(THE ASSAULT ON HICKORY HILL appears in the Special Forces Association, The Drop, Fall 2014 edition, to read this story and the background, click--->ASSAULT ON HICKORY)

Located on Hill 950 adjacent to the old Khe Sahn Combat Base

wpe4.jpg (250559 bytes)Click to enlarge map

During the briefing before I assumed command of the defense of Hickory, I was told  that when it is "Socked in", the only fire support we could call on would be the 175mm Self Propelled Gun Battery stationed at Camp Carroll, these guns had a 20 mile range. When I plotted the distance from Camp Carroll, I discovered Hickory would be at the outer limits of the field of fire and thought to myself , who the hell would call in 175 at this distance unless it was absolutely the last resort as any attack on Hickory would be in close, I mean Very Close, so any thing being fired from a long distance would not be that effective or precise for the needs of anyone defending such a small spot.  Often while on Hickory, I would look to Hill 1015, realizing it gave outstanding indirect fire onto Hill 950 and could not for the life of me figure out who the hell would occupy the lower hill, giving any advantage to the enemy if he were to occupy 1015, little did I know that the Marines had lost 950 for the same reason and later SOG would aso.  During my stay, I kept all my mortars directed toward the top of 1015 and conducted random firings on it and over the other side and other areas on 1015. Once Khe Sahn fell to the North Vietnamese in June of 1968, Hickory was a very small dot on the map and deep in enemy held territory and anytime the enemy wanted it, they could take it, there are many times the hill was completely "socked" in by low clouds and there would be no air support and you couldn't see crap, much less hill 1015 where the enemy would surely position themselves to take Hickory.  The enemy could lock down the American on Hickory by indirect fire, walk down 1015 and across to Hickory. To me, it was just a bad place to be, a bad, if not impossible hill to defend, but that is the way it was. My tour on Hickory was June thru mid July 1970--SFC Robert L. Noe 

Turns out "Hickory Hill" was actually a top secret radio base deep inside enemy territory. Defending it was damn near a suicide mission as the hill changed hands several times during the war.  On June 4, 1971, the hill, officially Hill 950, was attacked by North Vietnamese forces. Jones and Staff Sgt. Jon Cavaiani, who grew up in a small Northern California farm town, fought back. Cavaiani also directed helicopters into a nearby landing zone so that other soldiers could be evacuated.


Hill 950 or Hickory Hill (formerly named Lemmon Tree) was located north of the abandoned Khe Sanh Combat Base. It was CCN's radio relay outpost atop of hill 950 to monitor and relay radio transmissions from SOG teams operations in Laos. It was the final allied presence in the northwest South Vietnam after the siege of Khe Sanh during the summer of 1969 (Captain George R "Randy" Givens of CCN was given the mission of re-establishing Hickory as a CCN radio relay site), the site also housed the Army Security Agency's Top Secret "Explorer" system and was monitored by two ASA personnel) until it was finally abandoned on June 5, 1971 when it was over-run by enemy forces. Jon Cavaiani was the Security Force Commander that faithful day putting up a fierce counter defense for two days. Jon was captured and spent 1 year and 8 months as a POW and was later presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Hill 950 was used by the US Marine Corp until it fell during the Battle of Khe Sahn in1968 and again the Marine Corps reoccupied the hill until Nov 69 (See comments from Cpt Randy Givens below), the enemy occupied the higher ground, Hill 1015 and rained down fire on Hill 950 and suppressed the US Marines until the enemy overran and took the hill, the same tactical procedure was used by the enemy again in 1971 to take the hill once again from SOG. After the battle of Khe Sahn, the enemy abandoned Hill 950 and Command and Control North moved to re-establish it as a Radio Relay in 1968

The below was sent by a Marine who was there when the Marines had Hickory and corrects some information on this page:

I was looking at some information for myself on Hill 950 (which later to became Hickory ) and saw the site on Hickory and read through it. I don’t know who is vetting your historical information on the site but some of it is not accurate. I know if you are going to maintain such a site as this that you want to be as accurate as possible. Here are a couple of things I caught and I will share with you. 

