Hometown Hero Chris Cammarota, US Navy

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Born on Nov 2, 1960, Chris Cammarota was welcomed into an Irish-Italian family, the only boy and youngest of six children. He grew up in Rosedale, Queens, in a working-class neighborhood made up of mainly row houses (like the one Archie Bunker lived in.) His parents worked hard, but there wasn’t much left to go around after supporting six kids. What they did have was lots of love and plenty of laughs. Chris’ mother was strong-willed and self-sufficient, and his father had a great sense of humor.

Chris enlisted in the Navy on September 28, 1978, following in his father’s footsteps by serving his country. (His dad was a paratrooper and a screaming eagle who jumped into Normandy on the 6th of June, 1944.) After basic training, he received orders to report to the USS Nimitz CVN-68 in January 1979. The Nimitz was the biggest, baddest, newest nuclear aircraft carrier on the planet. Chris eventually ended up working on the flight deck fueling F-14 fighters. He can share stories about how dangerous that job was!

In 1979, Hollywood filmed the movie “The Final Countdown” on board the Nimitz. Chris had a small part in the motion picture, alongside stars Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.

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On November 4th, 1979, the US Embassy in Tehran was taken over by Iranian terrorists. This was the start of 444 days of captivity that 50 American hostages had to endure. On November 5th, the Nimitz was deployed to the Indian Ocean. (Along the way, Chris became a “shellback,” a long-standing Navy tradition when a sailor crosses the equator.)

Once the Nimitz arrived on “Gonzo Station,” plans were made in Washington for a rescue attempt from the Nimitz to save the American hostages. This unfortunately ended in tragedy in the Iranian desert, resulting in 8 American deaths. The Nimitz ended up spending 144 days a sea, a record not seen since World War II, and on the 100th day at sea, each sailor was issued 2 cans of beer (another first since WWII.)

In the fall of 1980, the Nimitz embarked on a NATO cruise, where the ship visited Germany, Spain, and England. In Portsmouth, where the HMS Victory is anchored, Chris joined the ranks of many sailors and got a tattoo of an American eagle (which did not go over well with his mother!) Chris also became a “Blue Nose,” which meant he had sailed inside the arctic circle.

1981 brought the Nimitz back into the Mediterranean as the flagship of the 7th Fleet. This cruise brought the ship close to the coast of Libya, and Muammar Gaddafi, and resulted in the Nimitz shooting down 2 Libyan aircraft. Chris still has a t-shirt that proudly reads “US 2, Libya 0.”

On May 15th, the Nimitz was stationed off the coast of Florida for “sea quals” (touch and go flight deck landings.) On this day, Chris was promoted to Flight Deck Control, meaning he was in charge of fueling/de-fueling all 100 aircraft on board. He replaced his friend Dennis Driscoll who was demoted. Eleven days later, on May 26th, the Nimitz endured a catastrophic flight deck crash resulting in 14 dead and 49 wounded. Dennis was killed at the age of 21. But for the grace of God, that could have been Chris.

Chris finished his tour in the US Navy, and on September 8, 1982, he received his honorable discharge.

After Chris’ stint in the navy (78-82), he worked at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York. He made his first visit to Cape Coral in 1984, vowing to return someday and make it my home. On the 4th of July, 1988, he met his future wife, Josie, on a blind date. He knew then and there that it was love at first sight. They were married on September 8th, 1990, and moved to Cape Coral from a one bedroom basement apartment in December 1991. He transferred from New York with Federal Express.

In July 1996, Chris and Josie started a “Music & Entertainment” business, Juke Box Hero, and welcomed their first child, Daniella. Christopher followed in December 1999.

Chris always held a CDL license and has always had more than one job at a time. Hard work never hurt anyone, or as his mother would tell him, “Idle hands are the devil’s tools.” Over the years he tried to get involved in his community, from Meals on Wheels to the United Way, and countless “gigs” that were done pro bono for special needs groups to veterans groups to political clubs.

In 2015, Chris ran for Cape Coral City Council District III, coming up just short of the winning vote.

Sometimes May 26th (the anniversary of the fatal crash on the Nimitz) falls on Memorial Day. As each year comes and goes, Chris reflects on that day in 1981 as his second chance in life and he has no regrets. He thanks God every day for having the opportunity to raise his right hand and take an oath to protect and serve his country and its constitution.

As this year’s Memorial Day draws near, Chris feels truly blessed to live in this beautiful city, have the nicest wife, and two healthy kids. The best part is that he was picked by God out of billions of people to be an American. He treasures that with every breath and every step he takes.