Experts with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency started a project last year to put names to the remains of those who died in the bombing of the battleship USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, an attack that launched America into World War II.
From the remains, Fr. Aloysius H. Schmitt, a Catholic priest from St. Lucas, Iowa was identified by the DNA retrieved from a skull bone that matched that of a relative.
Father Schmitt was the Navy chaplain on the battleship. On December 7, 1941, Schmitt had just finished saying morning Mass when the USS Oklahoma, which had about 1,300 sailors on board, was torpedoed by Japanese forces in 50 feet of water.
The attack caused the ship to roll over on its side, trapping hundreds below deck. Instead of running to safety, Fr. Schmitt stayed to help pull survivors from the submerged bottom deck, and was able to help 12 people escape through a porthole.
A total of 429 crew members were killed in the attack on the USS Oklahoma, second only to the 1,100 lost on the USS Arizona.
It is believed that he got trapped in the porthole as he was helping others through, becoming the first U.S. chaplain to be killed in the Second World War. For his act of heroism he was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart.
The medal citation reads,
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.Father Schmitt was honored by having a destroyer bear his name — the USS Schmitt — commissioned in 1943 by the Navy and which served until 1967.
The Christ the King Chapel at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa was also built and dedicated to his memory, where the priest's belongings were donated.
Among items recovered from the wreckage shortly after the attack in 1941 were Schmitt's chalice and his Latin prayer book.
Christ the King Chapel at Loras College will hold a vigil Friday, October 7.
A memorial Mass and funeral, with full military honors, will be held Saturday, October 8, in the chapel.