WASHINGTON – Army Spc. Jonathan D. Cadavero called his sister from Baghdad several weeks ago just to say hello.
“His very last words to me were: ‘I have no regrets. I would do it all over again,’ and ‘I love being an American soldier,'” said Kristia Cavere, of Chevy Chase.
Cadavero, 24, a recent graduate of Takoma Park’s Columbia Union College and a born-and-bred New Yorker, was killed Feb. 27, along with two other soldiers, by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
Cadavero, a member of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, from Fort Drum, N.Y., was assigned to a special unit dedicated to hunting, detonating and disposing of improvised explosive devices in southwest Baghdad.
“You have to have nerves of steel to do that job,” Cadavero’s father, David, said.
The soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device exploded near their vehicle as they traveled in a convoy.
“My son did not die in vain.”
An Army Times article published two days before his son’s death said that over the past six months, the soldiers’ platoon had found and disposed of 172 improvised explosive devices, 62 of which had the potential to explode.
“With IEDs, either we find them or they find us,” the article quoted Spc. Cadavero as saying. “By finding these IEDs, we take away (the enemy’s) primary means of killing soldiers.”
A medic embedded in an engineers’ unit, Cadavero volunteered for his position, his sister said, “because he knew that the best and the brightest did that job.”
Her brother worked with “a big rifle in one hand, and a Band-Aid in the other,” Cavere said, and, she believes, saved many lives through his service.
Cadavero was fulfilling lifelong ambitions while stationed in Iraq, his family has said.
“He knew from a very young age he was going to be a soldier,” his sister said, recalling a 3-year-old Jonathan playing with G.I. Joe action figures and saying to family: “That’s going to be me.”
“How many kids do you know that every Memorial Day would write a card to every single veteran he knew, thanking them for their service?” he said. “I don’t know of many kids who would do that, but he did this every year.”
Son of the superintendent of the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Jonathan Cadavero attended the Waldwick Seventh-day Adventist School in Waldwick, N.J. He later followed his sister to Columbia Union College, a small, private, four-year, Christian college affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Takoma Park, in 2000.
At Columbia Union, Cadavero made the dean’s list every year, and starred on the basketball team, a spokesman said. In December 2004, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a minor in history and a minor in forensic psychology, and membership in two academic honor societies.
Compelled to action after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his family said, Cadavero enlisted in the Army in March 2005.
Following basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, an Army official said, he was assigned to Fort Drum in January 2006.
There, he met Pfc. Michelle Heiter, of Ocean Springs, Miss., who deployed with him to Iraq, and became his wife over the Thanksgiving holidays.
“They kept it quiet,” Cavere said. “They were planning to have a big church wedding when they came home.”
A military policewoman with the 10th Mountain Division in Baghdad, Michelle Cadavero, 19, returned home this week to her family in Mississippi. She was not ready to make a public statement, her parents said, but the newlywed’s MySpace Web page says much about their relationship.
Animated red puffy hearts bubble around a moving montage of the young couple in love. They hug and mug for the camera at the beach, at a toy store, at Disney World, and at the nation’s Capitol.
Next to the flashing photos, a scrolling banner reads in all capitals: “I LOVE MY SOLDIER!!!”
“He was my life and my world,” the young widow e-mailed a friend.
The young soldier “had his life all mapped out with his wife,” David Cadavero said. “He planned to attend graduate school when he returned.”
Cadavero received nine awards and decorations for his service, including the Purple Heart, which was awarded posthumously.
He is survived by his wife, his parents, David and Nadia Cadavero, and his sister.
A memorial service will be held Friday at the First Presbyterian Church in Goshen, N.Y. Burial will follow at the Orange County Veterans Cemetery. Columbia Union College will hold a separate memorial service on campus at a later date.
“This is the saddest chapter of our lives,” his father said. “That is about all I can say without breaking down and hysterically crying.”