Together They Served

The Story of the Four Chaplains

The Four Chaplains, also referred to as the "Immortal Chaplains" or the "Dorchester Chaplains," were four World War II chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilian and military personnel as the troop ship SS Dorchester sank on February 3, 1943. The Dorchester was a civilian liner converted for military service in World War II as a War Shipping Administration troop transport. She was able to carry slightly more than 900 military passengers and crew.

The ship left New York on January 23, 1943, en route to Greenland, carrying approximately 900 others, as part of a convoy of three ships escorted by Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba, and Comanche. During the early morning hours of February 3 the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. The chaplains helped the other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.

The impact of the chaplains story was deep, with many memorials and coverage in the media. Each of the four chaplains was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. The chaplains were nominated for the Medal of Honor, but were found ineligible as they had not engaged in combat with the enemy. Instead, Congress created a medal for them, with the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.

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Bill Schaaf of Troy receives Four Chaplains Brotherhood Award

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. - Members of the Jewish War Veterans joined with the First Reformed Church of Schenectady and more than 120 attendees in the Clark Poling Chapel to honor Bill Schaaf of the Patriot Guard Riders as the 55th recipient of the Four Chaplains’ Brotherhood Award Sunday, February 23, 2020.

Schaaf, of Troy, N.Y., has more than a dozen years of supporting the veteran community in his role as a Patriot Guard Rider, Ride Captain, Senior Ride Captain and Assistant State Captain. Since 2016, he has served as State Captain and President of the Patriot Guard Riders Board of Directors.

Please see the entire write up below.

JWV Brotherhood Award Presented to Army Veterans, Volunteer


Bill Schaaf of Troy receives Four Chaplains Brotherhood Award

 

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. - Members of the Jewish War Veterans joined with the First Reformed Church of Schenectady and more than 120 attendees in the Clark Poling Chapel to honor Bill Schaaf of the Patriot Guard Riders as the 55th recipient of the Four Chaplains’ Brotherhood Award Sunday, February 23, 2020.

Albany Post 105 of the Jewish War Veterans has led the effort to recognize a member of the community since 1966 in honor of the value of selfless service of the Four Chaplains.

Clark Poling was one of Four Chaplains lost in the North Atlantic February 3, 1943 during the sinking of the troopship Dorchester. Poling had served the faith community at the First Reformed Church before entering military service as an Army Chaplain in World War II.

After helping distribute life jackets to soldiers who left theirs below deck and guiding them to life boats, the chaplains, a Protestant minister, Dutch Reformed minister, Catholic priest and Jewish rabbi, without hesitation, removed their own jacket and gave them up to save others as the ship sank. Of the 904 aboard, 605 were lost, one of the worst American naval disasters of WWII.

The Four Chaplains Brotherhood Award furthers the spirit of "unity without uniformity" by encouraging goodwill and cooperation among all people. The non-denominational award honors people whose deeds symbolize the legacy of the Four Chaplains, said Fred Altman, post commander for the JWV Albany Post 105.

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“Reverend Clark V. Poling, Reverend George L. Fox, Father John P. Washington and Rabbi Alexander D. Goode. That’s why we’re here today,” Altman said. The vision of the Four Chaplains Brotherhood Award is to impart the principles of selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.

Schaaf, of Troy, N.Y., has more than a dozen years of supporting the veteran community in his role as a Patriot Guard Rider, Ride Captain, Senior Ride Captain and Assistant State Captain. Since 2016, he has served as State Captain and President of the Patriot Guard Riders Board of Directors.

“Bill’s efforts go above and beyond the volunteers we see throughout our community,” Altman said. “He shows a drive and commitment to help others and has touched the lives of thousands of veterans and their families, a fitting tribute to the service of the Four Chaplains.”

Schaaf received numerous proclamations and citations from local, state and federal representatives at the ceremony.

“The example of the Four Chaplains is more resonant today than ever before,” said U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko, representative of the region’s 20th district.

“What an expression of community,” Tonko said. “It is an honor to join with Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Families here today to recall the sacrifice of the Four Chaplains and to spotlight a truly deserving member of our community, Bill Schaaf.”

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“When I reflect upon the stature of this Four Chaplains Award and all that it represents – my awareness of the previous Four Chaplains Award recipients with their incredible backgrounds and achievements, I am humbled to be considered in their company,” Schaaf said in his remarks.

“The Jewish War Veterans Albany Post 105 are to be commended for keeping their ecumenical spirit alive and well in holding this ceremony in the very church building whose Christian services were presided over by one of the Four Chaplains, Lt. Clark Poling,” Schaaf said. “How fitting it is that we meet here in his remembrance.”

Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Schaaf served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971, leaving service with the rank of sergeant. He is currently employed as a licensed insurance broker.

In 2009, three years after he joined the Patriot Guard Riders, he was lead coordinator for Patriot Guard honors for the three-day escort of remains of an unknown Civil War Union soldier brought home from the Antietam Battlefield for interment at the Saratoga National Cemetery.

In a similar role, he became state coordinator for the Patriot Guard Veterans Recovery Program that year, creating and managing a program with New York funeral directors to identify unclaimed cremated remains of veterans to ensure they receive military honors and interment. Under his direction, more than 200 unclaimed veterans have received their final honors and interment at Bath National or Saratoga National Cemeteries under his leadership.

Not satisfied with all this current work, Schaaf is currently working with local volunteers to form a new charitable organization to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among veterans.

“I only accept this kindness to me on behalf of the Patriot Guard Riders,” Schaaf said. “People often ask us why we do what we do. Simple: because it’s the right thing to do. It is I who is privileged to be standing here in their sted.”

“Of all the things that I’m being accused of accomplishing, these missions would not – could not – have been successful without boots on the ground leadership and the active, willing participation of the dedication men and women of the Patriot Guard Riders,” he said.

“The Patriot Guard is all about being a visible reminder that there are those among us that will always be there to offer dignity, honor and respect for the life and service of our veterans.”

Since 1966, the Jewish War Veterans of the Capital District have recognized civic leaders, community organizers and issue advocates, educators, healthcare providers and clergy for their humanitarian efforts that convey the spirit of the Four Chaplains.

The Jewish War Veterans Capital District Council has posts in Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and Amsterdam. For more information, visit www.jwv.org.

Click HERE to go to Past Recipients of the Four Chaplains Brotherhood Award

 

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