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Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt awarded Silver Star

Mass and ceremony scheduled for Dec. 7 are open to public

By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant

DUBUQUE — Seventy-six years after his death, a World War II hero who had deep roots in the Archdiocese of Dubuque will be honored with the Silver Star medal.

Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt, a native of St. Lucas and a 1932 graduate of Loras College, was killed aboard the battleship the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

After his ship was struck by torpedoes and began to sink, Father Schmitt sacrificed his own chance to escape and helped save the lives of 12 men by pushing them through a porthole to safety. He became the first U.S. chaplain killed in World War II.

For his heroism, Father Schmitt was initially awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart. The U.S. military has more recently determined that Chaplain Schmitt’s valor merited the Silver Star — the third-highest military combat decoration awarded to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

This Dec. 7, the Chief Chaplain of the U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben will travel to Loras College in Dubuque to present the family of Father Schmitt with the upgraded medal.

“Chaplain Schmitt is an American hero,” said Rear Adm. Kibben, in a statement provided to The Witness. “He will always be remembered in the Chaplain Corps for his heart of courage and the sacrifice he made giving his life so that others might live.”

The medal ceremony will take place at 8:45 a.m. at a yet to be determined location on the Loras campus. Prior to the cere­mony, a special Mass will be held at 7:30 a.m. at the college’s Christ the King Chapel. Both of the morning’s events are open to the public.

Chaplain Schmitt was laid to rest at ­Loras College in October 2016. His remains had been identified following efforts by the U.S. Department of Defense to use modern DNA testing to identify members of the USS Oklahoma’s crew who had been buried as “unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

Members of Father Schmitt’s family are hopeful that his burial at home in the Archdiocese of Dubuque last year and now his Silver Star honor from the military this December will help to familiarize another generation of young people with the details of Father Schmitt’s life and the circumstances surrounding his heroic death.

“Our hope is that his story will live again,” said Dr. Steve Sloan, one of Chaplain Schmitt’s great-nephews. “I think all of this enables his story to be perpetuated. It allows for more ears to hear the story and inspire others to follow in his footsteps and do great things too.”

Coverage of the Mass and medal ceremony will be in a future issue of The Witness. 

Witness Editor Dan Russo contributed to this article.