Recognized for Aiding the Refugees of a Bad War — 1967 – 1972Posted: June 23, 2014
During the Vietnam War, the battles between American and Vietcong forces had the collateral effect of destroying the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians. To help alleviate the suffering of these innocent victims, the United States initiated a massive program of foreign aid and refugee relief. The program was administered through the Vietnam Desk of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) in the State Department. My father, Johannes U. Hoeber, was appointed to head that effort in 1967 and continued in that position until 1972. It was the last job he held in his life and, despite the difficulties, the most rewarding.
During the time he was heading the refugee program in Vietnam, Johannes met frequently with members of Congress on matters of funding and policy. He developed a close relationship with Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Kennedy was an increasingly forceful opponent of the American war policy, and Johannes was able to provide him with off-the-record information that Kennedy used in the debates over bringing the war to a conclusion.
Johannes retired in 1972 and died in 1977. Two days after his death, Senator Kennedy rose on the floor of the United States Senate and spoke:
Mr. President, I was deeply saddened this week to learn of the death of Johannes Hoeber, a distinguished civil servant and humanitarian, who capped a long life of service in behalf of his fellow man as director of U.S. programs for refugees in Vietnam. Dr. Hoeber was himself a refugee—a refugee from Hitler’s Germany. In 1933 he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis for several weeks, and subsequently spent 5 years working with the anti-Nazi underground until 1938, when he was faced with questioning by the Gestapo. Dr. Hoeber fled to the United States where he began a long career in social service programs to help people in need both here at home and abroad.
From 1951 until 1962, Dr. Hoeber served as Philadelphia’s deputy commissioner of welfare. In 1962, Dr. Hoeber became Assistant Administrator of the Area Redevelopment Administration of the Commerce Department.
However, a few years later Dr. Hoeber joined the Agency for International Development – AID – to direct its programs for refugees and social welfare activities in Vietnam.
It was in this capacity, Mr. President, that I came to know of Dr. Hoeber’s dedicated service. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Refugees I came to know of his constant effort to upgrade AID’s programs for refugees and millions of other victims of that tragic war. He often fought against the insensitivities of his own superiors in AID, who were more interested in commodity import programs to help Saigon’s ailing economy than in efforts to help Saigon’s orphans or the maimed or the crippled.
Dr. Hoeber never lost sight of the urgent humanitarian needs in war-torn Vietnam, nor of America’s great humanitarian responsibility to help meet those needs. His humanitarian service during the Vietnam conflict, like that of so many others both here in Washington and in the field, often went unnoticed and unseen. But they are the unsung heroes of America’s effort to meet its humanitarian obligations to millions of innocent men, women and children caught up in one of the most tragic wars the United States has ever been involved in.
To his wife, Elfriede, and his three children, I want to offer my deepest sympathy for their loss, and to recognize the dedicated humanitarian service of their husband and father.