Monday, November 7, 2011


The Battle of Hamburger Hill was a battle of the Vietnam War which was fought by the United States and South Vietnam against North Vietnamese forces from May 10–20, 1969. Although the heavily fortified Hill 937 was of little strategic value, U.S. command ordered its capture by a frontal assault, only to abandon it soon after. The debacle caused an outrage both in the American military and public.

The battle was primarily an infantry affair, with the U.S. Airborne troops moving up the highly sloped hill against well entrenched troops. Attacks were repeatedly repelled by weather, friendly fire, accidents, and especially the highly effective Vietnam People's Army (VPA) defenses. Nevertheless the Airborne troops took the hill through direct assault, causing extensive casualties to the VPA forces, and taking such in their own units.



ELEPHANT GRASS by Roger A. Blum,Vietnam Combat Artists Program, CAT I, 1966. Image courtesy of National Museum of the U. S. Army.
The battle took place on Dong Ap Bia (Ap Bia Mountain, VietnameseĐồi A Bia) in the rugged, jungle-shrouded mountains of South Vietnam, 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from the Laotian border.[2] Rising from the floor of the western A Shau Valley, Ap Bia Mountain is a looming, solitary massif, unconnected to the ridges of the surrounding Annamite range. It dominates the northern valley, towering some 937 meters (3,074 ft) above sea level. Snaking down from its highest peak are a series of ridges and fingers, one of the largest extending southeast to a height of 900 meters (3,000 ft), another reaching south to a 916-meter (3,005 ft) peak. The entire mountain is a rugged, uninviting wilderness blanketed in double- and triple-canopy jungle, dense thickets of bamboo, and waist-high elephant grass that in some cases was taller than an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier. Local Montagnard tribesmen called Ap Bia "the mountain of the crouching beast." Official histories of the engagement refer to it as Hill 937 after the elevation displayed on U.S. Army maps, but the American soldiers who fought there dubbed it "Hamburger Hill", suggesting that those who fought on the hill were "chewed up like a hamburger" and in joking reference to the Battle of Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War.

[edit]Order of battle

The battle on Hamburger Hill occurred in May 1969, during Operation Apache Snow, the second part of a three-phased campaign intended to destroy People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) Base Areas in the remote A Shau Valley. This campaign was a series of operations intended to neutralize the A Shau, which had been an infiltration route into South Vietnam prior to 1966, when the North Vietnamese seized the Special Forces camp in the valley during the Battle of A Shau and established a permanent presence. Subsequent U.S. efforts to clear the valley had been consistently unsuccessful. Lieutenant General Richard G. Stilwell, commander of XXIV Corps, amassed the equivalent of two divisions supported by substantial artillery and air support to accomplish the task. The North Vietnamese had moved their 6th, 9th, and 29th Regiments into the area to recover from losses sustained during a previous U.S. Marineoperation (Operation Dewey Canyon) in February.

Assigned to Apache Snow were three airmobile infantry battalions of the 101st Airborne Division, commanded by Major General Melvin Zais. These units of the division's 3rd Brigade (commanded by Colonel Joseph Conmy) were the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry (Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt); 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry (Lt. Col. Robert German); and the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment (Lt. Col. John Bowers). Two battalions of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam's (ARVN) 1st Division (the 2/1st and 4/1st) had been temporarily assigned to the 3rd Brigade in support. Other major units participating in Apache Snow included the 9th Marine Regiment; the 3rd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment and the 3rd ARVN Regiment.