  • Once Khe Sahn fell to the North Vietnamese in June of 1968, The base at Khe Sahn did not fall to North Vietnamese. This base was dismantled and abandon.  
  • Hill 950 was used by the US Marine Corp until it fell during the Battle of Khe Sahn in1968 and again the Marine Corps reoccupied the hill until Nov 69. This is not so. In June of 1968, the 3rd platoon of Echo Company 2nd Battalion 4th Marines took up positions on Hill 950. Conditions were poor and immediately the hill was made over. A unit of Sea Bees were brought in and a wooden LZ platform was built for re-supplying. The old compacted dirt one was too small and inadequate to meet the needs. Many bunkers were torn down and new ones built or the old ones had a complete make over. Lt. Louis A. Dombrova (Sliver Star recipient ) directed new fighting bunkers to be built and ordered that more concertina  wire be put around the hill, trip wire installed, claymores, and other devices. A search light was brought in, a 106mm recoilless rifle team, and for awhile we had a Marine Scout Sniper team with us. We also had a very large pair of Naval binoculars on a tripod sitting on one of the bunkers that helped us direct fire onto targets in and around the abandon base at Khe Sahn. Hill 1015 sat directly across from us and was always a concern especially the back side slope. Our 60mm mortars and nearby fire support units had the back slope wired in.
  • Additionally, ( I think you will find this very interesting) there was one bunker that was setup that had special sensing devices that were being monitored around the clock. It was being run two US Army SOG’s and we had a couple of Marines who assisted in the surveillance and monitoring.
  • On August 2, 1968, a reinforced company of NVA attacked us on the hill and attempted to overrun us. They succeeded in cutting the hill in half for awhile but the following morning at daylight, Lt. Dombrova ordered an assault back across the hill and the NVA were driven out. The hill was an absolute wreck with fires burning and several bunkers blown up. Out of the platoon which was below strength to begin with, six Marines were killed, and I believe there was an equal number of wounded which effectively cut their strength in half. The US Army SOG guys supplemented the line with us and did more than their fair share during the fight. The weather turned bad and we had to stay on the hill a second night before our unit was relieved by other members of Echo Company 2/4 on the third day. The NVA returned the second night but never penetrated the line this time and we suffered no further casualties.

What is truly heart wrenching is knowing that three years after this particular engagement, (1971) that the security of the hill with its important electronics, was not maintained and that sadly, when it was attacked this time Hickory fell. The story on Hickory is fascinating but the US Army SOG assisted by the Marine Corps was conducting this electronic surveillance monitoring on Hill 950 earlier than 1969.  Best Regards  Jack C. Perritt, Executive Director, Strike International, www.strikeintl.com ,

