Skip to main content

Why are flags at half staff? Because of 4 Army chaplains

74 years ago today, four faith leaders went down with their ship

When Gov. Dayton said that Minnesota's flags would fly at half staff Friday because of "Immortal Four Chaplains Day" we had no idea what he was talking about.

But by reading his proclamation and poking around a little bit, we learned a story of World War II heroism. There are lots of interesting details at the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation website, but we'll give you the basics.

The ship

On Feb. 3, 1943, an Army transport ship called the Dorchester was 150 miles off the coast of Greenland when it was torpedoed by a German submarine.

The direct hit meant the Dorchester – a former luxury liner repurposed for Army use – was going down fast. In 18 minutes it would be under the Arctic Ocean's waters.

It was about 1 a.m. and when the captain gave the order to abandon ship, the scene became chaotic. Because of U-boats, the 902 soldiers on board had been advised to sleep in life jackets but most did not because the jackets were uncomfortable.

The chaplains

The four chaplains on board represented different faiths. Lt. George Fox was a Methodist minister, Lt. John Washington was a Catholic priest, Lt. Alexander Goode was a Jewish rabbi, and Lt. Clark Poling was a minister of the Dutch Reformed church.

The chaplains gathered at a storage locker that contained life jackets. They dispensed not only the jackets but also reassuring words and prayers to the terrified young men on the sinking ship.

When there were no life jackets left in storage, each of the chaplains took off the one he was wearing and gave it to a soldier.

The sinking

Many of the 230 soldiers who survived the sinking of the Dorchester were helped by the four chaplains and would go on to tell others about them.

Witnesses said when the men were last seen they had locked arms and each was saying a prayer of his own faith as the Dorchester sank.

Some of the witness accounts were included in the Congressional Record when Congress posthumously bestowed a Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross on each of the chaplains.

According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, Pvt. William Bednar described floating in icy, oily water surrounded by debris and dead bodies and said:

“I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

Tributes

The country has kept the legacy of the four chaplains alive in various ways. In 1960 Congress created a Four Chaplains Medal that was bestowed on the chaplains' next of kin.

Gov. Dayton's proclamation notes that in 1998 Congress declared Feb. 3 to be "Four Chaplains Day" in a resolution that was co-authored by Minnesota Sen. Rod Grams.

On the Sunday closest to Feb. 3 a special service in memory of the Four Chaplains is held at Fort Snelling Chapel, where the chaplains are also commemorated in stained glass windows.

Dayton's proclamation also encourages Minnesotans to use Four Chaplains Day to "show compassion to those of different races or faiths."

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-08-12 at 1.58.08 PM

2 ejected, 1 killed in crash that closed southbound I-35

The State Patrol says neither were wearing seat belts.

best buy

Best Buy makes job cuts weeks after warning of soft sales

The Richfield retailer has been dealing with a shift in consumer trends.

Screen Shot 2022-08-12 at 10.26.20 PM

Man makes 'vague comments' about Jewish people, smashes own car with club

It happened at a course that was founded as a Jewish country club 100 years ago.

Screen Shot 2022-08-12 at 9.59.07 PM

4 abandoned puppies found in a bucket in Willmar

The puppies were in good health when they were discovered.

Minneapolis police

Suspect of home invasion, murder in Minneapolis arrested in Wisconsin

There have been 57 deaths reported as homicides in Minneapolis this year.

Carson McCoy

Charges: Man stole handgun from house, fired at motorcyclists from car

A chaotic scene that led to a police chase unfolded after an alleged burglary in Ham Lake.

Mounds view 7 - crime scene

BCA's Uniform Crime Report shows violent crime in MN spiked in 2021

The report details violent crime trends in the seven-county metro and Greater Minnesota.

Screen Shot 2022-08-12 at 4.49.22 PM

Search for vulnerable man, 66, missing from Brooklyn Park

Alex Ramirez was last seen in the early hours of Thursday morning.

St. Cloud Times

St. Cloud Times writing staff hit by Gannett budget cuts

Mass layoffs were expected at Gannett-owned outlets across the country.

PoolScammerLawsuitAG

Pool company sued by AG for allegedly scamming homeowners out of $1M-plus

According to the lawsuit, 17 Minnesota homeowners were affected by this scam.

Related

Why are flags at half staff? Because of 4 Army chaplains

74 years ago today, four faith leaders went down with their ship

A tiny Minnesota town is getting its war hero back

There'll be a funeral for him more than 75 years after he died.

A tiny Minnesota town is getting its war hero back

There'll be a funeral for him more than 75 years after he died.

73 years later, a World War II soldier is awarded his medals

His remains are headed home after they were identified in an unmarked grave.

73 years later, a World War II soldier is awarded his medals

His remains are headed home after they were identified in an unmarked grave.

Where did Earth Day come from, anyway?

A guy from Wisconsin was inspired by a book, lots of college students, and an oil spill.