Nearly 75 years later, Dubuque hero's remains identified - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Nearly 75 years later, Dubuque hero's remains identified

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

It was nearly 75 years ago that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and Father Aloysius Schmitt saved the lives of a dozen sailors before losing his.

Schmitt was aboard the USS Oklahoma when it happened.

"He had a chance to escape the ship. He instead chose to help at least 12 other of his military servants, get out of the ship and be able to live," said Jim Collins, president of Loras College.

Most of the crew's remains were never able to be identified, and were buried in 61 caskets.

But the Department of Defense decided in the last couple of years to exhume those caskets and identify the remains from DNA.

This week, Schmitt's family in Iowa received the news that their hero has finally been identified.

"It really hit home on Monday when we had the family visitation. When CPO Marsh came and said, we want to inform you that your family member has been identified. And that's when it really hit home. It was like, wow," said Steve Sloan, Schmitt's great nephew.

Schmitt's remains will return to Iowa in early October.  He'll first be brought to his hometown of St. Lucas, before receiving a full military honors funeral at Loras College, where he will be laid to rest.

"This is our hero. This our graduate, and that the family has chosen to have his memory preserved specifically at Loras means an awful lot," Collins said.

And for Sloan and his family, Schmitt's return home turns the page on a chapter that's nearly 75 years old.

"It always was that we never really had that end point, that closure. Whatever happened to Father Al? That was always a question the family had," Sloan said.

"Now we have that answer."

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