An extremely powerful tribute to the Four Chaplains was held at Carlson United Methodist Church on February 10. This was the sixth annual ceremony, held in remembrance of four heroic Army Chaplains: Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist, Lt. Clark V. Poling, Lt. John P. Washington, Lt. Alexander D. Goode, who gave up their life jackets while aboard the sinking USST Dorchester, so others might live. The ceremony began, as Mayor David Lyons led the Pledge of Allegiance, as the Hendry County Sheriff’s Explorers presented the flag. Nick Fidanza then introduced himself as the emcee, as the Fire House Singers were seated behind him. The singers began a poignant medley of the Armed Services anthems, as the Explorers marched in with a banner representing each branch of the military. Veterans stood up proudly as their respective banners were presented.
Fidanza spoke of how he had heard of the story of the Four Chaplains almost seven years before, from Phil Keyes, the producer and director of the ceremony. Fidanza said that the Chapel of the Four Chaplains currently runs a variety of programs worldwide. From the Legion of Honor program, that recognized “ordinary people that do extraordinary things,” to student scholarships, veterans outreach, and first responder programs, the legacy of the Four Chaplains lives on, 76 years later.
The soul-stirring story of the Four Chaplains was then told by Phil Keyes. As he described the scene of the tragedy, tears filled the eyes of those seated in the pews. Keyes told of the moment the ship was hit, and began to fill with frigid water, and that many of the men died instantly. Sheer chaos erupted, amid explosions, and the Four Chaplains immediately tried to calm the frightened soldiers. Reassuring the men with prayers and singing hymns, as they issued lifejackets. There were not enough lifejackets to go around, so the selfless chaplains each unbuckled theirs and handed them to the panicked men. In just over 20 minutes, the ship was completely submerged. Survivors reported hearing the Chaplains singing “Amazing Grace” as the lifeboats drifted away. Of the 902 aboard the Dorchester, 230 survived.
Phil Keyes somberly read the touching biographies of each of these altruistic heroes. Candles were lit for each of the Four Chaplains by Bill Davis, Commander of the American Legion Post #130, Marvin Ruple, Commander of the LaBelle VFW Post #10100, Steve Harn, Commander of the LaBelle DAV Chapter #34, and Bill Maddox, Sr. Deacon of the LaBelle Masonic Lodge #379. They also gave a salute and rang a bell after each candle was lit. There was not likely a dry eye in the church, as the Firehouse Singers then sang “Amazing Grace.” The ceremonial POW/MIA table and chair was then presented, and the Explorers retired the flag, followed by a 21 Gun Salute, Taps, and an inspirational and reflective prayer by Chaplain Fred Wright. The ceremony concluded with the singers preforming a touching rendition of “God Bless America.”