Braley: Dubuque-Area Pearl Harbor Hero Should be Eligible for Additional Service Awards PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Kirsten Hartman   
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 09:20

Congressman asks Navy Secretary for full review of Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt’s records, after heroic efforts aboard USS Oklahoma

 

Washington, D.C. – During the attack on Pearl Harbor, while attempting to evacuate those aboard the USS Oklahoma, Dubuque-area Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt told those trying to pull him to safety, ‘Please let go of me, and may God bless you all’. Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) is today asking the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus for a full-review of Chaplain Schmitt’s records with the belief that his service and sacrifice make him eligible for some of the Navy’s highest awards for valor.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Braley said. “The actions Chaplain Schmitt took that day—and the lives he saved—continue to have a positive effect on Iowa and our nation, so it’s only right that we ensure his sacrifice is honored to the fullest extent.”

Schmitt, the first Chaplain of any faith killed in World War II, was aboard the USS Oklahoma as Japanese aircraft launched their assault on Pearl Harbor. While he was ministering to the dying and wounded in the ship’s sick bay, the Oklahoma was struck by a torpedo causing the ship to capsize. Rather than evacuate the badly damaged ship, Schmitt remained on board, repeatedly directing others to safety before the Oklahoma sank.

Braley is asking the Navy to review Schmitt’s records to see if he qualified for awards for valor, the criteria for which include actions taken at great danger and at great personal risk. Braley’s letter details several other individuals aboard the Oklahoma that received awards for valor, including the Medal of Honor.

“The United States of America, the state of Iowa, and the residents of Dubuque are eternally grateful for the sacrifice made by this brave man,” Braley wrote.

A copy of Braley’s letter is available below:

 

 

April 30, 2014

The Honorable Ray Mabus

Secretary of the Navy

1200 Navy Pentagon

Washington, DC 20305-1000

 

Dear Secretary Mabus,

I am writing to you today on behalf of the community of Dubuque, Iowa regarding the service of Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt. He was the first Chaplain of any faith killed during World War II. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Chaplain Schmitt was aboard the USS Oklahoma as Japanese aircraft launched their assault on Pearl Harbor. While he was ministering to the dying and wounded in the ship’s sick bay, the Oklahoma was struck by a torpedo causing the ship to capsize.

Chaplain Schmitt, along with several other sailors, was forced to move to a compartment where only a small porthole offered a method of evacuation from the incoming water. With no regard for his own safety, Chaplain Schmitt helped these men escape, and only after all other personnel had exited, did he try to exit himself. Struggling to get through the porthole, he realized that others had found their way into the compartment. Knowing that time was short, he directed these sailors to escape ahead of himself. As the water continued to rise, the sailors urged him to save himself yet Chaplain Schmitt replied only with “Please let go of me, and may God bless you all.”

I have heard from many of my constituents regarding this powerful sacrifice and find Chaplain Schmitt’s actions worthy of additional acknowledgment. Given the heroic nature of his actions, many in the Dubuque community have felt that he deserves greater recognition in the form of a valorous combat award.

Chaplain Schmitt’s sacrifice was not the only one of its kind that day. Ensign Frank O’Flaherty and Seaman First Class James Ward, also aboard the Oklahoma, were awarded the Medal of Honor for remaining at their post and allowing fellow sailors to escape before the ship capsized. Machinist’s Mate First Class Robert Scott and Chief Watertender Peter Tomich were also awarded the Medal of Honor for similar actions.

I ask you today to consider an appropriate upgrade from the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for which Chaplain Schmitt was originally awarded. Department of the Navy guidance requires that an award for valor must be performed in the presence of great danger and at great personal risk, criteria that I feel Chaplain Schmitt’s actions certainly meet.

The United States of America, the state of Iowa, and the residents of Dubuque are eternally grateful for the sacrifice made by this brave man. I appreciate you taking the time to consider this request and look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Bruce Braley

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