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Ceremony honors the Four Chaplains who saved sailors in World War II

The Four Chaplains.

U.S. ARMY ILLUSTRATION

By ARIC CHOKEY | Sun Sentinel | Published: January 29, 2018

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.  (Tribune News Service) — The harrowing story of the Four Chaplains still grips audiences 75 years later.

On the chilly morning of Feb. 3, 1943, the USAT Dorchester transport ship, carrying 902 people, was hit by a German U-boat torpedo about 100 miles from the coast of Greenland.

As hundreds of panicking sailors scurried in fear for their lives, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Father John P. Washington and the Revs. George L. Fox and Clark V. Poling gave up their life jackets and helped calm the soldiers.

Within about 20 minutes, the four chaplains and 670 others went down with the ship.

The USAT Dorchester sank before it could make it to a U.S. military base nearby, according to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundations.

The story was retold to the crowd Sunday at a ceremony to honor the chaplains and the Coast Guard cutters Comanch and Escanaba that saved the 230 survivors.

“In memory of the Four Chaplains who risked their lives, we do this for them,” Dania Beach Mayor Tamara James said at a commemoration Sunday at the Coast Guard station in the city.

Among the about 100 people at the ceremony were dozens of South Florida veterans and active military members.

Steven Newman, Southern Area Chaplain for the American Legion, organized the ceremony for the 11th year. He said two survivors had lived in Fort Lauderdale and Delray Beach and spoke at last year’s event, but they’ve since died.

“Unfortunately, we’re losing a lot of World War vets, and it was such a valiant thing that we want to keep it going,” Newman said about the ceremony. “It reminds us what we’re about as veterans.”

Former and active military members from South Florida stood in salute as a band played “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem.

Four Navy veterans each took the role of one of the chaplains, re-enacted the scene of them giving up life jackets as they outfitted them onto four younger cadets. A squad gave a gun salute and bagpipes wailed out “Amazing Grace.”

Denise Rohan, the first female leader of the American Legion, tossed a wreath into the Port Everglades Inlet as part of the ceremony.

Congress officially designated Feb. 3 as Four Chaplains Day in 1988 and Sunday’s commemoration in Dania Beach is one of several put on by the American Legion nationally.

Retired Navy Capt. Louis Cavaliere said the event highlights the “selfless service” of military members and how people should be willing to sacrifice for each other in their daily lives.

“What you do with your life jacket is up to you,” he said.

achokey@sun-sentinel.com

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