From the January 2008 issue: A Chaplain’s Saga of Love, Valor, and Loss
Valentine’s Day was fast approaching, and Alexander Goode wanted to make certain that his beloved, Theresa Flax, received his letter in time. Goode would go on to become a legendary figure in World War II as one of the four “Immortal Chaplains,” but for now he was a twenty-five-year-old rabbinical student who had just confirmed his wedding plans and could not be more ecstatic.
Wednesday—Feb. 6, 1935
The sun has broken through the dark clouds and I’m the happiest sweetheart in the world. Our plan is just what I’ve been hoping to hear. If I knew you’d be in now, I’d call you by phone to tell you how happy I am. As it is, if I can locate a stamp I’ll send this special delivery. Now we can make our plans to marry in December which should be an ideal date. Of course we’ll get a place near school, furnished, and at a price within our means….We’ll be so happy together, darling. You’ve given me new life by your concession and I’m sure we’ll both be the happier for it. I know now that all will turn smoothly and everything will go our way….
From now on, sweet, no more dark clouds—only a clear and bright horizon ahead for us both. Don’t you feel better too, now that this question of a wedding date is settled? Now we can go ahead and work to make sure that our dreams are realized. I haven’t told anyone but my heart is singing and I’m hardly able to restrain myself from shouting to the whole world how happy we are. I may be a little delirious with joy, now sweet, but
I know how much I love you—surely more than man loved before and all I can say is a thousand thousand times I love you, I love you, my sweet adorable you. You have made me so happy I’m walking on air. This is my lucky day….
I love you
At the time, most Americans were primarily concerned with the economic hardships throughout the land. But some, including many Jews, were also anxious about Hitler’s ominous rise to power in Germany. In another otherwise tender letter to his sweetheart, Goode reflected on the man who would ignite a firestorm years later:
Theresa, dear, why don’t you write me sometime more intimately about yourself, what your opinion on things is, what you think about, what your interests are, anything at all so that I can feel I am closer to you when I read your letters, something that will reveal you yourself, in all your charm and sweetness, just say anything at all as long as it concerns you and I will love it….
Recently I have cultivated a taste for poetry, a sure sign that I have become a mere shadow of my stern self and now am as sentimental and love-smitten as all the fellows I used to laugh at in former years. Keats and Shelley are my highbrow recreations now and fine fare they are too. If it were not for my infernal habit of reading so terrifically fast I could no doubt appreciate far more their charm and beauty. It is not at all mushy either. Perhaps when I become more familiar with them I’ll try to impart some of the joy I get from reading their poetry to you. The Bible is not so bad for poetry either. Just read the Song of Songs sometime. It is not long, but its beauty is overpowering. They are the love songs of the ancient Hebrews and as love poetry they have never been surpassed.
Speaking of the Bible I might mention that by this time in my preparation for the career of a Rabbi I have read most of the Bible, and when I say read I really mean studied carefully, at least three times, so that I am more familiar with this great library of our people than I am with any other volume I have ever studied or read. In it is stored such a mine of information and beauty that I am tempted to think with our ancestors who absolutely believed that everything in the Bible was true and that all things that man can experience under the sun are contained therein. So much is treasured up that I could not begin to describe its contents.
It really is heartrending that more people do not seek out its treasures. Perhaps if Hitler read some of its valuable sayings he would be a wiser ruler than he is destined to become.
His policy now means utter ruin, not only to the Jews, but to the whole of Germany itself. He can no more injure the Jews of Germany without seriously depriving the nation itself of all its wealth and position than he can cut off his nose without detriment to his Charlie Chaplin-esque physiognomy. I see no hope for our kinsmen abroad. Germany’s loss, however, is our gain for expulsion of the Jews from Germany means that many of the greatest Jews alive today will emigrate to America and greatly promote the development of Jewish culture in this country. As long as their lives are not injured it will be a gain to American Jewry to have these Jews here. There should be no difficulty in the way of their entering America. This country will be glad to have them.
There I go veering off at a tangent. I am grateful to this letter indeed because it has caught my interest and made me lose sight of my own mood, blue as blue can be, of an hour ago. I think I feel better now. May my slumber be as peaceful as I hope yours will be tonight…so with a tender caress …goodnight.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rabbi Goode enlisted in the U.S. Army, completed his orientation at Harvard University’s chaplain school, and at age thirty-two was ready to deploy overseas, leaving behind Theresa—now his wife of six years—and a baby daughter. Just before he embarked for Europe in January 1943 on the troopship USAT Dorchester, he wrote to his wife.
Just a hurried line as I rush my packing. I’ll be on my way in an hour or two. I got back yesterday afternoon just before the warning. Hard as it was for us to say goodbye in N.Y. at least we could see each other before I left. Don’t worry—I’ll be coming back much sooner than you think. Take care of yourself and the baby—a kiss for each of you. I’ll keep thinking of you.
Remember I love you very much.
These were the last words Theresa Goode ever received from her husband. At 1:00 a.m. on February 3, 1943, the Dorchester was torpedoed by a U-boat one hundred miles off the coast of Greenland. As soldiers aboard the sinking ship began to panic, Goode, along with three other chaplains—George Fox (Methodist), John Washington (Catholic), and Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed)—calmed the men and handed out life jackets. When they realized there weren’t enough for everyone on board, the chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them away. The last anyone saw of the chaplains was the four men locked arm in arm, praying together as the ship went down, taking them and 672 other men to their graves in the waters of the Atlantic. The bodies of the chaplains were never found.