The below email received from Captain Randy Givens,  

As I understood the situation, CCN had Hickory radio relay site co-located with a USMC unit on Hill 950 until the fall of 1969. I don’t know how many people were there, what equipment they had, or how long they were there. For months, the USMC had been in the process of closing down its operations as it withdrew from Viet Nam. I had been the Assistant Launch Officer at MLT-2, Quang Tri, in the early summer of 1969. Several times we had used our air assets to extract USMC Force Recon units, in country, because of the drawdown of USMC air assets. We did that as a favor to III Force Recon as they lived just up the hill from MLT-2 and fed us in their mess hall. Of course, we only did this when we did not have a team deployed in Laos. In early November, 1969, I was the company commander of Co. A, CCN. I was called to the TOC at 0300 one morning, by LTC Donahue. I was told that recently, without any warning, the USMC on Hill 950 had simply told our guys that they were pulling off of Hickory in 30 minutes and our guys had better be on the helicopter. That meant that the westernmost friendly installation in that part of Viet Nam was now way back at Dong Ha. The closure of our RRS on Hickory caused a part of the CCN area of operations in Laos to be in a “radio shadow,” where FM radio communications to and from Quang Tri were blocked by the mountains. In order for CCN to continue to conduct operations in that area, we had inserted a recon team (RT Maryland?) in Laos, within that radio shadow. We had lost contact with the team, and were going to conduct a Bright Light effort to try and recover the missing team. As part of that Bright Light operation, LTC Donahue told me he wanted one of my platoons on Hickory by 1500 hours that day. I told him that three of my platoons were on missions or training elsewhere. I had only one platoon at CCN, my 4th platoon, which consisted of Cambodians from around Chi Lang (spelling?), down in IV Corps, near Nui Coto. They had just returned from a mission, and their platoon leader had left for R&R the previous day. Accordingly, I lead the mission to reopen Hickory as a temporary RRS, for this Brighlight operation. I was told to expect a three to four day operation, and that I would have a Signal Corps captain along to set up the radio relay. For some reason, I did not get to talk to our guys who had been manning Hickory. I got third-hand information on Hill 950, including information that there were uncharted, “friendly” minefields below the hilltop. Reportedly, a marine had his foot blown off when they attempted to run a patrol on the lower slopes of Hill 950.  I then set about finding my platoon sergeant, getting the platoon outfitted for the mission, etc. By 1500 that afternoon, we had flown to Quang Tri, done mission preparations, and were being inserted onto Hickory. The troops involved were: me, the commo Cpt., SFC Robert Ely, a Sp4, and 44 Cambodians.  Upon landing, we found that the USMC had “demilitarized” their installation by bombing the hilltop to destroy the bunkers, etc. The entire hilltop was covered with bomb craters. As we searched the area, I came across a large unexploded bomb. I called MLT-2, and they arranged for EOD to come and blow the bomb in place. We loaded the platoon on the helicopters and circled nearby, as the bomb was detonated. After that, we reoccupied Hickory and set up the “temporary” relay site.  We were able to build some fighting positions using the sandbags from the old USMC bunkers, along with some solid steel planking, as was used for landing strips, etc. The Cambode troops dug around in the dirt and found all sorts of abandoned USMC gear, including fatigues (utilities in Marine parlance), flak jackets, helmets, entrenching tools, etc. We got socked in by weather, and I spent about 2 weeks at Hickory. Although we had taken extra rations and ammo, we began to run short on chow. The Cambodes dug through the huge trash pile just downhill, and found a lot of rations to keep us fed. Not just C-rations, but #10 cans of peaches, etc. While I was there, we saw no evidence of enemy activity near us, although we had a splendid view of an ARCLIGHT strike, west of the old Khe Sahn airfield.   While we were on Hickory, I got a message that it had been decided that Hickory RRS would remain open, manned by CCN personnel. I don’t know who made that decision. When the weather broke, a UH-1 brought out my 4th platoon leader, who had returned from R&R, and I returned to CCN to run my company. That’s the last I was involved with Hickory. A few weeks later, I left on my 30 day Extension Leave.

Regards, Randy

Extracted from Page 520, Volume III, SOG MACV Studies and Observations Group, (Behind-Enemy-Lines) by Harve Saal, 1970:

    "June 3rd, 1971, the radio relay site known as "Hickory Hill", south of the DMZ, came under heavy attack by enemy forces.  It was reminiscent of the January 1968 attack on the Khe Sanh Combat Base which was built near the southern base of this mountain.  During their initial attack, the enemy used indirect, mortar fire in an attempt to weaken the site's defenses,"

http://www.hmm-364.org/1998/khesanh.html Looking North toward Hill 950 on the far left and Hill 1015 in the center. I was informed that initially Khe Sanh was established to support the radio relay station "Hickory" which was atop of Hill 950. Otherwise Khe Sanh had no particular military significance. I will bow to others who have flown in and out of there while the place was under siege to give me their version of the military importance of same. Franklin A. Gulledge, Jr., Major USMC(Ret)

Below is the Marines occuping Hickory and this picture is classifed as "100 GREATEST MILITARY PHOTO'S" http://www.slideshare.net/Michele_Rempe/100-greatest-military-photos  Church services being conducted on Hickory as observer keeps watch in the tree.


