Dewey Canyon

Semper Fi 001Raymond G. Davis —was a son of Georgia and a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology.  During college, Davis was a member of the Army ROTC program, so after graduating with a degree in chemical engineering in 1938, Davis also received a commission in the US Army as a second lieutenant.  He soon after resigned his army commission to accept an appointment to second lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps.  During World War II and Korea, Ray Davis distinguished himself as a combat commander.  In recognition of his courage under fire, Davis was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star (2), Legion of Merit (2), Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

In May 1968, Major General Ray Davis assumed command of the Third Marine Division (3rdMarDiv) in Vietnam[1].  Davis knew immediately that his assignment would be difficult because all the division’s maneuver units (regiments/battalions) were occupying fixed positions in four areas centered along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)[2].   Charged with defending the Republic of Vietnam along the southern edge of the DMZ, the 3rdMarDiv zone of action extended from Gio Linh and Con Thien (both within 3 miles of the DMZ) to Dong Ha and Cam Lo (altogether forming what was known as Leatherneck Square: Camp Carroll, the Rockpile, and Ca Lu along Route 9).

In particular, the division’s units were assigned as follows:

The 3rd Marine Regiment was headquartered at Camp Kistler (near Cua Viet) and exercised operational control over the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines (1/3), 1st Battalion, 9th Marines (1/9), 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines (3/3), and the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion.

The 9th Marine Regiment was assigned responsibility for the area northwest of Cua Viet with operational authority over the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines (2/26) at Con Thien, as well as responsibility for the security of Gio Linh, Cam Lo, Route 1, Route 9, and Route 561[3].

The 4th Marine Regiment occupied Camp Carroll with its 1st Battalion (1/4) and 2nd Battalion (2/4).  When these two battalions were designated as battalion landing teams[4] and assigned to the Special Landing Force (SLF), 2/9 was assigned responsibility for the security of Camp Carroll, Them Son Lam, and Ca Lu—all of which were centered on Route 9.  2/9 also exercised operational control over 3/1, which had been designated as a BLT in reserve.

The largest of the 3rdMarDiv’s operational areas (the region of Operation Scotland II) encompassed the western one-third of the Quang Tri Province in the I Corps Tactical Zone (also, I CTZ).  Responsibility for operations in this area was assigned to Task Force Hotel, a multi-battalion task organization commanded by the Assistant Division Commander, who at the time was Brigadier General Carl W. Hoffman.  Task Force Hotel included 1st Battalion, 1st Marines (1/1), 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines (2/1), and 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines (2/3), units that would be responsible for defending the Khe Sanh combat base and outposts located on Hill 881, Hill 861, and Hill 950.

General Davis’ dilemma was that the division’s tactical effectiveness was limited by assigning maneuver units to fixed positions, particularly in such a large area where there were huge numbers of enemy troops operating with impunity.  Moreover, fixed defensive positions required a heavier troop footprint.  With troops strung out over a wide area, they were susceptible to being surrounded and overrun.  The fact was that large areas of Quang Tri Province remained in enemy hands, even though the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had been soundly defeated at Khe Sanh and Dong Ha.  The problem was that the 3rdMarDiv had made no attempts to penetrate the enemy’s base areas and had made no effort to disrupt his supply and infiltration routes.  General Davis was determined to change this “unsatisfactory” situation.

The 3rdMarDiv was buttressed by two US Army infantry divisions in the I CTZ; General Davis intended to rely on these assets to take the war to the enemy.  After reducing the number of static positions in I CTZ, Davis placed his division into a mobile posture, not unlike the Army’s air cavalry, which Davis admired.  He believed that the way to get things done was to “go mobile,” find the enemy and destroy him on Davis’ own terms.  Airmobile assault forces, combined with the Marine Corps’ amphibious capability, would give the 3rdMarDiv the upper hand in dealing with NVA forces.

