True Survivor – Sgt. Major Jon R. Cavaiani, U. S. Army (ret) (1943-present)

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Sgt. Major Jon Cavaiani, Medal of Honor, Vietnam, U.S. Army

BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Jon Robert Cavaiani was born in Royston, England in 1943 and immigrated to the United States at age four with his parents in 1947, becoming a naturalized American citizen in 1968.  Despite his 4F status he enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 7, 1969.



Cavaiani, who was raised on a family farm in California, was assigned as a veterinarian and agricultural advisor.  This assignment did not excite Cavaiani who wanted to get into the action.  His wish would become reality for him in a few short months.


In early June 1971 Cavaiana was assigned to Task Force 1 Advisory Element whose mission was to provide security for its Hickory Hill radio relay site at Dong Tri.  The Hickory Hill post had existed on strategic Hill 953, in northwest Quang Tri Province at the edge of the DMZ, since June 1968. On June 3, heavy North Vietnamese artillery began battering the bunkered Hickory Hill defenses.


Cavaiiani with the help of Sgt John Johns organized the evacuation of 15 wounded men on June 4.  Five of these men were American Special Forces and the remaining 10 were indigenous commandoes.


In the early morning hours of June 5, a hand grenade was dropped down an air vent wounding Sgt. Jones.  As Jones was leaving the bunker, he was shot by a NVA soldier in the chest.


Adverse weather kept Cavaiani from receiving any air support.  Hickory Hill fell to the enemy early in the morning on June 5.  As the NVA soldiers were looking for survivors Cavaiani played dead and avoided capture for a short time.  As Cavaiana ran from the burning bunker he was in, he spotted a helicopter and while attempting to attract it was spotted by the NVA soldiers.  Cavaiani was captured and spent the next 661 days in captivity, Cavaiani was released during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.


Despite several searches, no sign of Sgt. Jones dead or alive was ever found.  He has joined the almost 2500 Americans that are still missing in Southeast Asia.


Clearly the enemy knows his fate and his location but still continue to deny any knowledge of him.  His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Medal of Honor


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 1 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 2 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.


President Gerald Ford presented Cavaiani with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony on December 12, 1974. Cavaiani later reached the rank of sergeant major before retiring from the Army in 1996.


The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external.  Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.






  1. His name is SGT Jones, Jon and he called for a medical evacuation for those casualties. What happen was, instead of a medical evacuation being sent, a complete evacuation was ordered by his commander. Unfortunately, one of the helicopters was shot down and the other helicopter was only able to rescue a few. SSG Caviani, at the time, and SGT Jones volunteered to stay behind with the 22 Indigenous Commandoes in order to suppress fire and defend the radio relay site.

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