In Memoriam: Jon R. Cavaiani

One of the more remarkable recipients of the Medal of Honor (even though all of them are remarkable!) died a few days ago.  Then-Staff Sergeant Jon R. Cavaiani‘s citation read as follows:

S/Sgt. Cavaiani distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action in the Republic of Vietnam on 4 and 5 June 1971 while serving as a platoon leader to a security platoon providing security for an isolated radio relay site located within enemy-held territory. On the morning of 4 June 1971, the entire camp came under an intense barrage of enemy small arms, automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire from a superior size enemy force. S/Sgt. Cavaiani acted with complete disregard for his personal safety as he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire in order to move about the camp’s perimeter directing the platoon’s fire and rallying the platoon in a desperate fight for survival. S/Sgt. Cavaiani also returned heavy suppressive fire upon the assaulting enemy force during this period with a variety of weapons. When the entire platoon was to be evacuated, S/Sgt. Cavaiani unhesitatingly volunteered to remain on the ground and direct the helicopters into the landing zone. S/Sgt. Cavaiani was able to direct the first 3 helicopters in evacuating a major portion of the platoon. Due to intense increase in enemy fire, S/Sgt. Cavaiani was forced to remain at the camp overnight where he calmly directed the remaining platoon members in strengthening their defenses. On the morning of 5 June, a heavy ground fog restricted visibility. The superior size enemy force launched a major ground attack in an attempt to completely annihilate the remaining small force. The enemy force advanced in 2 ranks, first firing a heavy volume of small arms automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire while the second rank continuously threw a steady barrage of hand grenades at the beleaguered force. S/Sgt. Cavaiani returned a heavy barrage of small arms and hand grenade fire on the assaulting enemy force but was unable to slow them down. He ordered the remaining platoon members to attempt to escape while he provided them with cover fire. With one last courageous exertion, S/Sgt. Cavaiani recovered a machine gun, stood up, completely exposing himself to the heavy enemy fire directed at him, and began firing the machine gun in a sweeping motion along the two ranks of advancing enemy soldiers. Through S/Sgt. Cavaiani’s valiant efforts with complete disregard for his safety, the majority of the remaining platoon members were able to escape. While inflicting severe losses on the advancing enemy force, S/Sgt. Cavaiani was wounded numerous times. S/Sgt. Cavaiani’s conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.

That’s not the whole story, either.  According to the Modesto Bee, Mr. Cavaiani “joined the Army despite a 4-F classification (he was allergic to bee stings) by learning of a doctor who had falsified 4-F excuses for healthy men wanting to avoid military service. Cavaiani said he blackmailed the doctor into doing just the opposite for him”.  After Special Forces training, he went to Vietnam and refused to leave after his tour of duty ended, extending it to continue serving with indigenous troops.

S/Sgt. Cavaiani was very badly wounded during the evacuation of his unit, and could not be recovered.  The report continues:

Seven of his soldiers nominated him for the Medal of Honor, figuring he’d get it posthumously, if at all. Instead, riddled with roughly 120 shrapnel wounds, a bullet in his back, another in his leg and burns in several places, Cavaiani played dead as the enemy rummaged through the area. When they left, he descended a cliff and began working his way back toward an American camp. He lived on insects for 10 days before North Vietnamese forces captured him.

Cavaiani spent nearly two years in prisoner of war camps, constantly being disciplined for tormenting his tormentors. He once attacked several of his captors with the loose end of his leg chains.

There’s more at the link.

As Heraclitus put it, well over two millennia ago:

“Out of every one hundred men [in battle], ten shouldn’t even be there.  Eighty are just targets.  Nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle.  Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”

Sergeant-Major Cavaiani was “the one” that day in Vietnam.  We are diminished by his passing.  May he rest in peace.



  1. The story doesn't mention that part of his post MOH career included serving in the Unit, aka SFOD-D.

    St Paul

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