Colonel Conmey characterized the operation as a reconnaissance in force. His plan called for the five battalions to "combat assault" into the valley by helicopter on May 10, 1969, and to search their assigned sectors for PAVN troops and supplies. The overall plan of attack called for the Marines and the 3/5th Cavalry to reconnaissance in force toward the Laotian border while the ARVN units cut the highway through the base of the valley. The 501st and the 506th were to destroy the enemy in their own operating areas and block escape routes into Laos. If a battalion made heavy contact with the North Vietnamese, Conmy would reinforce it by helicopter with one of the other units. In theory, the 101st could reposition its forces quickly enough to keep the PAVN from massing against any one unit, while a U.S. battalion discovering a North Vietnamese unit would fix it in place until a reinforcing battalion could lift in to cut off its retreat and destroy it.
The U.S. and ARVN units participating in Apache Snow knew, based on existing intelligence information and previous experience in the A Shau, that the operation was likely to encounter serious resistance from PAVN. Beyond that, however, they had little intelligence as to the actual strength and dispositions of PAVN units. Masters of camouflage, the North Vietnamese completely concealed their bases from aerial surveillance. When PAVN forces moved, they did so at night along trails under triple-canopy jungle. They effected their command and control mainly by runner and wire, leaving no electronic signature to monitor or trace. U.S. battalion commanders had to generate their own tactical intelligence by combat patrols, capturing equipment, installations, documents, and occasionallyprisoners of war to provide the raw data from which to draw their assessment of the North Vietnamese order of battle and dispositions. It was this time-consuming and hit-or-miss task force which characterized the main efforts of Colonel Honeycutt's 3/187th Infantry during the first four days of the operation.
Initially, the operation went routinely for the 101st Airborne Division. Its units experienced only light contact on the first day, but documents captured by 3/187th indicated that the 29th PAVN Regiment, nicknamed the "Pride of Ho Chi Minh" and a veteran of the 1968 Tet Offensive assault on Hue, was somewhere in the valley. Past experience in many of the larger encounters with PAVN indicated the North Vietnamese would resist violently for a short time and then withdraw before the Americans brought overwhelming firepower to bear against them. Prolonged combat, such as at Dak To and Ia Drang, had been relatively rare. Honeycutt anticipated his battalion had sufficient capability to carry out a reconnaissance on Hill 937 without further reinforcement, although he did request that the brigade reserve, his own Bravo Company, be released to his control.
Honeycutt was a protégé of General William C. Westmoreland, the former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. He had been assigned command of the 3/187th in January and had by replacement of many of its officers given it a personality to match his own aggressiveness. His stated intention was to locate the VPA force in his area of responsibility and engage it before it could escape into Laos.


[edit]Initial sweeps

On May 11, Honeycutt assigned Alpha and Delta Companies to recon the north and northwest fingers of Ap Bia Mountain, while Bravo and Charlie Companies climbed towards the summit by differing routes. Moving out of the helicopter landing zone (LZ) on the north ridge, Bravo Company made heavy contact with the North Vietnamese within 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) of the summit late in the day. Honeycutt quickly directed Cobra helicopter gunships, known as Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA), to support a hasty assault. In the heavy jungle, the Cobras mistook the 3/187th battalion command post on the LZ for a PAVN unit and attacked, killing two and wounding thirty-five, including Honeycutt. This friendly fire incident disrupted battalion command and control and forced 3/187th to withdraw into night defensive positions. The contact, however, confirmed that a substantial North Vietnamese force was present, which Honeycutt estimated as a reinforcedplatoon or company.
For the next two days, Honeycutt maneuvered his companies toward positions for a coordinated battalion attack on May 13 but was frustrated by both difficult topography and North Vietnamese resistance. One unit, Delta Company, descended into a steep muddy ravine on May 12 in a flanking maneuver, suffered numerous losses, and was unable to extricate its casualties for two days. The company eventually returned to the battalion LZ on May 15 without participating in the assault.
Map reconnaissance and helicopter overflights had not indicated that the initial scheme of maneuver was impractical, but the three contacts indicated that the North Vietnamese strength was greater than originally estimated, had likely received reinforcements from Laos, and were entrenched in well-concealed bunkers. The North Vietnamese absorbed and inflicted heavy losses, foreshadowing the heaviest fighting to come.

