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Honoring the Four Chaplains

World War II religious leaders celebrated in ceremony

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As Christopher Lau sang the national anthem on Feb. 9, more than 100 people stood with their hands over their hearts or, for those in uniform, in a salute. Veterans and their families had gathered at Glenwood Landing American Legion Post 336 to honor the Four Chaplains, religious leaders who sacrificed their lives aboard a sinking World War II ship to help American soldiers reach safety.

Post members intoned the men’s names — the Rev. John P. Washington, the Rev. Clark V. Poling, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode and the Rev. George L. Fox.

“The American Legion works to make certain that they are never forgotten,” said Post 336 member Christopher Levi as he told the story of the SS Dorchester, a U.S. Army Transport ship that was struck by a German torpedo on Feb. 2, 1943. Realizing there weren’t enough lifejackets for all of the soldiers aboard, the Four Chaplains gave theirs to those who didn’t have them, and went down with the ship.

Post member Fred Nielsen, of Glen Cove, spoke of the importance of remembering the men and of their willingness to come together, despite being of different faiths. They represented an unwavering unity, he said, which should inspire people to stand together despite adversity. He asked God to help mankind achieve such unity.

“Grant us now your abiding presence,” Nielsen said, “and we remain faithful to the spirit of our Four Chaplains, who, having learned to live and serve together, even in death, were not divided.”

Following the lighting of four ceremonial candles, the Rev. Timothy Valentine, the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Wilson, Rabbi Irwin Huberman and the Rev. Mark Applewhite each told the life story of one of the men, from humble beginnings to religious awakenings to the military service that led to their heroic sacrifices aboard the Dorchester.

Then, four Boy Scouts from Troops 6, 114 and 195 approached the religious leaders, who each affixed draped a lifejacket over a scout’s shoulders to symbolize the Four Chaplains’ sacrifice.

Capt. Bob Bazan, commander of Post 336, explained that, by honoring the Four Chaplains, the gathering paid tribute to all members of the U.S. military. “Today we honor their service as clergymen from different faiths, and heroes that saved the lives of other military personnel on the ship,” Bazan said. “You got to hear their stories today, and I hope you take away just the courageousness of all of the World War II veterans and military personnel throughout the decades who have served.”

“We’re all here to help each other — that’s why we’re placed on this earth,” Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton told the veterans in the crowd. “What you have all done to help our country is something that we’re all in awe of, and I’m always so honored to be in your presence.”

The ceremony concluded with a prayer by Huberman, who said that no religion is an island, there is no monopoly on holiness, and no cultural background makes one person better than another. “We are diverse in our devotion and our commitment,” Huberman said. “We must unite in working now for the kinship of all humanity.”