Vietnam War Commemoration Commission

Week of May 14

On May 10, 1969, U.S. and allied forces launched Operation APACHE SNOW, an effort to dislodge the North Vietnamese army from the A Sầu Valley. The valley, adjacent to Laos, was a crucial staging point for Communist troops and supplies coming down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail into South Vietnam. It was the setting for some of the most intense combat of the Vietnam War.

Beginning on May 11, elements of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division, Marine Corps 9th Regiment, and a South Vietnamese regiment assaulted Dong Ap Bia (Ap Bia Mountain), a 3,000-foot tall peak covered in thick jungle. Their mission was to destroy multiple battalions of well-entrenched North Vietnamese troops, which occupied the mountain in fortified positions. Over nine days and in nearly a dozen separate assaults against heavy resistance, allied forces fought one of the bloodiest battles of the war. On May 20, they finally reached the summit, compelling the remaining North Vietnamese forces to retreat into Laos. A total of 56 Americans and 5 South Vietnamese troops were killed, according to official figures. Nearly 400 men were wounded, and Dong Ap Bia quickly earned the grisly nickname "Hamburger Hill."

Just days after the battle, U.S. and allied forces left the mountain. Operation APACHE SNOW ended on June 7, after forcing the North Vietnamese army out of its strongholds in the A Sầu Valley. Weeks after U.S. troops left the area, however, the North Vietnamese reoccupied it. To many Americans, the costliness of the battle for Dong Ap Bia (Ap Bia Mountain) and the fact that enemy forces returned to the area within weeks seemed to symbolize flaws in the U.S. war strategy. The resulting controversy provided more fuel for debates over U.S. policies in Southeast Asia. Three days after the end of APACHE SNOW, President Richard M. Nixon publically announced the first major American troop withdrawals, beginning the nation's slow, protracted exit from Vietnam.1

1Graham A. Cosmas, United States Army in Vietnam: MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Withdrawal, 1968-1973 (Wash DC: Center of Military History, 2006), 245-46; Charles R. Smith, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: High Mobility and Standdown, 1969 (Wash DC: Marine Corps History and Museums Division, 1988), 68-70. Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 57, 447-48.

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