Valentine’s Day is worthwhile because it encourages us to show love to others. It’s easy to say we love someone, it’s another thing to show it.
In school, it was always the more popular kids who got the Valentines. Does that mean they were more loved? And what does that cupid character have to do with it?
On this day, 75 years ago, a noble example of true love was shown by four military chaplains. In the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, the USAT Dorchester pushed through frigid North Atlantic waters carry 900 soldiers. It was a cruise ship hastily pressed into service as a troop transport during World War II.
A Nazi submarine (U-223), which had been stalking her, fired a torpedo into her side far below the water line. The deadly missile made a direct hit to the boiler room, creating a huge explosion. Scores of soldiers died instantly and many others were jolted from their bunks.
Amidst the confusion and terror, the four chaplains appeared on the slanting deck. Two of them were Protestant ministers, one was a Catholic priest, and the other was a Jewish rabbi. They worked with single-minded purpose, encouraging dazed and delirious men, some of whom had rushed topside in only their underwear.
They opened a storage locker and distributed life jackets, then coaxed young soldiers frozen with fear to calmly make their way to the lifeboats. The supply of life jackets was soon exhausted and the chaplains took their own and gave them to others.
When giving their life jackets, Reverends Fox and Poling did not call out for a Protestant, Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic, and Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line.
The fortunate ones paddled away from the stricken ship in lifeboats and saw something many would never forget. They could see the four chaplains clinging to each other on the steeply sloped deck. Their arms were linked together and their heads bowed. They were praying on behalf of the dead and dying.
One survivor, Private William Bednar, floated in oil-smeared water surrounded by corpses. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” Bednar recalled. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”
Minutes later, the Dorchester sank, taking with her the four selfless chaplains–but not before they helped save 230 soldiers. When the news reached America, the nation was stunned by the tragedy, yet uplifted by the heroic virtue of the chaplains.
True love. Godly love. The kind of love not expressed by the giving of a Valentine or a box of chocolates. The kind of love that goes forth without demanding anything in return. Other-centered rather than self-centered.
*Petition: Dear God, may I be willing to love my neighbor with such sacrificial love.