Veterans from groups around South County met at San Clemente’s Park Semper Fi on Friday, Feb. 3, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of a monumental sacrifice during World War II.
Dana Point’s VFW Post 9934, San Clemente’s American Legion Post 423 and the Marine Corps League South Coast Detachment 022, and San Juan Capistrano’s American Legion Post 721 collaborated to honor a group referred to as the Four Chaplains.
On Feb. 3, 1943, a German torpedo struck the SS Dorchester less than 100 miles from its destination of Greenland, sinking the American troop ship in a tragedy that only 230 of the 902 civilians and military personnel onboard would survive.
During the rush to escape, Reverend George Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Reverend Clark Poling and Father John Washington, all first lieutenants, offered encouraging words and gave away their life jackets to help others.
Accounts of the event documented that the four linked arm-in-arm and prayed aloud as the ship sank.
The actions of Petty Officer Charles David, Jr. were also recognized Friday. David Jr., a Steward’s Mate on the CGC Comanche, rescued men from the Dorchester and jumped into the water to save two of his shipmates. He would later die from pneumonia.
Randy McMahon, a chaplain at Post 423 who was involved in organizing the event, said he wanted to do something special for the milestone anniversary that, in previous years, has received a small tribute.
“It’s always good to remember sacrifices,” he said. “It’s part of the reason why we have the brass plaques here (such as the Medal of Honor), to remember the sacrifices that our servicemen and women did, especially the ones who … gave up their dreams, their futures to save somebody else.”
Commander Aaron Carlton and Lieutenants Brian Burd and Grace Chur from the United States Naval Chaplain Corps read the stories of those honored Friday, as well as former Coast Guardsman Jeff Singer. Singer, who is Jewish, told the audience about Rabbi Goode.
San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan and Wayne Eggleston, executive director of the Heritage of San Clemente Foundation, also spoke.
Duncan took the time to define the word chaplain as a certified religious clergy member who provides “spiritual care” in a non-religious organization and spoke further about what spiritual care means.
“It’s really helping us in our time of greatest need, (such as) illness, grief, loss, depression, and loneliness,” Duncan said. “That’s what a chaplain does, right? They provide that service that we don’t often assign enough value to but helps us in those times where we need it the most.”
The efforts of the Four Chaplains to continuously provide words of hope through depression and other situations throughout their careers right until their last moments, Duncan said, show why society needs people like them and why it was important to honor them.
He called the Immortal Chaplains, as the group is also known, reliable for staying strong in a time of turmoil and encouraged the audience to step up in their personal lives.
Duncan called on people to celebrate the chaplains by being more like them, “by seeking to be immortal like they were, to emphasize that selflessness, to emphasize that care for others above self.”
Singer called the group’s story a “beautiful message of being unselfish,” and pointed out Rabbi Goode’s dedication to his faith and his country dating back to Goode’s childhood in Washington, D.C. around the early 1920s.
As a person of Jewish faith, Goode could not drive or take public transportation on the Sabbath for a belief that the action could be construed as work, according to Singer. Instead, he walked to and from the entombing ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the nearby Arlington Cemetery.
“I think it’s kind of cool that they put that in (the event’s program), that he was moved by the national cemetery that day and that he chose to get the meaning of it,” said Singer, referring to the biographical information about Goode.
Eggleston mentioned during the commemoration that military-based events will continue at Park Semper Fi in 2023, with a Memorial Day celebration on May 29 that will honor three local former Marines.