Jewish group fights for chaplain monument at Arlington
On Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery, no monument exists to Jewish chaplains killed in action.
May 7th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Jewish group fights for chaplain monument at Arlington

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Arlington, Virginia (CNN) – Three German torpedoes ripped through the icy waters of the Atlantic off the coast of Greenland. On February 2, 1943, the USS Dorchester was transporting 902 U.S. servicemen to war. Only one torpedo hit, but it struck a deathblow - killing scores instantly and resetting the ship's course to the bottom of the ocean.

Amid the chaos, survivors later recalled, four U.S. Army chaplains fought to bring calm and comfort, praying for the dead and encouraging the living to fight for survival. They helped frightened servicemen find life jackets and head to rescue craft. Each of the four chaplains gave up his life jacket to save the life of another.

All four stayed on the ship's new course to the bottom of the ocean and gave their lives so others might live. The last thing survivors saw of the four chaplains, they were huddled together praying.

Lt. George Fox, a Methodist chaplain; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic chaplain; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed chaplain, are each memorialized on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery on monuments honoring the service of Protestant and Catholic chaplains killed in the line of duty.

Graves at Arlington are marked with religious symbols.

But amid the sea of white marble tombstones and granite monuments, one name is missing - Lt. Alexander D. Goode, the fourth chaplain from the USS Dorchester.

He was Jewish - a rabbi.

On a quiet hill at Arlington, three large granite and bronze monuments to chaplains overlook a host of graves of fallen military chaplains. One honors chaplains killed in World War I, one honors Protestant chaplains, and one Catholic chaplains.

"I knew the story of the four chaplains," said Ken Kraetzer. "I found three names, the Catholic and the Protestants, but realized there wasn't a monument to honor Rabbi Alexander Goode."

Kraetzer, who is Catholic, was researching a book on veterans from his hometown when he found the gap. A bank consultant by day, he hosts a weekly radio show about veterans and military issues in New Rochelle, New York.

He quickly alerted Jewish military groups to the missing monument.

Since World War I, 13 Jewish chaplains have died while on active duty.

"It's a matter of principle. It's a matter of keeping faith with those who kept faith with us," said Rabbi Harold Robinson, a retired admiral who served as a U.S. Navy chaplain for nearly two decades and who now heads the Jewish Chaplains Council.

"There are about 255 chaplains who died in active service; 242 of them are memorialized on Chaplains Hill. From my perspective that's wrong," he said.

"If you've been in the military, you know about the bond," he said. "You don't leave 13 behind. I don't think anyone intentionally did that. I think that's where it's at, and I think we have a chance to bring them home."

Robinson and Kraetzer got the ball rolling three years ago. They reached out to Arlington officials who, they said, told them if they raised the money privately and had the monument approved by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, it could be erected at Chaplains Hill.

They partnered with veterans groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and quickly had enough money and a design.

"The money's been raised. The design is analogous to the existing monuments," Robinson said.

But things went south at Arlington after a scandal over mismarked graves forced a former superintendent out. The new administration at Arlington said the group would need an act of Congress to put up the new memorial.

"To have the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate pass a bill to allow a memorial, while not very controversial in and of itself, is not the easiest thing in the world to do," said William Daroff, who is government affairs director for the Jewish Federations of North America.

The Jewish Federations of North America was asked by the Jewish Chaplains Council to help get the attention of Congress to pass the bill.

William Daroff of the Jewish Federations of North America walks among the graves at Arlington.

"Over the last decade or two there's been a feeling in Washington there's been too many memorials to begin with," Daroff said, standing in the shade by Chaplains Hill. Congress wanted to make the process more restrictive.

"It's not about Jewish chaplains to begin with but rather it's just about a process to make sure these things aren't going up willy-nilly," he said.

"I don't think it was a purposeful slight of the Jewish community," Daroff said. "But now that it's come to our attention and the attention of Jewish chaplains, it's natural that our nation should stand up and say thank you."

They have enlisted several members of Congress to try to help pass the bill. The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter this month. If the bill makes it out of committee, it would head to the House floor for a vote and, if passed, would go to the Senate.

As the memorial moves closer to reality, the excitement is building among members of the group involved as well as family members of the fallen chaplains.

"It's very, very meaningful to the families," Kraetzer said. "We're hearing from more and more of the families of the 13 chaplains, and it means the world to them to have the recognition for their family member."

"Every cross, every monument, at Arlington bears a story," he said. "That's one of our goals - to get the story out."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • DC • Judaism • Military • United States

soundoff (352 Responses)
  1. Josiah King

    Hey guys, May be the U.S. a lot greater off staying with Syria's Assad?

    December 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  2. Monbois

    I'm sure it WAS an intentional "oversight" that there's no memorial honoring Jewish chaplains who sacrificed their lives for their country – or Muslim or Buddhist or anything else! There should also be a memorial honoring all the atheists who also gave their lives despite the fact that they felt in their hearts that there was no glorious afterlife to go on to after death.

    This isn't a very well reported story. Eric Marrapodi should have contacted Artlington and some Congressmen/women & Senators to get their take. He should have found out whether the law stipulates that there needs to be an Act of Congress or if the current cemetery administration if simply giving them the run-around.

    Also, were no government funds used to erect the current memorials? Really? Somehow, I doubt it...

    August 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  3. TR

    How dare all of you pick on the jews. This is wrong. You assume all Jews think they want a memorial. It is only extremists. Look past our faiths to find a greater good in other men and women. United we stand divided we fall.

    August 11, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  4. BW

    Yes, all men are created equally, But why, in these discussions, is it always when Jews point out an error in terms of the honoring of their own, that the other "equal's" seem to get offended? ALL the memorial asks for is the equality that so many of you closest bigots seem to detest. Perhaps you would be better off living in a less tolerant country.

    August 6, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  5. IAM2

    All men are created equal,but not all men are treated equal.See because of ethnic backgrounds and other stumbling garbage we tend to not recognize some people. These men worked for and served in the military just like the men doing the fihghting.That in its self should speak highly about these men.Matteres not if they are jewish,catholic,prodestant,whatever let them be recognized like the others.I am for these men having a monument in Arlington

    June 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  6. YANKO


    June 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  7. EM

    This is a good idea.

    May 30, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  8. countdown

    Why does Jewish people seem to only care and point out they Jewish people died? Seems rather selfish and not caring about others. Selfishness is a sin to God.)
    The hostile Christian strikes again. This individual's inability to think and to care about others is scary.

    May 30, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  9. Dara Nix

    My father was a Chaplain who retired from the Army as a Colonel with 31 years of service. He COULD have chosen to be buried on Chaplain's Hill ... but instead he chose to be buried in a plain pine coffin among the men he ministered to. To me, that is FAR more honorable than being buried among your peers. I am all the more proud of him for it!

    May 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Dara Nix

      And notice I did not mention his denomination .... because it is irrelevant

      May 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.