Dan Kurzman, |
No Greater Glory:
The Four Immortal Chaplains & the
Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II
(Random House, 2004)
It is a profound irony that war, man's most inhumane treatment of his fellow man, oftentimes provides the most poignant lessons in humanity, selflessness and heroism. The four men honored as the Four Immortal Chaplains would doubtless have eschewed the kind of praise their actions have won over the years, arguing that they were just men doing God's work on earth, but their story will be a source of inspiration and an example of true honor and bravery for all years to come. The tragedy of 9/11 helped inspire Dan Kurzman to tell their story anew; with No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains & the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II, he succeeds admirably in bringing a spirit of hope and unity to today's fractured world.
The Four Immortal Chaplains came from different backgrounds and religious faiths, but the bond of goodness and friendship that bound them together made them spiritual brothers united in the face of a common fate. George Lansing Fox was a Methodist minister who had already fought heroically and been wounded in World War I; Father John Washington was a scrappy young Catholic priest who cheated on his eye test in order to qualify for the Army; Clark Poling was a Dutch Reformed minister who left his young family and his famous evangelist father to serve; and Alexander Goode was a brilliant Jewish rabbi consumed by a mission to promote universal brotherhood among all men of all religions. Each man had not only joined the services as chaplains after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they had each adamantly pursued a combat post overseas.
They never made it to the front, finding themselves posted on the USAT Dorchester as she made her way from the nation's east coast, through Tornado Alley, to Greenland in early 1943. German U-boats lay in wait underneath the icy waves of the North Atlantic, and on Feb. 3, 1943, the U-223 fired a torpedo that sent the Dorchester to the bottom of the ocean. It was one of the worst naval disasters in American history, as over 900 men went into the icy sea, two-thirds of them to their deaths -- in part due to highly questionable orders from the transport commander who delayed any rescue effort. Among the dead were the four chaplains, who live on in spirit thanks to their heroism on that awful night.
The first half of the book describes the inspiring lives these four chaplains led before joining the army during World War II and the remarkable bond they seemed to share once fate brought them together. The remainder of the book details the tragedy of the Dorchester and the inspiring actions of the chaplains in reaction to the disaster. Drawing upon scores of personal and videotaped interviews with survivors and rescuers, Kurzman takes us back to that awful night and details the heroic acts of the Four Immortal Chaplains as they aided and supported the men around them, encouraged and inspired them with the power of their faith, and selflessly gave their own life jackets to others before going down with the ship -- arm in arm and united in prayer.
In a sense, this is just one famous act of heroism among untold numbers of selfless acts that the world will never even know about. The story of the Four Immortal Chaplains has a special meaning and significance, though. They are a symbol of man's greatest hopes, an example to all those who wish for a world of peace where religion unites rather than divides those of different faiths. Even before World War II came to an end, they were honored in the form of a postage stamp bearing their likenesses (normally, a person cannot be so honored until 10 years have passed since his death) and their images still adorn the stained glass windows of many chapels and secular institutions, but it is their indomitable spirit of heroism, brotherly love and good will that speaks most strongly to us today. Their legacy lives on as a shining beacon of light in a modern world darkened by religious conflicts and the evils of terrorism.