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Adapted from an incident described in the book, No Greater Glory, by Dan
Kurzman (Random House, 2004).
Many years ago, I played my harmonica at the wedding reception of a dear
friend, surprising both bride and groom and sharing a little of what I'd
learned from Dave in second floor classrooms on Pico Boulevard while
digesting chili dogs from Der Wienerschnitzel. I'd been practicing hand
effects. My solo, though heartfelt and well received, did not advance the
cause of world peace. But as Gerhard Burke and his audience found out, some
George Fox, Alex Goode, Clark Poling, and John Washington were American
military chaplains and friends who died together on a troop transport that
sank off the coast of Greenland in 1943. In a time when people of different
faiths seldom even talked to each other, this priest, rabbi, and pair of
ministers from rival Protestant denominations (Dutch Reformed and Methodist)
set a heroic counter-example by going to each other's religious services
and, when their ship was torpedoed, giving their own life jackets to
terrified shipmates. They four men were last seen praying together with
interlocked arms as their ship sank.
In 2000, the foundation established in memory of these chaplains hosted a
visit to the United States by the former captain and first officer of the
U-boat that had sunk their troop ship, the converted passenger liner,
Other people wanted a show of brotherhood and were ready to let bygones be
bygones, but the rabbi's widow wasn't happy about welcoming members of the
submarine crew who had been responsible for her husband's death.
Author Dan Kurzman picks up the story: Despite her torment, Theresa shook
the Germans' hands and silently accepted their expressions of respect for
her husband and of sorrow for her suffering. [First Officer Gerhard] Buske
helped ease the tension by removing a harmonica from his pocket and playing
a slow, moving version of Amazing Grace. Everyone applauded, then sank
into a silence electric with mixed emotions.
Three years later, Buske took out his harp again and played John Newton's
famous hymn at the foundation's sixtieth-anniversary remembrance ceremony.
Honor? Or Hohner? The obvious answer is both, actually.