Additional helicopter support came to the 3rdMarDiv with the arrival of new CH-46 aircraft, the creation of Provisional Marine Aircraft Group 39[5], and Davis’ good relations with Army aviation commanders in the I CTZ.  Airpower, as it turned out, would become critical to USMC operations in I CTZ.  General Davis began moving his regiments out of static positions and reconstituting unit integrity[6].  Infantry battalions were organized to allow for internal administration/logistics and regimental commanders assumed tactical authority over their organic battalions.  The result of General Davis’ realignments was greater unit cohesion, esprit de corps, willing cooperation, and greater tactical awareness among regimental and battalion commanders and their respective staffs.

Corps Zones RVNMeanwhile, at that time, there were 36 enemy infantry battalions and six combat support battalions operating within the I CTZ —somewhere around 23,000 NVA troops.  Their numbers were large, but they remained unusually quiet, which suggested to General Davis that something was afoot.  This was true because, in the western region, two NVA regiments were massing to assault allied installations and refugee settlement centers, and seizure of Route 9.  In the central region of I CTZ, the NVA 812th Regiment, 808th, and 818th separate battalions were poised to attack Quang Tri City and surrounding allied bases.  Within a short time, the NVA 304th Division was joined by the 88th and 102nd regiments of the 308th Division, sent to I CTZ from Hanoi.  The NVA’s intent was to renew attacks against Khe Sanh, Route 9, and all locations from Ca Lu to the Laotian border.

General Davis assigned primary responsibility for offensive operations to Brigadier General Hoffman’s task force.  Hoffman prepared operational plans for a series of heliborne assaults to the south and west of Route 9.  To ensure that his Marines remained within the umbrella of supporting artillery, Hoffman’s plans included moving artillery batteries with infantry battalions.  For this, he would need helicopters to insert combat engineers and artillery to prepare temporary advanced firebases.  Helicopters would also be needed to maneuver ground forces, resupply them, and if necessary, extract them.  By mid-June 1968, Hoffman’s scheme resulted in 650 enemies KIA and four of the six battalions allocated to the NVA 308th Division seriously mauled.  Enemy units that survived the Marine onslaught did so by withdrawing into Laos, where the Americans could not pursue them.

General Davis’ strategy stymied the communists because they were being outmaneuvered by air assault units.  The NVA resolved to avoid 3rdMarDiv units, but Marines and US infantry from the 8th and 9th Cavalry regiments weren’t having any of that.  Daily sweeps and ambushes denied the enemy use of their well-worn networks of river crossings, trail ways, and village complexes known to harbor communist sympathizers.  As a result of increased allied activities, the NVA began to rely more on its artillery, and less on its infantry.  Davis effectively signaled to the NVA that there was a new sheriff in town.

In January 1969, Colonel Robert H. Barrow[7] commanded the 9th Marine Regiment —the regiment most easily deployed to meet any contingency.  Intelligence reports indicated a large NVA buildup in the A Shau and Da Krong Valleys.  The A Shau Valley was six miles east of the Laotian border; it extended some 22 miles north to south.  The Da Krong Valley was several miles further east, separated by two mountain ranges.

The 3rdMarDiv authored Operation Dawson River South to be executed in three phases.  First, the southern movement of the 9th Marines into, and the creation of mutually supporting firebases near the objective area.  Second, a period of intensive patrolling in areas surrounding the firebases.  Third, an assault into areas of NVA support bases.  The 9th Marines would work alongside elements of the US 101st Airborne Division and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 2nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd ARVN Division.  The objective, according to General Davis, was to disrupt NVA logistics along the Laotian border.

3/9 was airlifted from Vandergrift Combat Base to Firebase Henderson on 18 January 1969.  Two days later, Lima Company 3/9 occupied Firebase Tun Tavern.  Alpha Company 1/9 occupied Firebase Shiloh on 21 January.  2/9 established two new firebases, designated Dallas and Razor, on 22 January.  Colonel Barrow’s headquarters was located at Razor.  3/9 established Firebase Cunningham 3 miles southeast of Razor.  Supporting the 9th Marines were five artillery batteries of the 12th Marines.

