Jewish chaplains’ faith set in stone
A memorial to 14 Jewish chaplains was dedicated Monday at Arlington National Cemetery, a welcome milestone despite a bittersweet feeling that the day was a long time coming.
“These men have been standing in line for admittance. Their journey has been long, but this is their last stop,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs. “Americans might not know the story of the Jewish chaplains … but now they will know of the courage, dedication and power of faith on the battlefield.”
The $50,000 memorial is the newest addition to the revered military cemetery and the last to be erected on Chaplains Hill, a grassy knoll that overlooks the southeast horizon where memorials already stood for Protestant, Catholic and World War I chaplains.
The Jewish chaplains went unnoticed until three years ago when a military history buff from New York reached out to Jewish advocates about getting a proper memorial for them.
A granite slab now stands proudly on the hill, its gleaming plaque engraved with the names of the 14 chaplains who died in active duty as far back as 1943. At the bottom of the memorial, written in gold lettering, is the Bible verse “They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”
The courage of one Jewish chaplain was the catalyst for Mr. Kraetzer’s project.
Rabbi Alexander Goode, an Army lieutenant and graduate of Hebrew Union College, found himself 68 years ago aboard a torpedoed military transport vessel, the USAT Dorchester, in the North Atlantic.
As hundreds of U.S. soldiers panicked and prepared to be swallowed by the dark, cold waters, Rabbi Goode and three other chaplains — one Catholic and two Protestant — gave away their life jackets and prayed together to show unity and calm amid the terrifying chaos of the sinking ship.
News of the chaplains’ sacrifice and unified front despite religious differences inspired the nation.
While the names of the three other chaplains made it to the earlier plaques, Rabbi Goode’s had been missing, and now is the first name listed on the new memorial.
More than a dozen speakers championed the deeds of the fallen chaplains, including Maj. Gen. Cecil Richardson, chief of chaplains for the Air Force, and brothers Rabbi Eli Perlman and Cantor Emanuel Perlman, who brought some in the audience to tears with their recitation of the funeral prayer “El Malei Rachamin.”
“We belong there. We fought in every war,” said John Robbins, commander of the Chwatsky Farber Post 717 of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States in Oceanside, N.Y., who made the five-hour drive to Arlington with fellow post members.
Steve Muro, the Department of Veterans Affairs undersecretary for memorial affairs, told the audience Monday that faith is an important part of the lives of soldiers and that the sacrifices of the 14 chaplains was not in vain.
“They gave their tomorrow,” he said, “so that we could have our today.”
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