Hickory Hill

Jon Cavaiani in Vietnam with his CAR-15

By John Siegfried and Dr. Michael B. Evers
from Jon Robert Cavaiani: A Wolf Remembered, Chapter Four, reprinted with permission

“It doesn’t take a hero to order men to go into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Soon after the massacre of orphans and monks, Jon was transferred to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). His commander was aware that Jon was distraught over the massacre and tried to get Jon to return to the States, apply for OCS, and take a commission. Jon opted to re-enlist, gain a stripe to Staff Sergeant, and remain in Vietnam. He completed one-zero (reconnaissance leader) training, and became involved in clandestine missions across the border of South Vietnam into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. His instructor in the course was Jim Shorten, who told Mike Evers that Jon was the best soldier in that group of new Recon Leaders.

“I met Jon in late 1970 when he came to B-53 for 1-0 school (Special Operations Team Leader Course). Jon came across as a country boy, well versed in the out-of-doors.

Toward the end of the course of training, I was his lane grader on the field mission. There were eight men on the team, all from CCN (Command Control North) at Da Nang, Vietnam.

“We were compromised in the field by the enemy, so I called for extraction. The first chopper came in and picked up 4 men via the STABO Rig. These are 120-foot ropes dropped from a motorized pully inside of the helicopter that we hooked to the top of our shoulder harness. The chopper then would pull us up through the jungle and fly us out to safety. The next chopper came in but there were 5 of us left, so Jon and I hooked up together on one rope. As we lifted up, we saw the enemy on the ground, Jon commenced to fire his CAR 15 at them causing us to go into a spin. Jon was having a great time while I was getting dizzy. I started shooting in the other direction to calm the spinning.

When we returned to base camp, B-53, the camp commander wanted me to make sure all the men were ready to be 1-0 team leaders. I told the camp commander, no way, these men need combat time under their belt before I would make then team leaders. I also told him that Jon Cavaiani was the only one who was close to being a good team leader, but SOG missions are a lot more dangerous than running missions in Vietnam, and they needed to be seasoned SOG soldiers first.”1

There were times when, on recon, the teams had to lay low and just let a large force walk past them. Being significantly outnumbered there was no wisdom in engaging the enemy in a firefight. On one occasion, Jon’s team came across an unexploded bomb that was designated as extremely sensitive. So as not to set the bomb off, the members of the team dropped all of their equipment, stripped down to bare butt nakedness and called for a helicopter extraction at a point well away from the bomb. Their radio call for extraction ended with, “Be on the lookout for the naked guys running to the PZ (Pickup Zone).”2

Later, on another recon mission Jon was wounded. He was sent to a field hospital for treatment and recuperation. After convalescing, he voluntarily extended his tour of duty in South Vietnam for another year.3

Jon’s next assignment was to lead a platoon at a remote outpost called “Hickory” which was near Laos where it meets what was the border of North Vietnam and The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). “Hickory” was perched just below Hill 1015 and above Hill 915 and was designated as Hill 950. Hills in Vietnam were measured in meters. A U.S. Marine unit had previously held the camp but determined it to be untenable. Prior to Jon’s assignment to Hill 950 (“Hickory”), Sergeant First Class Robert Noe had the dubious assignment of security responsibilities on that hill for a period of time. His comments, regarding the site follows:

“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 (sic) 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[mm] 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 (sic) 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 also. 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 [solitary] 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 Americans 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.”

Hill 950 or Hickory Hill (formerly named Lemon Tree) was located north of the abandoned Khe Sanh Combat Base. It was CCN’s top secret radio relay outpost atop of hill 950 established to observe enemy movement and monitor and relay radio transmissions from SOG teams’ operating 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 5 June 1971 when it was over-run by enemy forces. Jon Cavaiani was the Security Force Commander that fateful day, putting up a fierce counter-defense for two days.

Author’s note: On 4 June 1971 Captain Valersky was the ASA officer responsible for the operation of the Explorer system and he had two readers on site with him. Jon Cavaiani was the person responsible for security of that three-man team and the top-secret equipment. Cavaiani had a few other Green Berets, and about 60 Bru Montagnards for which he had leadership responsibility.

Hickory Hill (950), near Khe Sanh and the DMZ (The Assault on Hickory Hill: Noe)