New memorial honors valor of Jewish chaplains

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On a bitter winter night in 1943, four Army chaplains stood on the deck of the torpedoed and foundering USAT Dorchester while hundreds of American soldiers around them prepared to slip into the icy depths of the North Atlantic.

After they removed their life jackets and gave them to others, sealing their fates aboard the doomed Army transport vessel, the men — one Catholic, two Protestant and one Jewish — were last seen with their heads bowed in prayer, offering spiritual comfort to the terrified soldiers.

The story of the four chaplains’ sacrifice is not a new one for military history buffs, but the men represent a segment of combat veterans whose sacrifices, some say, have been underrecognized.

At Arlington National Cemetery, monuments honor Catholic, Protestant and World War I chaplains who died on active duty. For decades, fallen rabbis have not been honored in one place at the hallowed military cemetery. But on Monday, inspired by the sacrifice of Rabbi Alexander Goode from the Dorchester, 14 Jewish chaplains who died in service to their country will get the recognition many say they deserve.

“You don’t leave anybody behind. You bring everybody home with you,” said Rear Adm. Harold L. Robinson, a retired member of the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps and director of the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council. “There were 14 names that had not been brought home. We’ve finally completed that pledge.”

Jewish Chaplains Plaque to be unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery. (The Jewish Federations of North America)

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Jewish Chaplains Plaque to be unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery. (The Jewish ... more >

The effort to get the addition to the cemetery started about three years ago, when Kenneth Kraetzer, a member of the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 50 in Pelham, N.Y., journeyed to Arlington and stopped at the other memorials, located at Chaplains Hill, to pay respects to the four brave men from the Dorchester.

He found the names of three of the chaplains engraved on plaques but was unable to locate an inscription for Goode, largely because there was no Jewish memorial.

“This is a group of veterans that deserve recognition,” he said.

He began to ask around about why there was no memorial and what it would take to get one erected.

One of the men he contacted was Adm. Robinson, who said “we did a little research and discovered all the monuments there were created by religious groups whose chaplains they were commemorating. Why the Jewish community had not done that, we really don’t know.”

Sol Moglen, founder of the 9/11 memorial the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance, spearheaded the fundraising for the Arlington memorial, and he chalked up the oversight to life moving on after the war.

“What happened was everyone was back in their own world. Chaplains came home from the military, they went into their own synagogues, practiced, and no one thought about it,” Mr. Moglen said. “It fell through the cracks. At the end of the day, I’m not sour grapes. More people got to know about it now.”

As Mr. Kraetzer’s idea took hold throughout the Jewish community, supporters researched how and when the monument could become a reality.

They initially thought they could erect the memorial as part of the existing Chaplains Hill display by securing administrative approval from the cemetery’s leadership. By June 2010, the group had completed fundraising for the memorial and developed project designs.

But after submitting the proposal, they were told by officials at Arlington that the monument would be considered a new memorial and would require a joint resolution by Congress.

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