America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan

By James H. Willbanks | Go to book overview

Cavaiani, Jon R.

Born: August 2, 1943

Died:

Home State: California

Service: Army

Conflict: Vietnam War

Age at Time of Award: 27

Born in Royston, England, on August 2, 1943, Jon R. Cavaiani came to the United States with his parents in 1947 at the age of four. Though he was originally classified 4-F for medical reasons, Cavaiani managed to enlist in the US Army at Fresno, California, in 1968. He became a naturalized citizen shortly after enlisting. Cavaiani volunteered for the Special Forces and, after completion of his training, was sent to Vietnam in June 1970.

Staff Sergeant Cavaiani was assigned to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam’s Studies and Observation Group (SOG) Command and Control North (CCN) and served as advisor to Montagnards in extreme northwestern South Vietnam as part of the Vietnam Training Advisory Group. In June of 1971, Cavaiani commanded a small garrison at a radio relay station known as Outpost Hickory. The base, actually an important radio monitoring post, was deep inside enemy-dominated territory, at least 20 miles from friendly firebases Fuller and Carroll. Cavaiani commanded the base—held by 27 Americans, including a squad of American Rangers and 67 indigenous troops—though Cavaiani was outranked by several others. An enemy attack by North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars was believed imminent.

On the morning of June 4, a surprise attack was prevented when Cavaiani spotted enemy movement and opened fire first with an M-60 machine gun. He then led the fight to hold the camp against a superior force throughout the day. Air strikes were called in, but when the fight appeared lost, Cavaiani requested evacuation helicopters. He carried a wounded American captain to the helipad and even took the time to write a medal commendation for an American soldier. Though the attack appeared to be faltering in later afternoon, the enemy threat caused the evacuation to be called offat around 4:30 p.m., before all the remaining men were removed.

During the evening, Cavaiani organized a defense around the helipad with the remaining 25 men. The group held offat least eight separate attacks until the helipad was finally overrun after midnight. A circling AC-119 gunship refused Cavaiani’s final request to fire into friendly positions. Cavaiani, now wounded, ordered his remaining men to try to escape and evade, but he and another remaining American sergeant, James Jones, fought on from a bunker. When the badly wounded Jones left the bunker and attempted to surrender, he was killed by the NVA. Cavaiani chose to try and fake his death in the bunker, which was later burned by the enemy. Early the next morning, June 5, Cavaiani managed to escape into the jungle, though he had suffered severe burns and numerous wounds. After eluding the enemy for 11 days, Cavaiani had nearly reached the safety of Camp Fuller when he was captured. He later said it was an old man with a bolt-action rifle that stopped him from reaching friendly lines.

Several of those who had been last rescued from Hickory had reported his death, and Cavaiani was reported as missing in action. A year later, his name was released over the Viet Cong “Liberation Radio” net as a prisoner. He was moved northward to the prisoner-of-war camp known as Plantation Gardens for interrogation, then on to the Zoo, and was finally transferred to the infamous Hanoi Hilton in December of 1972. Cavaiani remained a prisoner until he was released in accordance with the Paris Peace Accords on March 27, 1973. Shortly thereafter, Cavaiani learned that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him on December 12, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford.

Jon Cavaiani remained in active military service. Among his variety of postings, Cavaiani was an instructor at Fort Bragg, served with both the 10th and 11th Special Forces groups, and was assigned to the Allied Staffin West Berlin. His final posting was as a ROTC instructor at University of California-Davis. He retired from active service on May 31, 1990, at the rank of sergeant major. Cavaiani’s other decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. As of 2010 he resides in California.

Thomas Dwight Veve


Further Reading

Collier, Peter, and Nick Del Calzo. Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor beyond the Call of Duty. New York: Artisan, 2006.

Coy, Jimmie Dean. Valor: A Gathering of Eagles. Mobile, AL: Evergreen Press, 2003. Plaster, John L. SOG. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Steinman, Ron. The Soldiers’ Story: Vietnam in Their Own Words. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2002.

