USS UTAH BB-31 / AG-16
The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor
Peter Tomich Photo Album
Peter Tomich MOH ceremony on board USS Enterprise in Split, Croatia in 2006.
Excerpt from "Home of Heroes"
Peter Tomich was the Chief Watertender for the USS Utah. He was one of the most experienced...and best...in the entire Pacific fleet. At the age of 48 he had twenty-two years of Naval experience. The Navy was his life...his wife...his family.
The USS Utah was one of the first American ships hit by the Japanese the morning of December 7, 1941. A torpedo slammed into the ship just as the crew was hoisting the American flag on the fantail. (It is often believed that the huge wooden planks covering the ships deck caused trigger-happy Japanese pilots to mistake the Utah for an aircraft carrier, thus making it a prime target.)
Below deck in the engineering plant, water rushed towards the huge boilers. Peter Tomich, ever mindful of his crew, ran to warn them of the impending doom and to issue an order to evacuate. "Get out," he yelled above the horrible noises around him. He could feel the ship slowly turning on its side and knew that in moments any hope of escape would vanish. He had to get his men, who were the only family he knew, out of danger. "Get topside! Go....the ship is turning over! You have to escape now!", he continued to shout at them. Then, realizing that unless the boilers were secured they would rupture and explode, he ignored his own evacuation order and set himself to the job that had to be done. While the crew rushed up the ladders and headed for safety, Chief Tomich remained behind in the rolling, sinking ship he called home. He calmly moved from valve to valve setting the gauges, releasing steam here and there, and stabilizing and securing the huge boilers that otherwise would have turned the entire ship into a massive inferno no man could survive.
AT 8:05 A.M. the Utah was practically on its side, listing at 40 degrees. Those emerging from below deck were met with gunfire from the sky as the Japanese continued to strafe the deck with their machine-guns. The huge timbers that had covered the deck shifted with each explosion, trapping men and crushing bodies. It was hopeless to remain and swiftly the men on deck moved to the starboard side to leap into the water and swim for safety. Below deck Peter Tomich continued to do what he did best, tend to the boilers. He must have realized due the incline of the Utah, that his time for escape had run out, but his valiant efforts would buy precious minutes for his fellow sailors. Before the ship rolled completely over he got the job done to prevent the explosion that would have end all hope of survival for hundreds of men now trying to swim to safety.
Peter Tomich was awarded the Medal of Honor, but family members could not be located for years. His Medal of Honor was finally presented to family members aboard the USS Enterprise in 2006 (see video below).
The USS Tomich was named after Peter in 1942 and the Tomich Steam Propulsion Training Facility continues to train thousands of sailors at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Further, Tomich Hall is located that the U.S. Navy Senior Enlisted Academy in Rhode Island.
Park Ranger Jason Ockrassa tells the story of USS Utah and Chief Watertender Peter Tomich