Dewey Canyon Tiger Mountain3rdMarDiv changed the operation designation from Dawson River South to Dewey Canyon on 24 January.  Rifle companies from 2/9 and 3/9 began aggressive patrolling almost immediately.  Marines soon discovered the NVA 88th Field Hospital, which the communists had wisely abandoned the previous day.  On 31 January, after an arduous climb to around 4,000 feet, Golf Company 2/9 secured Hill 1175 (also known as the Co Ka Leuye Ridge), as Fox Company established a new firebase, designated Erskine.  Similarly, Kilo Company 3/9 established a new firebase named Lightening.  In doing so, the Marines pushed elements of the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 2nd NVA regiment from the mountain.

At the end of January, fortunes changed for the Marines of the 9th regiment.  Monsoon weather fronts settled over the I CTZ —a serious situation for combat operations.  Low cloud ceilings produced zero visibility on the ground and in the air.  These were limiting factors that caused Colonel Barrow to withdraw his battalions back to where they could be supported by artillery and air cover.

On 2 February, five Marines were killed when NVA artillery slammed into Firebase Cunningham.  On 5 February, Captain Daniel A. Hitzelberger, commanding Golf Company, began to withdraw his Marines from Hill 1175.   As the Marines were making their way down the mountain, the second and third platoons were ambushed by an undetermined size NVA unit, pinning the Marines down with intense automatic weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades.  Hitzelberger deployed his first platoon against the NVA in a flanking maneuver that eventually freed up the third platoon and forced the enemy to withdraw.  The company lost five Marines killed in action, with 18 more wounded.  During this engagement, Lance Corporal Thomas Noonan, Jr., risked his own life to drag a wounded Marine to safety.  Noonan’s actions inspired his fellow Marines to charge enemy positions and reach three additional wounded men who had been cut off by the heavy volume of fire.  Noonan, killed in action, was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

GRP1968010W00018-26Golf Company’s withdrawal from Hill 1175 was more difficult than their ascension a few days earlier.  Marines carrying the wounded on stretchers were required to negotiate steep and slippery slopes.  Their efforts often required up to six to ten men to carry a stretcher.  At some locations, it took the Marines nearly 30 minutes to negotiate a rocky outcrop.  Once Golf Company reached the bottom of the rocky cliff, they were met by a relief platoon from Echo Company, which brought them additional medical supplies and food rations.  It took Golf Company a day and a half to reach an area from which the dead and wounded could be airlifted to Firebase Vandegrift.  It took the company another two days to reach Landing Zone Dallas, west of Firebase Cunningham.

Poor weather sidetracked 9th Marines operations for ten days, which delayed the arrival of 1/9 and gave enemy forces additional time to prepare or strengthen their positions around NVA Base Area 611.  Finally, on 10 February, elements of 1/9 began moving forward from Vandegrift and Shiloh to Firebase Erskine.  Fox Battery, 12th Marines was airlifted from Razor to Erskine.  Also, on 10 February, while making a routine security sweep, Hotel Company 2/9 stumbled on a large cache of enemy munitions five clicks northwest of Firebase Cunningham.

On the morning of 11 February, 3/9 forded the Da Krong River with 1/9 and 2/9 crossing the next day.  Each battalion was assigned an operating sector of about three miles wide by five miles long.  In the eastern sector, on the edge of the A Shau Valley, 3/9 was ordered to pursue a track along two ridgelines 2,000 meters apart.  One company would seize Tiger Mountain (Hill 1228); two companies would seize the town of Tam Boi.

A Shau Valley 001In the center section, 1/9 and 2/9 were ordered to advance toward the Laotian border: 1/9 between two parallel ridgelines, and 2/9 along a similar track further west.  Weather conditions produced a foggy, cold, and wet operational environment; thick vegetation further limited visibility.  To maintain increased security, Colonel Barrow directed his battalion commanders to proceed with two companies in the vanguard and two companies in trace.

It wasn’t long after crossing the river that the Marines encountered stiff enemy resistance.  On the eastern flank, Mike Company (M 3/9) endured an NVA mortar barrage and the assault of a platoon.  Two Marines were killed in the attack, but the Marines killed 18 of the enemy.  Similarly, companies of 1/9 encountered a large enemy force preparing to attack Firebase Erskine.  Supported by artillery, the battalion forced an NVA withdrawal, killing 37 enemies.  Charlie 1/9 engaged a reinforced NVA platoon, killing 24 enemies losing two of their own.