[edit]Reinforcing the assault on Hill 937

The 1/506th had made no significant contacts in its area of operations, and at midday on May 13, the brigade commander, Colonel Conmy, decided it would move to cut off North Vietnamese reinforcement from Laos and to assist Honeycutt by attacking Hill 937 from the south. Its Bravo company was heli-lifted to Hill 916, but the remainder of the battalion made the movement on foot, from an area 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) from Hill 937, and both Conmy and Honeycutt expected the 1/506th to be ready to provide support no later than the morning of May 15. Although Bravo Company seized Hill 916 on May 15, it was not until May 19 that the battalion as a whole was in position to conduct a final assault, primarily because of nearly impenetrable jungle.
The 3/187 conducted multi-company assaults on May 14 and May 15, incurring heavy casualties, while the 1/506th, led by 1st Lt. Roger Leasure, made probing attacks on the south slopes of the mountain on May 16 and May 17. The difficult terrain and well organized North Vietnamese forces continually disrupted the tempo of U.S. tactical operations on Hills 916, 900, and 937. Steep gradients and dense vegetation provided few natural LZs in the vicinity of the mountain and made helicopter redeployments impractical. The terrain also masked the positions of the 29th PAVN Regiment, making it nearly impossible to suppress anti-aircraft fire, while the jungle covered the movement of North Vietnamese units so completely that it created a nonlinear battlefield. PAVN soldiers, able to maneuver freely around the LZs, shot down or damaged numerous helicopters with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and crew-served weapons. The North Vietnamese also assaulted nearby logistical support LZs and command posts at least four times, forcing deployment of units for security that might otherwise have been employed in assaults. Attacking companies had to provide for 360-degree security as they maneuvered, since the terrain largely prevented them from mutually supporting one another. PAVN platoon- and company-sized elements repeatedly struck maneuvering U.S. forces from the flanks and rear.

[edit]Tactical difficulties

The effectiveness of U.S. maneuver forces was limited by narrow trails that funneled attacking companies into squad or platoon points of attack, where they encountered PAVN platoons and companies with prepared fields of fire. With most small arms engagements thus conducted at close range, U.S. fire support was also severely restricted. Units frequently pulled back and called in artillery fire, close air support, and ARA, but the North Vietnamese bunkers were well-sited and constructed with overhead cover to withstand bombardment. During the course of the battle the foliage was eventually stripped away and the bunkers exposed, but they were so numerous and well constructed that many could not be destroyed by indirect fireNapalmrecoilless rifle fire, and dogged squad and platoon- level actions eventually accounted for the reduction of most fortifications, though at a pace and price thoroughly unanticipated by the American side.
U.S. battle command of small units was essentially decentralized. Though Honeycutt constantly prodded his company commanders to push on, he could do little to coordinate mutual support until the final assaults, when the companies maneuvered in close proximity over the barren mountain top. Fire support for units in contact was also decentralized. Supporting fires, including those controlled by airborne forward air controllers, were often directed at the platoon level. Eventually human error led to five attacks by supporting aircraft on the 3/187th, killing seven and wounding 53. Four of the incidents involved Cobra gunship helicopters, which in one case were more than 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) away from their intended target.

[edit]Hamburger Hill

On May 16, Associated Press correspondent Jay Sharbutt learned of the ongoing battle on Hill 937, traveled to the area and interviewed Zais, in particular asking why infantry rather than firepower was used as the primary offensive tool on Hill 937. More reporters followed to cover the battle, and the term "Hamburger Hill" became widely used.
The U.S. brigade commander ordered a coordinated two-battalion assault for May 18, with 1/506th attacking from the south and 3/187th attacking from the north, trying to keep the 29th PAVN Regiment from concentrating on either battalion. Fighting to within 75 meters (246 ft) of the summit, Delta Company 3/187th nearly carried the hill but experienced severe casualties, including all of its officers. The battle was one of close combat, with the two sides exchanging small arms and grenade fire within 20 meters (66 ft) of one another. From a light observation helicopter, the battalion commander attempted to coordinate the movements of the other companies into a final assault, but an exceptionally intense thunderstorm reduced visibility to zero and ended the fighting. Unable to advance, 3/187 again withdrew down the mountain. The three converging companies of 1/506th struggled to take Hill 900, the southern crest of the mountain, encountering heavy opposition for the first time in the battle.
Because of the heavy casualties already sustained by his units and under pressure from the unwanted attention of the press, Zais seriously considered discontinuing the attack but decided otherwise. Both the corps commander and the MACV commander, General Creighton W. Abrams, publicly supported the decision. Zais decided to commit three fresh battalions to the battle and to have one of them relieve the 3/187th in place. The 3/187th's losses had been severe, with approximately 320 killed and wounded, including more than sixty percent of the 450 experienced troops who had assaulted into the valley. Two of its four company commanders and eight of twelve platoon leaders had become casualties.
The battalion commander of the 2/506th, Lt. Col. Gene Sherron, arrived at Honeycutt's CP on the afternoon of May 18 to coordinate the relief. 3/187th was flying out its latest casualties, and its commander had not yet been informed of the relief. Before any arrangements were made, Zais landed and was confronted by Honeycutt, who argued that his battalion was still combat effective. After a sharp confrontation, Zais relented, although he assigned one of Sherron's companies to Honeycutt as reinforcement for the assault.

