It was a turning point in the Vietnam War, when the search for victory became a search for a way out. President Nixon began withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of August.
April 25 – May 9, 1969
Air Force C-130s prepare 30 landing zones in the A Shau Valley.
Operation Apache Snow begins.
65 Huey lift ships transport 1,800 men into the A Shau Valley around Ap Bia: Three Battalions of Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais’ 101st Airborne Division and two Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) battalions.
1-506 and 3-187 secure the Dong Ap Bia landing zones.
The 3-187 advance is halted after its command post is hit by friendly fire that leaves 2 dead and wounds another 25.
3-187 companies re-position for a coordinated attack.
3-187 companies attack, 12 killed, 80 wounded, including 1 killed, 3 wounded by helicopter gunship friendly fire
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B Company gets to within 150 meters of summit when helicopter friendly fire hits command post, killing 1, wounding 1, and is forced to pull back to previous position after 36 more are wounded.
Associated Press reporter Jay Sharbutt arrives at the battle scene and interviews General Zais and troops of the 3-187.
1-506 attacks from the north and takes Hill 916 but is stopped 2,000 meters from Hill 937’s summit.
3-187 awaits arrival of the 1-506, and prepares for next assault on Hill 937.
Two-battalion assault ordered: 3-187 from the north; and 1-506 from the south.
D Company, 3-187, is stopped just short Hill 937 summit, and suffers 50 percent casualties, with every officer killed or wounded.
C Company is stopped by a rainstorm, and is forced to withdraw.
General Zais considers calling off attack because of heavy casualties and heightened media attention, but decides to commit three additional battalions.
By this date, 3-187 A and B companies have suffered 50 percent losses; C and D companies have suffered 80 percent losses.
U.S. newspapers carry Sharbutt’s account of the fight, which he describes as a “meatgrinder.”
Ten artillery battalions hit top of Hill 937 with 20,000 rounds, and 272 airstrikes drop 1 million pounds of bombs and 152,000 pounds of napalm.
3-187, with 2/3 ARVN and a company from 2-506, attack and take the top of Hill 937 by noon, only to find most of the enemy has fled.
Hill 937 is secured at 1700 hours.
Sharbutt’s report of the capture of Hill 937 appears in U.S. newspapers.
On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Edward Kennedy calls the attack on Dong Ap Bia “senseless, and irresponsible…madness.”
3-187 flies to Eagle Beach for R&R.
General Zais defends the attack on Hamburger Hill at a news conference.
President Nixon’s press secretary reiterates that the assault was consistent with administration “tactics and military strategy.”
The New York Times reports that some Nixon administration officials fear such costly battles will undermine public support for the war.
Sen. Kennedy calls the battle nothing but “cruelty and savagery,” and Sen. George McGovern denouncces the “senseless slaughter.”
Maj. Gen. John Wright orders Allied forces to abandon Dong Ap Bia.
President Nixon confers with South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu and announces plans to “Vietnamize” the war and to begin troop withdrawals of 25,000 by July 8, and 35,000 more by early December.
The press reports that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) is again on Dong Ap Bia in force, and U.S. intelligence admits that some 1,000 NVA have reoccupied the hill.
General Wright tells reporters, if it is necessary to take Hamburger Hill again, he is prepared to commit “everything it takes, up to the entire division, to do the job.”
Sen. Young attacks Gens. Wright and Zais for being “so callous over the welfare of GIs who do the fighting and dying….”
President Nixon orders General Creighton Abrams to “conduct war with a minimum of American casualties.”
LIFE magazine runs photos of 242 Americans killed in Vietnam in one week.
Nixon administration issues new mission for MACV: Focus on assisting South Vietnamese armed forces “to take over an increasing share of combat operations.”
For more on Hamburger Hill, see James Willbanks’ article Hell on Hamburger Hill published in the June 2009 Vietnam magazine.
Also see Colonel Harry G. Summers‘ (U.S. Army, ret.) article Battle for Hamburger Hill During Vietnam War originally published in the June 1999 issue of Vietnam magazine.
Samuel Zaffiri’s book Hamburger Hill was a Featured Selection of the Military Book Club when it was published. Click here to learn how he came to write it.
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