After learning this weekend of yet another horrible scandal in the Catholic Church, this time involving the disgraced Cardinal Mahony, I was pleased to read something in a different key in this morning’s paper:
The story by Steve Chawkins is from today’s Los Angeles Times:
“For a long time, the story of the four chaplains was everywhere. In classrooms, posters showed the men of different faiths, arms linked in prayer, braced against the waves engulfing the deck of their torpedoed troop ship on Feb. 3, 1943. They had given their life preservers to frantic soldiers and urged troops paralyzed with fear to jump into the icy North Atlantic before they were sucked down by the sinking ship’s whirlpool.
A postage stamp in 1948 honored the two Protestant ministers, the Catholic priest and the rabbi. Streets and schools soon were named after them, a chapel in Philadelphia dedicated to them, books written about them. Testimonials to their self-sacrifice were lavish; President Truman said, ‘I don’t think in the history of the world that there has been anything in heroism equal to this. It was the greatest sermon ever preached.’
But 70 years after one of World War II’s most celebrated episodes, the story has faded, kept alive these days mainly by veterans groups, history buffs and family members of the 672 men who died in the sinking of the ill-fated Dorchester. Only 230 survived. The last among them died Jan. 12 at age 91.
Aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the tiny Immortal Chaplains Memorial Sanctuary is a reminder that the old luxury liner ferried Allied troops in World War II. A few artifacts sit in display cases: a map, a signal light from a life jacket, a harmonica that belonged to a German submarine officer. The Queen Mary also ferried prisoners of war from the battlefields of Europe to camps in North America.
On a continuous loop, the deep, plummy voice of actor David Fox-Brenton tells the Dorchester’s story: ‘It was to be the third-largest loss of life at sea for the United States in World War II. On board were almost 1,000 men — and four immortal chaplains....’
Fox-Brenton, who lives in Mission Viejo, is a nephew of one of the heroic quartet, Methodist chaplain George Fox. In 2000, Fox-Brenton introduced Dorchester survivors to former crew members of U-223, the Nazi submarine that attacked their ship. One of them, Gerhard Buske, played ‘Amazing Grace’ on his harmonica — an instrument that he had played aboard the sub and later donated to the museum.
‘It was a very emotional time,’ Fox-Brenton said. He started the Queen Mary tribute in 2005 after realizing about a decade before that his uncle and the three others were fast becoming unknowns.” [….] The rest of the story is here.