Dec. 7, 1941 dawned as a beautiful, tranquil day - complete with blue skies and sunshine - at Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i. But soon after the morning had begun, Japanese zeroes blackened the skies over Oahu and bombs rained down on the Navy’s ships in the harbor. Through the death and destruction and utter chaos that ensued, two dedicated Navy chaplains ministered to the Sailors aboard their ships until the end.
The “History of the Chaplain Corps” details the final moments in the lives of the two Navy chaplains.
Chaplain Kirkpatrick, born July 5, 1887 in Cozad, Neb, was nearing the end of his time in the military - a career Navy man who had served his country for more than 20 years. He reported to the USS Arizona in September 1940 and had been promoted to captain just a few months earlier on July 1, 1941. As a Protestant chaplain aboard the ship, he not only held Sunday worship services, but also performed duties in the role of psychologist, social worker and social coordinator to his fellow shipmates.
It was prophetic that just a few days before the Dec. 7 attack, Chaplain Kirkpatrick penned a note to a friend and fellow chaplain on the USS North Carolina. “This is a tense week with us out here, and before you get this it will be decided one way or another, doubtless,” he said.
On the tragic morning, Kirkpatrick was in the wardroom of the Arizona, enjoying a cup of coffee with some of his fellow officers. Historical reports explain that the wardroom mess was across from the admiral’s cabin on the left side of the second deck and presume that when the attack began, the chaplain rushed to his battle station in the sickbay to minister to any casualties. The reports note that the location of sickbay on the Arizona was on the same deck and just forward of gun turret number one. Most of the men in that area of the ship instantly died when the massive explosions of the forward magazines rocked the mighty battleship.
Chaplain Kirkpatrick, along with 1,176 other Sailors, lies forever entombed in the remains of the battleship on the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
Roman Catholic Chaplain Lt. j.g. Aloysius H. Schmitt, born Dec. 4, 1909 in St. Lucas, Iowa, was at the beginning of his naval career. Appointed as acting chaplain on June 28, 1939, he was serving his first tour of duty at sea onboard the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He had just finished celebrating his morning mass when the attack began. As the assault on the Navy’s fleet raged, Chaplain Schmitt went to the ship’s sick bay to minister to the injured and dying.
When the Oklahoma was struck and water poured into her hold, the ship began to list and roll over. Many men were trapped. Schmitt found his way - with other crew members - to a compartment where only a small porthole provided enough space to escape.
Chaplain Schmitt helped other men, one by one, to crawl to safety. When it became his turn, the chaplain tried to get through the small opening. As he struggled to exit through the porthole, he became aware that others had come into the compartment from which he was trying to escape. As he realized that the water was rising rapidly and that escape would soon be impossible, he insisted on being pushed back through the hole so that he could help others who could get through the opening more easily. Accounts from eyewitnesses that have been published in the Arizona Memorial newsletter relate that the men protested, saying that he would never get out alive, but he insisted, “Please let go of me, and may God bless you all.”
Within 20 minutes after the first torpedo hit, the USS Oklahoma rolled over and settled into the mud in the harbor. There were 448 crew members who died with the ship.
It is believed that Father Schmitt was buried at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Hawai’i, in a grave with about 400 other unidentified bodies recovered from the Oklahoma. His name is engraved there in the Courts of the Missing.
On Oct. 23, 1942, the Navy posthumously honored Chaplain Schmitt with a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for “distinguished heroism and sublime devotion to his fellow man.”
“His magnanimous courage and self sacrifice were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” the citation said. “He gallantly gave up his life for his country.”
Both chaplains are memorialized on a plaque at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center. The inscription reads, “Dedicated to the glory of God and the memory of Capt. Thomas L. Kirkpatrick, CHC, USN, Chaplain, USS Arizona; Lt. Aloysius H. Schmidt, CHC, USN, Chaplain, USS Oklahoma; who gave their lives in the service of their country, 7 December 1941.”
Kirkpatrick was also memorialized with the dedication of the destroyer escort USS Kirkpatrick, which was launched by his widow on June 5, 1943, and which remained in service until 1960.
A destroyer named USS Schmitt was commissioned in 1943 by the Navy in Chaplain Schmitt’s honor and served the Navy until 1967 when it was transferred to Taiwan. The Christ the King Chapel at Loras College was dedicated in his memory and contains some of Father Schmitt's property that was donated to the school.
However, the story doesn’t end there. In 1996, Kirkpatrick’s son, Tom, donated some of his father’s personal effects that were recovered from the sunken Arizona battleship to the Arizona Memorial Museum. One of the items, a desk clock from the chaplain’ quarters, is on display and is almost intact except for the face. But it tells the time when it stopped - 8:04:35.
The latest honor was bestowed on Chaplain Kirkpatrick and Chaplain Schmitt when streets were dedicated in memory of their sacrifices at ceremonies held July 6, 2005 at McGrew Point family housing.
The new Kirkpatrick Loop, located at Radford Terrace, pays tribute to Chaplain Capt. Thomas Leroy Kirkpatrick. Schmitt Parkway, also at Radford Terrace, was named in honor of Chaplain Lt. j.g. Aloysius H. Schmitt.
The newly-named streets serve as a reminder - to those who live there or drive through the community - of the courage and self-sacrifice of the two Navy chaplains who gave their lives to their country on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.___________________________________________(Some information provided by Navy Chaplain Corps and Naval Historical Center. Article by Karen Spangler used with permission of Navy Region Hawaii Newstand.)
Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.
We have been granted tax-exempt status as a 501.c.3 corporation. Your generous contributions enable our work to continue.
© 2011, MissionCapodanno.org. All Rights Reserved.
Visual Edge Design and HyperDo Media