[edit]Final assault

Two fresh battalions—the 2/501st Infantry and ARVN 2/3d Infantry—were airlifted into LZs northeast and southeast of the base of the mountain on May 19. Both battalions immediately moved onto the mountain to positions from which they would attack the following morning. Meanwhile the 1/506th for the third consecutive day struggled to secure Hill 900.
The 3rd Brigade launched its four-battalion attack at 10:00 on May 20, including two companies of the 3/187th reinforced by Alpha Company 2/506th. The attack was preceded by two hours of close air support and ninety minutes of artillery prep fires. The battalions attacked simultaneously, and by 12:00 elements of the 3/187th reached the crest, beginning a reduction of bunkers that continued through most of the afternoon. Some PAVN units were able to withdraw into Laos, and Hill 937 was secured by 17:00.

[edit]ARVN participation

According to recent research, particularly the admission by General Creighton W. Abrams in "The Abrams Tapes", the 2/3 ARVN unit[clarification needed]participating in the final assault, positioned on a stretch of the PAVN defense line that was lightly defended, sent a scout party to test the forward enemy lines, earlier than the proposed assault time, to which it was quickly able to discern the minimal enemy strength. The 2/3 ARVN commanding officer decided to exploit the situation, and attack in advance of the other units. The 2/3 ARVN reached the crest of Hamburger Hill around 10:00, ahead of the 3/187th, but was incredibly ordered to withdraw from the summit, under the pretense that allied artillery was to be directed on to the top of the hill. The opportunity to threaten the PAVN lines facing the 3/187th was lost. Shortly after the 2/3 ARVN completed their withdrawal, the 3/187th was able to break through the PAVN defenses and occupy the summit, giving the illusion that American troops had conquered their objective first.[3]


U.S. losses during the ten-day battle reportedly totaled 72 dead and 372 wounded. To take the position, the 101st Airborne Division eventually committed five infantry battalions, about 1,800 men, and ten batteries of artillery. In addition, the U.S. Air Force flew 272 support sorties and expended more than 450 tons of bombs and 69 tons of napalm.
U.S. claimed the 7th and 8th Battalions of the 29th PAVN Regiment suffered 630 dead discovered on and around the battlefield, including many found in makeshift mortuaries within the tunnel complex, and an unknown number of wounded that likely totaled most of the remainder of the two units.


Major General John M. Wright quietly abandoned the hill on June 5. The debate over "Hamburger Hill" reached the United States Congress, with particularly severe criticism of military leadership by Senators Edward KennedyGeorge McGovern, and Stephen M. Young. In its June 27 issue, Life Magazine published the photographs of 241 Americans killed in one week in Vietnam, considered a watershed turning point in the war. While only five of these were casualties on Hamburger Hill, many Americans had the perception that all the dead were victims of the battle.
The controversy of the conduct of the Battle of Hamburger Hill led to a reappraisal of U.S. strategy in South Vietnam. As a direct result, to hold down casualties, General Abrams discontinued a policy of "maximum pressure" against the North Vietnamese to one of "protective reaction" for troops threatened with attack, while President Richard Nixon announced the first troop withdrawals. Although the battle did not have the most U.S. KIAs of any single engagement, nonetheless the battle became a turning point in the war.

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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