Richard Edward Cavazos was born in January 1929, in Kingsville, Texas, one of five children to Lauro Cavazos and Thomasa Quintanilla. His father, Lauro, arrived at King Ranch in Kleberg County, Texas, in 1912 as a cowhand, and later fought during World War I as an artillery battery first sergeant.
Cavazos enrolled at North Texas Agricultural College (now The University of Texas – Arlington) in Denton, Texas, in 1947 on a football scholarship. As part of the Texas A&M University system requirements, he also joined the Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) and graduated with an associate’s degree from NTAC. He then attended Texas Tech in Lubbock on another football scholarship.
A broken leg in his sophomore season ended Cavazos’ football career, but he continued his enrollment in the ROTC program. He graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate in 1951, received his commission as a second lieutenant in the infantry, and was promptly sent to Officer’s Basic Course in Fort Benning, Ga.
Cavazos married his college sweetheart, Caroline Greek, before volunteering for a combat assignment in Korea in 1952. During his assignment in the 65th Infantry, he would issue orders to his soldiers in Spanish during battles. Spanish was so prevalent in the 65th that even the famed Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) soldiers assigned to the regiment learned Spanish (but didn’t learn English).
According to Col. Thomas C. Graves, “During the night of Feb. 25, 1953, a large Chinese force attacked Cavazos’ platoon. The attack was eventually defeated and, as the enemy withdrew at dawn, Cavazos noticed a wounded Chinese soldier in front of his position. He requested permission to recover the soldier and then led a small force forward. As expected, the enemy blanketed the area with mortar, artillery, and small-arms fire to cover their withdrawal. Undaunted, Cavazos left his small force to cover him and moved forward alone to recover the enemy soldier. For this action, he earned his first Silver Star. It would later be matched by a second Silver Star he received as a battalion commander in Vietnam.”
Cavazos continued to distinguish himself as a leader during enemy attacks and was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for his courage under fire—his second award for valor in less than four months.
On June 14, 1953, Cavazos and E Company crossed enemy line for an assault on a Chinese position, where they were immediately met with artillery fire. Their attack pushed forward, ultimately capturing the enemy position after more than three hours of combat. Cavazos continued to search for wounded soldiers and brought five wounded men to medical attention. He was wounded himself by artillery fire during the process and didn’t notice until another soldier pointed out the blood pouring down his back. Shrapnel and small pieces of rock were removed by the battalion surgeon.
In recognition of his bravery, Cavazos was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, as well as a Purple Heart.
In September 1953, he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas.
Cavazos completed another successful combat tour as a battalion commander in Vietnam, earning another Distinguished Service Cross and a Silver Star.
In 1980, Cavazos returned to Fort Hood, where he served as a commander for two years.
Cavazos retired after more than 33 years of service as the Army’s first Hispanic brigadier general, the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general, and as one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. Army history. Fort Hood, a Central Texas post where he served multiple times, will soon be renamed in his honor.
His many awards and decorations include a Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device with four Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart.
Cavazos died on Oct. 29, 2017, aged 88.
We honor his service.