On 16 February, Kilo Company 3/9 engaged the NVA and killed 17 with the loss of 5 Marines.  Then, early on the morning of 17 February, NVA sappers attacked Firebase Cunningham killing four Marines but lost 37 dead in the process.  On 18 February, a combat patrol from Alpha Company 1/9 discovered and assaulted an NVA bunker system, killing 30 communists.  On the same day, Lima Company 3/9 discovered an NVA cemetery containing 185 enemy graves which intelligence officers concluded were the remains of enemy killed in June 1968.

Firebase Cunningham
Firebase Cunningham

The next day, Charlie Company continued its advance, killing an additional 30 NVA.  One Marine was killed in action during these two engagements.  On 20 February, Charlie 1/9 discovered and attacked another NVA bunker.  In this engagement, Marines killed 71 communists and captured two 122-mm field guns.  Alpha Company continued the attack and killed an additional 17 enemy.  Total Marine losses for the day were six killed in action.

As the 9th Marines approached the Laotian border, and in responding to an earlier artillery attack on Firebase Cunningham, General Davis requested permission to send his Marines across the border into Laos.  The MACV Special Operations Group (MACSOG) was ordered to conduct a reconnaissance near NVA Base Area 611 inside Laos.  On 20 February, Lieutenant General Richard G. Stilwell, U. S. Army, serving as Deputy Commanding General of the III Marine Amphibious Force, forwarded Davis’ request for a limited raid to the MACV commander, General Creighton W. Abrams, U. S. Army, for approval.  Company E and Company H 2/9 were both poised on the Laotian border for an assault on Base Area 611.  From their positions, these Marines could observe enemy convoys traveling along Route 922.  The Marines were eager to “get some,” but with the Paris Peace Talks underway, no one was willing to bet that Abrams would give the green light.

MAP A Shau Valley 001On 21 February, Colonel Barrow ordered Company H to set up an ambush along Route 922.  The company commander, Captain David F. Winecoff directed his first and second platoon commanders to coordinate and implement the trap.  After their briefing, the Marines moved under cover of darkness some 900 meters toward Route 922, reaching their objective at around 0130 and began setting up their ambush site.  Within minutes, the Marines heard a vehicle approaching along Route 922 and all hands went to stealth mode.  It was a solitary vehicle, prompting Captain Winecoff to wait for a more lucrative target.  At around 0230, the lights of eight trucks appeared on Route 922.  As these vehicles entered the kill zone, they unexpectedly halted in the column.  Winecoff ordered his Marines to set off the claymore mines installed along the highway, his signal for the Marines to open fire.  As the Marines cut loose with small arms fire, the forward observer called for artillery support and the convoy was destroyed.  After daylight, Winecoff employed a patrol to ascertain the damage to NVA trucks and, satisfied that the destruction was complete, the Marines withdrew to their rally point 600 meters away.  Once his Marines had been resupplied and rested, Winecoff led them further along toward the border of South Vietnam[8].

On the same day, Company M 3/9 located an NVA maintenance facility that included a bulldozer.  The Marines also seized two 122-mm field guns and a large tunnel complex inside Hill 1228 which was also known as Tiger Mountain[9].

On 22 February, Company A 1/9 overran an NVA position four miles southeast of Firebase Erskine.  Seven NVA were killed with the loss of one Marine.  As the company continued its operation, the Marines encountered and overran an entrenched NVA company-size unit of the 3rd Battalion, 9th NVA Regiment.  The Company A commander was First Lieutenant Wesley L. Fox[10]  Just as Fox’s Marines were preparing their assault of the NVA force, the enemy launched an attack against the Marines.  Fox and several members of his command group were immediately wounded. Ignoring his wounds, Fox continued to direct the actions of his platoons in repelling the NVA.  Then, advancing through withering enemy fire, Fox personally neutralized one enemy position and, with a calm demeanor, directed his company into an assault of the enemy’s positions.  Continuing to ignore his wound and intense enemy fire, Fox called for close air support while directing the movements of his rifle platoons.  Within these few minutes, the company executive officer (second in command) was killed.  Having assaulted through the enemy positions, Lieutenant Fox quickly reorganized his company for another assault, which he personally led, eventually forcing the NVA to retreat.  Wounded again during this final assault, Fox refused medical attention while he established a hasty defense for his company, supervised treatment for the wounded, and called for aeromedical evacuation.

