Jon Cavaiani, an Army sergeant major and Special Forces veteran who received the Medal of Honor for leading his outnumbered unit in the defense of a strategically critical outpost in the Vietnam War, has died. He was 70.
His death on July 29 was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He had myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder.
Cavaiani served in Vietnam in an elite unit of commandos that was deployed on hazardous reconnaissance and counterinsurgency missions, often in enemy territory. In 1971, then a staff sergeant, he was serving in a platoon protecting a remote hilltop in the northwestern reaches of what was then South Vietnam, an area then controlled by the Communist North Vietnamese.
Highly advanced equipment used to intercept hostile communications and monitor enemy movement on the Ho Chi Minh Trail was located on the site, called Hickory Hill.
The camp came under intense enemy fire, including automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire. Cavaiani led the defense after his captain was wounded and evacuated.
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,” according to his medal citation. He directed the helicopters that evacuated U.S. servicemen and indigenous Vietnamese who were fighting with them. But he remained behind.
“I attribute my life to him,” said Larry Page, a former Special Forces radio operator.
Cavaiani played dead and survived a fire in the bunker before being captured and was held as a POW until his release in 1973.