This is a continuing story of four courageous chaplains who sacrificed their lives by giving their life jackets to others as their World War II troop carrier ship, the Dorchester, sank beneath the icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland, on Feb. 3, 1943. The ship took a direct torpedo hit from a German submarine.
A sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, tried to re-enter his cabin as the ship was sinking, but Rabbi Goode stopped him. Mahoney, concerned about the cold Arctic air, explained he had forgotten his gloves.
“Never mind,” Goode responded. “I have two pairs.” The rabbi then gave the officer a pair of gloves. In retrospect, Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that the rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester.
By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. It was then that Engineer Grady Clark witnessed an astonishing sight.
When there were no more life jackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.
“It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven,” said John Ladd, another survivor who saw the chaplains’ selfless act.
Ladd’s response is understandable. The altruistic action of the chaplains constitutes one of the purest spiritual and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Revs. Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their jackets to the next man in line.
As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains — arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.
Of the 902 men aboard the Dorchester, 672 died, leaving 230 survivors. When the news reached American shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and heroic conduct of the four chaplains.
“Valor is a gift,” Carl Sandburg once said. “Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.”
That night Rev. Fox, Rabbi Goode, Rev. Poling and Father Washington passed life’s ultimate test. In doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage and selflessness.
The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously Dec. 19, 1944, to the next of kin by Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, commanding general of the Army Service Forces, in a ceremony at the post chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia.
A one-time-only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by President Eisenhower on Jan. 18, 1961. Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor but was blocked by the stringent requirements that required heroism performed under fire. The special medal was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.
Alexander D. Goode was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 10, 1911. His father was a rabbi and his mother, Fay, had two other sons, Joseph and Moses, and a daughter, Agatha. Alex received medals at Eastern High School, Washington, D.C., for tennis, swimming and track. He led his class in scholarship too! He planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi, but that did not keep him from having a laughing, shouting, hail-fellow-well-met boyhood with all the Protestant and Catholic boys in his neighborhood. He graduated from Eastern in 1929.
He entered the University of Cincinnati and graduated in 1934 with an A.B. degree — and then on to Hebrew Union College with a B.H. degree in 1937. He later received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1940.
Alex married his childhood sweetheart, Theresa Flax, daughter of Nathan and Rose Flax. Theresa was a niece of singer and motion picture star Al Jolson. They were married on Oct. 7, 1935. His first assignment as an ordained rabbi was at a synagogue in Marion, Indiana, in 1936. On July 16, 1937, he was transferred to the Beth Israel synagogue in York, Pennsylvania, until mid-1942. He and Theresa had a daughter, Rosalie, born in 1939.
Rabbi Goode applied to become a chaplain with the U.S. Navy in January 1941, but he was not accepted at that time. Right after Pearl Harbor, he tried again, this time with the Army, and received an appointment on July 21, 1942. (A reminder that Seymour Johnson Field was an Army post in 1942. The Air Force would not become an independent branch of the military until after World War II.) He went on active duty on Aug. 9, 1942, and he was selected for Chaplains School at Harvard.
He had courses in map reading, first aid, law and chemical warfare. He was then assigned to the 333rd Airbase Squadron in Goldsboro. In October he was transferred to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts, and was reunited with chaplains Fox, Poling and Washington, who were classmates at Harvard.
It was January 1943 when he boarded the USAT Dorchester in Boston and embarkation to Greenland. (Primary source “The Four Chaplains” from the Arlington National Cemetery website.)
Local report by the News-Argus, March 19, 1943
Chaplain Alex D. Goode, formerly attached to Johnson Field, was among the near 800 people who lost their lives in early February when two transports were sunk in a convoy in the North Atlantic, Goldsboro friends have learned.
The monthly magazine published by Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, from which Chaplain Goode was graduated in 1937, carries a memorial page to him. He was the first Jewish chaplain to give his life in service for his country, the memorial page states.
Chaplain Goode assumed his duties with men of the Jewish faith at Johnson Field in September and received transfer orders about the middle of November. He was at the field for a little more than two months.
Survivors include his widow and two and one half-year-old daughter, who are now residing in Washington, D.C., home of Mrs. Goode and a grandmother living in High Point.
Chaplain Goode and family when they first arrived had quarters with Mr. and Mrs. Dewey Hunt, 1503 E. Mulberry St., and later took the Gerald Grant house at 1108 E. Beech St.
Quiet, efficient, and devoted to his work, Chaplain Goode organized the work among Jewish men at Johnson Field. He prepared mailing lists to keep in constant touch with the men. For the short time he resided in Goldsboro he made an unusually large number of friends, it was recalled Friday.
An article of Dec. 5, 1944, tells of his being honored. “A former Seymour Johnson Field chaplain was among the four men to receive the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, which was awarded by the War Department recently. He was Chaplain Alexander D. Goode, husband of Mrs. Theresa F. Goode of Washington.”
Former SJF chaplain celebrated in poem
News-Argus, July 9, 1945
Rabbi Alexander Goode, who with three other army chaplains gave their lives when they surrendered their belts (life jackets) to soldiers in the torpedoing of the transport Dorchester were celebrated in a feature page in a recent issue of the Saturday Evening Post.
The Post gives page to a poem, “They kept their faith,” by Joseph Auslander. It carried pictures of the four chaplains, and illustrations by Robert Fawcett.
The poem is far too long for total inclusion in this column, but here is the leading verse followed by selected others and ending with the last:
“Four men of God put out to sea; (Washington, Poling, Fox and Goode). Their God was one, though their faiths were three. And the men who worshipped their God were free, where the Cross and the Star together stood.
“They asked of no man from whence he came, or at what altar did he pray; gentile and Jew were all the same, before their eyes; they spoke God’s name and gave their own belts away.
“They linked their arms; the Lord they praised, (Four chaplains in the teeth of death) And said their prayers, their voices raised above the dying and the dazed, and blessed the ship with their last breath.”