On 24 February, Hotel 2/9 was ordered to lead the battalion’s movement into Laos along Route 922; they would be followed in trace by Echo and Fox companies, pushing eastward along the highway.  The plan intended to force an NVA withdrawal into positions held by 1/9 and 3/9.  After six hours of night advance, Marines from Company H set up a hasty ambush site.  At 2300, six NVA walked into the kill zone, of which four were killed.  The next morning, Hotel Company continued its advance, again engaging NVA forces, capturing a 122-mm field gun, and two 40-mm antiaircraft guns.  NVA KIA was seven; Marine casualties were two dead and seven wounded.

Later that day, an advance element of Company H walked into an NVA ambush.  The patrol, quickly reinforced, fought through the ambuscade and captured another 122-mm gun and killing two additional enemies.  By this time, however, Marine casualties were mounting.  Three additional Marines lost their lives, five more seriously wounded.  One of the Marines killed was Corporal William D. Morgan, who lost his life while making a daring attempt to draw enemy fire away from wounded Privates Robinson Santiago and Robert Ballou.  Santiago later died from his wounds; Morgan was later awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life for those of his two men.  2/9 continued its drive eastward with Company E, F, and H (more or less) online.  Owing to the battalion commander’s insistence on a rapid rate of march, the companies had limited time for thorough searches.

On 26 February, Fox Company discovered a large cache of ammunition approximately five miles south of Firebase Erskine.  The find included 198 rounds of 122-mm ammunition and 1,500 rounds of 12.7-mm anti-aircraft munitions.  Two days later, one of Golf Company’s patrols came under heavy enemy fire from about 25 NVA troops.  The company commander rushed reinforcements forward, but locating the patrol was difficult because the patrol leader had wandered off the patrol route and, having lost his map, could not provide his exact location.  In time, the Gulf Company Marines located and recovered their lost patrol.  Eventually, an artillery mission silenced the enemy.  In this unfortunate incident, Golf Company lost three Marines KIA with an additional 12 Marines wounded.

On 27 February, Delta Company 1/9 uncovered a large cache of enemy munitions near Hill 1044, including 629 rifles and more than 100 crew-serve weapons.

On 1 March, while 2nd Battalion 9th Marines was operating within 1,000 meters of the South Vietnamese/Laotian border, Colonel Barrow advised the battalion commander that Operation Dewey Canyon was terminated.  Awaiting helicopter lift, which was delayed by poor weather, a patrol from Company E discovered five tons of enemy food stores, which they promptly destroyed.  Eventually, the battalion was airlifted to Firebase Vandergrift, which effectively ended its participation in Dewey Canyon.  In total, the battalion suffered 8 KIA, 33 WIA.  For political reasons, Quang Tri Province was listed as the place of death for Marines killed in action during Dewey Canyon.  No official record of 9th Marines operations in Laos was available for many years.

Colonel Barrow, having achieved his operational objectives, ordered his battalions back to their respective firebase locations.  NVA forces ambushed 3/9 during its withdrawal to Firebase Cunningham.  In this engagement, Private First Class Alfred M. Wilson (Abilene, Texas) gave up his life to save his fellow Marines by throwing himself on an enemy grenade.  He was later awarded the Medal of Honor for this selfless sacrifice.

The 9th Marines also extracted soldiers of the Special Operations Group from Laos and despite official closure of Dewey Canyon, combat operations continued through March 18th when 3/9 relinquished its control of Tam Boi.

