55 a.m. the Dorchester was sailing between Newfoundland and Greenland in a three-ship convoy when it came under torpedo attack by German submarine U-233. On board the Dorchester were 902 soldiers, merchant seamen and civilian workers," said Baskin.
"U-233 fired three torpedoes and one hit the Dorchester striking the starboard side, amid ship, far below the water line. In less than 20 minutes the Dorchester slipped beneath the Atlantic’s icy waters."
The hit knocked out the Dorchester’s power and radio communications with the other vessels in the convoy. The order to abandon ship was given by the ship’s captain, Hans J. Danielsen.
Panic and chaos set in with the passengers. Those sleeping without clothing rushed topside to be greeted by the blast of the cold Arctic air. Some lost their life vests in the confusion. Men jumped into lifeboats, over-crowding them to the point of capsizing. Other rafts, tossed into the Atlantic, drifted away before soldiers could get into them.
Throughout the pandemonium, four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.
Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers tending to the wounded, trying to calm the frightened, and guiding the disoriented to safety. By the time most of the men were topside the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets.
When there were no more lifejackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.
As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains-arms linked together and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.
Of the 902 men aboard the Dorchester, 672 died, leaving 230 survivors.
The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously December 19, 1944 to the next of kin. A one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961.
At the end of Saturday’s ceremony two chaplains threw a wreath into the Arkansas River, and prayers were offered in remembrance of the four chaplains.
Major General (retired) Don. C. Morrow, co-chairman of the Save the Hoga Committee, reported that repairs and repainting of the USS Hoga are nearing completion at the Mare Island Ship Yard in San Francisco, California, and the vessel will be ready for transit to North Little Rock by March.
The World War II vessel played a major role in responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
"When the Hoga arrives at North Little Rock’s Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum it will be the only port in the continental United States that has vessels representing the start of World War II, USS Hoga, and the end of the war, USS Razorback," said Morrow.
Fundraising efforts are underway to raise $250,000 to transport the Hoga to North Little Rock.