By Simon Ambit
It’s just after midnight and you are propelled out of sleep by a thundering crash! The floor beneath you begins slumping to one side and the sounds of emergency begin to echo in your ears! Within seconds, the vessel you are aboard is taking on water and within approximately 20 minutes all 368 feet of the massive ship are beneath the water! This was the exact scene of a horrific reality for the 904 individuals aboard the SS Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943.
Leaving New York Harbor on Jan. 23, 1943, Dorchester was bound for southern Greenland, where she was scheduled to make port at the Army command base at Narsarsuaq. Tragedy struck with impact at 12:55. While crossing the waters of the Labrador Sea (an arm of the Northern Atlantic Ocean), Dorchester was torpedoed by a German submarine. The damage was catastrophic; the 5,649 ton vessel lost all power and control. They could not send distress notification and the massive ship listed to one side so severely that some lifeboats on the port side were unable to be launched.
Due to overcrowding, some of the lifeboats that did make it away from the wreckage capsized. The water temperature was near freezing at 34 degrees and the air at 36 degrees. Most of the 675 lives lost were a result of hypothermia.
Among this ice cold horror lives an exceptional act of heart-warming heroism and charitable valor. Among those aboard the Dorchester during the voyage were four military chaplains: George L. Fox, Clark V. Poling, John P. Washington and Alexander D. Goode. These four men helped other passengers board available lifeboats, never taking a seat for themselves. Then, after the supply of flotation jackets ran out, these men sacrificed their own lives as they willingly removed their life jackets and gave them to those without them. Upon giving away their life jackets, these men, all of different faiths, came together to sing hymns and pray together arm in arm as they went down with the Dorchester.
Tides of inspiration rise within me as I think of these great men and their ultimate sacrifice for their shipmates. I believe that in each of our lives, we have times where the world around us gets struck by a metaphorical torpedo and we or someone around us seems to be going beneath the water. What do we do to help? Do we turn away as if we don’t notice anyone in need? Do we run for safety taking care of only number one? Or do we do what we can to benefit the cause? I hope that we can take the time to look around us, find ways in which we can lift, in which we can help, in which we can share a little high ground during the time of someone’s proverbial flood. Life is good. Grow stronger by lifting someone up.