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Ceremony honors 4 chaplains lost during World War II

St. Francis Xavier (Roseohioresident/WikiCommons)

In a solemn and moving ceremony, four local clergymen, musicians and retired members of the military recognized the selfless service of four chaplains during World War II.

One hundred mourners gathered at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church on Wednesday (Feb. 5) to remember the sacrifice the chaplains made on Jan. 23, 1943.

On that date, the USAT Dorchester was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Designed for 314 civilian passengers, the ship had been converted to carry slightly more than 900 military passengers and crew. At the time of the sinking, the water temperature was 34 degrees.

After the torpedo hit the ship and it became clear that the ship was sinking, the chaplains tried to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation. As life jackets were passed out, the supply ran out. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others.

After helping as many men as they could into lifeboats, they linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, they went down with the ship.

Only 230 of the 904 men aboard the ship were rescued.

After a brief welcome by David Taylor, commander of American Legion Post 202 in Medina, the colors were advanced and the congregation sang “America the Beautiful,” with the accompaniment of soprano Marian Vogel and pianist Tom Bonezzi.

Chaplain C. Reid Miller, of American Legion Post 202, then asked the audience to hold all applause and to remain silent during the program.

Four local church leaders, one each from the denominations represented by the four chaplains, spoke about each chaplain and about his own response to the action of the chaplains 77 years ago.

Before each of the speakers, Taylor lit a candle behind a picture of the chaplain being honored.

First to speak was the Rev. Tal Lewis of Medina United Methodist Church. He spoke about George L. Fox, a Methodist minister from Vermont who had been a hero in World War I and returned to serve in World War II. Lewis talked about Fox’s “heart for others.” He asked the congregation what needs we see today.

The second speaker was Rabbi Stephen Grundfast of the Beth El Congregation in Akron. He spoke about Chaplain Alexander Goode, who once walked 30 miles to attend the ceremony honoring the burial of the Unknown Soldier. He went on to list recent mass murders committed because of religious hatred. He called those murders in churches, mosques and synagogues “the antithesis of what we’re honoring tonight.”

Next to speak was the Rev. Don Poest of Brunswick Reformed Church. He spoke about Chaplain Clark Poling, a seventh-generation minister who prayed not to return safely from the war, but to be “adequate.” He was only 33 years old when the ship went down. Poest asked the audience to pray to “make this world more civil.”

The last speaker was the Rev. Michael Ausperk of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. He spoke about Chaplain John P. Washington, one of nine children in his family. He spoke about how the four men had met each other at Harvard University Chaplain Training in 1942 and how the four men of different faiths later locked arms and became one. He asked the chaplains to pray for us.

Mayor Dennis Hanwell then took the podium to talk about the selfless service we see daily in our first responders and about the many events here in Medina when our local ministers work together.

The soloists ended the program with the hymns “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “How Great Thou Art.”


© 2020 The Plain Dealer