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First Name: Jon

Last Name: Cavaiani

Birthplace: Royston, GBR

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Home of Record: Fresno, CA
Middle Name: Robert

Date of Birth: 02 August 1943

Date of Death: 29 July 2014

Rank: Sergeant Major

Years Served: 1968 - 1990
Jon Robert Cavaiani

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Jon Robert Cavaiani
Sergeant Major, U.S. Army
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Jon Robert Cavaiani (born 2 August 1943) is a retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major and a recipient of the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions in the Vietnam War.

Born in Royston, England, Cavaiani emigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1947 at age four. Though initially classified 4F, due in part to a severe allergy to bee stings, Cavaiani joined the Army from Fresno, CA, shortly before becoming a naturalized citizen in 1968.

He was sent to Vietnam in 1970 with the Special Forces and on 4 June 1971 was serving as a Staff Sergeant in the Vietnam Training Advisory Group. On that day, his platoon came under intense enemy attack. Cavaiani organized the unit's defense and, when evacuation by helicopter became necessary, he voluntarily stayed on the ground and directed the aircraft, which successfully evacuated most of the platoon. Cavaiani and a small group were left behind. During a major enemy attack the next morning, he ordered the remaining men to escape while he stayed and provided suppressive fire to cover their retreat. He was captured and spent the next two years as a prisoner of war.

Jon R. Cavaiani was released by the Provisional Government of Vietnam on 27 March 1973.

Medal of Honor

Citation: 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 12 December 1974.

Postscript to the MOH Citation

This sentence appears near the end of the MOH citation: "Through S/Sgt. Cavaiani's valiant efforts with complete disregard for his safety, the majority of the remaining platoon members were able to escape." The following is what happened next.

The men believed Cavaiani had been killed while covering their escape; in fact, he had avoided capture by pretending to be dead, even as his bunker was set afire. After eleven days in the jungle, Cavaiani was captured nearly within reach of an American camp; after undergoing interrogation, he was imprisoned at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Cavaiani weighed 198 pounds when captured and 92 when released nearly two years later. Once he was back in shape, he asked to return to duty with the Special Forces.

Cavaiani reached the rank of Sergeant Major before retiring from the Army in 1996. He then went on to graduate with honors from a culinary arts program in California.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart

Death and Burial

Sergeant Major Jon Robert Cavaiani died on 29 July 2014 in Stanford, CA. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Honoree ID: 911   Created by: MHOH




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