Loras College hosted a Mass on Thursday, December 7 at its Christ the King Chapel to commemorate the posthumous presentation of the Silver Star Medal to Rev. Aloysius Schmitt, a 1932 graduate of Loras (then known as Columbia College), and a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. His family received the medal.
Pentagon representatives, Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben and Captain Daniel Mode, chaplain and division director of plans and operations for the Chief of Chaplains Office, presented the medal, the U.S. military’s third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. Schmitt previously received the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps medal and the Purple Heart for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Navy later commissioned a ship in his name; Christ the King Chapel, built between 1946 and 1947 on the Loras campus, was also dedicated to him.
Seventy-five years after his death, the body of Schmitt was laid to rest in the Chapel in October 2016. Schmitt did his undergraduate studies at Loras College and then went on to Rome to continue his study for the priesthood. He entered the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps in 1939. He was assigned to USS Oklahoma in 1940.
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Schmitt was hearing confessions on board Oklahoma when four torpedoes slammed into the ship. The lower decks quickly filled with water trapping sailors in the ship. Survivors said as it capsized, Schmitt refused to escape choosing instead to help push 12 men through a porthole to safety before he died.
His chalice, prayer book, military medals, and other personal belongings recovered from the ship’s wreckage are on display in the entrance of the Chapel. His body had been buried as an unknown soldier at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. More than a century later, technological advances allowed authorities to identify his body and the remains of 388 unknowns of the Oklahoma’s crew so they could be sent home for final burial.