Vietnam is probably the most debated and controversial war, or should I say, UN police action, in US history. To begin with, the US operated under the United Nations’ authority. Every offensive action taken by the US had to be approved by the UN Security Council. In other words, we had to explain our plans of attack against Vietnamese communist forces and wait for the communist nations on the Security Council to approve them. Is there any wonder why Vietnam is the only war the US didn’t win?
Hundreds of thousands of Americans protested the war. The news was filled with protests and riots over whether or not the US should have been involved in Vietnam to begin with. Although I didn’t protest at the time, I didn’t believe we should be fighting a war against communists when we had to go to communists to get permission to fight them. To add to the problem is that the US had to fight by the rules, but the Vietcong and North Vietnamese communists didn’t, which led to the loss of many US lives.
In the late 1960s, the US was not allowed to cross the border into neighboring countries including Laos. Yet the North Vietnamese were using this against us by traveling south through Laos and then entering South Vietnam in places like the A Shua Valley in the Thua Thien Province in the western part of South Vietnam.
This led to the creation of Operation Apache Snow to cut off the flow of North Vietnamese troops into South Vietnam via Laos. From April 25 to May 9, 1969, US forces busily constructed nearly 30 landing zones in the A Shua Valley.
On May 10, 1969, members of the US 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd brigade of the 101st Airborne Division and South Vietnamese forces strategically located themselves around the base of Hill 937, known to the Vietnamese as Ap Bia Mountain. Atop Hill 937 was the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment.
On this day, May 11, 1969, the battle for Hill 937 began. The first assault was made by a rifle company of the 101st Airborne, but it was driven back by the well-fortified enemy forces.
Some sources say the fighting actually began on May 10, 1969 when members of the 3rd Battalion of the 187th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the Rakkasans, first exchanged gunfire with the North Vietnamese at Ap Bia Mountain. Whether the battle began on the 10th or 11th, it was the beginning of a long and futile battle.
Over the next nine days, US and South Vietnamese forces launched a total of 10 assaults up Hill 937 and each one was eventually driven back by the North Vietnamese.
On May 20, 1969, 101st Airborne Commanding Major General Melvin Zais, launched the 11th assault on Hill 937. Two additional airborne battalions along with a South Vietnamese battalion reinforced the assault. The final assault managed to drive the North Vietnamese back across the border into Laos. Unfortunately, the American troops were unable to pursue them as they were not allowed to cross into Laos.
The fighting on Hill 937 was fierce, resulting in nearly 600 North Vietnamese deaths, 56 US troop killed and 420 wounded. The battle had been so brutal and bloody that the media dubbed it ‘Hamburger Hill’ because it was described as being a real ‘meat grinder.’
The aftermath of Hamburger Hill was another huge blunder for the American and South Vietnamese forces. The initial assault was intended solely to stop the influx of North Vietnamese troops from Laos. Once they had been driven back across the border, US forces abandoned Hill 937, only to have it once again fall under the control of the North Vietnamese a month later. Many believed that the entire Operation Apache Snow was nothing more than a waste of American lives for nothing. Either American forces needed to maintain control of Hill 937 after capturing it from the North Vietnamese or it should never have been launched in the first place.
This was typical for a number of operations and offensives that took place during the Vietnam War, but like I said, when we had to lay out our plans before communists and get permission from the communists to fight the communists, the entire US involvement in Vietnam was doomed for failure from the beginning.
Sources for the above includes: The Vietnam War Era; Operation Apache Snow; Paratroopers battle for “Hamburger Hill”; A Shua Valley; Operation Apache Snow is launched; Rakkasans on Hamburger Hill; Battle of Hamburger Hill Timeline.