Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
By Adam S. Eterovich
There are only two Medals of Honor in American history that are not claimed because a next-of-kin could not be found, one in the Indian Wars and Peter Tomich at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. He died a hero on the battleship Utah.
His next-of-kin, John Tomich in Los Angeles, could not be found and the Navy dropped the matter as his records simply stated born in Prolog, Austria. So, for 60 years the Navy, Medal of Honor Society and the Croatian community did nothing thru no fault of their own.
Approximately 15 years ago I asked a journalist, Vjekoslav Krsnik, from Split, Croatia to visit Mali and Veli Prolog in Dalmatia and Prolog in Hercegovina and ask for the names Tonic and Tomic and since these were small places , we should turn up something. To our surprise no Tonic-Tomic originated in Mali or Veli Prolog, but at Prolog in Hercegovina Vjekoslav found that Tonic was the Clan Name for Herceg. We had found our hero, his birthplace and his Croatian nationality. We obtained birth and other records from Prolog which were extremely useful.
Admiral J. Robert Lunney of New York has probably contributed more than anyone in his help, cooperation and labor to present to the proper Naval authorities adequate proof that we do have a next-of-kin. He traveled to Prolog to view the original Church and Civil records. His first submission to the Navy was rejected and since then a second Legal Brief has been filed. We also wish to thank my good friend Don Chvarak, a Croatian American War Veteran, of Texas, Admiral Robert A. Rosen, Senators Robert G. Torricelli and Max Cleland. Also special thanks to Mato Herceg here in California and a Vietnam Veteran, a native of Prolog, who updated and uncovered new documentation and president Bernard Luketich of the Croatian Fraternal Union for graciously publishing material on Peter Tomich in the Zajednicar.
The Navy is confused because of “Prolog, Austria”; Tonich changed to Tomich, then being advised that the name is really Herceg and that he is a Croatian from Hercegovina, Then Austria, that had been Turkey in his father’s lifetime. It does get confusing.
We are pleased to report to have found a direct relative of the next-of-kin, now deceased, his grandson, Srecko Herceg a Lt. Col. in the Croatian Army living in Split, Dalmatia. He received five medals for valor in battle against Serbian forces in the late war in Croatia. We also have a relative, Mato Herceg, living in California. Now we have two heroes, it must in their blood...Hercegovci are known for their stubborness, loyalty, honor and as superior warriors against all odds. Peter Tomich-Herceg beat the Japanese in the Pacific and Srecko Herceg beat the Serbs in Croatia and Hercegovina. We do hope to have Srecko Herceg brought to America or Mato Herceg to receive the Medal from the President of the United States.
I would like this Medal to be deposited at the Croatian Fraternal Union Museum in Pittsburgh.
Peter Tonich was born in Prolog, then Austria, on June 3. 1893. He enlisted in U. S. Army at Fort Solcum, New York, on June 6, 1917, and served with the 12ti- Company, 3rd Training Battalion, 154th Depot Brigade, Camp Greene, North Carolina, and also with Company L, 47th Infantry, Camp Greene, North Carolina. He was honorably discharged January l3, 1919.
Tonich was naturalized at Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on October 10, 1918. He enlisted in the U. S. Navy at Newark, New Jersey, on January 23, 1919, at which time his name was recorded as Tonich. Later he used the name Tomich in signing official papers. Tonich (Tomich) served continuously in the Navy from the time of his enlistment and was advanced through the enlisted ratings to that of Chief Watertender on June 4, 1930.
Tonich (Tomich) was serving aboard the USS UTAH at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked the Fleet on December 7, 1941, and was killed in that action. For his heroism on this historic occasion he was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, by the President of the United States, with the following citation:
Medal of Honor
"For distinguished conduct in line of his profession and extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by the Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Although realizing that the ship was capsizing, as a result of enemy bombing and torpedoing, he remained at his post in the engineering plant of the USS UTAH, until he saw that all boilers were secured, and all fireroom personnel had left their stations, and by so doing he lost his own life."
He was also awarded the Purple Heart Medal, posthumously.
In addition to the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart Medal, Tonich (Tomich) was entitled to the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
A Destroyer Escort vessel, the USS TOMICH, DE-242, was named in his honor.
Adam S. Eterovich
Native of San Francisco
Korean War Veteran, Volunteer
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