It was shortly before 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1943 — 65 years ago today — and a German submarine had just blown a gaping hole in the converted cruise ship [named the Dorchester], which was packed with more than 900 soldiers, seamen and civilians headed for bases on the icy reaches of Greenland.
The ship would have about 25 minutes before it sank into the frigid North Atlantic.
As stunned soldiers clambered onto the deck, many started to gather around four officers who had grouped themselves together.
The officers — the Rev. George Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, the Rev. Clark Poling and the Rev. John Washington — were the ship’s chaplains. They comforted the men, prayed with them, tried to calm them down, and scrounged up spare life jackets for the dozens who had failed to put on their own before the attack.
Then, at some point, witnesses said, one of the chaplains took off his own cork-filled life jacket and gave it to a soldier who didn’t have one. Before long, none of the chaplains was wearing one.
The ship tilted heavily to starboard and then slipped beneath the sea. Of the 904 men on board, only 229 survived