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Interview with Carmen Cavezza [2004]

Rebecca Blair:

...2004. We are in the office of Carmen Cavezza, the City Manager of Columbus, Georgia. My name is Becky Blair. I'll be doing the interviewing, Sue Wofford is doing the camera, and Sheila Burkes is doing part of our paperwork, also. And this is in conjunction with the Bellsouth Pioneers. Okay. I just found that you weren't drafted or enlisted because you were -- you went to the Citadel, because you were a cadet; is that correct?

Carmen Cavezza:

That's correct.

Rebecca Blair:

Okay. When was that?

Carmen Cavezza:

I graduated in 1961.

Rebecca Blair:

1961. And U.S. Army; is that correct?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, I went into the Army at that time, yes.

Rebecca Blair:

And do you recall why you picked that particular branch of the Service?

Carmen Cavezza:

Never really was a challenge. There was never really anything that there was an alternative to me. It was always the Army.

Rebecca Blair:

Okay.

Carmen Cavezza:

But I have to tell you that I -- when -- my intent was to go to law school after -- after college, but I didn't have enough money. And I got married, which made me even poorer. And so I decided to go on active duty for two years and then stayed for 33, so --

Rebecca Blair:

Okay.

Carmen Cavezza:

But the Army was always one of my major emphasis.

Rebecca Blair:

Do you remember your -- I guess your time in the Citadel would have been your bootcamp or your training period; is that correct?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, the Citadel is like an ROTC institution, and what you do is you go to the normal ROTC instruction for four years, as part of your regular curriculum. And then the summer between your junior and senior years, you go to camp for six weeks. And I went to Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

Rebecca Blair:

Wow. Do you remember any of your instructors during this time period?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, you mean at the Citadel or the ROTC? There were several of them, many of them. Major Burns and then Major Culpepper. There was -- the Commandant at that time was Carl McCaffrey, who then later became Lieutenant General McCaffrey, who retired from the Army. His son is now also a general who's retired from the Army. There are quite a few of them, that -- as we went through.

Rebecca Blair:

Okay. So your -- during your Service, though, you were in Vietnam; is that correct?

Carmen Cavezza:

Yeah, I went to Vietnam twice. I was there in 1965 and 1966 and, again, 1969 and 1970.

Rebecca Blair:

Where did you go while you were in? What areas of Vietnam, or where?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, we were -- initially, I was in Okinawa with the 173 Airborne Brigade. And my wife and daughter just joined us -- joined me. And joining shortly thereafter, in May of 1965, President Johnson announced that we were sending ground forces in there, and so what -- what -- they redeployed to a place call Bien Hoa Airbase, and we operated around that area.

Rebecca Blair:

In Vietnam, what were you doing?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, I was in Okinawa. And that was back when our families -- you couldn't bring your family over until you had quarters. So I got quarters, and my family came over. And about that time President Johnson said, "We're going to Vietnam." So we packed me up, sent me to Vietnam, and my family went back to Charleston, where we were. So we went into an area called Bien Hoa -- Bien Hoa Airbase, and that was -- that was our operational base. And we worked out of there. I was in the third quarter area. And the second time I went in, it was in 1969, June of '69. And second time I was in a place called Tay Ninh for the 25 Infantry Division.

Rebecca Blair:

What was your job -- job assignment?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, the first job I was Company Commander. The second time, I was a Battalion S3, an Operations Officer.

Rebecca Blair:

Did you see much combat?

Carmen Cavezza:

A little bit. I got shot up in January of 1966 and got medically evacuated back to Walter Reed. Took me about a year to recover. And then the second time I was back there, we were Battalion Operations Officers, ____________ province, which was pretty active. Both times I was in the area, it was very active.

Rebecca Blair:

Were there a lot of casualties in your unit?

Carmen Cavezza:

Yes. As a matter of fact, there were. The first time, we -- not as many the first time, believe it or not. We were the first unit in the country. But we were pretty well trained. We had worked together a long time. But we had -- the day I got shot, I think I -- I think there was about eight or ten killed and about 20 wounded in my company alone. The second time when I went over there, the units were in a mess. It was a time when we were trying to withdraw. And the political will had gone away, so we weren't getting the political support over there we needed. So as a result, we were in very small units, understaffed, poor equipment. As a result, you get casualties because of that.

