Wednesday 17 September 2014

Local link to US war disaster

Donal Nolan

Published 21/08/2013 | 05:36

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New Zealand Rose Judeena Carpenter, Dubai Rose Caroline Callaghan and Sydney Rose Fiona O’Sullivan visited the clients of John of Gods and viewed the project they have done on the sinking of the USAT Dorchester during World War II. Pictured also Clodagh, Eoghan and Cathy O'Sullivan from Castleisland, descendants of one of priests that gave up his lifejacket to save a fellow passenger and project manager Danny Finucane.

ROSES were treated to an amazing story on Monday as they heard how a group of St John of Gods clients carrying out a project on a famous World War II event found out that a relative of one of the central characters was living in Kerry.

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St John of Gods worker and project leader Danny Finucane told Roses how he and a group of the charity's clients carried out a painstaking recreation, using models, of the sinking of the USAT Dorchester.

It was sunk by a German U-Boat torpedo in 1943 in one of the worst naval disasters for US forces in the war.

But a story emerged from the disaster that touched the hearts of thousands of people.

Four chaplains aboard the ship, including a Roscommon native and Catholic Priest, Fr John P Washington, helped saved hundreds of lives as the Dorchester went under. Doling out lifejackets in the mad scramble for safety, they saw hundreds of soldiers to safety.

But the lifejackets ran out. Without hesitation the chaplains took theirs off and ensured the safety of four other soldiers. The four men - including a Rabbi and two Presbyterian ministers - were last seen at the railings of the Dorchester as it sank into icy north Atlantic waters, with arms interlinked singing hymns of praise.

"It was the finest thing I have ever seen this side of heaven," one survivor said afterwards.

Little did Danny and his friends know they were about to make contact with a relative of Fr Washington as they completed the project.

"It was another worker with the St John of Gods, a fellow from Roscommon, who told me that a Washington woman from the same place in Roscommon, Strokestown, was working in Tralee."

Danny tracked her down to her place of work in a local bookmakers and it turned out she was a close relative of Fr Washington. Her name is Kathy O'Sullivan and she was the guest of honour in an emotional event for her at the John of Gods on Monday.

"It felt as if it was meant to be, that we would make this project and meet Kathy and we were delighted to have her with us for the Roses' visit on Monday," Danny said. "It's an amazing story all around really," he added.


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