Cassin Young was already an American hero when his life was tragically cut short during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Just under a year earlier, on the morning of December 7, 1941, the 47-year-old captain was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched their devastating attack.
Born in Washington, DC in 1894, Cassin Young was only two years old when his family moved to Wisconsin, where he spent his childhood before returning to the East Coast to enroll in the United States Naval Academy. On June 3, 1916, he graduated and was ordered to the battleship USS Connecticut (BB-18) until 1919. Shortly afterward, he attended submarine school and served aboard USS R-22 (SS-99) and USS R-3 (SS-80). From January of 1922, Young served in Naval Communications and, by 1931, had earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander, serving aboard USS New York (BB-34) and later on the destroyer USS Evans (DD-78). In 1937, Young was promoted to the rank of Commander, and given command of Submarine Division 7.
Cassin Young at Pearl Harbor
By December of 1941,Young was the commanding officer of the repair ship USS Vestal (AR-4), stationed at Pearl Harbor. On the morning of December 7, Vestal was tied up alongside USS Arizona (BB-39). The intent of the Japanese attack was to cripple the US Pacific Fleet, and that meant focusing fire on the battleships in the harbor. Arizona sustained heavy damage during the attack as Japanese bombs hit the battleship, causing her forward magazine to explode and killing 1,177 of her men. Vestal also sustained damage, but that didn’t stop Commander Young from personally leading his men in fighting back against the Japanese aircraft.
As his crew struggled to cut Vestal away from the doomed Arizona, Young manned one of the anti-aircraft guns and fired on the incoming fighters and bombers. When Arizona’s forward magazine exploded, Young was blown overboard into the debris-filled waters of Pearl Harbor. Despite being shaken, Young returned to Vestal and directed her away from Arizona, ultimately beaching her nearby and ensuring her salvage after the attack.
In February, 1942, Young was promoted to Captain. Nine months later, he was put in command of the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA-38). On November 13, 1942, just four days after taking command, Captain Young was killed during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
Awards and Recognition
For his heroic actions at Pearl Harbor, Cassin Young was awarded the Medal of Honor and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his service during the War in the Pacific.
On the December 31, 1943, a new Fletcher-class destroyer, USS Cassin Young (DD-793) was commissioned into service in the US Navy. Today, one of the US Navy shuttle boats taking visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, hull designation 39-3, is named for Cassin Young.