JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., –“Thunderbolt” Soldiers with the 17th Field Artillery Brigade came together for a physical training session at Cowan Stadium on Feb. 3rd, to honor the spirited lives and service of “The Four Chaplains” on the 79th anniversary of their ultimate sacrifice.
“Medal of Honor physical training is something we created to work hand-in-hand with Foundational Readiness Day,” said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Jolin, S-6 Section Chief, with the 308th Bridge Support Battalion, and the event coordinator. “It promotes team building, cohesion and esprit de corps.”
Alexander D. Goode, a Rabbi; John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; and Clark V. Poling, a Minister of the American Reformed Church were all 1st Lieutenants assigned to the troop transport ship USAT Dorchester. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was struck below the water line by a torpedo from a U-223 in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Survivors in rafts witnessed the four chaplains, who had given up their life jackets to save others, standing with arms linked, bracing one another with prayers and hymns, as the ship sank.
The four chaplains were awarded a one-time only posthumous Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism, authorized by Congress, and awarded by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Bruckner on Jan. 18, 1961. Known as “The Four Chaplains Medal”, it was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor. In addition, they were also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart posthumously.
The formation at Cowan Stadium stood together in the frigid rain with zero complaints, captured by the history of these incredible chaplains, while working hard together to honor their memories in a small but remarkable way.
“These events are very impactful for soldiers, said Jolin. “It brings everyone together as a large group.”
In teams, the soldiers partook in six training sessions beginning with a one-mile run to represent the 1,569 feet of the Dorchester. A stair climb symbolized the 230 individuals who escaped from the shipwreck, and a 902-kilometer row reflected the number of passengers aboard the ship. Each team carried water cans in a shuttle sprint depicting the life vests that the chaplains handed out, and the chaos in the water. The final station included burpees, push-ups, v-ups, and air squats that lasted 12 minutes and 56 seconds, signifying the time the torpedo hit.
“It tells the soldiers the history of where our past brothers and sisters have fought, and where they’ve come from,” said Capt. Joshua Budzynski, S6 Officer in Charge, with the 308th Brigade Support Battalion.
“The feedback I received was positive” said Jolin, “They thought it was a well-planned, thoughtful event, and it’s something they’d like to see conducted in the future.”