RIP SGM Jon Cavaiani, Medal of Honor, and Theodore VanKirk, Navigator of Enola Gay
Two sad deaths to report. The first is Jon Cavaiani, Medal of Honor recipient and Green Beret. I spent a lot of time with him a few years ago in Las Vegas at the SHOT Show, and found him to be just the nicest guy imagineable. He hung out with a few of us infantrymen just sharing stories and having a few adult beverages. He was really close with the Montagnard People when he was in Vietnam, and I had recently spent time with the Montagnards at their community in North Carolina, so we both shared rice wine stories. (If you haven't drank rice wine from a jug while the Montagnards beat on drums and dance, you should probably consider yourself somewhat lucky.)
Retired Sgt. Maj. Jon R. Cavaiani, a former prisoner of war and recipient of the nation's highest military award, died Tuesday in Stanford, California.
Sgt. Maj. Cavaiani, 70, spent much of his career at Fort Bragg, where he served with the 5th Special Forces Group.
President Gerald Ford awarded him the Medal of Honor in 1974 for actions earlier that decade in Vietnam.
As a platoon leader, Sgt. Maj. Cavaiani was tasked with protecting a remote radio relay site along the demilitarized zone known as Hickory Hill when it came under attack on June 3, 1971, according to his medal citation.
In the midst of an intense barrage of artillery and small-arms fire, Sgt. Maj. Cavaiani helped organize an evacuation of 15 wounded men while also leading efforts to defend the small base as it was overwhelmed by a much larger enemy force.
Disregarding his own safety, "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."
The Medal of Honor oral history on SGM Cavaiani is pretty awesome:
Meanwhile, we also lost Theodore Van Kirk, the last of the living Enola Gay crew:
Theodore (Dutch) Van Kirk, the navigator and last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the last days of World War II, died on Monday at his home in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 93.
In the predawn hours of Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, piloted by Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr. and carrying a crew of 12, took off from Tinian in the Mariana Islands with a uranium bomb built under extraordinary secrecy in the vast Manhattan Project.
Captain Van Kirk spread out his navigation charts on a small table behind Colonel Tibbets’s seat. From that spot, at the end of a long tunnel atop the bomb bays, he took the plane’s bearings, using a hand-held sextant to guide with the stars.
When the Enola Gay reached Iwo Jima as the sun rose, it began an ascent to 31,000 feet. At 8:15 a.m. Japan time, it reached Hiroshima, a city of 250,000 and the site of an important army headquarters.
The bombardier, Maj. Thomas W. Ferebee, said, “I got it,” announcing that the Enola Gay was over his aiming point, the T-shaped Aioi Bridge. Captain Van Kirk, who had also familiarized himself with Hiroshima’s landmarks, leaned over Major Ferebee’s shoulder and confirmed he was correct. His navigating skills had brought the Enola Gay to its target only a few seconds behind schedule at the conclusion of a six-and-a-half-hour flight.
CNN did a pretty good piece with him a while ago that showcases Mr. Van Kirk's sense of humor.