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Heroism displayed during sinking of the Dorchester inspires creation of local group

The legacy of the Four Chaplains lives on through a York County memorial organization.

YORK, Pa. — Seventy-nine years ago, during World War II, the S.S. Dorchester was sunk by a torpedo. She was on her way to the Army Command Base in Southern Greenland when the Germans attacked in the Labrador Sea that fateful February day in 1943.

674 people died, including the men who would become known as the Four Chaplains. They helped the 230 soldiers that survived. They took off their life preservers and gave them to soldiers who didn't have one.

"I think they represented the unity that was necessary during the war years," said Gordon Freireich, one of the founders of The Four Chaplains Memorial of York County, a group that is dedicated to honoring the legacy of the four men.

Credit: DVIDS / Joseph Johnson
Painting depicting the Four Chaplains

Two of the chaplains have ties to south central Pennsylvania.

Methodist minister George Fox was born in Lewistown, Mifflin County. When he was 17 years old, he left school and lied about his age to serve in World War I.

Credit: U.S. Government
George Fox
Credit: Gordon Freireich
Original Temple Beth Israel in York, PA. The building on South Beaver Street is now a Catholic church.

Rabbi Alexander Goode served York's Jewish community at Temple Beth Israel. Before leaving for the war in October 1942, he helped create York's first racially integrated Boy Scout troop.

Credit: Gordon Freireich
Alexander D. Goode

"While he was in York, [he] was very progressive for his time. He was very active in interfaith organizations in York. He was a member of the Rotary Club," said Freireich. 

Goode's work in the York community and as one of the Four Chaplains inspired Freireich and Allen Damashek to create The Four Chaplains Memorial of York County in the early 1990s.

"Tom, Allen Damashek, myself and several others got together and put together the first breakfast which was scheduled for February 3rd to coincide with the actual sinking of the Dorchester," Freireich said.

The organization has been continuing Goode's legacy for three decades through a prayer breakfast. It will celebrate the 30th anniversary in May by following the tradition of honoring the volunteers in our community and providing scholarships to local students.

"The spirit of the Four Chaplains is captured in that scholarship. In that a group of diverse men and women can lead by example with a purpose greater than themselves and solve problems in the community," said Terry Gendron, President of The Four Chaplains Memorial of York County. 

The Four Chaplains Memorial of York County 30th anniversary gala is May 11. The youth breakfast is May 12.

To learn more about The Four Chaplains Memorial of York County, click here.

To get involved and donate to the cause, click here.

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