BY DUANE A. VACHON, PHD – It might surprise some to learn that 15 servicemen received the Medal of Honor as result of their actions on December 7th 1941 at Pearl Harbor.
Of the 15 recipients 10 were awarded posthumously. Captain Cassin Young was one of the remaining five who received the Medal of Honor whilst still living.
Young was to meet his fate the following year at the Naval Battle at Guadalcanal.
Young graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy on June 3rd, 1916. His first ship was the battleship USS Connecticut (BB-18). Young remained with the Connecticut until 1919 when he transferred to submarines.
During that period, he commanded the submarines USS R-23 (SS-100)and USS R-2 (SS-79). In the mid and late 1920s, Young served in Naval Communications on the staff of Commander Submarine Divisions, Battle Fleet, and at the Naval Academy.
During 1931-33, Young served in the battleship New York.
Young was subsequently Commanding Officer of the destroyer Evans and was assigned to the Eleventh Naval District from 1935-37. After promotion to the rank of Commander, he commanded Submarine Division Seven and had duty at the Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 Young was the Commanding Officer of the repair ship Vestal. As fate would have it, the Vestal was in Port at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th 1941.
The Vestal was badly damaged as a result of several direct hits from Japanese bombers. Vestal also suffered damage from the explosion of the Arizona, to which the Vestal was moored.
When the attack commenced Young immediately made his way to the bridge. He later took command of the 3-inch antiaircraft gun. Young was blown overboard by the blast of a magazine explosion from the U.S.S. Arizona; he swam back to his ship. By the time Young made his way back on board the Vestal was on fire and taking on a list as a result of several bomb hits.
Even though the Vestal was being subjected to severe enemy bombing and strafing , Young moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. Vestal determining that such action was required to save his ship. As result of his heroic and decisive action Young was awarded the Medal of Honor
In February 1942, Young was promoted to Captain and given command of the heavy cruiser U.S.S. San Francisco.
Young was subsequently awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for his actions during the battle at Guadalcanal. On November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Cape Esperance, Young was killed by enemy shells while closely engaging the Japanese battleship Hiei.
Young was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the Guadalcanal battle.
Medal of Honor citation
“For distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism and utter disregard of his own safety, above and beyond the call of duty, as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Vestal, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by enemy Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Commander Young proceeded to the bridge and later took personal command of the 3-inch antiaircraft gun. When blown overboard by the blast of the forward magazine explosion of the U.S.S. Arizona, to which the U.S.S. Vestal was moored, he swam back to his ship. The entire forward part of the U.S.S. Arizona was a blazing inferno with oil afire on the water between the two ships; as a result of several bomb hits, the U.S.S. Vestal was afire in several places, was settling and taking on a list. Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Commander Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. Vestal upon determining that such action was required to save his ship.”