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A Book for Our Times: Author Steven T. Collis Shares a Story of Heroism During WWII

Steven T. Collis is a storyteller and law professor at the University of Texas School of Law. He serves as the faculty director of Texas’s Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center and Law and Religion Clinic. Collis is a sought-after speaker nationwide on religion and law and is the author of Deep Conviction: True Stories of Ordinary Americans Fighting for the Freedom to Live Their Beliefs.

His background studying law and religion led him to his new book, The Immortals: The World War II Story of Five Fearless Heroes, the Sinking of the Dorchester, and an Awe-inspiring Rescue. The book tells one of the most inspiring true stories in military and American history. Collis highlights the sacrifices made by the Four Chaplains and a Black petty officer to save hundreds of soldiers  on the SS Dorchester, during World War II.

In 1943, German U-Boats lurked in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, eager to bring down Allied ships. As the Four Chaplains aboard the Dorchester descended into the lower holds, the troops knew something was going on. A vague announcement played over the loudspeakers: Submarines were estimated to be in the vicinity. The Four Chaplains advised soldiers to put on their life jackets as tensions arose. The book further elaborates on Alexander Goode, John Washington, George Fox, and Clark Poling, also known as the Four Chaplains. The Chaplains each came from different backgrounds but fostered a safe environment through prayer and reassurances during a life-threatening time for over 900 soldiers

Then disaster struck. One German U-Boat fired a torpedo directly at the Dorchester, scoring a direct hit. The Immortal Chaplains are well-known for their heroism and were an inspiration to the nation, after calmly helping soldiers through the chaos of abandoning the ship and distributing life jackets, including their own, when supplies ran out. They remained a beacon of hope as the boat sunk, and in their final minutes, witnesses reported seeing the Four Chaplains standing together with their arms linked, praying in their respective languages of faith. They encouraged the panicked men floating in life jackets in the frigid ocean, even in their final moments.

Private First-Class William Bednar, a survivor, reported, “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

Collis is also a pioneer in storytelling, as he delves into the valiant story of Charles Walter David Jr., the fifth and often unattributed hero. David’s story has predominantly remained untold until now. He served as a petty officer and was aboard a Coast Guard cutter traveling with the SS Dorchester crew. Heroism is at the forefront of David’s story as he dove into the glacial waters several times and fought through hypothermia to rescue soldiers who had fallen overboard while the ship was sinking.

Collis effortlessly tells his readers the story of how a Jewish Rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Methodist minister, a Protestant minister, and a Black petty officer showcased heroism and unity when it was needed most, despite their differences. During conflicting times like ours, the book offers a refreshing perspective that explores the power of faith and sacrifice. It serves as a narration for five heroic men with vastly different backgrounds that put their beliefs and differences aside to work in consonance and placed the lives of others above their own, in a selfless act of outstanding bravery.

The non-fiction book alternates between the points of view of the Nazi U-Boat captain and crew and the survivors of the SS Dorchester. The survivors credit their survival to the Four Chaplains and David; Collis conducted rigorous research to provide the Nazi U-Boat perspective, which he attained through interviews and journal entries.

The Immortals: The World War II Story of Five Fearless Heroes, the Sinking of the Dorchester, and an Awe-inspiring Rescue, is published by Shadow Mountain Publishing and is available on Indie Bound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM, Walmart, Target, and anywhere books are sold.

To view the book trailer for The Immortals, please visit https://youtu.be/1qP5L9oxdSM.

LA Weekly