Merced County’s Medal of Honor Recipient- Jon R. Cavaiani

When Jon came over to the United States from his native Great Britian, he was reunited with his stepfather and lived in Ballico, Merced County.  

Jon Cavaiani (left) at a ceremonial function.  Photo from

The year was 1953 when Jon was just six years old.  He was adopted by that stepdad in 1961.  

Jon became a naturalized American citizen in 1968.  

Like many young men of that age at that time, he went into the military and fought in the Vietnam War.

Jon was Jon R. Cavaiani.  Staff Sergeant in the US  Army.

 He was a brave soldier, a distinguished leader of men, a prisoner of war, and a recipient of our nation’s highest military honor:  The Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is awarded to soldiers who displayed heroism and valor on the battlefield.  Jon’s story of bravery follows that pattern.

According to the Medal of Honor website, Jon was serving as a platoon leader providing security for a radio relay site on the morning of June 4, 1971 when the site was targeted by Vietnamese enemy fire.  

To direct his platoon’s fire and rally his group of soldiers, Jon moved around the attack site often in the line of oncoming bullets.  When it became clear the entire platoon would be evacuated, Jon volunteered to remain on the ground to direct the helicopters onto a landing zone.

 Intense enemy fire forced him to stay at the camp overnight to direct the other remaining troops as they held off the enemy.  There were more acts of bravery as a heavy barrage attacked the next day.  

At one point, Jon got a machine gun, stood up again facing enemy fire, and fired away as his remaining troops were able to escape.

Through Staff Sergeant 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, Staff Sergeant Cavaiani was wounded numerous times. Staff Sergeant 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.
— Part of Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s Medal of Honor Citation

He was wounded several times in those two intense days, but returned to the battlefield.  

Within months, he was captured and spent two years as a prisoner of war.

He was released in 1973.  He took on other assignments, graduated from a culinary arts program in Columbia, and lived there with his wife.  In 2010 he was the grand marshal in a Vietnam Veterans Parade in Sonora sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391.  

He was a member of that chapter.He lost a battle with cancer in 2014.  An effort to find a bone marrow donor and to help pay medical expenses was launched in the months leading up to his death.  That effort was detailed on the website  

From that web story, the reader learns a little more about Jon the man.  He rarely talked about his Medal of Honor, but wore it at least once in the years following his retirement from the Army in 1990.  

He was remembered as a quiet and humble leader.

Jon is one of 3,498 recipients of the Medal of Honor.  

There is some history about his life and military service available at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.   Thanks to the Medal of Honor website and Wikipedia, this Merced County hero’s story is out there for the rest of the world to see.

As we honor our veterans again with the parades, services, and activities such as the Field of Honor at Merced College, spend a few moments to think about the heroic acts men and women like Jon Cavaiani did on the battlefields of America’s wars.

He was Merced County’s Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jon R. Cavaiani.  

We thank him for his sacrifice, and we thank all our soldiers for their service.

Congressional Medal of Honor website:

For more on the Livingston Historical Society Museum, call:  394-2376

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and has written the book Finding Bill about his uncle who served in the Vietnam War.