A Shau On Patrol 001In the long history of the Viet Nam War, Dewey Canyon stands out as one of the more successful operations, but its cost was high.  During Operation Dewey Canyon, the 9th Marines suffered 130 KIA and 932 WIA.  The operation resulted in 1,617 enemies KIA, the discovery and destruction of 500 tons of arms and ammunition, including 16 artillery pieces, 73 anti-aircraft guns, and denial of the A Shau Valley as an NVA staging area, although the disruption to the enemy’s use of Base Area 611 was only temporary.  Units of the 101st Airborne Division and ARVN units from the 1st Infantry Division would conduct another assault on Base Area 611 within a few months (Operation Apache Snow), and Operation Dewey Canyon II/Lam Son 719 was carried out by ARVN forces (supported by the United States) between 8 February—25 March 1971.

Praise for the combat performance of the 9th Marine Regiment was quick in coming. General Stilwell declared: “Dewey Canyon deserves some space in American military history by sole reason of audacity, guts, and magnificent inter-service team play.  A Marine regiment of extraordinary cohesion, skill in mountain warfare, and plain heart made Dewey Canyon a resounding success. As an independent regimental operation, projected 50 kilometers airline from the nearest base and sustained in combat for seven weeks, it may be unparalleled.  Without question, the 9th Marines’ performance represents the very essence of professionalism.”  In recognition of its accomplishments during Operation Dewey Canyon, the 9th Marine Regiment was awarded the Army Presidential Unit Citation.

Several years later, while serving as Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, Robert H. Barrow hosted a Dewey Canyon reunion.  He recalled to his Marines that weather influenced the operation from its very start and continued throughout the seven-week period.  It was a team effort and the support the 9th Marines received from air and artillery units was “magnificent.”  He also said, “It appears that the enemy had deceived himself into believing that U.S. forces would not be so bold as to enter that remote area of Dewey Canyon.  We didn’t deceive him, he deceived himself, as his actions revealed … what we did was a complete surprise to the enemy, a fact borne out by the enormous quantities of ammunition, weapons, and supplies captured or destroyed.”

When the US news media began picking Operation Dewey Canyon apart, then-Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird said, “I would not confirm that they were there now but I would certainly say that there have been operations in which it has been necessary in order to protect American fighting forces that —that border being a very indefinite border— it may have been transgressed by American forces in carrying out this responsibility.” Subsequently, US Ambassador to Laos William H. Sullivan offered an apology to the Laotian prime minister for the 9th Marines invasion of this supposedly neutral country.  Responding to questions during congressional hearings in 1973, JCS Chairman Admiral Thomas H. Moorer said, “This was the first and only time where the United States ground combat forces went into Laos.”

Sources:

  1. Smith, C. S. Marines in Vietnam: High Mobility and Standdown.  History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, Government Printing Office, 1988.
  2. Lipsman, S. and Edward Doyle. Fighting for Time: The Vietnam Experience.  Boston Publishing, 1984
  3. Hastings, M. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-75.  Collins Publishing, 2019.
  4. Karnow, S. Vietnam: A History.  Penguin Books, 1983.
  5. FitzGerald, F. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans.  Back Bay Books, 1972.
  6. Fall, B. B. Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina.  Stackpole Books, 1994.
  7. Nolan, K. W. Into Laos: The Story of Dewey Canyon II and Lam Son 719.  Presidio Press, 1986.

Endnotes:

[1] General Davis was sent to Vietnam as a replacement for Major General Bruno Hochmuth, after Hochmuth was killed in a helicopter accident on 14 November 1967.  Brigadier General Louis Metzger, the Assistant Division Commander, assumed temporary command of the 3rdMarDiv until Davis arrived in-country to assume command.  This was not General Davis’ first Vietnam tour, however.  Following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964, the Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) activated the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9thMAB).  The 3rdMarDiv Assistant Division Commander at the time was (then) Brigadier General Ray Davis, who was appointed to command 9thMAB.  The brigade was formed around the 9th Marine Regiment and three BLTs.  One of these BLTs was stationed on Okinawa, another placed in the Philippines, and a third assigned to serve as the Special Landing Force of the US Seventh Fleet.

[2] The DMZ was an area that separated north and south Viet Nam that ran east to west near the center of present-day Vietnam (spanning more than 60 miles) and around 3 miles in distance north to south.

