The Four Chaplains

On January 23, 1943, the USAT Dorchester left New York harbor bound for Greenland carrying 902 officers, servicemen and civilian workers. The Dorchester was escorted by three Coast Guard cutters. On February 2, one of the cutters detected the presence of a submarine but failed to find the submarine’s position. The C.O. of the Dorchester ordered the men to sleep in their clothing, with life jackets close at hand. They were only 150 miles from Greenland and daylight would bring air cover from the American base.Four Chaplains

Down in the old converted cruise ship’s stifling hold, four U.S. Army chaplains circulated among the frightened young men, some lying wide-eyed in their bunks, others nervously playing cards or shooting dice. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Reformed. Chatting with the troops, the chaplains eased tensions, calmed fears and passed out soda crackers to alleviate seasickness.

Early in the morning of February 3 the chaplains were still up just before 1:00 when the torpedo struck. The missile exploded in the boiler room, destroying the electric supply and releasing suffocating clouds of steam and ammonia gas. The tremendous explosion threw soldiers from bunks and the lights went out as the stricken ship listed to starboard, sinking fast.

Those not trapped below rushed topside. Amid the shriek of escaping steam and frantic blasts of the ship’s whistle, dazed men stumbled about the dark, crowded decks. Some gripped the rails, too struck with horror to head toward the lifeboats.

The four chaplains quickly moved among the bewildered men, calming them, directing them to life rafts, urging them to escape the doomed ship. Many had forgotten their life jackets. The chaplains located a supply in a deck locker and passed them out. When the bin was empty they pulled off their own and made others put them on.

Only two of the 14 lifeboats were successfully used in abandoning ship. Soldiers leaped into the icy sea. They clutched the gunwales of the two overloaded lifeboats, clung to doughnut-like rafts or floated alone. Some men were insulated by the thick fuel oil that coated them and floated in lifejackets for eight hours.

The four chaplains remained on the ship’s slanted aft deck, standing together, arms linked, heads bowed in prayer, as the Dorchester slipped beneath the waves. Their sacrifice would be remembered as one of the most touching stories of the Second World War, and their legacy continues to this day.

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Invictus

By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me, victory
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Creating Fathers

by Erma Bombeck. 

When the good Lord was creating fathers, He started with a tall frame. A female angel nearby said, “What kind of father is that? If you’re going to make children so close to the ground, why have you put fathers up so high? He won’t be able to shoot marbles without kneeling, tuck a child in bed without bending or even kiss a child without a lot of stooping.

And God smiled and said, “Yes, but if I make him childsize, who would children have to look up to?”

farmer-child-hay-istockAnd when God made a father’s hands, they were large and sinewy. The angel shook her head sadly and said, “Large hands are clumsy. They can’t manage diaper pins, small buttons, rubber bands on ponytails or even remove splinters caused by sticks used as baseball bats.”

And God smiled and said, “I know, but they’re large enough to hold everything a small boy empties from his pockets at the end of a day, yet small enough to cup a child’s face.”

And then God molded long, slim legs and broad shoulders. The angel nearly had a heart attack. “Boy, this is the end of the week, all right,” she clucked. “Do you realize you just made a father without a lap? How is he going to pull a child close to him without the kid falling between his legs?”

And God smiled and said, “A mother needs a lap. A father needs strong shoulders to pull a sled, balance a boy on a bicycle or hold a sleepy head on the way home from the circus.”

God was in the middle of creating two of the largest feet anyone had ever seen when the angel could contain herself no longer. “That’s not fair. Do you honestly think those large boats are going to dig out of bed early in the morning when the baby cries? Or walk through a small birthday party without crushing at least three of the guests?”

And God smiled and said, “They’ll work. You’ll see. They’ll support a small child who wants to ride a horse to Banbury Cross or scare off mice at the summer cabin or display shoes that will be a challenge to fill.”

God worked on, giving the father few words but a firm, authoritative voice and eyes that saw everything but remained calm and tolerant. Finally, almost as an afterthought, He added tears. Then He turned to the angel and said, “Now, are you satisfied that he can love as much as a mother?”

The angel shutteth up ….

Strength Made Perfect in Weakness

by Alan Smith 

I read a few years ago the story of a 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move. “Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”

“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.

JudoSeveral months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.”

Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.

On the way home, the boy and the sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind: “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”

“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.

We don’t often view our weaknesses in the same way, but we should. I am reminded of the time that Paul prayed fervently for God to remove some affliction unknown to us, what he called a “thorn in the flesh.” Refusing to remove it, God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).

A Light In the Darkness

The passengers on the bus watched sympathetically as the attractive young woman with the white cane made her way carefully up the steps. She paid the driver, using her hands to feel the location of the seats, walked down the aisle and found the seat he’d told her was empty. Then she settled in, placed her briefcase on her lap and rested her cane against her leg.

