• Dandy Bridges

The Four Immortal Chaplains


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January 11, 2021


58 Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], never forget that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose]. (1 Corinthians 15:58).


The United States Army Transport (USAT) Dorchester will always be remembered in the history of the Army Chaplain Corps. Upon this ship, the “Four Immortal Chaplains” (1LTs George Fox, Alexander Goode, Clark Poling, and John Washington) served. Together they saved the lives of Soldiers and Sailors after the ship was torpedoed on February 3, 1943.


They did everything to help load men into lifeboats. When there was nothing else, they gave away their coats, gloves, and life preservers to save a final few. Then they locked arm-in-arm and determined to encourage and pray for the dying and go down with the ship.


The testimony of their sacrifice has always served as the chaplains’ “reality check” to get them back on course when they lose sight of their mission. Just mention the Dorchester and the heroism of these four chaplains comes to mind.


But this story includes the name of another ship – the USS Escanaba. Both ships started as civilian vessels. The Escanaba transitioned into military service as a Coast Guard cutter. And like the Dorchester, the Escanaba would also meet its end from a German U-boat torpedo.

It was the Escanaba which rescued most of the 230 survivors from the Dorchester’s 904 passengers and crew. In fact, its rescue efforts broke new ground in lifesaving. It was one of the first ships to employ rescue swimmers who tied survivors (too cold to grasp a rope) to rescue lines that hoisted them from 34-degree (F) waters to the safety of the ship. This wasn’t the first or last of Escanaba’s lifesaving efforts.


Although its main mission was to kill u-boats, it saved hundreds of lives and protected dozens of ships. Unfortunately, the Enscanaba had a brief military career. Only four months after assisting the Dorchester, the Escanaba itself was destroyed by a German torpedo. It sank in less than three minutes and sadly no ship was there to help the crew of the Escanaba. Only two of its 103 crew surviving.


This story reminds me of so many people – people who have dedicated their lives to helping and healing others. People who have dedicated themselves to a life of selfless service. Yet, when they find themselves in trouble and hurting, it seems that no one is available to help them. They feel this overwhelming sense of abandonment. “I was there for others – all my life. But no one was there to help me.”


There are a lot of us who have felt this way at some point in our lives. Maybe you are in the midst feeling this right now. But you have to remember that the eternal rewards for living this life of selfless service are far greater than we could ever imagine. When we give our lives to Christ, we are ultimately choosing to give control of our lives over to God. In essence, we commit to become selfless servants for the kingdom. As we walk with God and learn more about what it means to surrender our lives to Him daily, we begin to realize that He is teaching us that this life is for service, service to God and to my fellow brothers and sisters.


If a kindness you perform is someday returned to you, that’s incredible. But if not, we have to always look to God as the One we serve and live for. As servant leaders, we have a much higher calling. Our success isn’t based on how others react to us, we measure our success on how faithfully we use our days, hours, and resources for the advancement of God’s Kingdom and for the betterment of everyone around us.


As long as we do this, we can rest in the hope of His promises. That his love and mercy will follow us everywhere we go, and our eternal reward will far outweigh everything of this world.


Remember what is said in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], never forget that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose]. (1 Corinthians 15:58).


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