If my memory serves me right, Hickory was deep in enemy held territory and I recall being briefed that the nearest fire support would be from Camp Carroll; however, Hickory was just beyond their 175mm range so not to expect any artillery support. Air support would be available only on the days that we were not "socked in" by bad weather.


Hill 861 is approximately 5 killometers from Hill 950

Fire Mission by SFC Robert  L. Noe 1969- See EXCESS RANGE & KENTUCKY WINDAGE SIR! below Credit Special Forces at War by Shelby L. Stanton

Photo by Gen George Gaspard & SOG A Photo History of the Secret Wars by John Plaster

Photo by US Army & SOG A Photo History of the Secret Wars by John Plaster
A view of the Combat Base taken from the top of Hill 950. The river valley and parts of the river can be seen in the middle of the photo. Credit Khe Sanh Veterans Website taken in 1968 by Bob Donoghue and featured in John Plaster's book SOG A Photo of the Secret Wars, P 410  

CCN's Hickory Radio Relay Site (Larry Greene)

Featured 2nd from Left is Jon Cavaiani, CMOH,  and to his right is Robert Noe, both of CCN,  Hickory's Radio Relay Site, to the far right is Lloyd Stout of CCS and to the far left is Chris Pearson (Guin), an Iraqi War Veteran- Photo taken in New Orleans-Feb 2008

Jack William, Gene William's of CCC brother who served on an A Team in Vietnam at the same time Gene served with SOG is featured 3rd from left with JoN.

 Top of Hill 950, Hickory Radio relay Site, Khe Sanh, July 1970. SFC Noe with his platoon of Special Commandos awaiting helicopter pickup. The commando standing facing away from the camera was killed the following week at the CCN compound

Hills 950 [to the left] and 1015 [center] as they looked in June of 1998  -- 30 years after Khe Sahn was abandoned.  Photo taken by a Marine Corps vet who returned to Khe Sahn.  Note how irregular and rugged the saddle is between the two hills.  Louis


Robert Noe firing the 50 Cal Machine Gun in the direction of the saddle between Hill 950 & 1015, Khe Sahn, Republic of Vietnam
The most poignant of all Hill 950 photographs...
This remarkable photo was taken on July 31, 1967.   The Marines lost 950 to the NVA the previous month -- on June 6, 1967.  The Marines took it back.  Note that the MC lost 950 almost exactly 4 years before the US Army would again lose it to the NVA (for the last time) on June 5, 1971.  Louis
Hickory Apr/May 71 before attack by unknown source    
Photo by Ralph Morgan after attack on Jul 5th, 1971    

Hill 950 or Hickory Hill (formerly named Lemmon Tree) was located north of the abandoned Khe Sanh Combat Base. It was CCN's radio relay outpost atop of hill 950 to monitor and relay radio transmissions from SOG teams operations in Laos. It was the final allied presence in the northwest South Vietnam after the siege of Khe Sanh during the summer of 1968 until it was finally abandoned on June 5, 1971 when it was over-run by enemy forces. Jon Cavaiani was the Security Force Commander that faithful day putting up a fierce counter defense for two days. Jon was captured and spent 1 year and 8 months as a POW and was later presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor


