FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — General Richard E. Cavazos has been called many things by his peers including mentor and hero. However, Laura Blevins, Katherine Cavazos, Rebecca Cavazos and Tommy Cavazos simply called him, Dad.
The siblings spoke about the Installation Redesignation Ceremony when Fort Hood was officially redesignated as Fort Cavazos after their late father on Tuesday.
“It was a very beautiful ceremony, especially our VIP speakers, Colonel Tucker and of course General House,” said Rebecca, the third child of Cavazos. “It was emotional. It reminded me that Soldiers from my dad’s battalion in Vietnam would come down from everywhere and celebrate my dad’s birthday. He started having some dementia — they came anyway.”
Laura, the eldest, agreed.
“This was the only way that I ever learned of any of Dad’s relationships or being in the war,” she said. “The men he served with would tell me, ‘He saved my life. If he hadn’t have gotten the helicopter there, I wouldn’t have survived.’”
Hearing stories about her father was important for Katherine, the second child of Cavazos, since he never really talked much about his experience at work with his children.
“It really showed how much he loved his Soldiers,” she said. “I don’t think as a child growing up in the military I ever understood that. But as an adult that’s fundamentally what serving in the military is about. It became very evident that when these men came from all over the United States every single year (for his birthday). I had never heard these stories. He would never talk about anything and certainly never brag about anything.”
When asked what Cavazos would think of the ceremony if he were still alive today, they all said he didn’t really like attention due to his humble nature.
“He would have hated this,” said Tommy, the youngest. “But hearing from all of the Soldiers who served with him (shows) how important it was to them. We resisted at first, but the dedication and the service and the faith they showed him for so long and the love — it’s a debt that we can never repay. We’re glad that, for them, that they have this way to honor and remember him and pass his legacy onto others.”
Katherine said her father maybe would have struggled with the attention because of his serving heart.
“I think that’s why my father wouldn’t have liked this ceremony because he was a server,” she said. “It’s very hard when you have that serving heart to receive it back. So sitting here today it’s awkward for me personally, that people are so nice and wonderful and warm because I want to serve them. I feel that same debt and that mentality of always serving others is drilled into my head. Thank God it is because the world needs more of it and it’s in fairly short supply, but that is in my heart.”
Due to their father’s career, they were all born at different military installations and moved around the world and the United States frequently. The siblings said they were given a ten minute warning before they had to get in the car and travel to a new place. Though it was challenging, their goal was to make sure they remained together.
“It was eye opening to me when I heard about other people that would stay in one place so their children could graduate because that was never on the table,” Katherine said. “The whole family must get in the car, change schools — it was never discussed that the family would be broken apart.”
They didn’t realize it at the time, but being an Army brat would prepare them for challenges they would face as adults.
“I lost my husband a little over five years ago and about two or three months into it I realized I was fine,” Laura said. “It started to scare me. I thought, ‘What is wrong with me? There’s something wrong.’ Of course I love my husband. We had a good marriage, he was gone and I was just moving on. It took me another three months then it suddenly came to me like a flash — the Army. All that moving and starting over and starting over and starting over, my brain just compartmentalized. It’s a little sick, but when I recognized what it was I could relax with it and realize this is just my brain trying to deal with the change.”
Rebecca shared her own experience.
“I had cancer twice in 2015 and had to go through the usual cancer routine,” she shared. “When I was told I had cancer I first thought to myself, ‘Well, what are you going to do? You can’t undo cancer. What are your options?’ Again that little voice in my head said, ‘You keep going.’ That’s how I approached my recovery. That became my mantra because a lot of times that’s all I had.”
Katherine said their constant relocating allowed them to see the world in a way that many others will never have the opportunity to. She said it was very different from her father’s experience growing up because he had never left Texas before joining the Army.
“What an incredible window to the world that other people don’t get,” she shared.
Laura said her dad never brought work home with him, making sure to leave his boots at the door.
“He was completely different in his job than he was when he came home,” Laura said. “I think we were his home, maybe not when we were teenagers, but it was his sanctuary. It was one thing he did not have to control.”
The siblings reminisced about his love of fishing, hunting and bird watching, as well as some more sentimental moments.
“I was about to go to college and we came up to South Texas, I guess to visit family, and he took me fishing on King Ranch,” Laura recalled. “Men from that generation, they don’t talk about personal things, but he came over (to me) and he sat down. So, we’re both sitting there with fishing poles and I was even going, ‘What is going on?’ He looked at me, and this is about as emotional as he would probably get with me, and he said, ‘You can always come home.’ I finally figured out he’s telling me no matter what I do, or if I get myself in trouble I can come home.”
Rebecca recalled returning home from college after a rough time.
“One time I was coming home from med school and I was bummed out,” she said. “I had exams and not much sleep, so I was pretty burned out. He picked me up at the airport and we’re driving back to the house … and I was laying with my head against the window. My dad talked to me … and he said, ‘You know Becky, at the farm we have the ducks swimming in the water, … When you’re stuck, you just think about those ducks.’ It was really good advice. Be in the moment. Be where you are.”
“We still say that to each other, ‘Just think about those ducks,’” she said.
They also talked about some funny memories of their father and how nothing stopped him from doing what he was passionate about including a time when he tripped and injured his head.
“It was bleeding profusely as head wounds will,” Rebecca said. “So, he gets a kitchen towel and some duct tape, duct tapes the kitchen towel to his head and drives from Leander to Fort Hood, to Darnall (Carl. R. Darnall Army Medical Center), to get stitches because he had to be here for something.”
They also recalled, at Laura’s wedding, that their dad’s soldiering instincts kicked in when some stinging caterpillars conducted an air assault on the big day.
“All of a sudden from the live oaks all these caterpillars were dropping, the stinging ones, dropping all over,” Katherine said. “He didn’t want the caterpillar stains on (Laura’s) dress. He didn’t want people getting stung … so we were on duty to get rid of the caterpillars. This was so him. He was like, ‘No, you’re doing it all wrong. You have to stab and sweep otherwise they don’t die and they make a mark there and people step on them.’ Right before he walks (Laura) down the aisle, stabbing and sweeping caterpillars.”
Cavazos passed away on Oct. 29, 2017, at the age of 88 from complications due to Alzheimer’s. He was laid to rest in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, in a simple pine box surrounded by loved ones.
The siblings said that their father was very private about his experiences in the Army, but they love hearing things from those who worked with him. Many stories they have heard have come from chaplains.
“He was a faithful man,” Katherine said. “Many chaplains have stories and were friends of his. We would have dinner with them and they would tell stories of administering to dying men and my father being there. His faith got him through those times of extreme loss. The chaplains would always talk about that, that he could see God in the worst of moments.”
Though they know he was a commendable Soldier, to their family, he was an extraordinary man.
“My mother always said … as she was becoming more aware that she was losing her memories … she said, ‘Your father was such an extraordinary man, such an extraordinary father,’” Katherine shared. “I said, ‘I know. I know.’ She said, ‘He came home from two wars and remained gentle and that was extraordinary.’ And it is. He was gentle and loving and never wavered from that.”