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Chaplain's Medal for Heroism

The Chaplain's Medal for Heroism is a decoration of the United States military which was authorized by an act of the United States Congress on January 18, 1961. Also known as the Chaplain's Medal of Honor and the Four Chaplains' Medal, the decoration commemorates the actions of the Four Chaplains who gave their lives in the line of duty on February 3, 1943. The medal was designed by Thomas Hudson Jones (1892-1969) of the United States Army Institute of Heraldry. President Kennedy posthumously presented the award to the chaplains' families.

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.

The Four Chaplains

The four chaplains were lieutenants in the United States Army: Rev. George L. Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Rev. Clark V. Poling (Reformed Church in America) and Fr. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic). In late 1942, the chaplains were transferred to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts and attended Chaplains School at Harvard University. In January 1943, the chaplains embarked on board the USAT Dorchester, which was transporting over 900 soldiers to the United Kingdom via Greenland.

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.

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