I have a pic of Hickory taken in May or June of 1970 that I sent to Plaster for his book that he didn't use. It shows the top of Hickory and some of the personnel.  I thought you might want to use it to update your web site. Also around that time I was firing H&I from the 4.2 almost due West of Hickory and we got to close to some Marines from Force Recon that were in the area without our knowledge.   Robert why isn't there any write up about Sugar Loft Radio Relay Site on any SOA operations?  1st Plt Company A open the site in the middle of 1970 with Cpt Meyers as the 10  and rest of the NCO's.  I don't know if you were at CCN then, but Cpt Meyers accidentally shot and killed one of our little people and I had to go back and replace him and get him off the hill.
        I was assigned to Co A, CCN, the  CO was Cpt. Fields, early Nov 69.  Co A 1st Plt was given the mission of activating Hickory Radio Relay Site early Dec 69. NCOIC was SFC Francis Attebery, SFC Ivan Bomark, SFC James Martin, SFC Fred Camacho (at the last minute I was pull off due to Emergency Leave), SSG Francisco Olivarez.  We were on a rotation basis with CO B every two weeks which lasted till our DEROS Nov 70.  The only incident that I recall was our commo SGT Byrd left the hill looking for bottles and walked into a mine field. Big "O" and I started to probe for a clear path when The LT called out that he didn't know how to go Green on the Radio, so I back off to call for a dust off. The result was Big "O" getting the Soldiers Medal. 
   Sometime in the Middle of 1970 Co A was tasked to open Sugar Loft in Laos. The CO was CPT Myers,  SFC Manuel Hernandez, SFC Fred Camacho, SFC Ivan Bomark,  and two other SF personnel that I can't remember plus the 1st Plt Nungs. I returned back to CCN later that week and was called back to replace Cpt Myers due to an incident on the hill. It came out later that Cpt Myers had accidentally shot and killed one of the Nungs and they were not happy campers. A week later upon returning to CCN Cpt Myers was gone from CCN.

SFC Manuel Hernandez was the first Plt Sgt I had with CO A, when he DEROS  SFC Jim Martin took over the1st Plt SGT slot then he left for MLT 2 Quan Tri to be a Covey Rider. The next Plt Sgt was SFC Richard Hall, I think he was there till I DEROS in NOV 70. Frank "O" left CO A and went to Recon Co sometime in between SFC Martin and SFC Hall. As far as I know we never had any Recon teams walk off Hickory.  The only teams that had any walk off were Sugar Loft.  LT Lighting Wonderlich and BIG" O "did; but they got struck by Lighting about 300 meters from Sugar Loft.  My understanding they also had some incidents on the first mission at Hickory. I hope Jim Martin can give you an update on that.  I hope that JIM Martin call provide some Pictures of Hickory from the air when he did fly overs of the site. I will try to get a hold of The Big "O" and get some insight from him about Co A, Hickory, and Sugar Loft. More later on some Bright Lite Missions. Plus my two Recon Missions at the end of my tour.  

 Fred A. Camacho  SGM Ret SOA 133-GL

(NOTE BY NOE: I was on Hickory when Lt Wonderlich and the guys he was leading was hit by lightening, we were monitoring the radio, at first we though they had been ambushed, but after the dust settled, it seems god wanted to light their fire....RLNOE)



When I arrived, Hickory had one 4.2 inch Mortar (M2), among the many weapon systems, for camp defense that fired a 107mm High Explosive and White Phosphor rounds with a maximum range of 4,020 meters (approximately 2.5 miles); however, the weapon had no sight as it seems to have been lost long ago and had not been replaced. Although, it was one of the first piece of equipment I requested, it never arrived during my stay.

One day, I believe to be around Mid June 1970, I was in my bunker when the Army Security Agency (ASA) American Radio Operator who kept himself in the Commo Bunker and we rarely seen, appeared excited saying he was receiving an emergency request for fire support on FM frequency.  I exited the bunker and  turned on my AN/PRC-77 and dialed up the frequency, what I heard was incomprehensible at first as there were sounds of screams and shouting and a hell of a lots of gunfire with at least one machine gun blasting away - someone was caught up in an ambush and being decimated.

