The U.S. Navy is posthumously honoring two sailors who served on the USS Oklahoma and USS Vestal during Pearl Harbor, according to two separate Navy releases.
Chaplain Lt. j.g. Aloysius Schmitt, who served as a lieutenant junior grade during Pearl Harbor, and Chief Boatswain’s Mate Joseph George were posthumously honored during the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to a Navy release.
Schmitt was honored when Navy Secretary Richard Spencer awarded him with the Silver Star Medal for his actions while serving on the USS Oklahoma. Navy Chief of Chaplains Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben presented the medal to Schmitt’s family during a ceremony at Loras College in Iowa.
George, who served as a second class petty officer at the time, was honored with the Bronze Star for valor, according to a separate release.
Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, Deputy Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was expected to present the medal to George’s family during a ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
“The presentation of the medals is not only appropriate but simply the right thing to do,” Spencer said. “One of my highest priorities is to honor the service and sacrifice of our Sailors, Marines, Civilians and family members, and it is clear that Lt. Schmitt and Petty Officer George are heroes whose service and sacrifice will stand as an example for current and future service members.”
In October 1942, Schmitt was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the Navy established a clearer definition of combat award purposes, Schmitt became eligible for the Silver Star Medal. Schmitt’s family petitioned the Navy to upgrade his medal to the Silver Star Medal.
According to the Navy release:
“Schmitt was hearing confessions aboard Oklahoma when four torpedoes hit the port side of the ship. As the vessel began to list to port, the crew tried to escape. Schmitt made his way with several others to a compartment in which an open porthole – a small, circular window in the outer hull of the ship – afforded a means of escape. One by one, the Sailors in the space, with Schmitt’s help, crawled through the porthole to safety.
When they were all out, Schmitt attempted to get through the small opening. Even with the frantic assistance offered by the men who were already out, Schmitt struggled to get through the porthole. During the attempt to escape, the chaplain became aware that others had come into the compartment from which he was trying to escape. Realizing that the water was rising rapidly and that even this one exit would soon be closed, Schmitt insisted on being pushed back to help others who could get through more easily, urging them on with a blessing.”
In 1942, George was commended by his commanding officer during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two USS Arizona sailors, Lauren Bruner and Don Stratton – who were saved by George’s actions during the attack, petitioned for him to be presented a medal.
According to the Navy release:
“He was settling down to read the Sunday newspaper when General Quarters (battle stations) was sounded. That’s when he realized there was an attack underway. To get a better sense of what was going on, he went outside, and the first thing he saw was a Japanese plane going down. With no time to think, his training kicked in and he began to act.
With Japanese torpedoes passing under his ship then striking Arizona, fires were breaking out everywhere. George recalled that the first thing he did, with help from several of his shipmates, was remove the awning covering the guns so that Vestal could fight back. Then he ran across the deck from fire to fire to help put them out.
Meanwhile, Arizona was taking a pounding with explosions and fires encircling the Sailors on her decks.
There were ‘people over on the Arizona that were trying to get off, and there was fire all around,’ George said. ‘I threw a line over.’
After securing the line as best he could, George returned to fighting fires and controlling damage aboard Vestal. When it became apparent Arizona was doomed, George assisted with getting Vestal underway and away from the burning and fast-sinking battleship. Arizona lost 1,177 crewmembers during the attack. Vestal lost seven.”
George retired in 1955 as a chief petty officer and passed away in 1996.