[Congressional Record Volume 145, Number 23 (Tuesday, February 9, 1999)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E175-E177]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]



                          HON. BRUCE F. VENTO

                              of minnesota

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, February 9, 1999

  Mr. VENTO. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor and commend the 
Immortal Four Chaplains' heroism and legacy that serve as an example to 
the lives of individuals who have stood up courageously in the face of 
hatred and prejudice to protect others.
  On February 3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was struck by a torpedo 
from a German U-boat off the shores of Greenland. Nearly 700 people 
perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Four Army Chaplains 
showed extraordinary faith and personal sacrifice by calming fears, 
handing out life jackets, and guiding men to safety. Many of the 230 
men who survived owed their lives to these Four Chaplains.
  This historic event and circumstances has received recognition in the 
past with Congressional Resolutions and a postage stamp issuance 
commemorating the heralded event. At this point, however, memories have 
understandably faded. This heroic act and example could serve as a 
focal point today drawing together Americans of varied faiths and 
ethnic backgrounds positively reflecting upon challenging America's 
cultural pluralism and diversity. The lesson of mutual respect, 
tolerance, and sacrifice need to be learned anew by each generation of 
Americans. The Four Chaplains stand out as an extraordinary human 
experience, relevant yesterday and today.
  Set against the example of the Immortal Four Chaplains, the Immortal 
Four Chaplains Foundation was formed to provide a platform to tell the 
stories of those who have risked their lives to save others of a 
different race or faith. The Minnesota based foundation was founded in 
1997 by the nephew and daughter of two of the Chaplains and has drawn 
the support and participation of former Vice President Walter Mondale, 
former Senator Bob Dole, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many other 
prominent leaders, including survivors of the German U-boat 223 which 
sank the Dorchester.
  On Sunday, February 7th, 1999, in Minnesota, I had the honor of 
jointly awarding Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the first Immortal 
Chaplains prize for Humanity. On his first trip to Minnesota, the 
Archbishop, whose rise to worldwide leadership in defending the rights 
of the oppressed, first drew attention from his driving voice against 
Apartheid while Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa. As the 
Angelican Archbishop of that country, Tutu received the Nobel Peace 
Prize in 1984 for his courageous stand against great odds. On his 
retirement as Archbishop of Cape Town, he was appointed by President 
Nelson Mandela to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This 
commission has performed an historic role and precedent in revealing 
the truth about atrocities committed in the past and providing the 
means of peaceful resolutions for the pain and humiliation suffered by 
that nation. Today, he continues to champion the plight of social 
  I would like to acknowledge other recipients of the Immortal 
Chaplains Prize for Humanity that were awarded posthumously, U.S. Coast 
Guard Stewardsmate Charles W. David, an African-American who lost his 
life as a result of rescuing survivors of the Dorchester on which the 
Chaplains and some 700 individuals perished and Amy Biehl, an 
outstanding young American Fulbright Scholar who was stoned to death in 
South Africa in 1993, where she had gone to help struggle against 
Apartheid. A crew member and buddy of Stewardsmate David accepted the 
award on his behalf and

[[Page E176]]

Linda and Peter Biehl accepted this humanitarian award in her spirit 
and name. Amy's parents have made a point of returning to South Africa 
to participate in the ``Peace and Reconciliation Process'' and are 
incredibly forgiving of their daughter's assailants.
  I would like to share with all Members an article in the Pioneer 
Press on Sunday, February 7, 1999 of relevant importance.

 Award Recalls Chaplains' Heroism at Sea--Archbishop Tutu Will Bestow 
                     Two Honors in Sunday Ceremony

                          (By Maja Beckstrom)

