ORLANDO – They’re known throughout history simply as The Four Chaplains. But for anyone who has served in the military, they instantly know exactly what that’s a reference to.
They were four chaplains of different faiths who gave up their own means of survival to allow others to live. It happened on Feb. 3, 1943, during the second World War, aboard the sinking USS Dorchester. And it was, Eustace L. Horne noted, a moment in military history that deserves to be remembered, and honored, and respected, for what it says about the ultimate act of selflessness and bravery in the midst of war and human suffering.
“A huge transport was torpedoed by the Germans,” said Horne, the president and trustee of the Corporal Larry E. Smedley National Vietnam War Museum in Orlando. “The boat was sinking, and they realized they did not have enough life jackets.”
Those four chaplains, he said, agreed to give up their own life jackets to save someone else, even if it mean their certain death.
On Saturday, the board of directors of the Vietnam War Museum at 3400 N. Tanner Road in east Orlando paid tribute to those fallen chaplains, in a special ceremony that was performed by the Young Marines, the Orlando Devil Dogs.
“We’re having our Four Chaplains Ceremony,” Horne said, held to commemorate the brave act of those four World War II heroes, while also allowing the Orlando Devil Dogs to demonstrate that America’s military is strong hands with dedicated young people still heeding the call to duty.
The Young Marines is a youth education and service program for boys and girls, ages 8 through the completion of high school, that promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members, while focusing on character building and leadership. It’s the official youth program of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Orlando Devil Dogs is one of more than 300 Young Marines units belonging to the National Young Marines of the Marine Corps League program.
They remain active in the community, as well as with the Vietnam Memorial Museum, having raised more than $5,000 for them this year.
“Our Young Marines are always here,” said Craig Demange, project manager and director of the National Vietnam War Museum.
When the museum’s board of directors held its monthly meeting on Saturday, their treasurer, Richard Booth, encouraged everyone to stay and watch the ceremony, during which the Orlando Devil Dogs lit a candle for each of the four chaplains who died on the USS Dorchester.
“If you have not seen it, please remain,” Booth said. “It’s a moving event.”
It also helped to put a spotlight on the activities of the museum itself, which remains committed to collecting and recording the history of the war in Vietnam.
Established in 2000 as the National Vietnam War Museum, Inc., this non-profit agency changed its name recently to Cpl. Larry E. Smedley National Vietnam War Museum. The museum is owned and operated by the Vietnam Veterans of Central Florida, Inc., a non-profit organization founded in 1982. Smedley was a United States Marine who died in Vietnam on Dec. 21, 1967 at the age of 18.
“Recognizing that the tragedy of the war in southeast Asia has become comfortably distant in the minds of many Americans, this organization has embarked on a very ambitious undertaking — building a war museum that will bring the people and events of this bitter, divisive conflict to life, so that current and all generations of Americans remember the Vietnam Veterans legacy of service, sacrifice, and valor,” the museum’s web site notes. “The museum is dedicated to all Americans, from local schools and youth organizations to soldiers currently defending our great nation, in the hope that everyone passing through the gates will leave with a better understanding of past and present military conflicts.”
The museum is open to the public on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is free. Private and educational tours are available to be scheduled. The museum is also expanding, Demange noted.
“Our gift shop will be open by our next meeting – open for business,” he said.
Demange also noted that The Blue Diamond Band will perform at the museum – also known as “The Bunker” — on Saturday, March 24 from 6-10 p.m., with a dinner being served at this event.
“These are some of the things we have going on here,” he said.
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