After a few moments, a voice shouted over the radio, screaming for help, identifying himself as the Team Leader. He reported  his coordinates, which I plotted placing him on Hill 861 along the visible ridge line across the Khe Sahn valley and at a distance beyond 5,000 meters, out of range of any weapon system we had and out of range of any artillery support. The extreme fear could be heard in the screaming and weapons firing when the team leader reported one of his men had just been hit bad, he had several other down. He begged me to help. The ASA Radio Operator reported that Air Support was 10 to 15 minutes out, I immediately relayed this to the Team  who informed me that they didn't have 10 to 15 minutes, by that time they would be all dead.

I screamed into the radio microphone handset (being caught up in the tempo of the moment and to ensure he could hear me)  keep his head down tight as I was going to do something. I didn't have a weapons that would reach him and the only one that  could be "Jerry Rigged" didn't have a damn sight. I did have line of site to his location.  I ran to the 4.2 mortar pit dragging the radio being held by my Yard Platoon Leader with the platoon Interpreter in tow. We jumped in, quickly pulled two HE rounds out of the storage bind, opening the canisters, pulling the power bags off one and using black electrical tape, taped them on to the other round. Swinging the mortar around and estimating the elevation, I dropped the "Hot" round down the tube, pulled my bino's out, checked the valley floor out and did not see an explosion. I contacted the Recon Team Leader who said he thought he hear an explosion, but it was on the other side of Hill 861. I readjusted the mortar elevation, repeated the process of doubling up the power bags and dropped it in. After a very few seconds, the radio blared, the report was the round hit close to them with a "bang."  There was a difference in the background noise coming out of the radio, the screaming and shooting had stopped for about a minute before resuming. The  Team Leader reported shouted the round still had gone over them but much closer.  I again adjusted  fired another round, which was reported to be close, we could see a puff of black smoke on the ridge line on 861 close to his reported postion, I adjusted left 200 to make sure I was not rignt on the Team then started dropping rounds as fast as I could get the power bags doubled up, hoping and praying I didn't drop one on the good guys. I could see the impacts on the hillside on 861 near the rim and had to make continued adjustments to the mortar as the doubling up the powder bags moved the mortar considerably. After the 2nd or 3rd round, The Team Leader reported they were not receiving any incoming fire from the NVA, the NVA just stopped firing. During this entire period, my Montagnard Platoon Leader and Interpreter stayed with me in the mortar pit doubling up the powder bags constantly telling me "Trung Si, you booko dinky dow (Sp?)" shaking their heads as they worked as fast as they could. The remainder of  our Platoon ran to the other side of the hill and sought cover in case our mortar blew up.

What seemed like a life time, but was in reality about 15 minutes after dropping the first round, the ASA Radio Operator reported "fast flyers" coming in and to stop the mortar fire. Within a minute, two Phantoms jet fighters appeared and worked hill 861 over, along the same ridge line some of my round had hit. Our entire platoon emerged from their safety and we sat and watch the jets  perform acrobatics in the sky. A short time later a couple of Helo's were observed coming in and the team was recovered.

I never learned who the team was ambushed that day, I suspect it was a US Marine Patrole as the area was in the Marine Area of Operation. The picture in the upper left is me firing the mortar in support of this mission, on the mortar pit floor are the canisters from the many rounds fired.

I have always thought my actions must have confused the NVA. They knew what weapons we had on Hickory and knew the top of Hill 861 was out of our range and they also had to know they were out of Artillery range. I suspect they stopped firing on the Patrol because they could not figure out where the high explosives were coming from.or the rounds were hitting very close to them? However, I am sure they ultimately figured it out. Jon Cavaiani and I (out of humor) tell people that because of my aggressive action against the NVA, it pissed them off and that's why Hickory was later overran. I'm sure this is not the case, it may be part of it, but Hickory was inside their turf, behind enemy lines, and they didn't want it there, plus the fact, its presence allowed our teams in Laos and the DMZ to communicate back to main headquarters, thus an additional treat to the NVA.

Robert L. Noe, SFC, Security, Hickory Raido Relay, CCN 1970.