       David Fox knows only the barest details of his uncle's 
     martyrdom at sea.
       In the middle of the night on Feb. 3, 1943, a German 
     torpedo blasted a hole in the side of the U.S. Army troopship 
     Dorchester just off Greenland. As the ship sank, the Rev. 
     George Fox stood on the oil-slick deck passing out life 
     jackets to panicked men. After giving away his own preserver, 
     the Methodist minister clasped the arms of the ship's other 
     three chaplains--a rabbi, Catholic priest and Dutch Reformed 
     minister. Survivors saw them standing in prayer as the 
     Dorchester rolled to starboard and slipped under the waves.
       They were among the 672 men who died that night in what was 
     one of the United States' greatest maritime losses during 
     World War II.
       Now a half century later, their sacrifice on the icy North 
     Atlantic is bringing a modern day hero to Minnesota. 
     Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader of South Africa's anti-
     apartheid movement, will present the first annual award given 
     in the four chaplains' memory at a ceremony Sunday in 
       The Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity honors someone 
     who has risked his or her life to protect others of a 
     different race or faith. It was created by David Fox of 
     Hopkins, the Rev. George Fox's nephew.
       After the war, the chaplains became legends. Their faces 
     graced a 1948 stamp. Memorials were built around the country, 
     including at the Fort Snelling Chapel and the chapel at the 
     V.A. Medical Center in Minneapolis.
       ``I had grown up with the story and perhaps taken it for 
     granted,'' said Fox. ``Suddenly it occurred to me that it was 
     fast disappearing. Most people I met had never heard of it.''
       In an effort to save the chaplains' example as an 
     inspiration to future generations, Fox interviewed the ship's 
     survivors, established the Immortal Chaplains Foundation and 
     created curriculum for school children. He even enlisted the 
     support of crew members from the German U-boat that sunk his 
     uncle's ship.
       ``It's too important a story to let go, because of what it 
     says about the potential for human compassion to cross all 
     boundaries,'' he said. ``Being a hero is about protecting 
     fellow humans, putting your life on the line if necessary to 
     protect them.''

                              The tragedy

       Everyone on board the Dorchester knew they were heading 
     into dangerous waters. U-boats constantly prowled the sea 
     lanes of the North Atlantic, and several ships had already 
     been sunk. The ship sailed from Staten Island on Jan. 22, 
     1943. After stopping in Newfoundland, it continued with an 
     escort of three U.S. Coast Guard cutters. On board were 902 
     men, mostly soldiers on their way to work on U.S. Army bases 
     in Greenland.
       On Feb. 2, one of the cutters relayed a warning. Sonar had 
     picked up five U-boats.
       ``The captain said if we made it through the night, we'd 
     have air protection the next morning from Greenland,'' 
     recalled survivor Ben Epstein of Del Ray Beach, Fla. ``He 
     said sleep with everything you have--your clothes, your 
     gloves, your life preserver.''
       They didn't make it. At 1 a.m., a torpedo ripped a hole in 
     the Dorchester's starboard side, from the deck to below the 
     water line. Survivor James Eardley of Westerlo, N.Y., said 
     the thud sounded ``like someone hit their fist against a 
     wall.'' Men near the explosion died instantly. Panicked 
     survivors scrambled for the upper decks in pitch blackness. 
     The torpedo had taken out power. Eardley pushed his way from 
     the hold up the only unblocked exit, holding a handkerchief 
     over his mouth to avoid ammonia fumes from a refrigeration 
       Epstein, who was staying in a stateroom on an upper deck, 
     felt his way along a railing until he came to a hanging rope 
     that marked a lifeboat. He shouted to his best friend Vincent 
     Frucelli to follow him down.
       ``He said he would,'' Epstein said. ``But that was the last 
     time I saw him. I don't know how he died. In blackness, 
     jumping toward the water, it was a terrible thing.''
       Epstein was thrown into the sea when his lifeboat capsized. 
     He swam until he was pulled onto another lifeboat. Only two 
     of 14 lifeboats successfully pulled away from the ship. Men 
     bobbed in the icy water, dying or dead from exposure. The red 
     light attached to each life preserver made the ship look like 
     it was ``lit up like a Christmas tree,'' said Epstein.
       Eardley also was pulled into a boat, after he climbed down 
     the side of the ship on a cargo net. Both men were rescued 
     hours later by a Coast Guard cutter. Near death, they were 
     stripped and laid out on tables in the galley where men 
     massaged their frozen limbs back to life. The ship sank in 20 
     minutes, and only 230 men survived.
       To this day, Eardley remembers his last glimpse of the 
       ``The keel was up,'' Eardley said, ``And I could see the 
     four chaplains standing on top of the boat, arm in arm.''
       According to survivors' testimony, the chaplains spent 
     their last minutes calming disoriented and terrified men and 
     urging them to jump into the sea. Each chaplain gave his life 
     preserver away. They were Lt. George Fox, Methodist, Lt. 
     Alexander Goode, Jewish; Lt. John Washington, Roman Catholic; 
     and Lt. Clark Poling, Dutch Reformed.
       ``To take off your life preserver, it meant you gave up 
     your life,'' said Epstein, who plans to attend the ceremony. 
     ``You would have no chance of surviving. They knew they were 
     finished. But they gave it away. Consider that. Over the 
     years I've asked myself this question a thousand times. Could 
     I do it? No I don't think I could do it. Just consider what 
     an act of heroism they performed.''

