b. 04/11/1929 New York. d. 12/04/2016 Venice, Florida.
DATE OF ACTION: 28/11/1950 Chosin, Korea.
Hector Cafferata was born November 4, 1929, in New York City to Mr. and Mrs. Hector A. Cafferata, Sr. of Montville, New Jersey. He attended elementary school at Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey and high school at Boonton, New Jersey. Starting as a sophomore in high school, he played football for three years, and following graduation, he continued as a semi-pro. In 1943, he was employed for the Sun Dial Corporation of Caldwell, New Jersey.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on February 15, 1948, and was a member of the 21st Reserve Infantry Battalion at Dover, New Jersey, until called to active duty on September 6, 1950. After additional training at Camp Pendleton, California, Private First Class Cafferata embarked for Korea in October 1950, joining the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Cafferata distinguished himself during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, single-handedly holding off a regimental-sized enemy force and “annihilating two enemy platoons” after nearly all of his fire team had been killed or seriously wounded. Only he and fellow Marine Kenneth Benson were left able to resist, and Benson was temporarily blinded after a grenade went off near his face. Benson kept reloading Cafferata’s M-1 rifle for him, while Cafferata, a crack shot, fought the enemy without either his coat or his boots, neither of which he could locate in the early morning darkness. The fight started in the early morning and lasted over five hours.
“For the rest of the night I was batting hand grenades away with my entrenching tool while firing my rifle at them. I must have whacked a dozen grenades that night with my tool. And you know what? I was the world’s worst baseball player.”
When a live grenade fell into the shallow entrenchment occupied by his wounded fellow Marines, he grabbed it and hurled it away — saving the lives of many, but suffering severe wounds. Finally, he was seriously wounded by a sniper, but was rescued by other Marines. He was evacuated to Japan in December 1950. Cafferata returned to the United States in January for treatment at the U. S. Naval Hospital, St. Albans, New York. He was placed on the medically retired list on September 1, 1951. On November 24, 1952, Marine Private First Class Cafferata received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman during ceremonies at the White House.
After the war, Cafferata sold hunting and fishing equipment, worked for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, and ran the Cliffside Tavern in Alpha, New Jersey, where he was a longtime resident. He petitioned to have Kenneth Benson (c. 1932–2012) also awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2000, Benson was awarded the Silver Star.
Cafferata died on April 12, 2016, at a hospice in Venice, Florida. He was survived by his wife of more than 50 years, the former Doris Giblock of Venice, four children (Lynn D. Cafferata Coovert and Deborah Cafferata-ReFalo, both of Charlotte, North Carolina; Dale W. Cafferata of Pinellas Park, Florida, and Heather A. Cafferata of Budd Lake, New Jersey), a brother, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Although Cafferata occasionally attended Medal of Honor ceremonies, he was reluctant to speak about his own wartime experiences. When asked about it, he stated “I did my duty. I protected my fellow Marines. They protected me. And I’m prouder of that than the fact that the government decided to give me the Medal of Honor.”
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Rifleman with Company F, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on 28 November 1950. When all the other members of his fire team became casualties, creating a gap in the lines, during the initial phase of a vicious attack launched by a fanatical enemy of regimental strength against his company’s hill position, Private CAFFERATA waged a lone battle with grenades and rifle fire as the attack gained momentum and the enemy threatened penetration through the gap and endangered the integrity of the entire defensive perimeter. Making a target of himself under the devastating fire from automatic weapons, rifles, grenades and mortars, he maneuvered up and down the line and delivered accurate and effective fire against the onrushing force, killing fifteen, wounding many more and forcing the others to withdraw so that reinforcements could move up and consolidate the position. Again fighting desperately against a renewed onslaught later that same morning when a hostile grenade landed in a shallow entrenchment occupied by wounded Marines, Private CAFFERATA rushed into the gully under heavy fire, seized the deadly missile in his right hand and hurled it free of his comrades before it detonated, severing part of one finger and seriously wounding him in the right hand and arm. Courageously ignoring the intense pain, he staunchly fought on until he was struck by a sniper’s bullet and forced to submit to evacuation for medical treatment.
BURIAL LOCATION: QUANTICO NATIONAL CEMETERY, QUANTICO, VIRGINIA.
SECTION 24, SITE 30
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.