Today we commemorate in part the death of 1st Lt. Johnny Washington, a Catholic chaplain during World War II. He is one of the formerly famous Four Chaplains, who each gave their lives for the men of their ship, the Dorchester, as it sank after a German torpedo struck it. Three hundred men were saved, at least four by the chaplains actions.
You see, the chaplains had life jackets but gave them to men who had none. As the ship sank, men in the lifeboats saw the chaplains with arms linked praying together on the deck.
On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Congress also attempted to confer the Medal of Honor on each of the four chaplains, but the stringent requirements for that medal required heroism performed “under fire,” and the bravery and ultimate sacrifice of these men did not technically qualify, since their actions took place after the torpedo attack. Therefore, members of Congress decided to authorize a special medal intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor. This award, the Four Chaplains’ Medal, was approved by a unanimous act of Congress on July 14, 1960, through Public law 86-656 of the 86th Congress.
Written in part by James Kiefer
Holy God, you inspired the Dorchester chaplains to be models of steadfast sacrificial love in a tragic and terrifying time. Help us to follow their example that their courageous ministry may inspire chaplains and all who serve to recognize Your presence in the midst of peril; through Jesus Christ our Savior, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.