Columbia resident and celebrated Vietnam War veteran Jon Cavaiani died Tuesday at a Stanford hospital. He was 70.
Cavaiani was a recipient of the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military honor — for his service as a platoon leader in Vietnam in 1971. He was awarded the medal by former president Gerald Ford.
“Jon was a hero,” said Frank Smart, a fellow Columbia resident and Vietnam veteran. “He was an iconic figure.”
Born in 1943 in Royston, England, Cavaiani emigrated to the United States at age 4. He became a naturalized citizen in 1968 shortly before he joined the U.S. Army, where he served with the Fifth Special Forces Group, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
“I considered it an honor to be an American,” he told The Union Democrat in a 2006 interview.
When his camp came under intense fire, Cavaiani repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to help save others, according to his official citation. When the platoon was to be evacuated, he volunteered to remain on the ground and direct helicopters into a landing zone. The next day, he provided cover fire while other platoon members escaped.
Funeral services are pending.
For the complete story, see the July 31, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.