Surprise Induction Into The Legion Of Honor
Written by Ray Fairman   

On the 18th of December at a meeting of our local detachment of the United States Marine Corps League I was suprised and inducted into the Legion Of Honor of The Chapel of the Four Chaplains. The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation is a humanitarian foundation that exists to further the cause of “unity without uniformity” by encouraging goodwill and cooperation among all people.

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The organization achieves its mission by advocating for and honoring people whose deeds symbolize the legacy of the Four Military Chaplains aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester in 1943. The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation's vision is to impart the principles of selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.

The Reverend Daniel Poling, in honor of his son Chaplain Poling's heroism, began the movement to celebrate the Four Chaplains acts of courage. The organization was dedicated on February 3, 1951 by President Harry S. Truman. In his dedication speech, the President said, “This interfaith shrine... will stand through long generations to teach Americans that as men can die heroically as brothers so should they live together in mutual faith and goodwill.”

The Legion of Honor Humanitarian Award is given in recognition of a lifetime commitment to selfless service and societal advancement that has demonstrably affected the quality of life in the community, state or nation, service without regard to faith or race. The selection process for this award is rigorous. Distinguished recipients of the Legion of Honor Awards have included Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, James Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Notable luminaries who received the award were Bob Hope, John Glenn, Martha Raye, James Michener, Marian Anderson, C. Everett Koop, Tommy Lasorda and Shirley Chisholm as well as deserving military personnel, veterans, and civilians from all walks of life.

Nominations are accepted for any of these awards from past recipients of the Legion of Honor; church and government leaders; and leaders of civic, fraternal and veteran organizations only. All awards must be publicly presented at a Legion of Honor service or as part of an appropriate ceremony which includes the Saga of the Four Chaplains, which follows.

The courage and selfless actions of The Four chaplains is detailed in the following account:

It was the evening of Feb. 2, 1943, and the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was crowded to capacity, carrying 902 service men, merchant seamen and civilian workers. Once a luxury coastal liner, the 5,649-ton vessel had been converted into an Army transport ship. The Dorchester, one of three ships in the SG-19 convoy, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland. SG-19 was escorted by Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche. Hans J. Danielsen, the ship's captain, was concerned and cautious. Earlier the Tampa had detected a submarine with its sonar. Danielsen knew he was in dangerous waters even before he got the alarming information. German U-boats were constantly prowling these vital sea lanes, and several ships had already been blasted and sunk.
The Dorchester was now only 150 miles from its destination, but the captain ordered the men to sleep in their clothing and keep life jackets on. Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship's hold disregarded the order because of the engine's heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable.

On Feb. 3, at 12:55 a.m., a periscope broke the chilly Atlantic waters. Through the cross hairs, an officer aboard the German submarine U-223 spotted the Dorchester.
The U-223 approached the convoy on the surface, and after identifying and targeting the ship, he gave orders to fire the torpedoes, a spread of three were fired. The one that hit was decisive--and deadly--striking the starboard side, amid ship, far below the water line. Danielsen, alerted that the Dorchester was taking water rapidly and sinking, gave the order to abandon ship. In less than 20 minutes, the Dorchester would slip beneath the Atlantic's icy waters.

Tragically, the hit had knocked out power and radio contact with the three escort ships. The CGC Comanche, however, saw the flash of the explosion. It responded and then rescued 97 survivors. The CGC Escanaba circled the Dorchester, rescuing an additional 132 survivors. The third cutter, CGC Tampa, continued on, escorting the remaining two ships. Aboard the Dorchester, panic and chaos had set in. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded. Others, stunned by the explosion were groping in the darkness. Those sleeping without clothing rushed topside where they were confronted first by a blast of icy Arctic air and then by the knowledge that death awaited. Men jumped from the ship into lifeboats, over-crowding them to the point of capsizing, according to eyewitnesses. Other rafts, tossed into the Atlantic, drifted away before soldiers could get in them.

Through the pandemonium, according to those present, four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed. Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend the wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety.

"Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live," says Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend Fox. One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris. "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying," Bednar recalls. "I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going."

Another sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, tried to reenter his cabin but Rabbi Goode stopped him. Mahoney, concerned about the cold Arctic air, explained he had forgotten his gloves. "Never mind," Goode responded. "I have two pairs." The rabbi then gave the petty officer his own gloves. In retrospect, Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that the rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester.

