Priests are everyday heroes in their own right, but some days demand greater sacrifice. December 7, 1941 was one of those days.
Navy Chaplain Lt. j.g. Aloysius H. Schmitt was assigned to the USS Oklahoma and had just celebrated Mass before the ship was hit by several torpedoes. His chalice and prayer book were recovered months after the attack, but hundreds of bodies recovered were too jumbled together and decomposed to figure out who was who. Their remains were buried as unknowns.
Father Schmitt displayed great heroism that day, truly dying in order to save the lives of his spiritual children, as documented in the official citation awarding him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism (emphasis added):
Chaplain Schmitt was aboard the U.S.S. OKLAHOMA when that vessel capsized and was entrapped in a compartment where only a small porthole provided outlet for escape. With unselfish disregard for his own plight, Chaplain Schmitt assisted his shipmates through the porthole. While his shipmates were in the process of rescuing him his body became wedged in the narrow opening. Realizing that other men had come into the compartment looking for a way out, Chaplain Schmitt insisted that he be pushed back into the ship so that they might escape. Calmly urging them on with a pronouncement of his blessing, he remained behind while they crawled out to safety.
As DNA technology advanced, these remains have been examined and many have been identified, including Father Schmitt’s. His remains will be buried soon in his native Iowa.
It’s also incredible that 75 years after his death Father Schmitt is still evangelizing. Here’s how an article in the Washington Post recounting the DNA discoveries ends:
The priest’s chalice and prayer book are at Loras College. When the book was found in the ship, it was still marked with a page ribbon for Dec. 8 readings, including the Old Testament’s Eighth Psalm in Latin:
Domine, Dominus noster
quam admirable est nomen tuam in universa terra!
O Lord, our Lord,
how awesome is your name through all the earth!
Remains of Pearl Habor’s hero priest identified after almost 75 years | Washington Post
Valor Awards for Aloysius Herman Schmitt | Military Times Hall of Valor