NORWAY — On Feb. 6 the Oxford Hills community is invited to attend a multi-denominational ceremony for the “Four Chaplains” who were lost at sea in 1943 during World War II.

The ceremony will be held at St. Catherine’s of Sienna Catholic Church on Park Street in Norway on Feb. 6. Officiants are Fr. Ed Clifford of St. Catherine’s, Pastor Mike Carter of the First Congregational Church in South Paris, Tim Pike of Bolsters Mills United Methodist Church in Harrison and Jeff Stern of Temple Shalom in Auburn.

The SS Dorchester, a military transport ship during World War II sunk in the North Atlantic on Feb. 3, 1943 after being torpedoed by a German U-boat. supplied photo

The Four Chaplains were friends who all met at Army Chaplains School at Harvard University as the U.S. was drawn into the war following the  attack of Pearl Harbor. All first lieutenants, the group was assigned to travel together on the same ship to their military assignments in Europe aboard the SS Dorchester, a passenger liner that had been converted to a military transport ship.

Coming from different backgrounds and faiths, the men developed deep bonds that would become immortal legend. After completing their training at Army Chaplains School they were later reunited at Camp Myles Standish in Massachusetts after boot camp, ahead of deployment on the SS Dorchester.

George L. Fox was a World War I veteran, awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and French Croix de Guerre. After he was discharged and completed his high school education, interrupted by his enlistment at 17, he enrolled at Moody Bible Institute and began his career in religion by becoming an itinerant preacher.

Alexander D. Goode was the son of a rabbi and followed in his father’s footsteps, earning his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1940. He enlisted with the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor and was accepted at the Chaplain School the following summer.


Clark V. Poling also grew up in a home of faith, the son of an evangelical minister who had served as a chaplain during World War I. He was educated at Yale University Divinity School and went on to serve as pastor for a church in Schenectady, NY. After enlisting he was assigned to the 131st Quartermaster Truck Regiment and was sent to Army Chaplain School at Harvard.

John P. Washington studied at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, NJ and was ordained as a priest in 1935. After enrolling in the U.S. Army he was appointed chaplain of the 76th Infantry Division and continued to Chaplain School, where he met Fox, Goode and Poling.

Like the Four Chaplains, the U.S. Dorchester converted from civilian service to military service. It was built in 1926 and transported passengers and freight between Baltimore and Florida before being retrofitted to transport military personnel from New York to Greenland.

Along with more than 900 other soldiers, the Four Chaplains boarded the Dorchester and set sail on Jan. 23, 1943, escorted by three Coast Guard cutters, onto Atlantic waters prowled by German U-Boats.

Like other ships entering the North Atlantic throughout the war, the Dorchester was targeted by the German Navy. It was hit with a torpedo from submarine U-223 off Newfoundland around 1 a.m. on Feb. 3.

As the ship quickly took on water and evacuation began, the Four Chaplains focused on the work they had enlisted to do. They guided the wounded to safety and helped as many soldiers as possible onto lifeboats for escape.


When the supply of life jackets ran out, the Four Chaplains volunteered their own to others and continued their duty. As the ship sank, the four remained on board, arms linked, reciting prayers and singing hymns. One survivor later recalled that he swam from the sinking vessel the last thing he saw before it slipped into the waves was the Four Chaplains, praying for the safety of the men.

“They had done everything they could,” said Grady Clark. “I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

The Four Chaplains ceremony is held annually in February to commemorate the loss of the heroes at churches, chapels and synagogues throughout the U.S.

People of all faiths are invited to join together in Norway on Feb. 6 at St. Catherine’s on Feb. 4, starting at 2 p.m. The snow date, if necessary, will be Feb. 13.

Guests from around Maine will attend, including Laurie Sidelinger, board chairperson for Honor Flight Maine and Christy Gardner, retired Army MP and founder of Mission Working Dogs in Oxford.

“Our church is honored to be hosting the American Legion’s Four Chaplains ceremony,” said St. Catherine’s Friar Ed Clifford in an email statement.  “It is good to remember the brave and selfless service of these men.  The chaplains were heroes. They were true men of God. Although they were of different faith traditions, belief in God joined them in prayer and service to others. Their story is very inspiring. We hope many will come to the ceremony to hear about and reflect on what they did.”

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