Family of hero receives his Silver Star Medal

Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, the Navy chief of chaplains, presents deceased Lt. j.g. Aloysius H. Schmitt’s Silver Star Medal to his niece and nephew, Frances Hemesath, left, and Del Schmitt, right, in Dubuque, Iowa, Dec. 7. Photo by MC2 Anita C. Newman

PO2 Kathleen Church

All Hands Update

The family of the late Lt. j.g. Aloysius H. Schmitt has received the Silver Star Medal awarded to him for his selfless act to help save countless men from the Battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, the Navy chief of chaplains, presented the medal to Schmitt’s niece and nephews Dan and Del Schmitt, and Frances Hemesath during a ceremony on the campus of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, Dec. 7.

Schmitt was awarded the Silver Star for his unselfish disregard of his own self and bravery to help numerous Sailors escape the Battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) through a porthole.

In October 1942 Schmitt was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Navy’s award for non-combat heroism.

The Navy later published a clearer definition of combat for award purposes, making Schmitt retroactively eligible for the Silver Star Medal, the military’s third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat.

Schmitt’s family petitioned the Navy to upgrade his recognition to a combat valor award.

Schmitt’s family is happy to celebrate the heroism of their loved one.

Dr. Steve Sloan is the great-nephew of Chaplain Schmitt. Although he never met Schmitt — who was known in the family as “Father Al” — Sloan said the story was a topic of discussion at every family holiday gathering when he was growing up.

“We would talk about what happened, how many Sailors he helped escape, and what went on — we would kind of relive it every holiday and it became a bit of a tradition. So we’re very excited about the medal,” Sloan said.

“I think for the older people in the family it’s a form of closure, but for the rest of us, our hope is that this is just the beginning of the story; that with the return of his remains and the presentation of the medal, his story will become known to a whole new generation.”

According to the Navy’s Nonresident Training Course History of the Chaplain Corps, Part 2, Schmitt was hearing confessions aboard Oklahoma when four torpedoes hit the port side of the ship.

As the vessel began to list to port, the crew tried to escape.

Schmitt made his way with several others to a compartment in which an open porthole — a small, circular window in the outer hull of the ship — afforded a means of escape. One by one, the Sailors in the space, with Schmitt’s help, crawled through the porthole to safety.

When they were all out, Schmitt attempted to get through the small opening.

Even with the frantic assistance offered by the men who were already out, Schmitt struggled to get through the porthole. During the attempt to escape, the chaplain became aware that others had come into the compartment from which he was trying to escape.

Realizing that the water was rising rapidly and that even this one exit would soon be closed, Schmitt insisted on being pushed back to help others who could get through more easily, urging them on with a blessing.

As water poured into the ship, it gradually rolled over, and settled on the bottom of the harbor.

More than 400 Oklahoma Sailors, including Schmitt, lost their lives.

For more news from Naval History and Heritage Command, visit the website www.history.navy.mil.

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Category: News