Navy to name ship after Marine Private who tried to skip his own Medal of Honor ceremony

Marine Corp Pvt. Hector A. Cafferata, Jr., Medal of Honor recipient.

Gary Robbins
The San Diego Union-Tribune

A huge Navy ship that’s scheduled to be built in San Diego will be named after the late Hector Cafferata Jr., a former Camp Pendleton Marine private who was awarded the Medal of Honor for a heroic attack on enemy forces during the Korean War.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said Cafferata’s name will be given to Expeditionary Sea Base 8, a 784-foot vessel that will serve as a floating “pier at sea” that can be used to deploy troops and aircraft.

Six of these type of ships have been built at General Dynamics-NASSCO on San Diego Bay. A seventh is under construction, and preparations have begun for the building of Cafferata.

Cafferata was a New York City native who joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1948 and was called to duty in 1950. The latter part of his training occurred at Camp Pendleton, where he became part of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

He was sent to Korea in late 1950 and thrust into the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, during which U.S. and allied forces were surrounded and attacked by an overwhelming number of Chinese fighters.

Cafferata was assigned to help hold Fox Hill, a mountain pass that roughly 11,000 Marines and soldiers needed to escape the enemy.

“Without stopping to put his shoes on — despite ankle-deep snow — he got to work defending the hill,” the Defense Department says in a history of Cafferata’s heroism.

“Despite being targeted by the enemy, Cafferata moved up and down the line delivering accurate and effective fire. He killed several enemy fighters, wounded many more and forced others to withdraw until reinforcements could consolidate the enemy position.”

Cafferata also jumped into an entrenchment that was sheltering Marines and picked up an enemy grenade that was about to go off. The device went off as it was leaving his hand, injuring him badly. But he kept fighting until he was shot by a sniper.

He was evacuated and managed to survive, later returning to the U.S., where he spent much of his life selling hunting and fishing equipment.

Most decorated soldier of Vietnam War had almost as many Article 15s as he did medals

According to an Army writer, when Cafferata first learned he had earned the Medal of Honor, he asked if it could be mailed to him. That request was turned down. Instead, Cafferata was flown to Washington, D.C. He received the Medal of Honor on Nov. 24, 1952, from President Harry S. Truman during a White House ceremony.

Cafferata died in 2016 at the age of 86.

The ship that will carry his name is expected to go into service later this decade.

“For the next 40 years and hopefully beyond, there will be 60,000 tons of American fighting power sailing the seas under the name Cafferata,” Gen. Eric M. Smith, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a statement.

“The Cafferata name joins our legends and is now forever engrained in the blood, sweat, and history of your United States Marine Corps.”

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