-48-

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America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Entries ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Adams, Lucian 1
  • Baca, John P. 2
  • Bacon, Nicky Daniel 4
  • Baker, Vernon 6
  • Baldwin, Frank D. 8
  • Ballard, Donald E. 11
  • Barfoot, Van T. 13
  • Barnum, Harvey C., Jr 14
  • Barrett, Carlton W. 16
  • Basilone, John 18
  • Benavidez, Roy P. 20
  • Birkhimer, William E. 22
  • Blake, Robert 24
  • Bleak, David B. 25
  • Boyington, Gregory 27
  • Brady, Patrick Henry 29
  • Britt, Maurice L. 30
  • Brown, Bobbie E. 32
  • Bucha, Paul William 34
  • Burke, Lloyd L. 36
  • Bush, Robert Eugene 38
  • Butler, Smedley Darlington 40
  • Butterfield, Daniel 42
  • Cafferata, Hector a., Jr 43
  • Carney, William H. 45
  • Cavaiani, Jon R. 48
  • Chamberlain, Joshua L. 49
  • Childers, Ernest 51
  • Cody, William F. 53
  • Cohn, Abraham 55
  • Cole, Robert G. 57
  • Craft, Clarence B. 59
  • Crandall, Bruce P. 61
  • Custer, Thomas W. 63
  • Dahlgren, John Olof 65
  • Daly, Daniel Joseph 67
  • Davila, Rudolph B. 69
  • Davis, Charles W. 70
  • Davis, Raymond G. 73
  • Davis, Sammy L. 74
  • Day, George E. 76
  • Dean, William F. 78
  • Deblanc, Jefferson Joseph 79
  • Dix, Drew Dennis 81
  • Donlon, Roger Hugh C. 84
  • Donovan, William Joseph 85
  • Doolittle, James H. 87
  • Doss, Desmond T. 88
  • Dunham, Jason L. 90
  • Dunham, Russell E. 91
  • Dyess, Aquilla James 93
  • Ehlers, Walter D. 96
  • Evans, Ernest Edwin 98
  • Faith, Don C., Jr 100
  • Finn, John William 102
  • Fletcher, Frank Jack 104
  • Fluckey, Eugene Bennett 105
  • Foley, Robert F. 107
  • Foss, Joseph Jacob 109
  • Fox, John Robert 112
  • Freeman, Ed W. 113
  • Funston, Frederick 115
  • Galer, Robert Edward 117
  • García, Macario 119
  • Gonsalves, Harold 121
  • Gonzalez, Alfredo 123
  • Gordon, Gary I. 125
  • Hagemeister, Charles Chris 126
  • Harmon, Roy W. 128
  • Harrell, William George 130
  • Hatch, John P. 131
  • Hayashi, Shizuya 133
  • Hayes, Webb C. 134
  • Heard, John W. 137
  • Hendrix, James R. 139
  • Hernández, Rodolfo P. 140
  • Herrera, Silvestre S. 142
  • Hooper, Joe R. 144
  • Howard, Oliver O. 146
  • Howard, Robert L. 148
  • Inouye, Daniel K. 150
  • Irwin, Bernard J. D. 154
  • Izac, Edouard Victor Michel 155
  • Jackson, Joe M. 158
  • Jacobs, Jack H. 160
  • Joel, Lawrence 162
  • Kaufman, Benjamin 164
  • Keeble, Woodrow W. 166
  • Kelly, Charles E. 167
  • Kerrey, Joseph R. 169
  • Kisters, Gerry H. 171
  • Kouma, Ernest R. 173
  • Lang, George C. 175
  • Lemon, Peter C. 177
  • Levitow, John L. 178
  • Liteky, Angelo J. 181
  • Livingston, James E. 182
  • Lopez, Jose M. 184
  • Lucas, Jacklyn Harold 186
  • Luke, Frank, Jr 189
  • Mabry, George L., Jr 191
  • Macarthur, Arthur, Jr 193
  • Macarthur, Douglas 195
  • Mackie, John F. 198
