Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
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Interfaith In Action

Stamp collecting is a fabulous hobby. It is the accumulation of materials related to payment of postage on letters to be mailed by the post-office. A philatelist is someone that collects stamps and many individuals view stamp collecting as a miniature work of art. As a teen I too collected stamps, especially European stamps. Stamp collecting is a fantastic hobby and it’s an educational hobby for one learns the history of many different countries, their culture, and who their leaders are.

I remembered reading that King George V of England, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, was an avid stamp collector. His fantastic collection today is worth millions. He too started his collection as a young teenager in Britain.

My brother Gene was also a stamp collector. He started at an early age, collecting mostly American stamps. Looking back at his stamp collection, as a young boy, I remembered one particular stamp that stood out and made quite an impression on me. That stamp was called, “Remembering the Four chaplains who lost their lives on the ill-fated ship called, the S.S. Dorchester.”

This 3 cent stamp, grayish-blue in color was issued on May 28, 1948, to remember the heroism of four brave men who gave their lives to save others. I remembered the story as a child, and how this stamp stood out from all the others showing the S.S. Dorchester in the background and four cameo pictures of these brave chaplains. On the side of the stamp are the words interfaith in action.

The S.S. Dorchester was built in 1926 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. It left New York on January 23, 1943, en-route to Greenland, carrying approximately 900 men. They were part of a convoy of three ships escorted by three Coast Guard Cutters.

During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, 12:55 A.M. the S.S. Dorchester was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine, a U Boat 229 off the coast of Greenland.  The ship began to list quickly, sinking fast in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. That night, these four chaplains gave their all to calm the ship. They were determined to go down with the ship so that others might live.  When the life jackets ran out, each one took off their own and gave it to four frightened young men. These four men were able to calm hundreds of panicking soldiers, preaching courage as many left the ship. Linking arms as the ship began to sink, the four chaplains prayed aloud together offering encouragement to those perishing with them. 

The impact of the four chaplain’s story made headlines all over the world. It was so deep and moving throughout the United States that they were awarded the posthumously the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart.  These four ministers held the rank of first lieutenant. Locking arms that night were a Methodist minister, The Rev. George L. Fox, Reformed Rabbi, Alexander D. Goode, Catholic priest, Father John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America, the Rev. Clark V. Poling.

Although I am not a stamp collector, I have always found this hobby so interesting. However, the Four Chaplain’s Stamp has always remained with me. It is a simple stamp that tells so much of the human race in wartime. It is a stamp showing love and interfaith in action during the time of war.  

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Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com