USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65)
MEDIA DEPARTMENT, BOX 7, FPO-AE 09543-2810
A HERO’S RETURN
By JOC(SW) Will Borrall
Split, Croatia– As the sixty-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor approaches, in the city of Split, Croatia, a special ceremony honoring a fallen hero is reminding many American Sailors what it means to be bound by the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment. On May 18th, Sailors aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier home ported in Norfolk, Va., got a rare opportunity to witness the presentation of the Medal of Honor to the relatives of Chief Watertender Peter Tomich, a U.S. citizen of Croatian heritage.
Chief Tomich was born in 1893 in Prolog, in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina near the Croatian border. After immigrating to the United States, Tomich joined the Army in 1917, and, following service in the First World War, enlisted in the Navy in 1921. He was serving aboard USS Utah during the Pearl Harbor attack, and returned to the boiler rooms to shut down the boilers before the ship sank. Chief Tomich evacuated other engine room personnel, saving their lives and making a deliberate decision to stay at his post in the boiler room even though it meant his certain death.
The ceremony was widely attended by Sailors from Enterprise,
including the ship’s Chief Petty Officer’s Mess. “Peter Tomich is one of thirty nine Chief Petty Officers in all of Naval History to receive the Medal of Honor,” explained Enterprise’s Command Master Chief Paul Declerq. “He’s one of us.”
In 1942, Chief Tomich was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt, one of only thirty-nine chief petty officers to receive that prestigious award since its creation. The Department of the Navy was unable to locate relatives of Chief Tomich for many years, and his medal was kept on display at various locations in the United States for over sixty years before relatives were located in his native country. Srecko Tonic, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Croatian Armed Forces who is the grandson of Tomich’s cousin, accepted the medal from Admiral Harry Ulrich, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, during a one-hour ceremony held aboard Enterprise, which was conducting a port call at the historic Croatian city during a routine scheduled six-month deployment in support of the Global War on Terror campaign. Members of the crew, including many of the ship’s chief petty officers, attended both the award presentation, and the subsequent reception for their Croatian guests.
“We are proud and honored to host our Croatian allies aboard this fine vessel,” said Capt. Larry Rice, commanding officer of USS Enterprise. “Chief Tomich is an outstanding example for all Sailors.”
Although it has taken many years, Chief Watertender Peter Tomich’s Medal of Honor has finally found its way home to his family, granting them a connection to Tomich and his fallen shipmates, who still rest in the waters of Pearl Harbor. His heroic actions on that fateful day still stand as a shining example to all what it means to be an American Sailor.
Many thanks to shipmates from around the world for forwarding this story.