British-born MACV-SOG Medal of Honor winner passes

exspy

LE
Jon Robert Cavaiani passed away on Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in California.

According to the official record Cavaiani was born in Royston, England, in 1943. There is information to suggest however, that he was actually born in Ireland. In either case he was put up for adoption at birth. He was adopted by an American family and when he was four the family returned to the US.

After being declared 4F by the draft board (he was allergic to bee stings) he enlisted in the US Army in 1968. He entered the Special Forces and by 1971 was a Staff Sergeant serving along the DMZ in South Vietnam. He was serving with the unit that evolved from what was CCN of MACV-SOG. On June 4, 1971, he was in command of a force of Green Berets and Montangards guarding radio eavedropping sights when they were attacked by an overwhelming force of North Vietnamese. After providing extraordinary personal leadership during the battle and arranging for the evacuation of his troops, Cavaiani and a 22-year old Sergeant were all that remained. When the smoke had cleared Cavaiani was a POW and Sergeant John Robert Jones would be declared an MIA until his remains were found at the site in 2010. Cavaiani would be a part of the team that helped to locate Jones' remains.

Cavaiani was a POW until the release of American prisoners made by Hanoi in April, 1973. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Ford in 1974. He remained in the Army and retired as a Sergeant Major in 1996.

Fuller accounts of the action involving Cavaiani and Jones can be found at:

http://www.professionalsoldiers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=29700 and at

http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/whats_on/medal-honor/medal-honor-recipient-jon-cavaiani-interview/

And of course, there's always Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_R._Cavaiani

Cavaiani and President Ford 1974
cavaiani_presentation-vi.jpg

Cavaiani (L) and Roger Donlon (R) in 2009
6a00d8341c009153ef01156fd9e0b7970c-pi
 
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exspy

LE
Are you talking about a thread or a post? I don't think I've ever seen a Vietnam War thread on this forum. Where would I find it?

Cheers,
Dan.
 
Hi Dan

Caviaini was definitely born in Ireland. He only discovered the fact late in life. He says so himself in his interview in 'The Pritzker Military Library - MOH" series. It is available as a podcast.

The whole series is fascinating. Before I listened to it I had the view that compared to awards of the Victoria Cross the Medal of Honor was given away too freely.

I know now, that the opposite is the case.

Caviani was an exceptional man.

Cheers

Mick
 

exspy

LE
Tony,

It's good to see you're still out there. The Pritzker interview is one of the links I provided in the opening post. I agree with you about Cavaiani, his life surely deserves a biography of its own. It's a shame he never wrote one.

Cheers,
Dan.

PS: You are truly missed in other corners of the blogosphere.
 
Tony,

It's good to see you're still out there. The Pritzker interview is one of the links I provided in the opening post. I agree with you about Cavaiani, his life surely deserves a biography of its own. It's a shame he never wrote one.

Cheers,
Dan.

PS: You are truly missed in other corners of the blogosphere.

Well that is what you get for MACV SOG walt hunting......

On a positive note I haven't been banned from any internet forum ooh, for ages now :)

There are a number of controversial aspects over the award of the MOH to Cavaiani, that tend to get glossed over, due I think to the US veneration of all things MACV SOG. In the Pritzker interview Cavaiani addresses them head on.

The first is that the debacle at 'Hickory' was entirely due to slack security. Cavaiani knew this and for days prior to the attack was screaming for defence supplies that never came. One row of wire might have made the difference. MACV SOG had an atrocious record in this respect. It has to be remembered that the worst incident as far as MACV SOG casualties were concerned was the Sapper attack on the CCN base in Danang in August 1968. The VC simply walked in through a hole in the fence and lobbed satchel charges into huts full of sleeping soldiers.

The second is that the award to Cavaiani was originally awarded posthumously. It was believed that he was dead when the citation was originally written. It wasn't until much later that it was discovered that although badly shot up, he had survived to be captured. I assume that this generates some embarrassment because it is practically never mentioned.

The third controversial aspect involves Cavaiani's conduct as a prisoner. The communist indoctrination that prisoners were subjected to was designed to drive wedges between enlisted and officers and also along racial grounds. Cavaiani, feisty as ever, gave it to the 'progressives'. He was quite proud of this fact but his POW commanding officer did not sanction it and regarded Cavaiani as 'rising to the bait'. I say good on him. The rift between the 'progressives' and the 'recalcitrant' POWs, such as Cavaiani, was put into the "best forgotten" category after their release.

