Cavazos, Richard E.: 1929—: U.S. Army General

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Richard E. Cavazos: 1929: U.S. Army general

In 1976 Mexican American Richard E. Cavazos made military history by becoming the first Hispanic to attain the rank of brigadier general in the United States Army. Less than 20 years later, the native Texan would again make history by being appointed the Army's first Hispanic four-star general. It was a long way from Cavazos' days as a lieutenant with the 65th Infantry Regiment during the Korean War. The 65th, comprised mostly of soldiers from Puerto Rico, was a minority unit similar to the African-American Tuskegee Airman of World War II. Though praised by General MacArthur who said of the 65th, "They are a credit to Puerto Rico and I am proud to have them in my command," according to a speech given by the Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera in 2000, the unitcalled "The Borinqueneers" after an indigenous Puerto Rican Indian tribesuffered racism and segregation away from the frontlines. According to Caldera, this took a "toll on the 65th, leaving scars that have yet to heal for so many of the regiment's proud and courageous soldiers." However, Cavazos rose above this racism, going on to become one of the most respected generalsHispanic or otherwisein the military. He also worked with military luminaries such as General Colin Powell and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the latter of whom wrote in his autobiography, It Doesn't Take a Hero, that Cavazos was one of the finest division commanders he ever worked for.

Cavazos was born on January 31, 1929, in Kingsville, Texas, and raised on a ranch. He attended Texas Technological University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in geology in 1951. During college he was an active member of the ROTC program and through it received an officer's commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army on June 15, 1951. He topped off his degree with officer basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia and then completed Airborne School before heading off to Korea with the 65th Infantry. He joined Company E as a platoon leader and eventually became a company commander. Cavazos proved to be a fearless soldier. On February 25, 1953, Cavazos' platoon was attacked by a large enemy force. A fierce battle ensued, yet Company E managed to overcome the enemy. According to Frontiernet, as the battle was winding down, "By the light of a flare, Lieutenant Cavazos observed an enemy soldier lying wounded not far to the front of his position. He requested and obtained permission to lead a small force to secure the prisoner.

At a Glance . . .

Born on January 31, 1929, in Kingsville, TX; married with four children. Education: Texas Technological University, BS, geology, 1951; U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1961; British Army Staff Coll, 1962; Armed Forces Staff Coll, 1965; United States Army War Coll, 1969. Military Service: US Army, four-star general ,1951-84.

Career: Career Army officer: Company E, 65th Infantry, Korean War, platoon leader and company commander, 1953; 1st Armored Division, executive officer, 1954; Texas Technological Univ, ROTC instructor, 1957; US Army Europe, West Germany, operations officer, 1960s; 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, Vietnam War, commander, 1967; Concept Studies, U.S. Army Combat Developments Command Institute, director, 1969-70; Offense Section, Dept of Division Operations, Army Command and General Staff Coll, chief, 1970-71; Pentagon, defense attaché, Mexico, assistant deputy dir of operations, 1970s; Inter-American Region, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, dir, 1970s; 2nd Armored Division, asst div leader, 1976; 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Div, commander, 1976; 9th Infantry Div, commander, 1977-80; III Corps, commander, 1980-82; US Army Forces Command, commander, 1982-84.

Awards: Two Distinguished Service Crosses; two Legion of Merit awards; five Bronze Stars for Valor; Purple Heart; Combat Infantry Badge; Parachutist Badge; honorary lifetime member, National Guard Association of Texas; inductee, Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame; inductee, Hall of Fame, Ranger Regiment Association; Doughboy Award, National Infantry Association, 1991.

Addresses: Home San Antonio, TX.

Intense enemy mortar and small arms fire completely blanketed the route to be covered. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Cavazos, with complete disregard for his personal safety, continued alone through the enemy fire to capture and return with the enemy soldier." For his actions Cavazos received a Silver Star, one of the military's highest honors. He later received the Distinguished Service Cross for another battle fought on June 14, 1953.

Became U.S. Army's First Hispanic General

Following the Korean War, Cavazos joined the 1st Armored Division as an executive officer. In 1957 he returned to his alma mater, Texas Technological University, where he worked as an ROTC instructor. His next post was in West Germany as an operations officer at the U.S. Army's European headquarters. Meanwhile Cavazos continued his military training. He attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the British Army Staff College, and the United States Armed Forces Staff College where he graduated in 1965. By this time the Vietnam War was underway and in February of 1967, Cavazoswho had since achieved the rank of lieutenant colonelwas appointed commander of the 1st Battalion of the 18th Infantry Division. In September and October of that year, Cavazos' unit engaged in heavy sporadic fighting near the border of Cambodia culminating in a ferocious two-day assaultnow known as the Battle of Loc Ninhduring which the 1st Battalion lost five soldiers. In contrast, the enemy troops suffered over 100 deaths. For his personal actions during these battles Cavazos received his second Distinguished Service Cross.

