Hamburger Hill


Hamburger Hill was the nickname for Dong Ap Bia, a mountain in the A Shau Valley area of South Vietnam, southwest of Hue near the Laotian border. In May of 1969, units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the U.S. 101st Airborne Division fought against soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in Operation Apache Snow. The battle of Dong Ap Bia lasted from May 10 to May 20. It was uncharacteristic of the fighting in the Vietnam War since it involved large troop units on both sides and because the enemy did not use the ploy of maneuver but instead chose to defend his positions on Dong Ap Bia. The result was a very bloody battle with high casualties sustained by all units, thus prompting American troops to call the objective "Hamburger Hill."

While the enemy's tactics were out of the ordinary, the United States routinely emphasized firepower, including heavy artillery, napalm, and B-52 "Arc Light" air strikes. Nonetheless, the enemy's defensive skills against this tactic, together with his persistence, meant that eventually his positions had to be assaulted by infantry, and the result was ferocious combat, often hand to hand. After eleven days, the enemy retreated to sanctuaries in Laos. One week later, Hamburger Hill was abandoned by the triumphant American troops. This was a normal consequence of battles in Vietnam, particularly in areas like the A Shau Valley which were remote and lightly populated. The basic strategy of both sides was attrition, not occupation of captured territory.

The battle of Hamburger Hill was comparable to other engagements during the war. Enemy losses were much higher than American casualties, the enemy resolved the battle by retreating without pursuit by American or ARVN forces, and the battlefield was abandoned shortly after the end of hostilities. However, its timing made it newsworthy, and it attracted significant media attention. In 1969, the new president, Richard Nixon, was implementing Vietnamization, a policy to reduce American ground combat involvement (and casualties) and shift that responsibility to the ARVN. Hamburger Hill, reported considerably by the print and broadcast media, seemed to contradict the intent of Vietnamization. It also came to symbolize the frustration of achieving an overwhelming battlefield success without any indication that the war was being won. To many, this frustration suggested that such battles were detached, mutually exclusive, isolated events which were unrelated to any eventual policy goal. Hamburger Hill became the subject of passionate public debate, focusing on the decision to capture Ap Bia regardless of the casualties and irrespective of its marginal significance in terms of the reasons why the United States was in Vietnam.


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