Ceremony honors local veterans and iconic WWII heroes

Vets who passed away during the last six months, and the Four Chaplains, are remembered for their service.

Jeffrey Askew poses with members of DAR Ocala Chapter at the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park. [Andy Fillmore]

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Posted March 22, 2023 | By Andy Fillmore

A combined ceremony was held March 18 at the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park to honor local veterans who died in the last six months and recount the enduring story of the Four Chaplains of World War II.

Jeffrey Askew, director of Marion County Veterans Services, opened the ceremony followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Floy Leuenberger.

Elizabeth Coleman, regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Ocala Chapter, presented a narrative on the “bravery and sacrifice” of the Four Chaplains aboard the sinking troop ship, S.S. Dorchester, on Feb. 3, 1943. The Dorchester was 150 miles from its destination of Greenland around midnight when a torpedo from a German U-boat struck, setting off an explosion.

“Men were screaming, others crying or frantically trying to get lifeboats off the ship,’’ according to an account on a U.S. Army website. ”Through the pandemonium, four men spread out among the soldiers, calming the frightened, tending the wounded and guiding the disoriented toward safety. They were four Army chaplains: Lt. George Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister.”

As the tragedy unfolded on the converted ocean liner, an engineer witnessed the four chaplains giving their own lifejackets to others.

“As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains, arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers and singing hymns,” the website states. Of the 902 people aboard the Dorchester, only 230 survived,
The Four Chaplains were awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross and the unique The Four Chaplains Medal. The legacy of the Four Chaplains lives on with the “Legion of Honor Award” presented by the Chapel of the Four Chaplains in Philadelphia for “service to all people regardless of race or faith.”

Two Ocala-area veterans at the ceremony, William Ehrhart and Lewis Alston, are recipients of award; Alston has been honored twice.

Following the Four Chaplains program, members of the DAR Ocala Chapter read the names of Marion County veterans who passed away during the previous six months. Elizabeth Coleman, Carolyn Smith, Mary Jo Ames and Carol Bruno read each veteran’s name and branch of service, following by the ringing of a bell by park volunteer David Bice.

After the reading, Marion County Memorial Honor Guard honorary member John Earl played a song on his bagpipes.


Lewis Alston plays taps. [Andy Fillmore]

Alston, a Marine Corps veteran, Purple Heart recipient and an honor guard member, introduced his fellow members on hand for a gun salute at the ceremony. Alston sounded taps as Chaplain LT. Col. John Meyer, accompanied by his wife, Patsy, offered an invocation to close the ceremony.

Meanwhile, DAR Ocala Chapter Regent Coleman said the Final Salute program, in its second year, provides families of the deceased veterans honored every six months with a nameplate and small American flag.

The Final Salute program was initiated about two years ago by the DAR Ocala Chapter with support from the Friends of Marion County Veterans Park Foundation. Plaques not picked up by families are posted on a Wall of Heroes in the Education Center adjacent to park grounds.
The DAR Ocala Chapter has also recently installed a marker commemorating “Revolutionary War Patriots” with an interactive QR code for visitors in the east end of the park.

David and Martha Kramer, residents of Del Webb Spruce Creek and recently from Fort Lauderdale, were visiting the park on Saturday.

“This is a beautiful park and a wonderful tribute to the men and women who served,” David Kramer said.

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