Three days past his 32nd birthday, Father Aloysius H. Schmitt was like a father to many of the sailors on the USS Oklahoma, because of his age relative to theirs, as well as his status as a Catholic chaplain.
An Iowa native, Father Schmitt allowed other sailors to escape from the sinking battleship as water filled the compartment in which they were stranded.
“Go with God, my son,” Schmitt told the last sailor to escape as backed away from the opening and quickly drowned, becoming the first chaplain to die in World War II.
While Father Schmitt’s family knew he was lost shortly after Dec. 7, 1941, his remains were not positively identified until recently. A funeral service took place at Loras College in Dubuque in October
VS Middle School teacher Alex Vasquez, who attended the funeral, recited the story of Father Schmitt’s life and death the morning that World War II began.
Speaking to a crowd of about 50 local residents, including many veterans, Vasquez recalled attending the funeral, surrounded by military leaders.
At the funeral, the audience learned how Father Schmitt had become stuck in the escape hole as he tried to flee the sinking ship. When he saw other frantic sailors gather behind him, he instructed the rescuers to push him back through the hole, so the others could escape. Military leaders say his sacrifice that day allowed 12 other sailors to live.
The 8th grade history teacher has organized Pearl Harbor ceremonies for the past decade. The ceremony begins at noon Vinton time, which was about the time the first wave of Japanese planes reached Hawaii. Each ceremony includes a moment of silence for the 1,177 who died on the USS Arizona, as well as after-action reports from the highest-ranking surviving officers of many of the ships, read by VSMS students who volunteer to participate. Other students played Taps or sang the National Anthem.
Vasquez shares something new about the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor each year; his collection of WWII memorabilia includes a U.S. Navy blanket from a ship that had been sunk, which was retrieved by his WWII veteran grandfather; as well as a piece of iron from the Arizona.
After the first Pearl Harbor ceremony, which took place in the Tilford auditorium before the middle school moved to its current building, Vasquez pledged to lead a ceremony each Dec. 7.
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