October 24th, 2011
06:20 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – Standing atop the USAT Dorchester after it had been hit with a German torpedo, four "immortal chaplains" handed out life jackets as the ship sank into the dark Atlantic Ocean on February 3, 1943.
After giving their own life jackets to soldiers, the four chaplains linked arms and began to pray. The men stood together as the lifeboats drifted away; they were last seen singing as the ship began to slip into the horizon.
Three of those chaplains - the Rev. George L. Fox, the Rev. Clark V. Poling, both Protestants, and the Rev. John P. Washington, a Catholic - were memorialized on both their faiths' plaques and the World War II plaque atop Chaplains Hill in Washington's Arlington National Cemetery.
Though the fourth chaplain, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, was memorialized on the hill's World War II memorial, there was no memorial to Goode's faith, Judaism.
On Monday, Goode and 13 other Jewish chaplains joined their interfaith brethren atop the hill at the unveiling and dedication of the Jewish Chaplains Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
The speakers at the event ran the gamut of political and religious affiliations, but the story of the four immortal chaplains was mentioned by nearly everyone.
Alex Fried, Goode's grandson, was in attendance for the unveiling along with other members of his extended family. Fried called the event "a high point and a long overdue step in the process" to recognize the sacrifice of Jewish chaplains.
"This is a message that has direct relevance in today's world," Fried said. "The cross-faith message of the four chaplains ... [is] universal and applicable and, frankly, timeless."
To many people who attended the event, no group of pastors better exemplified the commitment to service and faith of all chaplains more than the immortal chaplains of the Dorchester, a U.S. Army transport vessel.
"The 14 men we honor today were rabbis in uniform," said Maj. Gen. Cecil Richardson, the Air Force chief of chaplains. "These men did much more than preach sermons. ... They walked where warriors walked, and that is what made them military chaplains."
"Faith is the most powerful weapon in our military's arsenal," said Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida. "Through the service of our military chaplains, our soldiers are never alone."
Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida also addressed the crowd, saying Chaplains Hill now represents the "diverse fabric that has made our nation stronger."
The story of the Dorchester was not only a symbol for the monument, it was also the catalyst.
As a member of the American Legion, Kenneth Kraetzer visited Chaplains Hill in 2007 and, in looking for the names of the four chaplains on the Dorchester, was struck by the fact that Jewish chaplains were not memorialized. In his speech at the dedication, Kraetzer said that after noticing the "oversight," he wanted to "bring attention to the service of all military chaplains."
He worked with the Jewish Welfare Board's Jewish Chaplains Council, a service of the Jewish Community Centers Association, as well as the George Washington Institute of Religious Freedom and philanthropist Sol Moglen, who helped raise money for the memorial.
"We had made it a mission to reunite the memory of fallen Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Alexander Goode from the sunken USAT Dorchester with his fellow chaplains," said Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
But not all went smoothly. While the lack of a Jewish chaplains memorial was recognized in 2007, it took until 2011 to get a memorial dedicated. And it took time for the memorial to get approved after a bill honoring the 14 rabbis unanimously passed both the House and Senate in May.
"Nothing happens in this town that [is] easy and quick," Fried said. "There were a lot of hurdles that had to be overcome."
But now that the memorial has been dedicated and sits atop the hill, Fried said, he is both proud and in awe.
He said he was moved at the thought of 14 men who gave their lives for both their faith and country being honored on a hill that overlooks some of the men they comforted while living.
The other 13 memorialized chaplains are: Capt. Nachman Arnoff, Lt. Col. Meir Engel, 1st Lt. Frank Goldenberg, Lt. Henry Goody, Capt. Joseph Hoenig, Maj. Samuel Hurwitz, 1st Lt. Herman Rosen, Lt. Col. Samuel Rosen, Lt. Solomon Rosen, Capt. Morton Singer, Capt. David Sobel, Capt. Irving Tepper and Lt. Louis Werfel.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.