On Christmas Day in 1934, John P. Washington, the son of Irish immigrants, was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Father John was appointed as a U.S. Army chaplain.
He attended chaplaincy school at Harvard with three other chaplains — Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), The Reverend George L. Fox (Methodist) and The Reverend Clark V. Poling (Reformed Church in America, Protestant).
The four chaplains were soon deployed together.
Before he left, Rabbi Goode wrote a quick letter to his wife, Teresa, whom he had known since childhood. "Darling, Just a hurried line as I rush my packing. I'll be on my way in an hour or two. Don't worry — I'll be coming back much sooner than you think. Take care of yourself and the baby — a kiss for each of you. I'll keep thinking of you. Remember, I love you very much. Alex."
The Rev. George Fox's wife, Isadora, understood her husband's motivation. Known as "the Little Minister," the Rev. Fox was barely 5 feet 7 inches. During World War I, Fox lied about his age in order to enlist in the Marine Corps. He was awarded a Silver Star, was discharged and entered civilian life. He was ordained as a Methodist minister. After Pearl Harbor, he told his wife, "I've got to go. I know from experience what those boys are about to face. They need me."
The Rev. Clark Poling was the son of an army chaplain. He enlisted soon after World War II started, with the support of his family, and embraced the interfaith principles of military chaplaincy.
The four chaplains were deployed as lieutenants in the U.S. Army aboard the troop ship Dorchester. On Feb. 3, 1943 in the North Atlantic, a German submarine torpedoed the Dorchester 100 miles off the coast of Greenland. The ship rolled to its starboard side and began to sink. Somehow, there were not enough life jackets for the 904 soldiers aboard. There were not enough life boats. Without hesitation, the four chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. Then they assisted the soldiers onto the life boats. As the ship went down, they sang hymns and comforted the soldiers remaining on board.
Those who survived, just 230 men, recalled the four chaplains, standing on the hull, holding hands and praying together. Private William B. Bednar wrote, "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going."
In the military, a chaplain from the serviceman or woman's own faith may not be available. Military chaplains render pastoral care to service members from many different faith backgrounds. Every chaplain will pray with people of different faiths.
How is this possible? As Army Chaplain Abdul Rasheed-Mohammed (Muslim) notes, "My personal belief has always been, with faith in God, all things are possible."
Thank you to all who delivered cans of tuna and other food to the Valley Sun offices. The cans have been delivered to the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry. Merry Christmas!
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.