During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, four World War II chaplains gave up their life jackets to save soldiers aboard the sinking USAT Dorchester following a German submarine attack.
St. Stephen’s Church in Kearny — where one of the chaplains last served as associate pastor — on Sunday marked the 80th anniversary of their heroic deaths to honor the men with a presentation of colors, tribute Mass, and an extensive artifacts display.
“The death of the four chaplains is a historic event in American history… one of the most selfless acts, heroic acts that anyone could give,” says Paul Fried, a retired educator, EMT and special police officer for the town of Haworth (Bergen County)
Mark S. Auerbach’s connection to the four chaplains is simple.
“Rabbi Goode was my cousin,” the retired government employee says. “ The gentleman who just left is my cousin Paul, he was a son-in-law.”
Four chaplains of different faiths serving in World War II made the ultimate sacrifice.
“And give their life preservers and their only hope for being saved and to give them to another human being and then die together,” says Fried.
Lt. Alexander Goode, a rabbi; Lt. George Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; and Father Washington selflessly acted in God and a need to help others.
“For men of faith to do what they did — it wasn’t for their own glory; it wasn’t for their own honor,” Father Joe says it was what God had instilled in them.
St. Stephens Church wants to keep the Four Chaplains at the forefront of people’s minds even 80 years later.
“And the ecumenical aspect of it back in 1943, not only was the world segregated but Catholics and Protestants didn’t even get along,” says Fried.
And unprecedented that they keep this legacy alive… for Mark S. Auerbach; it’s personal. At five-years-old he made a promise to his father that he would always do just that and he’s keeping his word 70 years later.
“You need to, because it’s what everyone personifies and talks about on a daily basis,” Auerbach says. “ And four individual men no longer with us actually did it.”
This was not a spur of the moment decision.
“It was a decision that they’d been formed/trained to do, by virtue — by values from their families. The way they were raised,” says Father Joseph Mancini.
They epitomized selflessness.
“And they didn’t have to think too long and hard about it,” Father Joe says it’s just what had to be done and they did it. St. Stephen’s even immortalized the Chaplains’ sacrifice when they commissioned internationally renowned sculptor Timothy Schmalz to create a monument outside the church as a testament to their heroism.
“One of the amazing things — if there’s a heaven and I’m sure there is, they’re all up there and I hope to meet them one day when I meet my maker,” says Fried.
It’s an ageless story of heroism and patriotism that connects everyone.
“Father Joe, the congregation, the church, Nancy Waller, doesn’t get any better,” Auerbach says.
Father Joe has a military background in his family. His father was in the National Guard, grandfather was in the Navy, various uncles and cousins engaged in military service through the years.
“So, for me to be at the head of this is — it’s kind of like a way to honor them as well,” says Father Joe.
According to Auerbach, they try to keep this fresh for the sake of accuracy,” he says of his extensive artifacts display.
“This particular picture is Rosalie Fried. Her maiden name was Rosalie Goode, that was Paul’s wife.”
Jesus would not say it… for he says to be in faith you will mourn with those who mourn.
“To give thanks for what those who have gone before us have done,” says Father Joe. “It’s really a great honor for us as a parish.”
You will work for peace and you will give yourself for justice.
“When you think about acts of bravery, acts of unconditional love, acts of sacrifice; we’re asked to do that everyday — maybe not to the extent of a sinking ship in wartime,” Father Joe says.
What are the ways that we can show unconditional love without asking anything in return, without putting ourselves first…
Father Joe says obviously some are more grand than others.
“But sometimes it’s all the simple things, the little things that can add up to the big one,” he says.