Honoring their sacrifice
A Four Chaplains Memorial Service in Ocala honored four clergymen who gave their lives for others during WWII.
During the Four Chaplains Memorial Service held Feb. 3, 2024, in Ocala, the Coventry brothers, from left, Samuel, Gary, Joshua and Ezekiel, wore life vests and recounted the biographies of the four chaplains who gave their lives to save others on a sinking troop ship on Feb. 3, 1943, during World War II, with program narrator Morrey Deen, a retired Army major, at the podium. [Photo by Andy Fillmore]
Four local brothers donned orange life vests the morning of Feb. 3 during a Four Chaplains Memorial Service that dramatized the story of the four clergymen who sacrificed their own lives to save others on a sinking ship during World War II.
The memorial, hosted by the Marion County Veterans Service Office and held in the Marion County Commissioners’ Auditorium, honored Army chaplains Lt. G.L. Fox, a Methodist; Lt. A.D. Goode, a reform rabbi; Lt. C.V. Poling, of the reformed church in America; and Lt. J.P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest.
The chaplains were aboard the S.S. Dorchester when it was torpedoed and sank on Feb. 3, 1943, according to narration on a plaque displayed at the memorial. The ship was in the North Atlantic and was carrying 902 servicemen, merchant marines and civilians when the torpedoes struck and put the ship in darkness. The four chaplains helped calm and guide people as they began evacuating. With life jackets in short supply, they gave their own life jackets away and linked arm in arm in prayer as the ship went down, according to the plaque.
Morrey Deen, a retired Army major, served as narrator for the memorial. Deen said an explosion occurred and that during the chaos on the ship, the four chaplains were a “physical presence of strength” as they prayed and administered last rites. He said 675 people who were aboard the ship died.
“God gives us situations that are horrific but can be a testimony,” Deen said. “We must keep the testimony (of the four chaplains) alive.”
The Coventry brothers, Samuel, 17; Gary, 18; Joshua, 20; and Ezekiel, 21; all charter members of the Ocali Society, Children of the American Revolution, part of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, recounted the biographies of Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington during the event.
Renee and Walter Coventry were at the memorial service with their sons. Renee is the regent of the Ocala Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She said Samuel is a recipient of the DAR’s Outstanding Youth Volunteer Award for Service to Veterans for his volunteer work at the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park and for documenting veterans’ stories through the Veteran History Project.
Walter Coventry said that learning the biographies of the four chaplains gave “substance” to his sons’ knowledge of the story.
“I’m very proud of my sons,” he said.Janet Horton, a retired Army colonel and chaplain for 28 years, who has served at the Korean DMZ and in Germany, placed a wreath in honor of the four chaplains and gave a benediction. Horton, who was at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks, said she was on the opposite side of the building when the jet slammed into it and that she immediately went to the area of the damage with the first responders.
Army Sgt. Rudy Lyons, Army Lt. Col. Carolyn Smith and Coast Guard CPO Mike Kelso also placed honorary wreaths. The Marion County Memorial Honor Guard provided a rifle salute, taps and retired the colors. John Earl played bagpipes.
Supporters and sponsors of the memorial included the Marion County Veterans Council, Friends of Marion County Veterans Park, DAR/Ocala Chapter and Children of the American Revolution/ Ocali Society and Hospice of Marion County. Special guests at the event included Korean War-era veteran Ralph Mueller and his daughter Dorothy Mueller.
To learn more, go to armyhistory.org/no-greater-glory-the-four-chaplains-and-the-sinking-of-the-usat-dorchester/