HARLINGEN — Juan Cavazos pulls an old white piece of paper from his wallet. It is perfectly formed and one-eighth the size of the original sheet so it will fit into one of the compartments. His nimble fingers unfold it carefully and he lays it on his bed in front of him.
It’s a military document that proves he has earned both the Combat Infantry and Combat Medical badges, which he proudly wears on his black baseball cap, that also is adorned with the gold embroidered words Bronze Star Heroism and the Purple Heart medal.
He believes he needs to carry that piece of paper around with him at all times.
“When I wear my cap, some tell me that I can’t wear both (the Combat Infantry and Combat Medical badges),” Cavazos said. “I say maybe you can’t, but I can. They don’t believe me, so that’s why I carry it, to show.”
According to a 2013 document from the Willacy County Veterans Service Office that he also keeps around, he is believed to be the only veteran in the Rio Grande Valley who has earned and can wear both badges.
“I am more proud of these two than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, which are higher,” he said while sitting next to his bed at Retama Manor Nursing Center in Harlingen earlier this week and pointing to the hat and piece of paper. “It says here I am the only one who can wear them.”
The Sebastian native who has lived nearly all his life in Willacy County, joined the National Guard in 1960. A few years later, he enlisted in the Army and wanted to be a medic. He attended the Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston.
Years later, Cavazos volunteered to go to Vietnam. There, he served as an infantryman for about six months, earning the Combat Infantry badge as well as a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
With the Army there in need of a medical platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Cavazos was plucked from the infantry to take on that role with the 442nd Artillery, which included overseeing in the field his medics and assisting the doctors.
There, he saw more combat, thus earning the Combat Medical badge. The situation is made more unique by the fact that Cavazos earned both during the same tour of duty.
Being the only Veteran in the RGV with the two badges was something he never thought about until a few years back.
In 2013, he was honored by the Willacy County Veterans Service. He received a flag and some other items.
Alejandro Figueroa signed Cavazos’ document, stating “we are lucky to have and honor” the only veteran who can wear both.
“They were looking to honor some people and they came across this,” he said about the rarity of earning both badges. “I never paid attention to it.”
Although he never sought it out, there’s no question now that Cavazos glows with pride when showing off his two badges, which will remain on his prized baseball cap he wears every day.