Gen. Richard Cavazos (1929-2017) Army’s First Hispanic Four-Star General Dies
Editor’s Note: This article is in remembrance of a good friend of the American GI Forum. General Richard Cavazos died Sunday October 29, 2017. Due to our Web probems we were unable to publish information then. Below is an article from the San Antonio Express-News with some details of his long military career.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – General Richard Cavazos, the first Hispanic four-star general in the U.S. Army and one of its most highly decorated veterans, died Sunday in San Antonio after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
He was 88. Details were pending but Cavazos will be buried Nov. 14 at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
With a combat record that included the nation’s second-highest medals for valor both in the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War, Cavazos blazed a trail for generations of other Hispanic general officers, The three who came after him ere Texans – Lt. Gen. Marc Cisneros of Brownsville, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez of Rio Grande City and Maj. Gen. Alfredo Valenzuela, who grew up on San Antonio’s West Side. ‘His impact as a mentor is probably the greatest impact our army had, and so we all looked up to him as an American soldier, a Hispanic soldier,” said Valenzuela, 59, a former commander of U.S. Army South. “He was the guy we wanted to be. If we couldn’t be him, we wanted to be near him and serve with him.”
Friends and comrades who served with Cavazos in Vietnam regarded him as a highly competent tactician who put himself in the crossfire with them.
One of them, Ronnie Cavazos, recalled the 1967 battle at Loc Ninh, in which he served in a company under Cavazos’ command that rushed to aid a unit facing encirclement. The companies later pushed up a hill while Cavazos called in artillery and air strikes. The 50th anniversary of that battle, where Cavazos earned his second Distinguished Service Cross, was on Monday.
“The enemy would have great fighting positions and we were moving up, so while they were bringing in the air strikes I thought it was like the Star Spangled Banner playing,” said Campsey, 75, a Southampton, New York restaurateur who left the Army as a sergeant.
“You could feel the heart of the napalm taking your breath away, you could see the white phosphorous they dropped on them and you could see them running around further up the hill, moving from trench to trench. And then the word came out for us to move forward.”
Cavazos was with them all the way. “He knew he was safe with us and we knew we were safe with him. He instilled confidence in everyone,” Campsey said, noting that Cavazos embedded himself with his Delta Company for the last three months of its deployment.
“I truly believe that a lot of us got home because of the way he conducted himself,” said Melvin “Brave” Brav, 75, of San Diego, California, a young second lieutenant when he first served under Cavazos as a platoon leader.
“I can’t really speak specifically to what it was like to work for him or the command structure, but I think many saw him as a father figure,” said his son, Tommy Cavazos, 52, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. “They knew that he was not someone who would double cross them or use them or cast them aside, that he was a loyal person, he was an honest person, he was a very moral person. And that carries a lot of weight, obvi¬0usly’ when you’re putting your life on the line with somebody.”
Cavazos’ rise to prominence in the Army started as the son of a King Ranch cowhand. His father, Lauro Cavazos, came to Kingsville in 19l2, fought as an Army artillery sergeant in World War I and became a foreman of the King Ranch’s Santa Gertrudis division in an era of intense racism.
Lauro and Thomasa Quintanilla Cavazos were determined to give their children a life beyond the ranch and put all five of them through college. Lauro Cavazos Jr. became the U.S. education secretary under President George H.W Bush.
Dick Cavazos was their second son. He earned a degree in geology from Texas Tech University before entering the Army.
“I think in the environment he grew up, he grew up on the King Ranch, and his father was very much the same way,” Tommy Cavazos said. “They got into the task at hand together and there wasn’t really a class system or a system that was based on status or anything like that.”
Richard Cavazos led a brigade’ a division and an Army corps in the 1970S, finally commanding all soldiers in the continental United States before retiring in 1984.
Cisneros, who served under Cavazos as a battalion commander and later as operations officer with III Corps at Fort Hood, described him as a gifted leader, the second-highest decorated officer in the Korean War and by the end of his career’ the holder of two Silver Stars, two legions of Merit, a Distinguished Flying Cross, five Bronze Stars with Valor and a Purple heart, in addition to the pair of Distinguished Service Crosses.
“He was tough, but not tough to present himself as tough like Patton was. He was just very inspirational. He was soft-spoken but he was hard core,” said Cisneros, a Corpus Christi resident who led troops in the 1989 invasion of Panama that toppled strongman Manuel Noriega. “Nobody messed with him.”
One of the soldiers in Delta Company, Bill Fee, wrote on Facebook on Monday that Cavazos saved his life in a fierce night battle on Nov. 1, 1967, by ordering resupply helicopters to wait at the site for wounded as enemy soldiers rushed the Americans.
“What words can one express to someone who has saved your life? What debt can repay his leadership, mentorship and friendship over fifty years?” Fee wrote on his Facebook page.
“He wrote Sally & me a letter dated 11/17/07 which said in part... ‘You mean so much because I saw your devotion, I saw you fight, I saw the hurt, all of which I committed you to. I thank God for the blessing all of you are. I am proud to call you brother!”