God Bless All Who Serve

by Desirae Sifuentes

Spring of 2022 was a strange time for my family. Instead of being home in Arizona, we were gallivanting around New England, due to an extended work trip-turned-family-vacation. We were “settled” in upstate New York, but traveled down to the Big Apple, Philadelphia, and beyond. As we took in the beautiful scenery and appreciated the plentiful graveyards, we were headed east on a New Jersey turnpike when I looked up and saw a sign telling us we were making our way over “Chaplain Washington Bridge.” As a bit of a history nerd and a lot of a military wife, I decided to look up Chaplain Washington to learn his story. It’s one I will not soon forget. 

On July 18th, 1908 John Patrick Washington was brought into the world in Newark, New Jersey. He was one of seven children born to his parents Frank and Mary, and his religiosity was evident from a young age. As a boy he altar served, as a lad he went through Catholic high school, and as a man we enrolled in the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology. He took minor orders in 1933 and was ordained in 1935. He served dutifully at several parishes around New Jersey until December 7th, 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor ignited in him the desire to enlist and serve his country at war. His pre-deployment training took him around the country until he eventually found himself at Harvard, where he met three other Chaplains by the names of George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, and Clark V. Poling. By January 1943, John and his other Chaplain friends were stationed aboard the Dorchester. This ship set sail from New York Harbor with a plan to bring over 900 soldiers to the United Kingdom.

The Dorchester would never make it. 

On February 2, 1943, the German submarine U-223 sighted the crew and closed in, firing a torpedo just after midnight. It was a critical hit, and the Dorchester began sinking, fast. Panicked crew aboard scrambled to find lifejackets and lifeboats, but many were damaged when the ship sustained the hit. Chaplain John Washington and his three fellows leaped into action: they straightened out the terrified soldiers and began handing out lifejackets and directing the men into what lifeboats they had. Once the chaplains ran out of lifejackets to give, they took the ones they were wearing off of their backs and gave those. When the final lifeboat sailed away, the chaplains were stranded on a sinking ship with almost 700 other men whose fate would mirror their own. Just 27 minutes after being wounded by the torpedo, the Dorchester would be fully swallowed by the dark, freezing ocean. Survivors last saw the chaplains aboard the deck of the ship, arm in arm, praying as the ship went down. 

They became known as The Four Chaplains. Father John Washington, George L. Fox, Alexander D. Cook, and Clark V. Poling were each awarded with the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross for their heroic, inspiring, self-sacrificing service to their country. Together and individually they received many other honors, dedicated buildings, and even the eastbound turnpike in New Jersey that I had been traveling on those years ago. 

Many Catholics question whether the faithful can serve their country without violating their faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a lot to say on this topic, but most notably paragraph 2310 says: 

“Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.”

We feel our heartstrings pull when service members are killed in action. People like The Four Chaplains, Fr. Mychal Judge, Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno, Fr. Emil Kapaun, Fr. Aloysius Schmitt, Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., and many more successfully served their country and their faith, and their stories are equally as inspiring as they are bittersweet. We are thankful for their ultimate sacrifice, and we remember them, especially at this time of year. 

When you’re with your family celebrating America’s birthday this year, remember to pray for all those who gave all they had in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Shop God bless America.