6 Army Chaplains who made the ultimate sacrifice

Chaplains have long held a special place in many troops’ hearts. In fact, at times, they become legends. In the Army, the first chaplains were authorized on July 29, 1775. They’ve been with the troops on the front lines ever since.

Some chaplains have made the ultimate sacrifice. The most famous instance was that of the “Four Chaplains” who were on board the transport SS Dorchester when it was torpedoed by U-223 at 12:55AM on Feb. 3, 1943.

Painting of the rescue of USAT Dorchester survivors by USCGC Escanaba (WPG-77) on Feb. 3, 1943, in the North Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard image)

According to HomeofHeroes.com, when the transport was hit, the four chaplains, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Rev. George L. Fox, Rev. Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington promptly began to aid the troops who were on the stricken vessel.

One sailor was heading back to his bunk for gloves, but Rabbi Goode instead handed his over. Despite a loss of power, they got some of the troops to the deck. Then, they began handing out life jackets, even as the Dorchester was rapidly headed to a watery grave.

Finally, when the life jackets ran out, they gave up their own. They were among the 668 who went down with the Dorchester, but many of the 230 men who were saved owed their lives to the Four Chaplains, each of whom received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.


Army Capt. (Chaplain) Emil Kapaun performs Mass in the field, Oct. 7, 1950. (Photo: U.S. Army Col. Raymond Skeehan)

In the Korean War, two other chaplains notably made the ultimate sacrifice. Chaplain Emil Kapuan, a Catholic priest, was captured during the Chinese offensive of 1950 — and shortly after his capture, he shoved a Chinese soldier who was trying to execute an America.

Then, while held as a POW, he would steal drugs and smuggle them to a doctor. He continued to steal supplies and bolster the morale of his fellow prisoners. He would die in captivity on May 25, 1951. In 2013, he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Chaplain Herman Gilbert Felhoelter. (U.S. Army photo)

Then there was the case of Chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter, also a Catholic priest, who, during the initial salvos of the Korean War, offered to stay behind with a medic to help the wounded. As he was providing comfort, North Korean troops attacked and wounded the medic, who escaped.

The North Koreans then proceeded to carry out what became known as the Chaplain-Medic massacre, killing the wounded Americans and the chaplain. Felhoelter received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for his actions.

These cases only begin to scratch the surface of why the troops love their chaplains.