by Stanley J. Bozich and Dave Walton
On February 17, 1941 in the darkened waters on the bottom of West Loch, Pearl Harbor, another of Michigan's finest, Bosun's Mate Second Class Owen Hammerberg, unhesitatingly displayed the same selfless courage in rushing to the rescue of two fellow salvage divers. The luckless pair had become hopelessly trapped in a cave-in of steel wreckage while tunneling with jet nozzles under an LST sunk in 40 feet of water and 20 feet of mud. According to his posthumously awarded Medal of Honor citation...
"[Hammerberg] reached the first of the trapped men, freed him from the wreckage and, working desperately in pitch-black darkness, finally effected his release from fouled lines, thereby enabling him to reach the surface... Venturing still farther under the buried hulk, he held tenaciously to his purpose, reaching a place immediately above the second man, just as another cave-in occurred and a heavy piece of steel pinned Hammerberg crosswise over his shipmate in a position which protected the man beneath from further injury while facing the full brunt of terrific pressure on himself. Although he succumbed in agony 18 hours after he had gone to the aid of his fellow divers... his heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country."
Not since Owen Hammerberg's supreme sacrifice beneath the waves at Pearl Harbor has a Medal of Honor been awarded for non-combat service. In 1963, Congress mandated that the Navy Medal of Honor, henceforth, be restricted to Sailors, Coast Guard personnel and Marines under the same award criteria specified for Army and Air Force recipients of their respective Medals of Honor.
Owen Hammerberg is buried in Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Southfield, MI. His actual Medal of Honor, uniforms and related personal artifacts of this Michigan hero is on display at Michigan's Own Military and Space Museum in Frankenmuth, Michigan.