For several nights in a row shortly after two am, there was a chopping sound emulating in the jungle that would continue until about 4am in the NE sector. I and my Yard platoon leader would search the tree line with Bino's during the daylight hours, until he reported there was what appeared to be a new "opening" in the wood line, a darkened area not previously there. We watched this area for the next two days and determined the darken area was growing and it was the location of the nightly chopping sounds.  I took the 5.7 mm Recoilless Rifle, bore sighted it, test fired it a couple of times on the opposite side of the hill, until I was sure it would hit what it was aimed at.  I relocated the RR to a position where I could sight it in on growing dark space in the tree line. Sight the weapon in on the exact spot, packed it with sand bags, rechecked the alignments/sighting, then put my Yard Platoon leader in charge of two people he trusted to guard the weapon. I was apprehensive, couldn't sleep. Around 2am, the chopping started again, I waited until 3:30am, the chopping continued unabated until I pulled the trigger. The back blast was deafening, there was a flash/explosion at the point where the chopping was. That ended that, the rest of the time our platoon was on Hickory, we never heard of any more chopping. We figured, the NVA were building an observation stand in the tree line to observe us. -- RLNoe



05 Jun 71- John Robert Jones, SGT E-5, USASF, TF1AE (CCN), Training Advisory Op, Da Nang, KIA. Jones was performing defense duties of a remote radio relay site "Hickory Hill" ( Hill 950) located deep in enemy held territory at Khe Sanh when attacked by a battalion size enemy force. The site is normally defended by two Americans and about 40 Indigenous soldiers. However, there were 27 Americans and 67 SCU, which includes a squad from L Co, 75th Rangers defending the site this date. Evacuation started but due to adverse weather conditions, the evacuation was halted leaving SGT Jones and Jon Cavaiani, SSG E-6, with about 20 indigenous soldiers who fought on through the night SGT Jones was KIA- and his body not recovered and SSG Cavaiani was captured and untimely released in 1973. SSG Cavainai was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his action as he was originally thought to have been killed in action .ADDED: Reference Hickory Radio Relay Site. In October/November of 1969, when I was Opns Officer at CCN, the Marines pulled off of Hickory without notice. Our radio people had to relocate to Fuller Marine Base. However, our antennas were masked in that location. The next day we airlifted back into Hickory to resume our activities using our own companies/platoons as security. Hickory was in shambles as the Marines had blown up everything. The unfortunate part of this story is that we lost a recon team in Laos because of no radio contact. Each Tuesday I would go to Phu Bai and brief 24th Army Corps about significant activities in our AO. I informed the G2 and the Chief of Staff as usual. The reopening of Hickory called for a special briefing to Gen Mel Zais, Corps Commander. I had been his football coach in the 187th and we met frequently in the Pentagon. His words were " Speedy, I don't know if we can get your guys out if they are overrun." I responded by saying that we were radio blind without Hickory and that we would have to stay."  BG “Speedy” George Gaspard (then a Major), CCN

      photo.JPG (1214010 bytes)






credited to  Jim Arrowood is the above photograph of the (infamous) UPI article


From American Valor Website

Jon Cavaiani

Born: August 2, 1948
Royston England

War: Vietnam

Rank: Staff Sergeant, US Army, Vietnam Training Advisory Group

Location of action: Republic of Vietnam

Date of action: June 4 and 5, 1971

Medal received from: President Gerald Ford, December 12, 1974

Official Citation:
Staff Sergeant (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 June 4 and 5, 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 June 4, 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 three 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 June 5, 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 two 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 one 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 two 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.