                        The quest for survivors

       David Fox had always taken his uncle's heroism for granted. 
     Then in the mid-1990s, while he was working to raise money 
     for a veterans hospice, he suddenly realized that when the 
     Dorchester's survivors died, the story would be lost for 
     good. He decided to track down as many as he could and record 
     their memories. His quest soon gained urgency.
       ``I heard about a survivor in Iowa, by the time I called, 
     he had been dead for six months,'' Fox said. ``I heard about 
     a friend of Rabbi Goode here, in Mendota Heights. I called up 
     and he had died a month ago. I thought, this is crazy. These 
     people are dying, and no one has recorded their 
     stories.'' Armed with $1,100 in grants from several 
     veterans organizations, Fox rented a video camera and hit 
     the road in 1996 with his young son.
       They interviewed 20 of the 28 known Dorchester survivors, 
     traveling to upstate New York, Florida, Massachusetts, 
     California and Illinois. He also contacted the chaplains' 
     family members, including his cousin Wyatt, the son of George 
     Fox, and the widow and daughter of Rabbi Goode. Rosalie Goode 
     Fried, who was three when her father died, enthusiastically 
     supported Fox's idea of starting a foundation that would 
     perpetuate her father's memory.
       ``If kids could realize that here were four men of 
     different religions who could get along and minister to each 
     other. It sends a message, why can't we just get along?'' 
     said Fried, who is flying from New Jersey for the ceremony.
       Fox also decided the story would be incomplete without the 
     German perspective. With the help of German relatives, he 
     traced the chief munitions engineer, the chief of operations 
     and a ship's officer from U-boat 223. None had any idea what 
     they had hit that dark night in 1943.
       ``Imagine having somebody knock on your door 55 years later 
     and say, `Hi, you killed my uncle.' Well I didn't say it 
     exactly like that. But they couldn't escape it,'' said Fox. 
     ``They had to face what happened and they had really no 
       The new submarine had been sent out from Kiel, Germany, on 
     Jan. 12, 1943, to hunt Allied vessels in the North Sea. In 
     the wee hours of Feb. 3, the captain spotted the dark hulk of 
     the Dorchester from the tower and ordered a fan of three 
     torpedoes. To avoid detection after the hit, the sub 
     submerged 130 feet, where it stayed for the next six hours. 
     The crew was later captured near Sicily and sent as prisoners 
     to Mississippi.
       ``When I interviewed the Germans they said, `You must 
     understand, we were doing our duty,' '' said Fox. ``They were 
     18 years old. I almost cried when I saw their photos. They 
     were just kids in hats.''
       The Germans were touched by the story of the chaplains and 
     quickly offered to support the fledgling Immortal Chaplains 
     Foundation. The effort to establish the foundation hasn't 
     been without some controversy. The Chapel of the Four 
     Chaplains in Philadelphia, which is raising money to build a 
     permanent memorial to the chaplains, has sued Fox's group to 
     block its use of the clerics' image from the stamp and the 
     phrase, the Four Chaplains.
       Fox also enlisted the support of Walter Mondale, who serves 
     as the foundation's honorary co-chair. Fox also contacted 
     Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa, who agreed to 
     become the foundation's patron.
       ``He was immediately taken with it,'' said Fox.
       Tutu will bestow the foundation's first awards on Sunday at 
     Adath Jeshurun Congregation, in what Fox hopes will become an 
     annual event, similar to the awarding of the Nobel Peace 
     Prize. The ceremony itself will be interfaith. The U.S. 
     Army's Muslim chaplain will say a prayer. American Indians 
     from Minnesota will offer Tutu a welcome, and the ceremony 
     will close with prayers from Tibetan Buddhist monks.
       One award will be bestowed posthumously on an African-
     American Coast Guardsman named Charles W. David, who died as 
     a result of rescuing men from the Dorchester. The other award 
     will be accepted by Linda and Peter Biehl of southern 
     California on behalf of their daughter Amy, who was stabbed 
     to death in South Africa. Biehl was a Stanford University 
     student and Fulbright scholar helping to set up a legal 
     education center.
       ``I want this to become something like the Nobel Peace 
     Prize, except for ordinary people,'' said Fox. ``Every year, 
     I want to reach

[[Page E177]]

     down and find someone who is making a difference. Maybe it's 
     a Bosnian Serb who saves a Muslim, or vice versa. Or a 
     Palestinian who reaches out to an Israeli. We need to honor 
     these people who have risked everything to help someone 
     different from themselves.''