Gen. Richard E. Cavazos (Jan. 31, 1929-Oct. 29, 2017) made history as the U.S. Army’s first Hispanic four-star general, served as Fort Hood’s senior leader from 1980 to 1982 and is the namesake of the Killeen Independent School District’s Richard E. Cavazos Elementary School in Nolanville.
Born in Kingsville, Texas, Cavazos grew up on the famed King Ranch.
He graduated in 1951 from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor of Science degree in geology and was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in the Army from Texas Tech’s ROTC program.
In 1952 in Korea, he commanded the 65th Infantry Regiment, the Borinqueneers.
In Vietnam, he commanded the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. He commanded at every level of command in the United States Army to include command of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, and III Corps at Fort Hood. He was Airborne Ranger qualified and wore one star on his Combat Infantryman’s Badge. After commanding III Corps and Fort Hood, he was promoted to general in February 1982 and assumed command of the U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia.
After retiring from the Army in 1984, Cavazos continued to serve as a senior mentor of the Battlefield Command Training Program — now known as the Mission Command Training Program — which he brought up from its conception, according to retired Lt. Gen. Paul “Butch” Funk in an interview after Cavazos’ death. The program helps train senior leaders and staff for combat deployment.
“Everyone knew him — he was quite an icon,” said retired Lt. Gen. H.G. “Pete” Taylor of Belton, also a former III Corps and Fort Hood commander, after Cavazos’ death. “He was a senior leader and mentor who worked with us through the Battlefield Command Training Program. I have great respect for a fine hero.”
Cavazos’ bravery during Korea and Vietnam earned him two Distinguished Service Crosses, a Silver Star Medal, two Legion of Merit awards, five Bronze Star Medals for Valor, a Purple Heart Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge and a Parachutist Badge. Cavazos served during the Korean War with the 65th Infantry Regiment, a storied unit predominantly composed of Puerto Ricans.
“He should have been Chief of Staff of the Army, if you ask me,” said Funk, who served under Cavazos several times. “He was one of the most inspirational leaders of my time. He was an uncommon common man with more common sense than anyone I know, which is something rare in senior leaders.”
Funk said Cavazos had a genuine love of soldiers and could easily talk to anyone from a private to the commander in chief.
“It’s not that he was easy on (his soldiers) — he worked them hard and trained them hard because he cared,” Funk said. “He is one of the very few people I know of who was even better than his reputation.”
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