Aloysius Schmitt

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Aloysius H. Schmitt
Birth nameAloysius Herman Schmitt[1]
Born4 December 1909
St. Lucas, Iowa, United States
Died7 December 1941(1941-12-07) (aged 32)
Aboard USS Oklahoma, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, United States
AllegianceUnited States
Years of service1939–1941
RankLieutenant junior grade
UnitUSS Oklahoma

Father Aloysius H. Schmitt (December 4, 1909 – December 7, 1941) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, who served as a chaplain in the United States Navy at the beginning of World War II.[2]

Early life and ordination[edit]

Born in St. Lucas, Iowa to Henry and Mary Anna (Kuennen) Schmitt, Schmitt studied at Columbia College (now Loras College) in Dubuque, Iowa[2] and graduated in 1932.[3] He then studied in Rome for the priesthood. He was ordained on December 8, 1935. Father Schmitt was first assigned as an associate at Saint Mary's Church in Dubuque. He was also assigned to St. Mary's Cathedral in Cheyenne, Wyoming. After four years, he received permission to become a chaplain, and joined the United States Navy. He was appointed Acting Chaplain with rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTJG) on June 28, 1939.

Military service and death[edit]

On December 7, 1941, Fr. Schmitt was serving on board the battleship USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when a hit caused the ship to capsize. A number of sailors, including Fr. Schmitt, were trapped in a compartment with only a small porthole as the means of escape. Fr. Schmitt helped a number of men through this porthole. When it came his time to leave, he declined and helped more men escape.[2] In total, he helped 12 men escape.[4]

Fr. Schmitt died on board the Oklahoma, and was the first chaplain from USA of any faith to have died in World War II.[5] Most of the bodies were recovered after the ship was righted in 1943. His remains were originally buried in a cemetery in Hawaii as an "Unknown." In 1944, the Navy presented a specially made crucifix to the Archdiocese of Dubuque, in honor of Chaplain Schmitt. It was 24 inches tall and was made from the teakwood deck of the Oklahoma. The corpus of Christ on the crucifix was shaped from the ship's metal.[6] The presentation was made by the chief of chaplains, 8th Naval district.

In 2015, the United States Department of Defense exhumed the remains of what were believed to be 388 military personnel.[4] Schmitt's remains were identified in 2016 from DNA taken from his skull and matched with that of a relative. They were returned to Iowa where a Memorial Mass was celebrated in his home parish of St. Luke in St. Lucas on October 5, 2016.[7] His remains were transferred to Dubuque, where a funeral Mass and burial were held in Christ the King Chapel at Loras College on October 8, 2016.

Awards and honors[edit]

Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver Star
Navy and Marine Corps Medal
(Upgraded to Silver Star)
Purple Heart Combat Action Ribbon
American Defense Service Medal
w/ Fleet Clasp (316" Bronze Star)
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
w/ one 316" Bronze Star
World War II Victory Medal

Silver Star citation[edit]

Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 308 (November 1942)

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Lieutenant, Junior Grade (Chaplain) Aloysius Herman Schmitt (NSN: 0-83472), United States Navy, for heroism involving voluntary risk of life not involving conflict with an armed enemy, while serving as a Chaplain on board the U.S.S. OKLAHOMA, during the attack by Japanese forces at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 7 December 1941. 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. [8]

Posthumous honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Aloysius Herman Schmitt". Military Times. Sightline Media Group. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  2. ^ a b c d "Fr. Aloysius Schmitt, Chaplain Thomas Kirkpatrick". Catholics in the Military. August 22, 2008. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Encyclopedia Dubuque. "SCHMITT, Aloysius". Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Michael E. Ruane (September 28, 2016). "Remains of Pearl Harbor's hero priest identified after almost 75 years". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  5. ^ "For God and Country: Catholic Chaplain Fr. Aloysius Schmitt". Catholic Tradition. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  6. ^ a b c Pronechen, Joseph (December 7, 2016). "Pearl Harbor Priest Identified 75 Years Later: Father Aloysius Schmitt was the first chaplain to die in World War II". National Catholic Register. EWTN, Inc. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  7. ^ a b Kelly McGowan (October 8, 2016). "Pearl Harbor hero's remains return home to Iowa". The Des Moines Register. Des Moines. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  8. ^ "Aloysius Schmitt - Recipient -". Retrieved 3 April 2023.
  9. ^ "United States Naval Vessels Named For Catholic Military Chaplains". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 2016-10-20.