Film shown at Rider recalls hero of Pearl Harbor

Rider community learns about sacrifices of Peter Tomich
Susan Hammond

On Dec. 7, those who were killed during the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 will be remembered and honored. The United States suffered the loss of 2,341 service members; among them was U.S. Navy sailor Peter Tomich.

Last month, Rider’s Veteran and Military Affairs Office presented Heroes are Never Forgotten — A Peter Tomich Story, a documentary film that details Tomich’s sacrifice at Pearl Harbor and the 65-year journey to award his Congressional Medal of Honor to his family.

Peter Tomich was Chief Watertender for the USS Utah, one of the first American ships to be hit by the Japanese airstrike. The battleship took two torpedoes within five minutes and the hull quickly began to flood. Below deck, as the water came rushing in, the men were ordered to abandon ship. Chief Tomich remained at his station to prevent the ship’s boilers from exploding, saving the lives of many crewmembers. The USS Utah eventually capsized and sank just minutes later. This act of heroism cost Tomich his life.

During the documentary film event, a special guest, retired Rear Admiral J. Robert Lunney, made an emotional address to the audience. With a crack in his voice, he reminded them that Peter Tomich’s body still remains underwater with the wreckage of the USS Utah.

Posthumously, Tomich was awarded the U.S. military's highest award for courage the Medal of Honor. However, his medal was put on display in various places and remained undelivered for several decades. This troubled the rear admiral. Thus began a nine-year journey to maintain the military tradition of awarding the medal to the next of kin. During those nine years, Lunney was met with resistance and rejection. Thanks to the dedication and perseverance of the rear admiral and many others, Tomich’s undelivered Medal of Honor was finally awarded to his family. In May of 2006, Retired Colonel of Croatian Armed Forces Srećko Herceg Tonić was presented the medal on the deck of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise while anchored off Split, Croatia.

After the film, special guests Rear Admiral Robert Lunney and filmmakers Ištvan Filaković, Nenad Bach, and Vladimir Brnardić were available to answer questions. George Afoakwah, a freshman biology major, studies American military history as a hobby and asked Admiral Lunney about his naval service.

“He said he had spent much of his career in the Navy reserve because it gave him a sense of commitment and duty,” Afoakwah says.

Prior to attending Rider, Afoakwah first came to campus in 2018 for the annual American Legion Jersey Boys' State as a delegate.

Vladimir Brnardić, the film’s writer, shared a letter from the Colonel Herceg Tonić with the attendees. An excerpt reads:

“I would like to personally thank the United States for recognizing the courage, determination and sacrifice of this man — a man who may be insignificant in the eyes of those in other countries — but a hero to all of us in his own country. I wholeheartedly thank everyone at Rider University for promoting education and the development of human interdisciplinary skills. No matter what you do, or where you are—it is important to take responsibility for yourself as a citizen and role model. Dear students, I challenge you to persevere in your promises and be role models!”