The true meaning of selflessness

Posted On: Wednesday, 14 February 2024

By Cathi Taylor, ALA National Headquarters Archivist 
In 1998, the United States Congress designated Feb. 3 as Four Chaplains Day in commemoration of an extraordinary act of selflessness. For on that day in 1943, the USAT Dorchester was struck by a German U-boat torpedo in the North Atlantic, resulting in the death of 672 men. Only 230 survived. Among those who died were four Army chaplains who gave their lives so that others might live.
I won’t repeat the full story here as there are numerous websites you can consult for that, such as The Army Historical Foundation and the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, in case you aren’t familiar with this event in American history. 
​However, the internet search results you receive will not include the sincerest rendering, as it can only be found in the February 1971 edition of the American Legion Auxiliary National News magazine. The author, Rev. Isadore Gertrude Fox, was the first ordained minister to hold the office of ALA national chaplain (1970-1971). I suppose you would expect her to speak so eloquently about faith, hope, love, and the good that comes from sacrifice. 
But what I find so astonishing is not so much what she said in this piece, but what she didn’t say. You won’t find a request for sympathy or pity, nor an expression of anger that the chaplains thought more of the men on that ship than their families. Instead, you will find that Rev. Fox was filled with an inner peace in the men’s actions because she knew it was for the greater good. No other Auxiliary member could understand nor explain their faith and devotion better than she. That’s because 1st Lt. George Lansing Fox — one of those chaplains — was her husband and father of their two children. 
This wasn’t the first time Rev. Fox imparted on this topic, for she was called upon to speak on numerous occasions. Journalist A. Ritchie Low heard her in September 1945 at a church in Vermont. In his article printed in New England newspapers, Low described Rev. Fox’s devout faith as contagious, something he believed to be in short supply.
“We need too her cheerful outlook, her firm conviction that while today we may see through a glass darkly, the time will come when all will be revealed, and all shall be made plain,” Low wrote. “But until such times, until the day break and the shadows flee away, we should aim to do our bit and to let our lights shine.”
Today, I present to you the words of former ALA National Chaplain Rev. Isadore Gertrude Fox on the true meaning of selflessness and the good that flourishes forth from it written for this historic event’s 28thanniversary. May her words be an inspiration to us all.

A Time To Remember
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

February 3, 1943 has become a date which reminds men everywhere that the above words from the Holy Bible are a living symbol for sacrifice. For on that date Four Men of God, chaplains in the Army of the United States, gave away their life belts to soldiers on the sinking U.S.S. Dorchester and went down with the ship.
Need I repeat the story of this tragic event? It is well-known by the members of The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary. It has become the symbol of Brotherhood throughout our great land. It is a call to love in a sacrificial way for the benefit of mankind to the end that they may have a better world in which to live. Not by dying but by living so unselfishly that others may live more abundantly. 
These four chaplains did not question each other as to who was to try to save his life. They were only concerned for the safety of their men. Of course they must have thought of their wives, their children, and loved ones closest to their hearts, but they heard above the screeching of the chilling winds of the North Atlantic, the crashing timbers of the disintegrating ship, and the screams of the men plunging into freezing water, the voice of the great Teacher saying, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” and they answered the call.
May we pray to our Heavenly Father to give us a willingness to sacrifice all things unessential to decent living that we may have the means whereby we may be a blessing to the sick, the helpless, and needy people of our world. God help us to so do. Amen.

— The Rev. Isadore Gertrude Fox, American Legion Auxiliary national chaplain (1970-1971)

ALA Digital Archive Collection
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