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Fixing an Arlington oversight

Bill up for a vote would honor sacrifices of the military's Jewish chaplains.

YORK, Pa. - About four years ago, while doing some research on World War II, Ken Kraetzer visited Chaplains' Hill in Arlington National Cemetery.

There, in Section 2, three monuments stand in the shade of an oak, honoring the service of chaplains who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Kraetzer scanned the monuments. He saw some familiar names - George L. Fox, John P. Washington, and Clark V. Polling, three of the four Army chaplains who gave their lives so others could live.

One name was missing: Alexander D. Goode, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was a rabbi in York when he entered the service.

It was an astonishing oversight.

The story is familiar. Goode and his fellow chaplains were aboard the Dorchester, an Army transport ship bound for Greenland, just off the coast of Newfoundland on Feb. 3, 1943, when a torpedo from a German U-boat slammed into its side.

The boat, a converted cruise ship carrying 900 soldiers, went down fast. As soldiers scrambled for lifeboats, the four chaplains helped and gave their life vests to soldiers who had none. Survivors reported seeing the four chaplains, huddled on the bow, praying, as the ship slipped into the icy North Atlantic.

The omission floored Kraetzer, a financial consultant from New Rochelle, N.Y., who does World War II research as a hobby. One of this country's greatest heroes was not recognized in a place of honor.

And it wasn't only Goode. There was no monument honoring the sacrifices made by any of the military's rabbis.

That began a four-year quest to get recognition for Goode - and the 12 other rabbis who have died in U.S. wars.

Kraetzer called the Jewish War Veterans of America, which put him in touch with Rear Adm. Harold Robinson, a rabbi and director of the Jewish Welfare Board's Jewish Chaplains Council.

To Robinson, it seemed like an easy task. Who wouldn't want to erect a monument to honor the sacrifice of men who died in service to their country? It had to be an oversight that the 13 rabbis are not recognized on Chaplains' Hill.

Robinson hit a snag.

In 2010, Arlington Cemetery became mired in scandal. Allegations that cemetery workers had placed the wrong markers on graves and buried bodies on top of one another came to light.

All of a sudden, anything to do with Arlington was incredibly sensitive, even the erection of a monument honoring fallen Jewish chaplains.

It has been a long process, and one that might not even have been necessary. Robinson learned later that an act of Congress really wasn't necessary; it was just the Arlington administration's being cautious to the point that it seemed uninterested in honoring the rabbis.

Still, if all goes well, a bill will come up for a vote Monday in the House and, if passed, move to the Senate.

Rep. Todd Platts (R., Pa.), a cosponsor, said, "This certainly is a long-overdue recognition of the rabbis, as exemplified by Rabbi Goode, who courageously served our nation."

If the bill gets through Congress, work on the monument can begin immediately. Robinson hopes to have the site ready to be dedicated by fall.