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SCHMITT, Aloysius

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Aloysius Schmitt was the first chaplain to die in World War II. Photo courtesy: Mike Larkin
SCHMITT, Aloysius (Father). (St. Lucas, IA, Dec. 3, 1909--Pearl Harbor, HA, Dec. 7, 1941). Chaplain of the USS Oklahoma. The first chaplain to die in WORLD WAR II, Father Schmitt perished while heroically attempting to save others following the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. He was the first Iowan and first clergyman to die in WORLD WAR II. (1)

Schmitt attended LORAS COLLEGE and after graduation in 1932 studied in Rome at the North American College at the Vatican for the priesthood. He was ordained on December 8, 1935. (2) Father Schmitt was assigned to parishes in Dubuque including ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH and one in Cheyenne, Wyoming. After four years, he received permission from Archbishop Francis J.L. BECKMAN to become a chaplain, and joined the United States Navy in 1939. (3) He was appointed Acting Chaplain with rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTJG) on June 28, 1939. (4) He served at the Marine barracks in Quantico, Virginia and then seven weeks on board the aircraft carried USS Yorktown. He was transferred to the USS Oklahoma in March 1940. (5)

On December 7, 1941, Fr. Schmitt was serving on board the battleship, USS Oklahoma and had just finished Mass when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. (6) Torpedoes hit the ship which quickly began to fill water. A number of sailors, including Fr. Schmitt, were trapped in a compartment with only a small porthole. Fr. Schmitt helped twelve men escape through this small opening declining opportunities for his own rescue. (7) The USS Oklahoma capsized within minutes. Those unable to escape were among the 429 to perish.

In 1944 a 24-inch crucifix was presented to the ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE by the Navy Department. The cross was made of teakwood from the deck of the Oklahoma and the figure of Christ from metal parts of the ship. The presentation made by Captain Joseph T. Casey, Great Lakes, Illinois, chief of chaplains of the 8th Naval District was in honor of Father Schmitt. (8)

Memorial in St. Mary's Church. Photo courtesy: Theresa Crabill
He was honored posthumously by the U.S. government when it awarded him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Asiastic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Purple Heart. A destroyer escort named USS Schmitt was commissioned in 1943 by the Navy in his honor. (9) and served the U.S. Navy until 1967 when it was transferred to Taiwan. On October 26, 1948, Loras College dedicated the Father Schmitt Memorial of CHRIST THE KING CHAPEL in his memory. It contains some of Fr. Schmitt's property that was donated to the school. (10) The Chaplain Schmitt Island in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER is the location of DUBUQUE GREYHOUND PARK AND CASINO.

In 1968 SCHMITT HARBOR was named in his honor. A monument shaped like a ship's wheel sinking beneath the waves was placed on the riverbank in 1973. In 1977 a memorial to him was dedicated on Chaplain Schmitt Island. This memorial was later relocated to 1851 Admiral Sheehy Drive also on the island. (11) Schmitt was honored nationally during the May 21, 1989, dedication of a gray granite monument on Chaplain's Hill at Arlington National Cemetery. The monument honors Roman Catholic priests killed during service in World War II, the KOREAN CONFLICT, or the VIETNAM WAR.

Efforts to see the chaplain honored were led by Steven Sloan, a Dubuque optometrist and Schmitt's great-nephew, and Dick Bridges, active in the American Legion, who became involved after discussions with other local veterans. Challenged with convincing a military review board that "new evidence" that Schmitt's valiant efforts occurred in a combat setting, the group prepared a 29-page document with 15 different exhibits. Although endorsed by U. S. Senator Joni Ernst, the documents were dismissed because those interviewed had died and could not be cross-examined. (12)

Traveling to Washington, D. C. to learn more about the review process, the group was told in July 2016 that remains of World War II victims had been discovered in Hawaii.

On September 8, 2016 an announcement was made that Schmitt's remains had been discovered among 61 "unknowns" buried in caskets in Hawaii and identified in work led by the United States Department of Defense. His remains were transported to Iowa during the first week of October and a service was held in his hometown on October 5th. The remains were then transported to Dubuque for a wake at Loras College on October 7th. A funeral service and internment at Loras took place the following day. (13)

Nearly 200 people came to CHRIST THE KING CHAPEL on the Loras College campus, to pay their respects to Father Schmitt of St. Lucas, Iowa. Following prays, he received full military honors and the American flag on his casket was folded and given to his family. (14)

In early November, 2017 Sloan and his family were told that their initial presentation, now backed by the identification of Schmitt's remains, had convinced the review board. It was announced on November 26, 2017 that the family of Chaplain Schmitt would be met by representatives of the U. S. Navy Office of the Chief of Chaplains in December. The purpose of the meeting would be for the family to receive, in honor of Chaplain Schmitt, the Silver Star, the third-highest military honor that can be bestowed. (15)



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Source:

1. McMahon, Kay. "Father Aloysius Schmitt" from They Came to Dubuque by John Tigges, Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1983, p. 98

2. Ibid. 99

3. Ibid.

4. Troupe, Allen J. "Fr. Aloysius H. Schmitt--Iowa Boy, American Hero," Online: http://209.157.64.201/focus/f-religion/2625360/posts

5. McMahon, p. 99

6. McClarey, Donald R. "Sunday in Paradise," American Catholic, December 7, 2013, Online: http://the-american-catholic.com/tag/father-aloysius-schmitt/

7. "Father Aloysius Schmitt--Catholic Tradition," Online: http://www.catholictradition.org/father-schmitt.htm

8. "Material in Crucifix Taken From Warship," The Spokesman-Review, December 11, 1944, p. 11. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19441211&id=1ClWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=f-QDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5137,3882528

9. Montgomery, Jeff. "A Hero Heading Home," Telegraph Herald, September 8, 2016, p. 6A

10. McMahon, p. 101-102

11. Montgomery.

12. Jacobson, Ben. "Chaplain Schmitt to Receive the Silver Star," Telegraph Herald, November 26, 2017, p. 2A

13. Montgomery, p. 1A

14. Descorbeth, Shirley. "Pearl Harbor Laid to Rest in Dubuque," October 8, 2016, KWWL.com. Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/33348110/2016/10/8/pearl-harbor-hero-laid-to-rest-in-dubuque

15. Jacobson