"Four Men of God"

by Edgar Guest

From Living the Years, 1949 

Some one many years ago said: "There never was a good war or a bad peace." Every war leaves behind the seeds of hatred which eventually lead to bitterer strife. War never grows better; with every new step scientists take, with every new device created the horror of war increases. The best that can be said for the struggle to kill and to destroy is that sometimes good comes from it; high examples of the courage of devoted men are set for future generations to remember and to admire. By such incidents great causes are advanced. It was so in World War II. The greatest example of devotion to duty and to the cause of human brotherhood was not set by soldiers or sailors or the brave men of the air force, but by four men of peace. Four Men of God I like to call them, one a Catholic priest, one a Jewish Rabbi, and the other two ministers of the protestant faith. In time of great peril they dared to die, together, their arms about each other’s shoulders, the four speaking the common prayer that unites us all.

The transport Dorchester set forth upon her dangerous mission north.
     Grim winter rode the seas with her, and cold and gray the sky.
There were four men of God aboard to do the service of the Lord,
     To share the life of fighting men and shrive them, must they die.
Four chaplains, Catholic and Jew and Protestants (by chance) were two:
     Poling and Fox and Washington and Alexander Goode.
Four men of God—enough to say—who questions, which was which today?
     Four men of God who shared the dream of worldwide Brotherhood.
They did not preach the narrow way; they lived with men from day to day;
     They understood their smiles and tears, their every joy and care;
The human heart they understood; found in the worst a share of good,
     And tried to do for God those deeds which men beseech in prayer.
The Dorchester’s clean decks they trod; four gracious, humble men of God,
     Who served both braid and dungaree as though they were the same;
Who never questioned post or place, religion, color, caste, or race
     Of any who in earnest need of aid or comfort came.
Aye, there were times when faith alone called each to worship with his own,
     When Rabbi, Priest, and Minister knelt down with one in grief,
And times when each would draw apart to comfort many a lonely heart
     Or strengthen at the battle’s eve some faltering boy’s belief;
But one must ask the question: Who was Catholic, Protestant, or Jew?
     Unless the holy vessels on the altar had been laid,
For in the ship’s life—weal and woe—there was no outer sign to show
     That form of worship, rite, or prayer the slightest difference made.

War takes no heed of wrong or right.
The only god it has is might.
Its deadly missiles screaming fly,
Not caring who shall live or die;
Not asking: Is the mission fair?
Not wondering: Does the good Lord care?
Or will their fearful force be spent
Where sleep the old and innocent?

Below the waters, cold and green,
Within a German submarine
A youthful, listening sailor stirred.
The sound of moving ship he’d heard.
He rose and to his captain spoke.
A periscope the surface broke!
The captain turned it, left and right,
And peering through the slotted sight,
He waited for the ship to pass
Across his little field of glass.
The Dorchester came into view.
To battle stations went the crew.
"Fire one" was ordered. Then: "Fire two!"
From tubes, shot out with flaming breath,
Went two shrewd instruments of death.
Controlled by many a wise device,
They sped upon a course, precise,
To sink their targets—ship and men!
"Good," said the captain. "Down, again!"

Upon the decks of ships are chests in which are life belts stored
     Against the time when men must trust themselves unto the sea.
At such a chest each Chaplain stayed to calm and hearten boys afraid
     And pass them belts to hold them up till rescued they could be.
But some too frightened were to leap; they would not risk the raging deep,
     Convinced that death awaited all who ventured overside.
"Trust God!" they heard the Chaplain say. "Trust God and go! ‘Tis death to stay!"
     And thus was many a youngster saved who otherwise had died.
No talk of Catholic or Jew! No question: "Protestant are you?"
     But this: "Your belt! God keep you safe!" No sign of inner fear.
Four humble men of God, just then in peril with their fellow-men,
     Who dared to keep the faith they’d taught when death was drawing near.
Then when the last life belt was gone and still were others who had none,
     "Here," said each Chaplain of the sea, "take mine! Your life ‘twill spare!"
And with this last brave service done, they stood together—four as one!—
     And linked their arms and bowed their heads and spoke a final prayer.
From bow to stern the vessel shook. Those in the sea who turned to look
     Just as the ship went down beheld four men of God, who stood,
Arms linked together and at prayer! Four men of God undaunted there,
     Who dared to die for their belief in ties of brotherhood.
Oh, there are times when hate and strife stain all that’s best in human life,
     When bitterness so fills men’s hearts that hatred seems their trade,
But ‘gainst war’s horror, filth, and crime will shine for all remaining time
     The glory of united faiths which four brave men displayed!

We are not told the prayer they chose,
Since death so swiftly came.
I fancy, though, ‘tis thus it goes:
"Our Father, Who in Heaven art,
Hallowed be Thy name!"

Additional Resources:

Story of the Four Chaplains

Immortal Chaplains Foundation

The Chapel of Four Chaplains

The Four Chaplains