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Pearl Harbor: Catholic Chaplain Went Down with USS Oklahoma

Photo Courtesy of Loras College

Russell E. Saltzman - published on 12/07/15

Lt. Aloysius Schmitt, Catholic chaplain, had just finished celebrating Mass; stepped aside for other men to escape

The USS Oklahoma carried a crew of 1,300 sailors and 55 marines when it capsized in 50 feet of water during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 74 years ago. Four hundred twenty-nine sailors and marines were killed, a loss second only to the Arizona’s. Hundreds were trapped below decks as water filled the stricken ship.

Thirty-two of those trapped were rescued over a three-day period as salvage crews, hearing them bang on the hull, frantically cut through the bottom of the ship. Some few escaped through tiny portholes, pushed by comrades who couldn’t fit or who were determined to let others go first.

One of those who stepped aside for the other men was LTJG Aloysius Schmitt, the Roman Catholic chaplain aboard Oklahoma. He had just finished morning Mass three decks below. Reports say that as water was swiftly filling the compartment, he gave up his turn for escape and instead remained helping other sailors through the porthole.

Though his body was never recovered, Fr. Schmitt is believed to be buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, in a grave with about 400 other unidentified bodies recovered from the Oklahoma.

Father Schmitt’s corroded chalice and water-stained Latin prayer book were found in the wreckage. The book was still marked with a page ribbon for prayers that morning, turned to the Eighth Psalm.

O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! I will sing of your majesty above the heavens.

Fr. Schmitt was the first Catholic priest killed while in service with U.S. military forces. The USS Schmitt a Buckley-class destroyer escort in the US Navy, was named for him.

You may learn more about Fr. Schmitt here.

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