Peter Tomich was born Petre Herceg-Tonic in Prolog, a town on the Austro-Hungarian border, in 1893 and, determined to find a better life, immigrated to the United States in 1913. When the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and subsequently became a naturalized citizen. Once his enlistment was up, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 26 to become an engineer. Advancing through the rates, he was a chief watertender by 1930. Eleven years later he was at his post in the fire room of the USS Utah (BB-31) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on a Sunday morning in December, when two torpedoes suddenly slammed into the unsuspecting ship.