On Tuesday night, November 16, 2016, students, parents, and faculty gathered in Cowan Auditorium to hear Richie Kohler, host of Deep Sea Detectives, talk about his career as a technical wreck diver. Kohler discussed the spark that ignited the rest of his career: the discovery of the German U-boat, U-869, 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey. Kohler was part of a recreational team of divers that would get together on the weekends to see what they would uncover. Little did he know that during one of their dives in the fall of 1991 Kohler and his team would come across U-869.
The men came upon what looked like a normal shipwreck; however, after several dives, the team determined that this was, in fact, a submarine. The submarine was later proven to be German. One of the divers recovered a plate with the Nazi swastika and eagle engraved on it with the date 1942.
What seemed like a regular wreck to Kohler quickly became something much more. As the men explored the submarine, barely able to see, they passed by the skeletons of fallen soldiers. Three men from the dive team passed away during the dive as well due to underwater complications . Kohler and the team were no longer diving for enjoyment: they were diving for answers to show that their three teammates did not die for nothing.
Kohler argued that the crew, even if they had been the enemy, should not have their story remain untold. The diving team made the decision not to disturb the soldiers, because they were someone’s father, brother, uncle, or grandfather. Soon enough, Kohler and the team were able to uncover more and more from the wreck, including the names of the soldiers. Kohler took it upon himself to travel to Germany and talk to the families of the fallen soldiers to let them know where their loved one rested and to provide them with closure.
Kohler’s journey was soon put into words: Shadow Divers, written by Robert Kurson, recounted the team’s discovery. Kurson’s book became a New York Times Bestseller.
The highlight of Kohler’s speech was not about what he had done, but why he had done it. Kohler explained, “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. But I couldn’t be an astronaut, so instead I became an aquanaut.” Going on that weekend dive, Kohler never thought that he would come across a German U-boat and become part of the the story of the men onboard or come to view the wreck as symbol of valor, closure, and a story that needed to be told.
He urged everyone in the room to dream, just like he did. Dream no matter how impossible it may be, because the passion you carry for that dream will amount to something great, and that is how dreams comes true.
(Copyright 2016 Caroline Haywood)