Objects of the Month

November 2010: Four Immortal Chaplains postage stamps, 1948

Four Immortal Chaplains postage stamps, 1948
  • Object No.: 1995.06.2
  • Donor: Teresa Goode Kaplan
  • Description:

    Sheet of postage stamps, 1948. Stamps depict the sinking S.S. Dorchester and portraits of the Four Immortal Chaplains

In 1948, Chaplain Alexander Goode (far right on the stamp) and three Christian chaplains were memorialized on this three-cent stamp for their heroism during World War II.

Alexander Goode grew up in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Eastern High School, and served Washington Hebrew Congregation during the summers while studying for his ordination at Hebrew Union College.

Photograph of Chaplain Alexander Goode, early 1940s
At age 32, Rabbi Goode enlisted as a military chaplain. He was assigned to the USAT Dorchester, an overcrowded ship carrying more than 900 soldiers and civilian workers to the European front.

In February 1943, just miles off the Greenland coast, a German U-boat torpedoed the ship. In the ensuing pandemonium, Chaplain Goode and three Christian chaplains calmly directed their fellow soldiers to lifeboats. Chaplain Goode and the other chaplains gave away their life jackets and joined arms at the ship's railing—praying and singing hymns to men on lifeboats and in the water. The ship sank 27 minutes later, taking the chaplains with it.

The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously to the chaplains' next of kin, and a one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961.

Chaplain Goode is one of fourteen Jewish chaplains who has perished while in service. In 2011, the Jewish Chaplains Monument was unveiled on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery, joining the monuments for World War I chaplains, Protestant chaplains and Catholic chaplains. To complement the new memorial, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington partnered with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington to create a guide to Jewish sites in Arlington National Cemetery. Published in 2013, it highlights memorials and individual burials of Jewish interest.

Do you have wartime material that you'd like to donate to our archival collection? Call (202) 789-0900 or email info@jhsgw.org.