Rebecca Blair:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Carmen Cavezza:

Yeah. I got two Silver Stars, Distinguished Fire Cross, a couple Bronze Stars, and a Purple Heart.

Rebecca Blair:

How did you get your Silver Star?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, I got two of them. Actually, the first time is when I was in the air mobile assault, where we landed in what is called a "hot landing zone" that was surrounded by an enemy battalion. And we had to assault them or die in place. So we just went in with the assault, and that's when I got shot. And later on, my second tour, I got one. We had a unit pinned down on the side of the mountain and then lost our leadership. So I went in and took over the unit.

Rebecca Blair:

Okay. How did you stay in touch with your family during this time?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, write letters, primarily. That's about the only thing, your know. We didn't have Internet back then. And letters primarily through the mail.

Rebecca Blair:

What was your food like while you were over there?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, the Army has always managed to provide adequate food. You know, we ate mostly sea rations back then. They were okay. Nothing great. But when you were back in base camp, they were pretty good. So no complaints about the food at any time I've been in the Army.

Rebecca Blair:

Was there a lot of pressure or stress during this time?

Carmen Cavezza:

Oh, yeah, it was a very stressful time. I was a young. The first time, I was a 28-year-old Company Commander and responsible for about 150 soldiers, and it's kind of stressful knowing you're responsible for their lives.

Rebecca Blair:

Was there anything special that you did for good luck?

Carmen Cavezza:

I prayed a lot. But that is any -- that's not -- that's about all I did. I'm not -- not a superstitious person, but I am a Christian. And I've got deep convictions, and I think they helped me.

Rebecca Blair:

How did the people entertain themselves?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, soldiers find ways to entertain themselves; I don't care where they are. We spent a lot of time in the fields, so there really wasn't much time to entertain. But when you got back in base camp, the biggest entertainment was getting cleaned up and get a hot meal. But they used to bring in -- we had movies and, you know, play ball games and things -- simple things like horseshoes or volleyball. And, of course, our soldiers all got two weeks rest and recuperation where they could leave and go to Hawaii or, back then, Australia, my first tour, or Thailand or places like that. And I always made sure all the people in my units took advantage of that.

Rebecca Blair:

So you got to go on all of those trips you went yourself?

Carmen Cavezza:

I never -- never made it.

Rebecca Blair:

You never made it? Were there any particular humorous or unusual events that you remember of?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, there are probably a lot of humorous events and a _______________+. Well, I -- one of the first ones I remember was humorous, but it was scary. We had a monkey get in the ammunition dump, and he had a hand grenade, and he was playing around with the hand grenade, jumping around in the ammunition dump and thought he was going to blow all of us up.

Rebecca Blair:

Oh, no.

Carmen Cavezza:

We finally got him out of there and got the grenade away from him. But that wasn't funny at the time, but it was funny afterwards. That type of thing. Unusual events, I mean, we were -- the first time, we were kind of a rapid reaction force. We never knew when we were going to get picked up and moved somewhere. I think probably the thing that made me feel good -- there was a Special Forces camp called Plei Me that was under serious, serious attack, and they were getting beat up real bad. And we went in and relieved them. And I can remember them coming out and hugging us, and they were so glad to see Americans. That was one of the first times Americans actually engaged in combat. So there -- the two years were riddled with those kind of things. I probably would have to give that considerable thought. There is a probably lot more activity like that.

Rebecca Blair:

What did you think of your fellow officers or the soldiers that you served with?

Carmen Cavezza:

I have respect for them. The first time we were in Okinawa for about a year. We trained together, worked together -- all professionals. The officers were all good, and we were like a family. Second time, I joined a unit that was there already in place. And, as I said, the Army was not in good shape. We were getting people right out of officer cadet school with very little experience. We had some people there that didn't want to be there, so that respect wasn't there. It became more -- I had to be more of a disciplinarian the second time. The first time, I felt I had to more like a father. This time, I felt I had to be more like a disciplinarian in order to keep control and keep things in line.

Rebecca Blair:

Do you recall the day that your Service ended in the Army?

