Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington
Four Chaplains Stamp

Four Chaplains, Four Lifejackets, and Courage


Courage was my “One Word” for 2021. So I’ve been especially sensitive to mentions and illustrations of courage. Today’s date is another reminder of the face of true courage.

Seventy-nine years ago during WW2, four chaplains were traveling from New York to Europe on the SS Dorchester along with 900 other military passengers and crew. Freshly graduated from Army Chaplains School, they were journeying to their new assignments. But on February 3, a German submarine torpedoed their ship.

The chaplains distributed lifejackets to the young soldiers. When the soldiers outnumbered the lifejackets, the four chaplains gave away their own. As the last of the lifeboats pulled away from the sinking ship, survivors floating in the frigid Atlantic Ocean could see and hear the four chaplains link arms while praying and singing.

Five years later, the United States Post Office honored these heroes with a commemorative stamp titled “These Immortal Chaplains.” In 1998, Congress designated February 3 as “Four Chaplains Day” to commemorate their sacrificial courage.

I wonder how I would respond in a similar crisis. Would I have the courage to act sacrificially? Or would I be more concerned with claiming one of those lifeboat seats? And I’ve come to realize my decision would not be forged in the moment of emergency, because character is not formed in crisis. Character is developed in the dailyness of life. It is forged in the wearying routines as well as uncertain circumstances. And it is refined by interactions with not just the pleasant people in our lives, but with the unlovable ones, too.

The character quality of courage is not something I can decide to manifest in the rush of the moment. Courage is a mindset I must claim long before it is needed. Come to think of it, isn’t this true of all the character qualities we aspire to? Kindness, forgiveness, patience—in each case, we find it easier to reflect these qualities if we’ve already made up our mind to own them long before they are actually required.

I need this reminder. To be reminded that the little decisions I make in determining my responses to trivial matters will form habits that will come naturally in a crisis. Am I where I want to be in the formation of these character qualities? Not even close. But I hope I’m moving in the right direction.

How about you?


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  1. Nancy E. Head

    Character is not formed in crisis. What a message! Thank you, Ava!

  2. Jessica Brodie

    What a beautiful and inspiring story, and I can just see those men singing praises to the Lord as they transitioned to heaven in the icy water. Faith over fear, truly. As you say, “Courage is a mindset I must claim long before it is needed.”

  3. Joanne Viola

    Amazing story! “Character is developed in the dailyness of life.” Thank you for sharing this story as it was such a good reminder to have a made up mind – a mind set on forming habits that will be needed when a crisis occurs.

  4. Yvonne Morgan

    What an incredible story. Character does develop through our daily lives and I pray I can stand strong in Christ when necessary. Thanks for sharing

  5. Karen Friday

    What a beautiful story and message. I like how you said courage is a mindset that we must claim long before it’s needed. And this is gold, “…character is not formed in crisis. Character is developed in the dailyness of life. It is forged in the wearying routines as well as uncertain circumstances. “

  6. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Ava, what a powerful post, such a wonderful model those chaplains set. The lesson you spell out about the manifestation of these qualities of bravery and selflessness, of course, must be developed by the day to day choices we make to do good. Lord, enable us to recognize the times when we must act selflessly or courageously in our day to day lives, so that we are prepared for those challenging times as well.

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