POW, Medal of Honor recipient shares experience with flight school students
October 8, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- A Medal of Honor recipient, Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war encouraged members of B Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment to "learn as much as (they) can" while in the Army.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Jon Cavaiani spoke to the group of post officials, recent flight school graduates and other attendees of the lecture at the post theater Sept. 29 about the importance of knowing how to do multiple tasks.
"You never know when you'll need to do your buddy's job," he said. "Take care of your Soldiers. If you're the best at what you do, that's all that matters."
Cavaiani said he enjoys opportunities to speak to Soldiers today because it gives him a chance to give something back to the Army.
"Obviously, I can't be out there fighting with you," he said to the Soldiers. "That's why I fight for you here at home. I support you in every way I can."
He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on June 4 and 5, 1971, while serving as a staff sergeant in the Republic of Vietnam, according to his Medal of Honor citation. He was providing security for an isolated radio relay site located in enemy territory when it came under an intense barrage of enemy small-arms, automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire from a superior-sized enemy force.
He acted with disregard for his own safety as he moved around the camp's perimeter directing the platoon's fire and rallying the Soldiers during the battle. He also directed the first three helicopters in evacuating a major portion of the platoon.
He stayed behind to help those not evacuated by helicopter and held the enemy at bay until June 5 when he was captured by the North Vietnamese Army. He was released during Operation Homecoming, March 27, 1973, after 661 days in captivity.
Maj. Derek Smith, B Co., 1st Bn., 145th Avn. Regt. commander, said the Soldiers could learn a lot from Cavaiani's experiences and advice.
"It's important that you take your training seriously," he said. "That training's not for you, it's for the people you serve with. There's nothing worse than looking at the (Soldier) next to you and knowing they can't rise to the occasion. Heroism, valor and bravery only take you so far. It's the training that can take you the rest of the way."
Smith said having Cavaiani here to speak with the recent graduates was an honor.
"(Cavaiani) is a great American," Smith said. "The Medal of Honor does not define him. He's a humble and awesome person."
Brig. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, said hearing Cavaiani's story was a surreal experience because the events "happened in my lifetime."
"It's important that we learn from those that came before us," he said. "As I listened to his words, I tried to put myself in the same position and ask myself 'could I do the same thing'' I'm honored to be in his presence."
First Lt. Jimmyvan Cogles, B Co., 1st Bn., 145th Avn. Regt., recently graduated flight school here and said he was glad to have the opportunity to hear Cavaiani's experiences.
"It's important to look at what you don't know yet and work on learning it," he said. "He really talked a lot about what makes a good leader and what we can do to be better prepared."