Top Croatian Award to Templar
President of Croatia Stjepan Mesić and Admiral J.Robert Lunney
The Order of the Croatian Trefoil (roughly equivalent to the United States Medal of Freedom - for extraordinary merit, in exceptional circumstances) was awarded to Rear Admiral Chevalier J. Robert ("Bob") Lunney, GOTJ, of the Order of Saint Patrick of the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, by the Honorable Stjepan Mesić, President of the Republic of Croatia. The award was presented on September 26, 2007, at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Croatia to the United Nations. The award was timed to coincide with the visit of President Mesić to the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The award was presented in recognition of the personal initiative and the essential role played by Rear Admiral Lunney in getting the only posthumously awarded Medal of Honor never presented to a next of kin awarded to the appropriate person. The Medal of Honor in question was awarded to Chief Watertender Peter Tomich, who was killed in action during the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Chief Tomich, aware that the ship would likely capsize, and that the Captain had ordered the crew to abandon ship, rushed down to the boiler rooms, ordered his men to leave and then, himself, put out the fires and secured the boilers thus preventing the large explosions which would have occurred had the ship capsized with the boilers on line. In so doing he saved countless lives, but at the sacrifice of his own.
In 1997, Rear Admiral Lunney undertook to find the next of kin of Chief Tomich, a Croatian national, who, after serving in the US Army in the First World War, joined the US Navy and rose to the highest enlisted rank, Chief Petty Officer. When Tomich (as Navy records had his name) emigrated to the United States, Croatia was part of the Empire of Austria-Hungary; previously it had been occupied by the Turks. Consequent to the First World War it was part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes - later Yugoslavia. In 1991 the Republic of Croatia (Republika Hrvatska) declared its independence, and, after a long and costly war, accomplished its undisputed re-emergence as a sovereign state as part of the Dayton Accords in 1995. So, finding the records, and making the connection with a man who was born Peter Herzeg-Tonić during the reign of Emperor-King Franz Josef of a Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire-Kingdom that later went out of business in 1918, was no simple task.
While Bob Lunney undertook this patriotic quest relying entirely on his own resources, he was not without allies in his knight-errantry. Rear Admiral Companion Robert Rosen, of the Order of Merit, and (until June of 2007) Commander of the New York Naval Militia, authorized him to execute the mission on behalf of the NY Naval Militia. The Croatian Genealogical Society were extremely helpful in the defining of the parameters in which the search would be undertaken. However, between Turkish invasion and occupation, wars, revolutions and world wars, civil records could not be presumed to be complete. There is, however, a most reliable source of vital records which has survived all of the aforementioned travails. It is the records of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), the Franciscans, who went underground and continued to minister to the people, for centuries, throughout Turkish, Nazi and Communist occupations. In this instance the necessary vital records were found in the Franciscan Abbey in Humac.
The award of the Medal of Honor to Chief Tomich by President Franklin Roosevelt was given more tangible meaning for Bob Lunney when he saw the capsized hull of the battleship USS UTAH (where Tomich and 57 others of the crew remain entombed), as a seventeen-year-old Quartermaster striker, when he passed through Pearl Harbor during the Second World War, assigned to Naval Amphibious Forces, Pacific, enroute to Kwajelein in the Marshall Islands. In honor of Chief's Tomich's sacrifice, the Navy, in World War II, commissioned a Destroyer Escort, the USS TOMICH. For years the Tomich Medal of Honor occupied a place of honor in the State Capitol in Utah. The Navy also put special meaning to the example set by Chief Tomich in naming the Senior Enlisted Academy located at Naval Station Newport (Rhode Island), Tomich Hall. Bob Lunney pointed out that "significantly the motto of the Senior Enlisted Academy is 'Leadership by Example'." Another part of the odyssey of the medal was in a place of honor in Tomich Hall.
Rear Admiral Lunney is a former National President of the Naval Reserve Association, and, until recently, a practicing attorney in White Plains, New York, he is also the past Judge Advocate General of the New York Naval Militia. He set a very high standard for the quality of evidence he would need to even consider presenting a case to the Navy Department. After an extensive examination of the documentary proof of Chief Tomich's background and family he traveled to Prolog, where Chief Tomich was born Peter Herzeg-Tonić in 1893. He had the great pleasure of interviewing the entire Herzeg-Tonić family. The Franciscan's evidence met and exceeded the standard set by Judge Advocate General Lunney. Convincing the Navy of the validity of the case, however, took a follow-on crusade of several years.
But in 2006, Rear Admiral Lunney, in the company of Rear Admiral Rosen, was an honored guest on board the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) off Split, Croatia, as Admiral Harry Ulrich, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, on behalf of the President of the United States, presented the Medal of Honor of Chief Watertender Peter Tomich to his kinsman, Lieutenant Colonel Srecko Herzeg-Tonić, himself a retired, and highly decorated, Croatian Army veteran of the Croatian War for Independence.
The visit of the President of Croatia to the United Nations in New York was the first opportunity for the Croatian nation to express their appreciation, at the highest level, for the good work of Rear Admiral Chev. Lunney (who also heads the OSMTH NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) advisory mission to the UN in New York). In accepting his award, Rear Admiral Lunney acknowledged the great honor, and, concluded his remarks by quoting another World War II Navy veteran, President John F. Kennedy, "'A Nation reveals itself by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.' Today we honor Chief Tomich and we will always remember him."
Rear Admiral Lunney is no stranger to international affairs. Recalled to active duty during the Korean conflict he served in the US 7th Fleet as a staff officer on the MSTS (Military Sea Transportation Service) SS MEREDITH VICTORY, both in the Inchon invasion, and in the Hungnam evacuation. The MEREDITH VICTORY was the last ship out of Hungnam, evacuating some 14,000 Korean civilians, in the greatest humanitarian evacuation ever undertaken by a single ship. The MEREDITH VICTORY was decorated with the Presidential Unit Citation by President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea, and a "Gallant Ship" citation by special Act of the US Congress. In recent years, Bob Lunney, as a prominent member of the "Chosin Few," has served on the commission to recover the remains of American servicemen killed in North Korea, visiting both parts of Korea, as well as lecturing on Korea at the Naval War College.
Witnessing the award at the Croatian Mission to the UN were Bob's wife Joan and son Alexander (both of whom had accompanied him on his trip to Croatia), as well as a coterie of Croatian diplomats and military attachés, and also officers of the New York Naval Militia (in accordance with Title 10 US Code, and with protocols with the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, members of the Naval, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Reserves may volunteer to be available to serve their state through membership in the Naval Militia). Among those also in attendance were Marine Colonel Chevalier Wayne J. McGrath, GCTJ, GMTJ, Grand Chancellor of the Grand Priory of the United States of America, and Marine Lieutenant Colonel Chevalier Glen J. Sadowski, KCTJ and Naval Captain Chevalier Liam Murphy, GCTJ, GMTJ, all also of the Priory of Saint Patrick. Liam Murphy was with Bob Lunney in his home in Bronxville, New York in 1997, when Bob determined to see that justice be done to Chief Tomich, through locating his next of kin and seeing to it that the Medal of Honor would be properly awarded. In so doing, Bob Lunney brought honor to the naval service generally, to the Naval Militia, to the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, and also made a valuable contribution to Croatian-American relations. Well done!
President of Croatia Stjepan Mesić and Admiral J.Robert Lunney