Vienna Civitan Club honors clergy

VIENNA – Local clergy and others gathered in Vienna Monday evening to honor the memory of four Army chaplains who gave their lives in service of their faith and the work all clergy do everyday.

The Vienna Civitan Club met at Logan’s Roadhouse to commemorate National Clergy Week, which is actually held at the beginning of the month. The event was originally scheduled a couple weeks ago but bad weather forced the group to postpone until now.

Clergy Appreciation Week is usually celebrated the first week in February, because on Feb. 3, 1943, the U.S. Army transportship Dorchester sunk off the coast of Greenland after being hit by a torpedo from a German submarine.

There were more than 900 people on board and two-thirds of them died. In the chaos of those moments as the ship was sinking, four chaplains handed out lifejackets and eventually gave their own to the men scrambling to get off the ship.

Eyewitness accounts said the four men had their hands linked praying together for the well-being of those around them as the ship went down, each as their own faith dictated.

”Live as you want to be found at the end, because you never know when that will be,” said Civitan Cardinal District Governor Carol Wolters, who recounted the story to those gathered. ”The chaplains set an example with the lives they lived up to the moment of testing. The next step, their last step, came very naturally.

”The chaplains lived their faiths. We must do the same,” Wolters said.

Wolters said the chaplains were there to give young men comfort and guidence as they went to war in Europe. ”Each chaplain had a chance to bring them to God,” she said.

The men on the transport were told to sleep in their lifejackets; however, many did not. When the ship was hit, many were caught off-guard and did not have time to return below decks to get them.

”Staying on the ship was a death sentence,” Wolters said. ”Jumping into the water and hoping for rescue from the other ships in the convoy was their only hope for survival.”

The four chaplains calmly gave out the spare lifejackets and eventually their own to the fleeing servicemen.

”The altruistic action of the four chaplains constitutes one of the purest, spiritual and ethical acts a person can make,” Wolters said.

The four chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Catholic, and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.

The men did not call out for someone of their faith to give a jacket to; they gave them freely to whoever needed them, Wolters said.

When all lifejackets were gone, they turned to those who were left, unable to escape, and began praying.

”Arm-in-arm these four men prayed aloud, each in his own religious tradition offering last spiritual benediction to those shivering in the water and those gathered on the ship,” she said. ”They brought hope to dispair and light to darkness.”

Of the 902 on board, 672 died and 230 survived.

”What these chaplains did in time of war was heroic,” Wolters said. ”Tonight, we salute all of our clergy and those who support you.”

Clergy offer people comfort and guidance in times of need. They are there in good times and bad and especially in times when they are needed most, she said.

”Thank you for your love, your prayers and your dedication,” Wolters said.