They were only hours away from their destination. They were headed for an American base in Greenland. 900 American troops squeezed into a converted luxury liner. Then, just before one o'clock on the morning of February 3, 1943, a torpedo from a german submarine ripped into the side of the Army Transport Ship Dorchester, killing dozens of men outright, wounding many more.
In the ensuing chaos, four U. S. Army chaplains began distributing life jackets. When the supply of jackets ran out, the chaplains removed their own and gave them to others. It was a move described by one survivor as “the finest thing he had seen this side of heaven.”
Soon afterward the world would know about the heroics of Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic priest, Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister, Lt. George Fox, a Methodist minister, born in Lewistown, Pa. and Lt. Alexander Goode, a 31-year-old rabbi who had only recently left the pulpit at Temple Beth Israel in York.
Those who remember Rabbi Goode say they were not surprised when they heard that he had linked arms with the other chaplains and joined them in prayer as the ship went down.
Betty Hirshfield was a member of one of rabbi Goode's last confirmation classes in 1940.
“I figured he was willing to give up his life for all the others, sailors, people aboard,” she said. ” I just felt that he was that kind of a man.”
“That made an impression, those kinds of deeds. I don't care who you are,” recalled a long ago acquaintance of Rabbi Goode, Ike Kranich. ” He was a nice human being. A nice family man.”
The man heading up pastoral duties at Temple Beth Israel today says Rabbi Goode would have been uncomfortable being called a hero.
“It wasn't about him,” said Rabbi Jeffery Astrachan, ” He wanted to enter the service because it was about others. It was especially about his country.”>
The Four Chaplains were later honored by the United States Congress with a special medal for heroism, issued just for them. And today, an elementary school in York is named in honor of Rabbi Goode.