  • Mallon, George H. 200
  • Marm, Walter Joseph, Jr 201
  • Martinez, Joe P. 203
  • McCool, Richard Miles, Jr 204
  • McGinnis, Ross A. 206
  • McGinty, John J., III 207
  • McKinney, John R. 209
  • Merli, Gino J. 211
  • Miles, L. Wardlaw 213
  • Miles, Nelson A. 214
  • Millett, Lewis L. 218
  • Miyamura, Hiroshi H. 220
  • Mize, Ola L. 223
  • Moffett, William A. 225
  • Monsoor, Michael A. 226
  • Monti, Jared C. 227
  • Munemori, Sadao S. 229
  • Munro, Douglas Albert 231
  • Murphy, Audie L. 233
  • Murphy, Michael P. 235
  • Murphy, Raymond G. 236
  • Norris, Thomas R. 238
  • Novosel, Michael J. 240
  • O’Hare, Edward Henry 243
  • O’Kane, Richard Hetherington 245
  • Okubo, James K. 246
  • Olive, Milton L., III 248
  • O’Neill, Richard W. 249
  • Page, John U. D. 251
  • Paige, Mitchell 254
  • Parker, Samuel I. 256
  • Pennypacker, Galusha 258
  • Penry, Richard A. 260
  • Pitsenbarger, William H. 262
  • Pittman, John A. 264
  • Pittman, Richard A. 265
  • Pope, Everett Parker 267
  • Pope, Thomas A. 269
  • Rascon, Alfred V. 271
  • Ray, Ronald Eric 273
  • Red Cloud, Mitchell, Jr 275
  • Rickenbacker, Edward V. 278
  • Roberts, Gordon R. 279
  • Rocco, Louis R. 281
  • Rodriguez, Joseph C. 283
  • Roosevelt, Theodore 285
  • Rosser, Ronald E. 287
  • Rubin, Tibor 289
  • Rudolph, Donald E. 291
  • Ruiz, Alejandro R. Renteria 293
  • Sakato, George T. 294
  • Salomon, Ben L. 296
  • Sandlin, Willie 298
  • Sasser, Clarence Eugene 300
  • Schofield, John M. 302
  • Shafter, William R. 303
  • Shoup, David Monroe 305
  • Shughart, Randall D. 307
  • Sickles, Daniel E. 310
  • Sijan, Lance P. 312
  • Simanek, Robert E. 313
  • Sitter, Carl L. 315
  • Smith, Andrew Jackson 317
  • Smith, Paul R. 319
  • Spurrier, Junior J. 320
  • Stockdale, James B. 322
  • Stone, James L. 324
  • Stowers, Freddie 326
  • Thornton, Michael Edwin 327
  • Thorsness, Leo K. 329
  • Titus, Calvin Pearl 332
  • Turner, George B. 333
  • Urban, Matt 335
  • Vandegrift, Alexander Archer 337
  • Vargas, Jay R. 339
  • Versace, Humbert R. 341
  • Wahlen, George Edward 343
  • Wai, Francis B. 345
  • Wainwright, Jonathan M. 347
  • Walker, Dr. Mary E. 349
  • Ware, Keith L. 350
  • Warren, Francis E. 352
  • Watson, George 353
  • Watters, Charles Joseph 354
  • Webb, Alexander S. 358
  • Wetzel, Gary George 360
  • Whiteley, Eli 362
  • Whittington, Hulon B. 363
  • Williams, Hershel Woodrow 365
  • Wilson, Louis Hugh, Jr. 367
  • Wood, Leonard 369
  • Woodfill, Samuel 372
  • York, Alvin C. 373
  • Young, Rodger W. 375
  • Zabitosky, Fred William 377
  • Zeamer, Jay, Jr. 379
  • Recipients of the Medal of Honor 381
  • Double Award Recipients 487
  • Medals of Honor Awarded by Conflict and Service 489
  • Bibliography 493
  • Index 511
  • About the Editor 529
  • Contributors 531
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