By Peter Zablocki
Charles F. Hopkins
When he died in Boonton on February 14, 1934, Charles F. Hopkins was New Jersey’s last surviving Civil War Medal of Honor recipient. Seventy-two years before, as a young twenty-one-year-old, Hopkins, then part of the 1st New Jersey Infantry in the Civil War Battle of Gaines’ Mill, found himself stranded behind enemy lines. Twice wounded, Hopkins made his way through the woods swarming with Confederate soldiers out to kill him, when he came upon a wounded comrade. Unwilling to leave him behind, the Boonton man picked him up on his shoulders and, with bullets flying around him, carried him back to friendly lines, all while profusely bleeding from yet another wound, this time a shot to the left side of his head. Upon returning home, Charles Hopkins became a Morristown Freeholder and eventually the Mayor of Boonton.
Hector Albert Cafferata Jr.
In 1950, years after Hopkins’ death, another Boonton man, Hector Albert Cafferata Jr., would follow in his footsteps while fighting with the 1st Marine Division in the Korean War. A graduate of Boonton High School and a one-time football star was called to active duty on September 6, 1950. Two months later, twenty-one-year-old Boonton man became the last able member of his company’s defense of a hill after an enemy attack. Cafferata waged a one-man battle with grenades and rifle fire. His citation read: “Making a target of himself under 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 15, wounding many more, and forcing the others to withdraw so that reinforcements could move up and consolidate the position.” Hector’s award was presented to him personally by President Harry S. Truman.
Peter Zablocki is a local historian, author, and educator. He can be reached at peterzablocki.com.