MEDINA — The lives of four Army chaplains, who died 75 years ago providing comfort to troops during World War II, were celebrated Thursday night with a memorial service at United Church of Christ Congregational.
Sponsored by American Legion Post 202 of Medina, the interfaith service brought together more than 75 people including religious and political officials.
“This evening is meant to be an evening of reflection,” said C. Reid Miller, chaplain of American Legion Post 202.
Following the presentation of the flags, four speakers took turns telling the story of each chaplain who died on Feb. 3 ,1943, when the troop transport ship they were aboard was struck by a torpedo launched from a German U-Boat. The Four Chaplains, as they came to be known, were of different faiths, but banded together to provide comfort to troops while the ship sank off the cost of Newfoundland. After giving up their life jackets to others, the men linked arms and began praying. Their bodies were never recovered.
The Rev. David J. Tennant of Medina United Methodist Church, spoke about Chaplain George Fox and how he enlisted to serve in WWII following decorated service in WWI 20 years before.
“Chaplain Fox could have chosen to stay at home,” Tennant said. “By faith, he just knew, ‘I’ve got to go.’ ”
Tennant said Fox and the other men did not let fear or their own personal safety stand in the way of helping their fellow man.
“Heroes-to-be have little concept that they are engaged in a hero-making act,” Tennant said. “It is just something that needs to be done and there is no one else around to do it.”
Emeritus Rabbi Stephen Grundfast of Beth El Congregation in Akron spoke about Chaplain Alexander Goode, a rabbi from New York.
Grundfast said he has been a stamp collector throughout his life, and as a young man had a stamp commemorating the Four Chaplains.
“Years later, I learned about that story and looked for that stamp in many places,” Grundfast said.
He said that despite the fact that each of the men differed in his religious convictions, they came together to be a calming influence as the USAT Dorchester went down, resulting in the deaths of 672 of the 902 aboard the ship.
‘To me, they epitomized love your neighbor,” Grundfast said. “Those four men loved each other as one and they died as one.”
The Rev. David Wallover of Harvest Presbyterian Church in Medina said the youngest of the chaplains, Clark V. Poling, was the seventh generation of his family to be ordained into the Dutch Reformed Church, and wanted to serve his country rather than “hide behind his church.”
Wallover said Poling’s father told him that military chaplains have one of the highest mortality rates in the service; they don’t have a gun to return fire.
Deacon Joseph Loutzenhiser of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church spoke of Chaplain John P. Washington, and also his own time as a young man in Vietnam, and how in war, as in everyday life, “we live in God’s hands.”
Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell also spoke during the ceremony, and said he was happy to see an evening filled with so much diversity.
“It is great to show diversity among the speakers, great to show diversity among the crowd; and I really believe that unity has to start somewhere, and there is no better place than Medina.”
Contact reporter Nathan Havenner at (330) 721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.