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First Name: John

Last Name: Washington

Birthplace: Newark, NJ, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Home of Record: Kearny, NJ
Middle Name: P.

Date of Birth: 18 July 1908

Date of Death: 03 February 1943 (Presumed)

Rank: First Lieutenant

Years Served: 1941 - 1943
John P. Washington

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John P. Washington
First Lieutenant, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Army

John P. Washington was born on 18 July 1908 in Newark, NJ. Born as one of seven children to Irish immigrants, Frank and Mary Washington, John was a religious boy from a young age, rapidly becoming an altar boy at his local church in Newark, NJ, where he grew up. A talented sportsman and intelligent and hard-working child, he performed well at school and was accepted into Seton Hall Preparatory School, then located in South Orange, NJ, where he completed high school and took courses designed to prepare him for the priesthood. Following his graduation, he moved to the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University and took minor orders in 1933, being ordained a priest in 1935.

He served at several New Jersey parishes over the next six years, before joining the U.S. Army upon hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. After brief periods in Indiana and Maryland, Washington was transferred to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, MA, and attended Chaplains School at Harvard University. There he met fellow chaplains, Lieutenants George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode and Clark V. Poling. In January 1943, the chaplains embarked on board the USAT Dorchester, which was transporting over 900 soldiers to the United Kingdom via Greenland.

On 2 February 1943, the German submarine U-223 spotted the convoy on the move and closed with the ships, firing a torpedo which struck the Dorchester shortly after midnight. Hundreds of men packed the decks of the rapidly sinking ship and scrambled for the lifeboats. Several of the lifeboats had been damaged and the four chaplains began to organize frightened soldiers. They distributed life jackets from a locker; when the supply of life jackets ran out, each of the chaplains gave theirs to other soldiers. When the last lifeboats were away, the chaplains prayed with those unable to escape the sinking ship. Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedo struck, the Dorchester disappeared below the waves with 672 men still aboard. The last anyone saw the four chaplains, they were standing on the deck, arms linked and praying together.


The four chaplains were all awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart and received national acclaim for their courage and self-sacrifice. A chapel in their honor was dedicated on 3 February 1951 by President Harry S. Truman at Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia. The Four Chaplains' Medal was established by act of Congress on 14 July 1960, and was presented posthumously to their next of kin by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Fort Myer, VA, on 18 January 1961.

Washington is honored with a feast day along with the other Four Chaplains on the liturgical of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. on 3 February.

Distinguished Service Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to First Lieutenant (Chaplain) John P. Washington (ASN: 0-463529), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States. On the night of 3 February 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, a loaded troop transport, was torpedoed without warning by an enemy submarine in the North Atlantic and began to sink rapidly. In the resulting confusion and darkness some men found themselves without life jackets and others became helpless through fear and the dread of plunging into the freezing water. Chaplain Poling with three fellow Chaplains, moved about the deck, heroically and calmly, encouraging the men and assisting them to abandon ship. After the available supply of life jackets was exhausted they gave up their own and remained aboard ship and went down with it, offering words of encouragement and prayers to the last. Chaplain Fox's great self-sacrifice, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplifies the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the Chaplains Corps, and the United States Army.

War Department, General Orders No. 93 (December 28, 1944)


First Lieutenant John P. Washington died of drowning on 3 February 1943 in the Atlantic Ocean. The bodies of all who were lost were never recovered.

Memorials for the Chaplains are located at the Chapel of Four Chaplains in Philadelphia, PA.

Honoree ID: 3201   Created by: MHOH




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