WITNESS TO CAPTIVITY: STAFF SERGEANT JON CAVAIANI’S POW PAJAMAS

Ironically, Cavaiani should never have been in Vietnam in the first place. Born in Britain in 1943, he immigrated to the United States in 1947. When American involvement in Vietnam was ramping up in the late 1960s, he discovered that he was considered medically unfit to serve because he was allergic to bee stings. Nonetheless, he was later allowed to enlist, eventually joining the Special Forces.

Immediately after his capture, he was forced to march for forty-two days to his first prison camp where he was introduced to what he referred to as the “rude, crude, and socially unacceptable” interrogation techniques of the North Vietnamese. After being introduced to his interrogator by way of a punch in the face, Cavaiani made the mistake of responding, “Hell, my grandmother hits harder than that.” When asked what he and his men were doing on Hickory Hill, he gave his name, rank, and serial number only to watch several of his Montagnard troops executed right in front of him.

On June 5, 1971, Staff Sergeant Jon Cavaiani of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces was shot in the back, peppered with over thirty pieces of shrapnel, and partially set on fire – and that was only beginning of his troubles.

Cavaiani, part of the Vietnam Training Advisory Group, had been stationed on “Hickory Hill” – a secret radio relay station located atop Hill 950 deep in enemy-held territory. He had been sent to this small outpost with fewer than 100 men, many of whom were local tribesmen known as Montagnards who had received military training from Special Forces advisers.

On the morning of June 4, 1971, the camp came under attack by a regiment of North Vietnamese regulars. After a night of nonstop fighting, Cavaiani ordered his men to evacuate and volunteered to stay at the outpost to hold the enemy at bay. Although wounded numerous times, he eventually escaped into the jungle and evaded capture for eleven days. When he was within sight of an American camp, a sixty-nine-year-old Vietnamese soldier with an outdated bolt-action rifle took him prisoner.

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