I was told by someone who knew him that the medical treatment he received from the NVA to extract the bullet (or bullets) from him involved inserting a glass tube down the path of the wound and extracting it without the benefit of anaesthetic. If he had moved the glass would have shattered killing him, so the story goes. I've never heard of such a procedure and suspect that it might be part of the mythology that grows up around characters like Cavaiani.

Cheers

Mick
 

exspy

LE
Tony,

I deliberately kept any of the controversy over Cavaiani's conduct as a POW out of the original post because of the source. It seems to all come from internet postings made by author Donald E Zlotnik who was a Special Forces officer in Vietnam and a member of MACV-SOG. He refers to Cavaiani as a traitor during his time as a POW, a coward during the Battle for Hickory and a disgrace as a member of the Special Forces. Other than Zlotnik there is no one else, that I've read to date, that takes the same view of Cavaiani's time as a POW as he does. The main reason I don't believe the stories of Cavaini being a collaborator is that he continued to serve in the Army for over 20 years after his release as a POW rising to the rank of Sergeant Major in Special Op positions which would have required a high security clearance. I can't see the Army overlooking any evidence of collaboration if it was truly there.

Zlotnik also disputes Cavaiani's version of the Battle for Hickory, the battle for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Zlotnik has been quoted as saying of the MOH "In three cases the MH (sic) was based on PURE fabrication; SEAL Lt "Bob" Kerrey's, SSG Jon Caviani's and Navy Captain McGonagle's." Zlotnik also has issues with all of the recent MOH awards that have come out of the War in Afghanistan. Taken in the larger sense, Zlotnik does not come off as a reliable critic of the actions of Cavaiani.

Every post on-line that I've read made by persons who knew Jon Cavaiani (or who claim they knew him) all say the same about him and none of them dispute his actions at Hickory, his conduct as a POW or his award. If it's true that your enemies define you, Cavaiani's a good man.

Cheers,
Dan.
 
The second is that the award to Cavaiani was originally awarded posthumously. It was believed that he was dead when the citation was originally written. It wasn't until much later that it was discovered that although badly shot up, he had survived to be captured. I assume that this generates some embarrassment because it is practically never mentioned.
There have been awards of the MoH to what seemed at the time to be dead men

MG William Dean
Major Gregory Boyington
 
Tony,

I deliberately kept any of the controversy over Cavaiani's conduct as a POW out of the original post because of the source. It seems to all come from internet postings made by author Donald E Zlotnik who was a Special Forces officer in Vietnam and a member of MACV-SOG. He refers to Cavaiani as a traitor during his time as a POW, a coward during the Battle for Hickory and a disgrace as a member of the Special Forces. Other than Zlotnik there is no one else, that I've read to date, that takes the same view of Cavaiani's time as a POW as he does. The main reason I don't believe the stories of Cavaini being a collaborator is that he continued to serve in the Army for over 20 years after his release as a POW rising to the rank of Sergeant Major in Special Op positions which would have required a high security clearance. I can't see the Army overlooking any evidence of collaboration if it was truly there.

Zlotnik also disputes Cavaiani's version of the Battle for Hickory, the battle for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Zlotnik has been quoted as saying of the MOH "In three cases the MH (sic) was based on PURE fabrication; SEAL Lt "Bob" Kerrey's, SSG Jon Caviani's and Navy Captain McGonagle's." Zlotnik also has issues with all of the recent MOH awards that have come out of the War in Afghanistan. Taken in the larger sense, Zlotnik does not come off as a reliable critic of the actions of Cavaiani.

Every post on-line that I've read made by persons who knew Jon Cavaiani (or who claim they knew him) all say the same about him and none of them dispute his actions at Hickory, his conduct as a POW or his award. If it's true that your enemies define you, Cavaiani's a good man.

Cheers,
Dan.

I deliberately included the controversy regarding Cavaiani because it explains why there will probably never be a JC the movie or JC the book. I have an enormous regard for JC and his accomplishments and, like you, don't rate Zlotnik at all. For the reasons you have explained.

The problem is, I think, is that US audiences want all their heroes to be super heroes. I don't think they are conditioned to accept the crunchy with the smooth.

Worse yet, the achievements of MACV SOG have been lionised to cartoonish proportions in my view. MACV SOG was formed with a strategic intent and by every measure of the original remit they failed. It is impossible to have a rational discussion with most USians about this.

In spite of the personal heroism of many MACV SOG members, (whom I admire greatly), MACV SOG is a great example of institutional failure.

No one wants to know.

Cheers

Mick
 

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