With his tour of duty in Vietnam complete, Cavazos returned stateside and resumed his peace time career path with fervor. He became the director of concept studies at the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command Institute and in 1969 completed additional military training at the Army's famed War College. His next post was from 1970 to 1971 at Kansas's Fort Leavenworth where he served as the chief of the Offense Section in the Department of Division Operations at the Army Command and General Staff College. In the early 1970s Cavazos held several positions including assistant deputy director of operations at the Pentagon, defense attaché in Mexico, and director of the Inter-American Region, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In 1976, 25 years after receiving his military commission, Cavazos was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and pinned one gleaming star on his uniform lapel. In doing so, he became the first Hispanic general in the Army and a role model for the thousands of minority recruits who join the military each year.

Cavazos' first post after becoming a general was as assistant division commander of the 2nd Armored Division. He then assumed a larger leadership role as commander of the 2nd Brigade in the 1st Infantry Division. In 1977 he took over the top spot of the 9th Infantry Division. One of the officers in this division at that time was H. Norman Schwarzkopf who was appointed to brigadier general under Cavazos.

Schwarzkopf later went on to military fame as the commander of U.S. forces in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq. Meanwhile Cavazos continued moving up in rank and by 1978 he was promoted to major general. In 1980 he became the commander of III Corps based in Fort Lewis, Washington. Cavazos' final military post was overseeing the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). He assumed this role in 1982, the same year that he received his fourth star, becoming a full general. According to the website of the Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame, at FORSCOM Cavazos' "early support for the National Training Center and his involvement in the development of the Battle Command Training Program enormously influenced the war fighting capabilities of the U.S. Army." Under his command at FORSCOM, combat troops were deployed to Grenada, West Indies, in 1983. On June 17, 1984, after a brilliant military career that spanned three decades, Cavazos retired with his wife and four children to Texas.

Repeatedly Recognized for His Military Achievements

Throughout his long and distinguished career, Cavazos has received many awards. In addition to the two Distinguished Service Crosses he received in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, he has received two Legion of Merit awards, five Bronze Stars for Valor, a Purple Heart, a Combat Infantry Badge, and a Parachutist Badge. Recognition of his achievements did not stop with his retirement. The National Guard Association of Texas made him an honorary lifetime member. He was also inducted into the Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame, which, according to their website, honors those "who after being stationed at Fort Leavenworth significantly contributed to the history, heritage and traditions of the Army." The Ranger Regiment Association also inducted Cavazos into their hall of fame which honors outstanding former U.S. rangers. In 1991 the National Infantry Association bestowed its highest award on Cavazos, the Doughboy Award. Presented annually to an Infantryman who has made an outstanding contribution to the U.S. Army Infantry, the Doughboy is a highly prestigious honor presented on behalf of all Infantrymen, past and present.

In his retirement Cavazos remained busy. In 1985 he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the eight-member Chemical Warfare Review Commission. Back in Texas, he served on the board of regents of Texas Technological University. He also regularly advised the Army on leadership, serving as a mentor to younger generals. The Killeen Daily Herald, a mostly military paper based out of Fort Hood, Texas, described one such program that Cavazos participated in: "To help train its leaders, the Army reaches into its past by pairing each general with a senior retired general. [Passing] along the special experiences of the retired generals to their successors." One of the planners of this training session noted, "General Cavazos comes here with a reputation that inspires everyone who sees him." Well into 2003, that reputation persisted as Cavazos continued to lend his military expertise to the U.S. Armyand as a result, the United States.


"196735 Years Ago2002," 18th Infantry Regiment Association Newsletter, (April 29, 2003).

"Battles generated by computers are challenging for III Corps troops," Killeen Daily Herald, www.kdh (April 29, 2003).

"General Richard E. Cavazos," Hispanos Famosos, (April 28, 2003).

"In Honor of Veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment, Remarks by the Secretary of the Army, Arlington Cemetery," Frontiernet, (April 28, 2003).

"Puerto Rico's 65th Infantry Regiment," Frontiernet, VAZOS.html (April 28, 2003).

"Richard Cavazos, General, USA," Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame, (April 29, 2003).

Candace LaBalle

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Cavazos, Richard E.: 1929—: U.S. Army General

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