THE SAGA OF CHIEF WATERTENDER PETER TOMICH"S MEDAL OF HONOR
As a Survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the loss of the USS UTAH I am embarrassed to say I was unaware of the existence of this medal until 45 1/2 years after the fact. Survivors of ships sunk or seriously damaged during the attack were transferred to many ships and stations in the days and weeks following the attack. This writer was transferred to USS SARATOGA (CV3) on 15 December 1941 and was not in contact with any shipmates from USS UTAH until May 1988 - the occasion of our first USS UTAH reunion in Salt Lake City. My first thoughts on learning of the heroic action of this Chief Petty Officer and the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor was "this man may have saved my life." The fact is we don't know how many lives CWT Peter Tomich saved. However, the important factor is that he risked his own life to shut down the ship's boilers to prevent their exploding and the potential damage that may have ensued.
Fifteen men received Medals of Honor for their heroic actions at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Only five of those men survived their moment of heroism, one of them dying in action 11 months later. Sixty four years and six months after the Pearl Harbor attack the next of kin of one of those men was presented that man's medal. Never in the History of the United States has such a length of time elapsed between the awarding of this country's highest military honor, and the presentation of that honor to the person's next of kin.
The saga of the Peter Tomich Medal could fill many pages in a book. It cannot be said that the Navy did not conduct a Herculean attempt over the years to contact the living next of kin. The original clue following Peter's death was the name and location of his next kin as shown in his personnel file as John Tonic, Los Angeles, California. From the "getgo" there seemed to be no John Tonic living in Los Angeles, California. Some believed that John Tonic may have been Peter's brother. It was not uncommon for "turn of the century" immigrants to change their names upon arrival in America.
The efforts of so many people to locate the nearest living relative of CWT Peter Tomich are too numerous to recite here. However, at one point a Croatian genealogy group in California lent a hand in quest for information on Chief Tomich's ancestors, and one special name instantly comes to mind in the long lasting endeavor. It is that of Admiral J. Robert Lunney of New York who has probably contributed more than anyone with his dedication and perseverance to present to the proper Naval authorities adequate proof of the existence of a next of kin to CWT Tomich. Among his many efforts was a trip to Prolog to view the original Church and Civil records. His first submission to the Navy was rejected and subsequently a second brief was filed. It is fair to say Admiral Lunney never gave up. Others, too numerous to mention by name also were active in the search.
The New York Times on May 30 2006, carried an interesting story relative to CWT Tomich, and the Medal of Honor. A link to that article will be carried in these pages, along with other published and unpublished reports relative to this flummoxing story.
In many cases efforts to locate Peter Tomich's next of kin proved to be a dead end. The posthumously awarded medal would be placed in Navy Museums, among them was the Museum at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Replicas of the medal would be displayed at other locations, notably at the Senior Engineering school, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes IL.
A retired Navy Officer, LCDR David Gentile was in charge of the Tomich Training Facility in the 1980's, when up to 6,500 MM/BT'S a year were being trained during President Reagan's 600 ship navy buildup that helped persuade Russia to give up in the Cold War. Dave investigated Tomich's history and arranged to have a replica of the medal transferred there and placed on display with many articles from the USS Utah. The various articles displayed were contributed by USS Utah survivors. The medal was placed on the school's quarterdeck that was constantly manned. Since Tomich died alone he did not want his medal left alone. Many sailors used that location for their reenlistment ceremony. A number of Seven December Remembrance Ceremonies were held there for Pearl Harbor survivors who could not afford the cost or time to fly to Hawaii. LCDR Gentile was kind enough to send photos for use on this web site. A Destroyer Escort was named after Peter Tomich; USS TOMICH is pictured in the penultimate paragraphs of this page.
HONORING CHIEF WATERTENDER PETER TOMICH
The following photos are from the Engineering System School, Great Lakes NTC. IL. They were furnished our web site courtesy LCDR David Gentile USN (Ret). Photos were taken on the Quarterdeck, Bldg. 236, Engineering schools, Outside on Bldg. 239, the Peter Tomich 1200 PSI Training building, and inside the 1200 PSI Steam Plant, showing the boiler fronts, boiler control room, engine room, evaporator, SSTG, switchgear room and diesel room.
Again, our appreciation to LCDR Gentile for all the interesting and informative photos. We have heard from numerous personnel who have trained at this facility and all were well aware of the ultimate sacrifice made by CWT Peter Tomich, USN, USS UTAH.
A Destroyer Escort, USS TOMICH, DE 242 was named in honor of CWT Peter Tomich.
The keel of USS Tomich (DE-242) was laid on 15 September 1942 at Houston, Tex., by the Brown Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 28 December 1942; sponsored by Mrs. O. L. Hammonds; and commissioned on 27 July 1943, Lt. Comdr. H. A. Hull in command.
USS Tomich saw service in both the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II. She was awarded one battle star for action against the enemy; decommissioned and placed in the reserve Fleet at Glen Cove, FL in 1946. Eventually, in 1972 she was sold for scrap.
On 19 May 2006 the next of kin of CWT PETER TOMICH U.S. Navy, was presented the medal..
Read the Official Navy Press Release