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American Valor
Jon Cavaiani
Interview Excerpt

I was 26 at the time. I was 4F, which politely meant they'd take my mother before they'd take me. And I kinda had a doctor that I knew a couple of guys that were 1A that he had claimed were 4F. And I had a talk with him about it, and he decided I wasn't 4F anymore. Went heavy and light weapons and basic training, and then advanced individual training, and then this gentleman walks up with his beret gently cocked off to one side, and asked me if I was man enough to be in Special Forces. Well, question anything you want, but don't question my masculinity. So I had to prove I was.

I went to Vietnam June of 1970. Sgt. Major looked at me and says you're a farm boy, right? And I go, Yessir. And he says uh, you're a Special Forces medic? Yessir. And he says, now you're a veterinarian for I Corps, and Agricultural Advisor for I Corps, delivered children, stuff like this, as well as treating their animals for rinderpest. The war was kinda just passing me by, and just so happened some people had been chasing the North Vietnamese in this one area, and we were walking down the trail and these guys run across the trail, shoot the Vietnamese Sgt. Major and mortally wound him. And so he wants me to adopt his son. So I adopted his son, and I kinda built an orphanage up around him. And I had gone out and I was working in a number of different camps, and then I'd get back into Nam Sang and see my son. And I got down there, and my son had been killed. Chopped up and hung from the ceiling and the message was, tell baksi John to stay out of the area. Well [baksi] meant doctor. And most all my other friends were dead, six of the monks. One of the monks they left alive, told me not to operate in the area anymore. So it kinda turned my perception of the war completely around.

IThe activity around my camp was getting pretty heavy, and we were getting a lot of uh, men moving around at night. And so we were taking out eight, ten enemy a night. And I told the old man, I said we're gonna get overrun. .

I was surrounded by the North Vietnamese, and of course all my worst nightmares have come true. Uh, they managed uh, they taped my hands, and they taped my face. I had about a, a almost 120 shrapnel holes in me. And a couple of bullet holes. They moved me back, and they finally got to me to my first interrogation camp, and that was what I referred to as the rude, crude, and socially unacceptable interrogation techniques.

One night finally the doctor comes in, I'm so swollen I'm in there, my face, and he said, well he'll be dead if you leave him in here in the morning. And the guy says, take him out. They cleaned the room and fed me for a few days, and decided not to ask me any more questions. They sent me back to plantation where I spent most, all my time up until 27th of December, 1972. Then we were moved from the plantation to the Hanoi Hilton.

Finally the, the talks had all got back together again and on the uh, 27th of March 1973, uh, they took us to Gillam air base, and we saw this 141 come rolling in. Started up, and I'm gonna tell you, that was the greatest sight in the world.

I remember walking up, and you had to walk up to the guy and he would reach out and uh, the commander, the north Vietnamese general, you would walk up and whip a salute on him, and then you turned around and you walked over to the American commander and whipped a salute on him. And then you'd start to move out, and, towards the airplane. And this Air Force guy, I remember, he reaches over and he grabs me, he says, I got you now, it was just like my legs went to rubber.

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