Old Hickory

Hill 950 (also known as Hickory Hill Mission Support Site, Hickory Hill MSS, Hickory Hill Radio Relay Site or Lemon Tree) was a U.S. Marine Corps and MACV-SOG base located north of Khe Sanh, in Quảng Trị Province.

The base was located approximately 3.5 km north of Khe Sanh.

The base was first established by the Marines in late 1966.   In May 1967 the site was defended by a company from the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. On the morning of 6 , June a People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) force attacked the base, but were forced back for the loss of 6 Marines and 10 PAVN killed. CPL John Roland Burke would be posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the battle.

In September 1969 as part of Operation Keystone Cardinal the 4th Marines abandoned the base as part of the withdrawal of the 3rd Marine Division from Vietnam.

The base was later used as an operations base and radio relay site to allow SOG teams to remain in contact while on operations in Laos and to monitor sensors emplaced on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  The base also housed the Army Security Agency’s (ASA) Explorer VHF automated interception system linked to the Phu Bai Combat Base.

On the morning of 4, June 1971 a PAVN force on Hill 1015 attacked the base with small arms and mortars.  Four wounded U.S. servicemen, including the base commander and several Bru commandos were evacuated by helicopter at midday on 4 June. The helicopter was hit by PAVN fire and had to make an emergency landing and the occupants were transferred to another helicopter. Additional helicopters arrived at the base to evacuate U.S. personnel, but Sergeants Jon R. Cavaiani and Robert Jones chose to remain to defend the base with some 20 Bru.  The top-secret Explorer system was destroyed with thermal charges as the base was evacuated.  On the morning of 5, June the PAVN launched a final assault, overrunning the base, while many of the Bru managed to escape, Cavaianai and Jones held out in a bunker until Jones was killed and Cavaiani was taken prisoner.   Cavaiani was released in April 1973, he would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle.

Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s official Medal of Honor citation reads:

S/Sgt. Cavaiani distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action in the Republic of Vietnam on 4 and 5 June 1971 while serving as a platoon leader to a security platoon providing security for an isolated radio relay site located within enemy-held territory. On the morning of 4 June 1971, the entire camp came under an intense barrage of enemy small armsautomatic weaponsrocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire from a superior size enemy force. S/Sgt. Cavaiani acted with complete disregard for his personal safety as he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire in order to move about the camp’s perimeter directing the platoon’s fire and rallying the platoon in a desperate fight for survival. S/Sgt. Cavaiani also returned heavy suppressive fire upon the assaulting enemy force during this period with a variety of weapons. When the entire platoon was to be evacuated, S/Sgt. Cavaiani unhesitatingly volunteered to remain on the ground and direct the helicopters into the landing zone. S/Sgt. Cavaiani was able to direct the first 3 helicopters in evacuating a major portion of the platoon. Due to intense increase in enemy fire, S/Sgt. Cavaiani was forced to remain at the camp overnight where he calmly directed the remaining platoon members in strengthening their defenses. On the morning of 5 June, a heavy ground fog restricted visibility. The superior size enemy force launched a major ground attack in an attempt to completely annihilate the remaining small force. The enemy force advanced in 2 ranks, first firing a heavy volume of small arms automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire while the second rank continuously threw a steady barrage of hand grenades at the beleaguered force. S/Sgt. Cavaiani returned a heavy barrage of small arms and hand grenade fire on the assaulting enemy force but was unable to slow them down. He ordered the remaining platoon members to attempt to escape while he provided them with cover fire. With one last courageous exertion, S/Sgt. Cavaiani recovered a machine gun, stood up, completely exposing himself to the heavy enemy fire directed at him, and began firing the machine gun in a sweeping motion along the two ranks of advancing enemy soldiers. Through S/Sgt. Cavaiani’s valiant efforts with complete disregard for his safety, the majority of the remaining platoon members were able to escape. While inflicting severe losses on the advancing enemy force, S/Sgt. Cavaiani was wounded numerous times. S/Sgt. Cavaiani’s conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.