Carmen Cavezza:

Yeah. It was at Fort Lewis Washington when I retired after 33 years. It was a normal retirement ceremony, and it was an important day for me. And, you know, you can do -- there is a change of command and a retirement together. I had the option of retiring at Fort Lewis or going to Washington to retire or coming here to retire. I opted to do it at Fort Lewis with the people that I was serving with at the time. It was a very memorable day. After 33 years, it has to be. Sue Wofford: What was your rank when you retired? Was it General, or was it --

Carmen Cavezza:

It was Lieutenant General, three-step General.

Rebecca Blair:

Did you go back to school after the Service?

Carmen Cavezza:

I went to school -- no, not after Service. While I was in the Army, I got -- when I got wounded the first time, they sent me to University of Miami to teach ROTC and kind of mend up a bit. And while I was there, I got a master's degree in government work, and I got it at night. When I went to the war college, I had an option. They had a master's in international affairs that you could sign up for, which I did, and I finished that. And so with those two degrees, I was very close to getting a doctorate, and I just had to do a dissertation and a few other things. So while I was in the Pentagon, oh, for about an eight-year period and different places, I got a Ph.D. in political science.

Rebecca Blair:

Do you still maintain close friendships to the people you served with?

Carmen Cavezza:

I do. In fact, yesterday, I got a call from Frank Biggums, who was a PFC in my Company, calling me from San Diego, California. He's not in good shape right now. He's suffering from the effects of Agent Orange. But a very emotional phone call. And the Brigade has -- 173rd Brigade unit has an annual meeting. And my Company, as a matter of fact, wants to meet at that annual meeting in Florida this year, so they've been after me to get me to come to that. So I see them and hear from them.

Rebecca Blair:

Okay. Do you belong to any of the veterans organizations?

Carmen Cavezza:

Yeah, I belong to the VFW. That is the primary one.

Rebecca Blair:

How did your military experience influence -- influence your thinking about the war and about life, in general?

Carmen Cavezza:

Well, you know, the last thing a soldier wants is war. A lot of people think that soldiers like wars and they want wars, and that is the last thing a soldier wants. I never wanted a war. You know, I felt -- as a young man, I felt I was prepared to go to war, and I was. And I thought we had a very good Army and capable of winning, and we did. It was politicians that lost the Vietnam war, not the soldiers. But wars are a very brutal thing. And it does -- there's a lot of sad memories of soldiers who were killed, soldiers who were maimed and had families. That becomes a very personal thing with you, and you begin to question why is all of this necessary. And although I felt that we were in Vietnam for a cause and I supported the cause -- and to this day, I think it was probably the right thing to do. But what bothered me here several, many years later, when we have the then Secretary of Defense McNamara make a statement on it, "We knew it was a lost cause. We were killing time" -- well, you weren't just killing time; you were killing people. So I lost -- I lost all respect for him, and I lost respect for the leadership at that time when they started using people as pawns. So what it -- basically, when I -- after the Vietnam era, I knew that, any unit I was in, I was going to fight like mad to get support we needed. And before I ever took a unit into combat -- and, in fact, we went into Panama in 1989 and -- just cause, to take Noriega out. And when I had a division in -- and we went in with full force. I didn't care if there were only two of them. We were going to go in there with so many people, so fast, and so heavy that I didn't want one soldier to get injured. That is kind of the philosophy that he brought.

Rebecca Blair:

Okay. Is there anything that you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

Carmen Cavezza:

Your questions are pretty thorough. And I think this is a great project. And I appreciate what y'all are doing. I think most veterans would appreciate what you are doing, and I thank you for that. I think, you know, when old soldiers like me get out, we say, God, what kind of -- what is going to happen to our country now? As I look back at the -- Bien Hoa involved a lot of things, I'm betting. And I look at these soldiers. They look like they should be in high school, but they're grown men, and they're soldiers now. I guess I'm getting older. But the thing about it is they're smarter than I was. They're probably physically better than I was. Their equipment is better than my equipment. They're better trained. So we have a magnificent military force out there. So Veterans like me can feel really comfortable that that void has been filled and filled very adequately.

Rebecca Blair:

I want to thank you so much --

Carmen Cavezza:

All right.

Rebecca Blair:

-- for our service to our country and for taking time to this interview with us.

Carmen Cavezza:

Thank you for coming in and talking to me. I appreciate it.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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