Sometimes when you write about religion and faith, you get to be part of something extraordinary. That happened to me recently.

Last year, I worked on a story about the Four Immortal Chaplains of the USAT Dorchester for the Covenant Companion, where I am features editor.

Here’s some background on the chaplains.

On February 3, 1943, the Dorchester, a troopship, was torpedoed by a U-boat of the coast of Greenland. Among the 902 soldiers and crew aboard were 4 chaplains—a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and two Protestant ministers.

When the ship was hit, it was their job to hand out life vests. When the vests ran out, they gave away their own, linked arms and prayed together as the ship sank into the North Atlantic.

One survivor called the chaplains act of self-sacrifice “the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

Each year the Immortal Chaplains Foundation--made up of Dorchester survivors, members of the chaplains, and even crew members of the U-boat that sank her--gives out a “Prize for Humanity” in their honor, for someone who, like the chaplains “risked all for someone of a different race or faith.” The motto of the foundation is this: “If we can die together, can’t we live together.”

Last Spring, with the Iraq War about to start, it seemed fitting to do a story on the chaplains. And that’s how I met Ben Epstein. Of the 902 people aboard the Dorchester, only 230 survived, and Ben was one of them.

Ben’s now 82, and lives in Delray Beach, Florida. When I called him last year, he told about his buddy Vince Frucelli. They had met in basic training and become fast friends.

Just before the ship went down, Ben and Vince stood on the rail. Below them was a life raft, still connect to the ship by a rope.

“I’ll jump over the railing and grab the rope,” Ben told Vince. He jumped, grabbed the rope, and slid down the raft. Vince never made it. Whether Vince jumped or not, Ben doesn’t know. All he knows is that he never saw Vince again.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him,” he told me.

The article ran in the May issue of our magazine. A few months later I got an email from Mike Porcellini of Philadelphia. Somehow he’d gotten a copy of the magazine.

And here’s the thing—he’s Vince Frucelli’s nephew. He was three when his uncle died, and for the past 60 years, he and his family have wondered about what happened to Vince.

Every winter Mike takes a vacation to a spot in Florida near Ben’s home. He asked me I could help him get in touch with Ben. And last week, Mike was in Florida, visiting his uncle’s old buddy.

Mike brought along a 8x10 picture of his uncle along with some of the letters his Uncle had written, including the last one he wrote before sailing on the Dorchester.

“We got along famously,” Ben says. “We told him we’ve already adopted him as another son. After 61 years – my head is still shaking. I was as close to his uncle Vince as anyone could be.”

“I can not express how deeply grateful and indebted I am to you for having afforded me the opportunity to meet Ben,” Mike told me in an email afterwards. “It is a memory I will cherish forever.”

So 61 years later, the chaplains are still bringing people together. And this time, I got to be part of it.


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