Conversation with John Valersky, Col, US Army (Retired)  Nov 19, 2009
Col Valersky was a captain with Recon Company for four months, At the end of May 71, he was informed that they had a "good deal" for him, he was being reassigned to "Security Company" as the Executive Officer and due to his background as an Engineer Officer and he was to go to Hill 950 immediately to fortify it because of an imminent attack, upon arriving on Hickory  on Jun 1, he began assessing the situation and briefing the Americans and a talking to a company element that had just been in the valley. During the period before the attack all that could be done was to fill sandbags to fortify the wall facing Hill 1015, which was almost useless as there was not enough time to complete the fortification when the attacks started.
He relates during the initial attacks he was wounded, and he had received a report form Cavaiani or Jones that there were 14 wounded, based on this and the evaluation of the situation, he ordered a complete evacuation of Hill 950.  He relates the day before the attack, he was totally exhausted as he had not had much sleep or rest since he got to Hickory and went to sleep in the commo bunker. Remembers Jon Cavaiani telling him not to do it as there was something that could be poisonous in the bunker. The evacuation commander ordered the wounded to be evacuated first.
Note: Two helicopters were sent to evacuate Hill 950, the first chopper named Curious Yellow was to take out the wounded, however, it suffered a hit and was damaged and fell of the top of Hickory with wounded, including Cpt Valersky. Some how the pilot was able to regain control and landed the chopper on the old Combat airstrip known as Khe Sahn.  The second helicopter named "My Brother's Keeper" followed Curious Yellow and landed and transferred all the wounded and crew from Curious Yellow; thus, the remaining men on Hickory were not evacuated at this time.
NOTE:  Further evacuations were aborted that night when the weather worsened and the hill became "socked in". 
Col Valersky says when he woke up after surgery on his hip wound after he spent 14 days in the hospital and discovered he was being evacuated to Japan. Because of some strings being pulled he was returned to TF1AE to recover.
During the period of his recovery at TF1AE, based on his own observations of the actions of Jon Cavaiani during the attacks before he was evacuated, he considered long an hard to determine what the actions of Jon Cavaiani merited.  He states he had a lot of time and his evaluations of the actions of others who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, his own observations, and his own debriefings of others that remained on Hickory with Cavaiani but evacuated just before the hill was completely overrun and he reached the conclusions based on the facts at the time that Cavaiani's actions merited the Medal of Honor. Col Valersky stated he therefore wrote and submitted Cavaiani for the award. He says he was not influenced by anyone in higher command, he did so not out of guilt, but on the known actions of Cavaiani. Col Valersky further stated that based upon his knowledge at the time, he though Jon Cavaiani and John Jones were killed in action, but he says regardless of that fact, even if he knew Jon had survived, he would have submitted Jon for the Congressional Medal of Honor and the fact that Jon was presumed KIA had no influence on his recommendation and that there has been nothing during the past 38 years that has changed his mind and Jon certainly deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I also spoke to Lt George Holland (Nov 14, 2009) who was the Artillery FO on Hickory and was also wounded, he stated that he has nothing but the highest praise for Cavaiani's actions during the period he was there before being wounded. 
Robert L. Noe
Cpt, USA SF (Ret)

Jon Cavaiani came to America in 1947 with his parents at the age of four. Although he was classified 4-F because of an allergy to bee stings, he enlisted in the Army shortly before being naturalized in 1968. He qualified for Special Forces and was sent Vietnam in 1970.

As a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, Cavaiani spent time in Plantation Garden camp and interrogation center and then at the Hanoi Hilton. He was held prisoner for twenty-three months, and lost 106 pounds during his incarceration. As the papers were prepared for awarding him the Medal of Honor, he was originally thought to be MIA, (missing in action), but his name was heard on a Viet Cong “Liberation Radio” program regarding a letter from the POWs asking to end the war.

From American Valor website
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.

Jon showing me his fishing paddle which displays his medals,. Jon signing the MACVSOG Medal of Honor Print Jon being presented the MOH Print by the University of California in Sacramento, CA Jon and Robert Noe posing with the MOH Print in Jon's home.
Jon giving a presentation to the community at the University of California Jon posing with Army Recruiters in California A female asking Jon to review some material the University.