 

It had been a year since Susan, thirty-four, became blind. Due to a medical misdiagnosis, she had been rendered sightless, and she was suddenly thrown into a world of darkness, anger, frustration and self-pity. Once a fiercely independent woman, Susan now felt condemned by this terrible twist of fate to become a powerless and helpless burden on everyone around her.

  

“How could this have happened to me?” she would plead, her heart knotted with anger, but no matter how much she cried, protested, ranted or prayed, she knew the painful truth that her sight was never going to return. A cloud of depression hung over Susan’s once optimistic spirit. Just getting through each day was an exercise in frustration and exhaustion. And all she had to cling to was her husband Mark.

  

Mark was an Air Force officer and he loved Susan with all of his heart. When she first lost her sight, he watched her sink into despair and was determined to help his wife gain the strength and confidence she needed to become independent again. Mark’s military background had trained him well to deal with such sensitive situations, and yet he knew this was the most difficult battle he would ever face.

 businesswoman-in-blindfold

Finally, Susan felt ready to return to her job, but how would she get there? She used to take the bus, but was now too frightened to get around the city by herself. Mark volunteered to drive her to and from work each day, even though they worked at opposite ends of the city. At first, this comforted Susan and fulfilled Mark’s need to protect his sightless wife who was so insecure about performing the slightest task. Soon, however, Mark realized that this arrangement wasn’t working, it was hectic and costly. ‘Susan is going to have to start taking the bus again’ he admitted to himself, but just the thought of mentioning it to her made him cringe, she was still so fragile and so angry. ‘How would she react?’ he admitted to himself again.

  

Just as Mark predicted, Susan was horrified at the idea of taking the bus again. “I’m blind!” she responded bitterly “How am I supposed to know where I’m going? I feel like you’re abandoning me”. Mark’s heart broke to hear these words, but he knew what had to be done. He promised Susan that each morning and evening he would ride the bus with her, for as long as it took, until she got the hang of it. And that is exactly what happened. 

For two solid weeks, Mark, military uniform and all, accompanied Susan to and from work each day. He taught her how to rely on her other senses specifically her hearing, how to determine where she was and how to adapt to her new environment. He helped her befriend the bus drivers who could watch out for her, and save her a seat. He made her laugh, even on those not-so-good days when she would trip exiting the bus, or drop her briefcase. Each morning they made the journey together, and Mark would take a cab back to his office. Although this routine was even more costly and exhausting than the previous one, Mark knew it was only a matter of time before Susan would be able to ride the bus on her own. He believed in her, he used to know before she’d lost her sight, who wasn’t afraid of any challenge and who would never, ever quit.

 

Finally, Susan decided that she was ready to try the trip on her own. Monday morning arrived, and before she left, she threw her arms around Mark, her temporary bus riding companion, her husband and her best friend. Her eyes filled with tears of gratitude for his loyalty, his sincerity, his patience and his love. She said good-bye, and for the first time, they went their separate ways. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, each day on her own went perfectly, and Susan had never felt better. She was doing it and she was going to work all by herself.

 

On Friday morning, Susan took the bus to work as usual. As she was paying for her fare to exit the bus, the driver said “Boy, I sure envy you” Susan wasn’t sure if the driver was speaking to her or not. After all, who on earth would ever envy a blind woman who had struggled just to find the courage to live for the past year? Curiously, she asked him “Why do you say that you envy me?” The driver responded “It must feel so good to be taken care of and protected like you are”. Susan had no idea what the driver was talking about, she asked him again “What do you mean?”

 

The driver answered, “You know, every morning for the past week, a fine looking gentleman in a military uniform has been standing across the corner watching you when you get off the bus. He makes sure you cross the street safely and he watches you until you enter your office building. Then he blows you a kiss, gives you a little salute and walks away. You are one lucky lady.”

 

Tears of happiness poured down Susan’s cheeks, for although she couldn’t physically see him, she had always felt Mark’s presence.  She was lucky, for he had given her a gift more powerful than sight. She didn’t need to see to believe. It was a love that brought light where there had been darkness. 

True Friendship

Horror gripped the heart of the World War I soldier as he saw his lifelong friend fall in battle. Caught in a trench with continuous gunfire whizzing over his head, the soldier asked his lieutenant if he might go out into the “no man’s land” between the trenches to bring his fallen comrade back.Soldier

“You can go,” said the lieutenant, “but I don’t think it will be worth it. Your friend is probably dead and you may throw your life away.”

The lieutenant’s advice didn’t matter, and the soldier went anyway. Miraculously he managed to reach his friend, hoist him onto his shoulder and bring him back to their company’s trench. As the two of them tumbled in together to the bottom of the trench, the officer checked the wounded soldier, and then looked kindly at his friend.

“I told you it wouldn’t be worth it,” he said. “Your friend is dead and you are mortally wounded.”

“It was worth it, though, sir,” said the soldier.

“What do you mean; worth it?” responded the Lieutenant. “Your friend is dead”

“Yes, Sir” the private answered. “But it was worth it because when I got to him, he was still alive and I had the satisfaction of hearing him say, ‘Jim…. I knew you’d come.’ “