Ever heard of the Croatian emigrant at Pearl Harbour? His bravery not only saved many from certain death, but saw him sacrifice his own life during the infamous Japanese attack.
As Morski writes on the 8th of December, 2018, Petar Herceg Tomić was a Croat born in Prolog, a village in the Municipality of Ljubuški, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1893. He became an American hero in World War II for his heroism and sacrifice during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December the 7th, 1941, in which he lost his life. He was posthumously awarded the medal of honour, the highest American medal symbolising great courage, according to Novi list.
Just how did this boy from quiet, rural Ljubuški become a Croatian emigrant at Pearl Harbour?
Among the first victims of the sudden Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December the 7th, 1941, which began the brutal Second World War on the Pacific, was the American Utah battleship. Hit with two torpedoes, the vessel began to turn over, and only the sheer courage and devotion of Officer Petar Tomić prevented more casualties. Paying the price of his own life, Petar Herceg Tomić saved the rest of the crew from certain death.
Tomić mainaged to maintain the part of the vessel hit by the two torpedoes until most of the crew left it. All this was done under merciless Japanese aircraft. As the ship began to fail, Tomić encouraged the crew to escape. During that terrifying time, he controlled the pressure so as to avoid a devastating explosion, as in such a case, even those who were rescued would also have been killed. Despite his brave efforts, Tomić and another 58 crew members, remained forever captured in the vessel.
In the official explanation of the recognition of his bravery and priceless sacrifice, it states that Tomić, upon realising that the Utah battleship was definitely doomed, remained in his position in the engine room until he was convinced that the boilers were secured and all the staff had departed from the doomed ship’s engine room. By sacrificing his own life, he saved the lives of his crew, writes the Virtual Museum of the Emigration of Dalmatia (Virtualni muzej iseljeništva Dalmacije).
Tomić was born, as stated, in Prolog, a small village which consisted of just 120 houses, in 1893. His real name was Petar Herceg, and his family nickname was Tonić, which he later transformed into his last name, Tomić. He arrived in America in 1913 and joined the army. After the First World War, he joined the Navy, where he became the chief engineer on the Utah battleship. This fateful move was how he found himself in Pearl Harbour when a sudden attack by Japanese forces on the US Navy’s main base in the Pacific led the US to enter the Second World War on the side of the Allies.
The remains of the Utah battleship still lie in Pearl Harbour, and along with it lies a memorial and a plaque honouring the Croatian emigrant at Pearl Harbour’s heroic deed. The plaque was initially placed there to mark the 30th anniversary of the attack.
One year after Tomić’s death, in December 1942, an escort destroyer named U.S. Tomić was built at the Brown Shipbuilding Shipyard in Houston. For thirty years, the vessel served in the American Navy, before being removed from the register, and eventually ending its military ”career” in 1974. President Franklin D. Roosevelt posthumously awarded Tomić the Medal of Honour.
No matter the incredible turn of events the life of this Croatian emigrant took, nothing was so incredible as the search for his living descendants, to whom the medal was handed. After nearly a decade of searching, and even judicial proceedings, Robert Lunney eventually found Tomić’s descendants, still living in Prolog, Herzegovina. After six and a half decades, the prestigious American medal of honour was awarded to Petar Herceg Tomić’s living family back in 2006 on the deck of the largest carrier of the US Navy Enterprise aircraft, which was inaugurated near Split.Croatian Television (Hrvatska televizija) produced a documentary film entitled “Heroes are not forgotten” which detailed this Croatian emigrant at Pearl Harbour’s unusual life and heroic sacrifice on that fateful day. Made by Ištvan Filaković, its screenwriters are Vladimir Brnardić and Nenad Bach. Make sure to follow our dedicated lifestyle and diaspora pages for much more. Click here for the original article by Novi list