Because the medal has only been authorized posthumously, and only for one action, it is generally considered a commemorative decoration not intended for wear on a military uniform. The medal also does not appear on any military award precedence charts, although it is considered to be ranking just below the Medal of Honor. The Chaplain's Medal for Heroism could technically be awarded again, if Congress ever bestowed the decoration for future acts of heroism involving military chaplains.
On February 2, 1943 the German submarine U-223 spotted the convoy on the move and closed with the ships, firing a torpedo which struck the Dorchester shortly after midnight. Hundreds of men packed the decks of the rapidly sinking ship and scrambled for the lifeboats. Several of the lifeboats had been damaged and the four chaplains began to organize frightened soldiers. They distributed life jackets from a locker; when the supply of life jackets ran out, each of the chaplains gave theirs to other soldiers. When the last lifeboats were away, the chaplains prayed with those unable to escape the sinking ship. 27 minutes after the torpedo struck, the Dorchester disappeared below the waves with 672 men still aboard. The last anyone saw of the four chaplains, they were standing on the deck, arms linked and praying together.