Monday, March 05, 2007

Jonathan Cadavero remembered

Tuxedo — Even when he was a little boy playing with his GI Joe action figure, there was little doubt what Jonathan Cadavero would do when he grew up.

"That's going to be me," he'd say of his toy soldier.

He came from a patriotic, pro-military family. Two of Cadavero's uncles had fought in Vietnam. His maternal grandparents had fled Stalin-era Ukraine and told tales of oppression that stoked his instinctive love for his own country.

"He just absolutely loved America and what it stood for," recalled his sister, Kristia Cavere.

He wanted to enlist after 9/11, but his family talked him into staying in college. So he waited until senior year. Afterward, legions of friends, family members and his professors descended on a restaurant in a Maryland college town to toast Cadavero and wish him success.

That was in February 2005. Two years later, at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Cadavero was riding through Baghdad in an armored Humvee when it struck a roadside bomb. Cadavero, a 24-year-old medic who had recently been promoted to sergeant, died at the scene.

He lived in Tuxedo and attended school in Waldwick, N.J., half an hour away. He graduated from Waldwick High School in 2000 but had spent most of his years at Waldwick Seventh-day Adventist School, where his mother taught.

He remained devoted to the parochial school long after leaving. During college breaks or while on leave from the Army, he'd stop by to help out or go to chapel with the students if there was nothing for him to do.

"Jon's here, Jon's here," the kids would buzz, recalls the principal, Alipia Gonzalez.

"Sometimes he would just come in and say, 'You know, Ms. Gonzalez, I think you need a break,' and just do things for me," she said.

Those who knew Cadavero paint a picture of a young man so clean-cut and earnest that he might have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Every Veterans Day, he'd mail cards to every veteran he knew, his sister said.

"God bless America, and God bless my commander in chief," he told Cavere when he left for Iraq in August.

Pat Welch, a Tuxedo police sergeant who used to play basketball with Cadavero, called him "the nicest, most responsible, most respectful-to-his-parents kid you could ever meet."

He had grit, too.

Standing only 5-foot-7, he busted his butt to make the basketball team at Waldwick High, which won the state sectional tournament that year. After graduating, he had his coach, Paul Puglise, drill him hard so he could play ball at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Md.

He made that team, as well, an accomplishment he took great pride in. By way of thanks, Cadavero returned to his high school to give Puglise a Columbia Union sweatshirt.

Cadavero went straight from college to the Army. He was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and stationed upstate at Fort Drum, near Watertown. When his unit was finally deployed overseas, more than a year later, Cadavero was pleased.

"Kris," he told his sister, "I want to fight so that your kids don't have to."

He felt great progress was being made in Iraq and complained bitterly about the negative media accounts. A crowd of Iraqis cheer a group of American GIs, but the reporters flock to the one person who spits, he told his family.

"When he came back home on leave, he couldn't watch the news," Cavere said.

His last time home was in November. Cadavero brought with him Pfc. Michelle Heiter, a military police officer at his base. They were married in Tuxedo.

Michelle Cadavero, a widow at 19, just returned to her family's home in Mississippi, unable to eat or sleep. The Army will likely discharge her, as it does when one military spouse loses another, Cavere said.

Cavere and her boyfriend, Peter Mucha, came to the Tuxedo police station yesterday to speak with reporters. Her parents, too distraught to talk, visited the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to decide where to bury their son. Funeral arrangements haven't been finalized.

Cavere is left with the words her brother spoke during their last phone conversation, two weeks before his death. It was one final shot of patriotism.

"He said he had no regrets. He would do it all over again, and he loved being an American."

From the Record

Related Link:
Jonathan D. Cadavero dies of injuries from I.E.D.