Ken Wales & David Poling

Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001
Review by Joy Calderwood
Historical Fiction, World War II
During the days when German U-boats made every US convoy ship a floating target, U.S.A.T. Dorchester, on secret mission in the North Atlantic, was sunk with a loss of three quarters of its personnel. The loss would have been greater if it hadn’t been for four army chaplains, shown in the introductory chapter going down with the ship, singing, their life belts given up to whoever happened to be nearby.
It really happened, and there is a Chapel of the Four Chaplains in Philadelphia to commemorate it. The authors give us a short overview of the lives of the chaplains, each of a different faith, and how they lead to the Dorchester. We read a realistic account of the tense voyages of the Dorchester on its way to a mystery destination. Where the authors have used their imaginations is in the private conversations among the chaplains, conversations meant to show the growth of the bond that ultimately leads them to make their inspiring sacrifice together.
We may ponder the value of the lives that were sacrificed. People who care enough to give up their lives for the random people nearby are often the ones who should live for the good of the community. However the authors have no problem with this. They emphasize that at least one soul was saved by viewing the chaplains’ heroism, and it is true that the entire event has been an inspiration to others.
SEA OF GLORY is part adventure story and part religious tract. The authors mention the prospect that it may be made into a movie, which would be a relief because in any mainstream movie all the long prayers would have to be eliminated, along with most of the religious and patriotic musings. Not that there’s anything wrong with religious and patriotic musings, but they make an awkward mix with a World War II adventure thriller.
If the movie is to make it to theaters in today’s climate, the main characters will have to be brought down off their pedestals a bit. Author David Poling lived for a time with one of the four heroes, his cousin Chaplain Clark Poling, and his love and admiration know no bounds. I read a book summary which suggested the chaplains are “too good to be true.” I don’t think it’s simply “too good to be true”; in SEA OF GLORY they are missing dimensions: striving, worry, restlessness, and other little adaptations to life that we all have to make. As to their final actions, I have no doubt that my own father, a pastor, and many other people would have done the same in their place – perhaps without the singing.
SEA OF GLORY is not to be read for its literary qualities. The first chapter is tangled up in long passages with too much irrelevant visual detail, and then the style turns completely around and settles into simplicity for the rest of the book. The authors don't want to exclude the less educated part of their audience. This book is meant to offer an example for others to follow, and it succeeds at that. The Four Chaplains are good role models, a rarity in the art of today.
Jan 2002 review first published on the Independent Reviews Site


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