[3] The 26th Marine Regiment with its 1st and 3rd battalions had been detached from the 3rdMarDiv and temporarily assigned to the 1stMarDiv at Da Nang to participate in Operation Mameluke Thrust.

[4] A battalion landing team (BLT) is a Marine infantry battalion reinforced by combat support (tanks, aviation) and combat service support (logistics) units necessary to sustain the landing team after an amphibious assault.  A BLT would normally be assigned to a Navy Amphibious Ready Group for the purpose of conducting amphibious landings in support of the Amphibious Assault Group’s mission.

[5] Brigadier General Homer S. Hill, the Assistant Wing Commander of the First Marine Aircraft Wing (1stMAW) was temporarily assigned to the 3rdMarDiv to help coordinate increased airlift capability.

[6] Before General Davis, battalions rotated among the division’s regiments.  In early June 1968, the 4th Marines controlled one battalion of the 1st Marines, two battalions of the 9th Marines, and only one of its own organic battalions.  Under such circumstances, there was no unit integrity, no pride in the regiment, and a condition where every battalion commander was a stranger to the regimental commander.

[7] Later served as the 27th Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps (1979-1983).  General Barrow passed away in 2008, aged 86 years, at St. Francisville, Louisiana.

[8] Hotel Company’s ambush didn’t result in massive damage to the enemy, but it opened the door for Colonel Barrow to request continued operations inside Laos.  Politics aside, it made perfect sense for the Marine commander to pursue the enemy in Laos.  In doing so, Barrow reduced the threat of enemy assault against his Marines.  General Abrams approved further raids but restricted all communications about operations inside Laos.

[9] See also: A Clash of Prey.

[10] As a result of this action, Wesley Fox (now deceased) was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of his courage, inspirational leadership, and unwavering support of his Marines in the face of grave personal danger.  Fox retired as a colonel with 43 years of active service in 1993.  Throughout his service, in addition to the Medal of Honor, he was awarded the Legion of Merit (2), Bronze Star with combat V, four Purple Heart medals, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal (2) with combat V, and five combat action ribbons.

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Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.

5 thoughts on “Dewey Canyon”

  1. Gee, Moorer probably didn’t know of the Recon and Special Forces patrols working in Laos and air interdiction and patrol as well as arc light strikes an TPQ missions conducted routinely.

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    1. The US military thoroughly defeated the NVA effort in South Vietnam; we won every battle, and some of these were important indicators to the North Vietnamese: Tet 1968, Khe Sanh, the Hill Fights, and General Davis’ gutsy offensive into Laos. We have to remember, too, that Laos was only a “problem” because John Kennedy made it one when he wrangled an agreement from the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao to regard Laos as a neutral country … an agreement that North Vietnam and their Laotian allies promptly ignored.

      The North Vietnamese realized that their only hope for victory in this contest was to win it on our home front and in the halls of the US Congress.

      According to North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, “[The antiwar movement] was essential to our strategy. Support for the war from our rear echelon was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda, and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us.”

      The North Vietnamese did not win for themselves the Vietnam War; the American people did that for them and the Democrats in Congress (low creatures that they are) somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of overwhelming victory.

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  2. Both personal experience and decades of reading completely support your conclusion. While many mistakes were made (as they are in any war) the U.S. had won the war in the field by the early 1970s. Lefties in our own country cared naught for the Vietnamese people nor our troops.

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    1. We must learn to circumscribe our passions in the process of deciding where, when, and against whom we wage war. But once that decision is made, then we ought to go into it with such lethality and decisiveness, with such destruction, that no sane person will ever again challenge our nation or its resolve. This is not only how we save lives now; it is also how we save lives in the future. War is not nation-building or winning hearts and minds. That’s what urban engineers and missionaries are for. War is killing everyone we meet on the field of battle. God will sort them out.

      If we send our young men and women into harm’s way, then the folks back home should contribute something, as well. It would be nice if they could contribute their support for our front-line troops, but if not that, then maybe a war tax on gasoline at the pump … some sacrifice that makes sure everyone knows that all of us are “in it” for the duration.

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