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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 10:20 a.m., Thursday, May 18, 2006

Croatian receives U.S. Medal of Honor posthumously

Associated Press

SPLIT, Croatia — His courage — and death — at Pearl Harbor earned him the U.S. Medal of Honor. But it took more than 60 years for Peter Tomich's descendants to be tracked down to receive his medal, one of the highest U.S. awards.

Today, Srecko Herceg, one of Tomich's relatives, received the medal from Adm. Harry Ulrich III, Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe, aboard the USS Enterprise.

"A common man became uncommon and left fear aside — such people we call heroes," Ulrich said at a ceremony on the deck of the frigate moored in the Croatian southern port of Split for a three-day stay since yesterday.

Tomich, a Croatian immigrant to the U.S., died when Japan torpedoed USS Utah on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Chief Watertender Tomich ordered the ship's crew to leave while he stayed behind in the engineering plant to ensure that all boilers were secured to prevent them from exploding.

He was awarded the medal by President Franklin Roosevelt, but U.S. authorities had trouble locating his next of kin.

Herceg, a Croat descendant of Tomich, was recently tracked down in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"It is a special honor to receive this medal in the name of my cousin, particularly because my country was also under attack recently," said Herceg, a retired colonel in the Croatian army.

The sunken ship USS Utah is still at Pearl Harbor, bearing the inscription saying its crew was saved by Tomich.