By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. It was then that Engineer Grady Clark witnessed an astonishing sight. When there were no more lifejackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men. "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven," said John Ladd, another survivor who saw the chaplains' selfless act. Ladd's response is understandable. The altruistic action of the four chaplains constitutes one of the purest spiritual and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line.

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains--arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.

Of the 902 men aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, 672 died, leaving 230 survivors. When the news reached American shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and heroic conduct of the four chaplains. "Valor is a gift," Carl Sandburg once said. "Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes."

That night Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Reverend Poling and Father Washington passed life's ultimate test. In doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage and selflessness.

The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously December 19, 1944, to the next of kin by Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General of the Army Service Forces, in a ceremony at the post chapel at Fort Myer, VA.

A one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961. Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor but was blocked by the stringent requirements that required heroism performed under fire. The special medal was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.

An extract from my nomination, of which I was completly unaware is appended. I was advised by my fellow Marine Corps Leaguers that they had submitted the nomination back in early 2008.

Ray R Fairman is nominated for membership in the Legion of Honor of the Chapel of the Four Chaplains for his unselfish service to his country, his community and his fellow man. Ray is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 4 with over forty-two years of active and reserve service. He also has more than thirty-eight years of sworn civilian law enforcement service and has, since he retired from those careers for pay purposes several years ago, been ordained to the ministry by Calvary Chapel and subsequently certified as a Christian Chaplain by the Georgia Police Officer Standards and Training Commission and serves as an unpaid reserve officer on two law enforcement agencies in his community, as well as the Chaplain to the Winterville GA Police Department where he as served in such a position, with the rank of Colonel, for the last five years.

Ray is on the volunteer staff of The Christian Law Enforcement Summit and participates in two six day law enforcement marriage retreats each year. He donates all honorariums for his speaking and teaching to the Mission Team and Scholarship Funds for those retreats. Ray has been called upon to provide Teaching, Spiritual Counseling and Guest Sermons at various churches in his home state and the Southeastern United States.

He is also a Volunteer for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and responds as dispatched to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, where he volunteered for thirty days to work with the New Orleans Police Department by day and the responding military chaplains at Belle Chase Joint Reserve Base at night and on weekends. Ray coordinated three relief convoys during Katrina as well as personally escorting two additional relief efforts himself. He also responded to the tragic campus shooting at Northern Illinois University and spent a week of working and counseling with veterans, active military, students, public safety employees and others affected by the crisis. While on station in DeKalb IL there he accepted several requests to speak on his volunteer efforts and acted as a liaison with local military, ROTC and public safety personnel.

Ray serves as the Adjutant for the Athens GA Detachment of the Marine Corps League and has for the last five years tirelessly coordinated the Toys for Tots program in NE GA for the Joseph Schmittou Detachment of the Marine Corps League for the past several years, averaging 2500 miles on his personal vehicle while personally bringing in over 9000 toys this year. He has participated in the USMCR Toys for Tots program every year since 1972. He has donated copious amounts of time to the fundraising efforts of the Marine Corps League and has continuously participated in our local “Operation-Support-A- Hero” Packages for Troops efforts

While the U.S. Navy Chaplain stationed at NSCS Athens was forward deployed to Operation OIF, Ray volunteered to provide what ever chaplaincy services he could to the Marines and Sailors stationed there and was tasked with speaking assignments and graduation duties by the NSCS Marine Detachment.

Ray has authored two books, teaches classes at various locations around the country and speaks at conferences on leadership, ethics and character routinely refusing compensation for these undertakings. He provides and maintains three non-profit websites at no cost to the agencies and acts as webmaster for them all.

Ray seeks every opportunity to give back to the military and law enforcement communities because of what he learned by experience of their individual and group spiritual needs during his tenure in both professions.

Ray's wife Joan is a retired RN and a Hospice Volunteer who was a USAR 1LT in the Nurse Corps and they have a son who is a USAR MAJ MI deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom and a daughter who is a USAR CPT also in the Nurse Corps who recently returned from serving four years in Germany and a son-in-law who was a USA MAJ who served in both Kosovo and OIF as a Battalion Surgeon with the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad. Patriotism and service to this nation seems to be a family characteristic in the immediate and extended Fairman household.

There is no need to document all the many other ways in which Ray continues to find ways to serve others, suffice it to say he feels the best example of leadership is serving his fellow man, therefore it is with great pleasure that Ray's nomination for induction into the Legion Of Honor  of The Chapel Of The Four Chaplains is forwarded.

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