Operation Apache Snow
A good friend of mine, Bill F., served with D Company, 1/506 PIR, 101st Abn. Div. during the battle. Delta Company didn't actually go up the hill, but instead was used as a blocking force and a recon unit. For the anniversary of the battle, Bill posted this on a VN War site that he and I frequent. This is his perspective of the battle.
Bill was a draftee and went to VN as an infantryman replacement. When he was assigned to the 101st his first thought was "My God! Are they going to make me jump out of an airplane?" He didn't know that it was no longer an all-paratrooper unit. It really had him worried
The definitions of the acronyms in the brackets are mine. I hope they helped.10 May 1969
At 0700 Hrs the first 400 men of the 1/506th and 3/187th of the 3rd Brigade 101st Airborne Division mounted sixty-four Hueys and combat assaulted into the A Shau Valley.
It was the largest airmobile assault of the Vietnam War and that was only the beginning. Also CA-ing were the 2/501st 101st Abn., the 9th Marine Regiment, units of the 1st and 3rd battalions of the 1st ARVN Inf. Div. and also involved was the 3/5th Cavalry and attached units. The lifts flew south across the A Shau and then north along the Laotian border using the walls of the A Shau as a screen to the LZ's. It was a plan that paid off for we didn't lose any choppers, unlike the 1st Air Cavalry did during Operation Delaware. Lessons were well learned from the 1st Cav's operation in April 1968. While the 3/187th and A, B and C companies of 1/506th air assaulted into their LZ's, my company was already on the ground. We had CA'ed the day before and landed right smack in the middle of the valley near the location of the old Special Forces camp at Ta Bat on the Rao Lao River and secured the LZ for the artillery batteries which would support the rest of the 3rd Brigade's troopers and the 326th Combat Engineers of the 101st Abn. to build FSB Currahee.
Everyone knew that the A Shau Valley was one of those places in Vietnam that was owned by the enemy and that became evident from the first day. All the units RIF-ing [Recon In Force] the valley were finding bunkers and having sporadic contact with the 3/187th in contact in the vicinity of Dong Ap Bia. 11 May 1969
Once again signs of the enemy were being found by all the units with the discovery of bunkers, hooches and food stores. C/1/506 came under an hour long mortar attack that wounded 22 men. The 3/187th making their way up Hill 937 encountered stiff resistance and from documents taken from an NVA officer it was estimated that the 29th NVA Regiment was on the Dong Ap Bia mountains with a strength of between twelve and eighteen hundred troops. 12 May 1969
With the exception of B/1/506 engaging three NVA and killing one of them the day was uneventful for the 1/506. The 3/187th was another story. After pounding Hill 937 all day with air strikes and artillery fire, B and D companies 3/187th tried to advance and experienced heavy enemy contact. The NVA was entrenched in fortified bunkers and when the companies of the 3/187th moved into NDP’s [Night Defense Position], all of the NDP’s were probed and at midnight were hit with very accurate mortar fire. 13 May 1969
The units of the 1/506th kept finding bunkers, hootches and stores of food with A/1/506 engaging and killing a trail watcher. On Dong Ap Bia the companys of the 3/187th were in heavy contact. B & C companys moving up a ridge towards the enemy's positions were engaged by snipers, small arms and RPG's. C companys CP area was attacked resulting in two Rakkasans KIA and five wounded. D company had a medevac shot down while extracting wounded killing two men on the ground when it crashed. The 3rd Brigade commander, Col. Conmy ordered the 1/506th to reinforce the 3/187th. 14 May 1969
The 1/506th was still discovering bunkers and started to encounter resistance while on the way to support the 3/187th.
At 0645 the FAC [Forward Air Controller] in the 3/187th CP directed thirteen air strikes using napalm and 1000 lb. bombs on Dong Ap Bia. Arty from the nearby firebases also pounded the mountains. The companys moved out and C company encountered a bunker line and the NVA employed Claymores setup in trees, heavy mortar, RPG and small arms fire. B company was in a ferocious firefight with the NVA who were rolling grenades down the hill from their bunkers. One platoon of A company was hit with friendy fire from Cobras when they went to cover the withdrawal of B & C companys. The companys occupied NDPs and Spooky throughout the night raked the area between the 3/187th positions, west to the Laotian border.15 May 1969
The 1/506’s progress moving to help the 3/187th was being impeded by increasing contact with enemy units offering stiff resistance. Once again the Rakkasans of the 3/187th assault on Hill 937 was turned back although B company was able to overrun the first line of bunkers. When they tried to advance they were met with sniper and heavy machine-gun fire so SFC Louis Garza, who was acting platoon leader, marked the enemy positions with smoke and called for ARA. The gunships fired into the CP killing one and wounding 15. The 3/187th CO called off the attack. The CO of 1/506th reported that they were within 1200 meters of the 3/187th initial LZ.
My company, D/1/506, had been running platoon sized RIF’s out of FSB [Fire Support Base] Currahee daily and were also discovering bunkers. We were given a warning order and put on alert to possibly make a CA from Currahee to also support the 3/187th 16 May 1969
The day began just like the others with air strikes and massive artillery bombardment. Honeycutt's plan was to have his companys supported by a flanking attack by the 1/506th but the Currahees were in trouble. The NVA hit the battalion with heavy fire from hills 900,800 and 916. Not having the help of the 1/506th, Honeycutt called off the assault. LtCol. Honeycutt was frustrated thinking that it was taking the 1/506th to long to get to him and he rightly sensed that the NVA were bringing in reinforcements/replacements from Laos. My company was alerted to make a CA to the border area of Laos to patrol and setup ambushes along the ridgelines that lead to the Dong Ap Bia mountains. The 1st and 3rd platoons made the CA leaving the 2nd and 4th platoons at FSB Currahee for its defense. We made contact soon after leaving our LZ with a small group of NVA. Three of the enemy were killed and the 1st platoon had one WIA. 17 May 1969
The 1/506th, fighting up the mountain crests, still hadn’t arrived in a support position so LtCol. Honeycutt put the day “on hold” to prepare for the assault by re-supplying his men.
The two platoons of D/1/506th, looking for infiltrators, had wandered into Laos. This was discovered when Lt. Cook, 3rd platoon leader, called in our position. He was told, by battalion, to "nose around a bit".18 May 1969
Once again, air and arty pounded the hill but the first CS [tear gas]rounds landed in the middle of A/3/187 and division called off the CS attack. A & D companys moved out and every man wore a flak jacket received in the re-supply. A & D companys assault was halted by the enemy so air strikes using napalm were called and after that arty and gunships. The A & D troopers also fired on the bunkers using everything they had including LAW’s and 90mm recoilless rifles.
A company attacked and overran the first line of bunkers. D company reported that they were within 100 meters from the crest of Hill 937, which would be named "Hamburger Hill" by the 101st troopers. Honeycutt thought things were going well, in spite of the fact that the 1/506th, still in heavy contact on the other hills, couldn’t help in the assault but the NVA halted the advance of both companys and the men were running low on ammo. Air strikes were called for again while all units held in place. C company reinforced D company and attacking came to within 100 meters from the top of the hill. Honeycutt, who was overhead in his CC chopper directing air strikes and arty fire, landed when he thought that they will finally take the hill. At the LZ his men were attacked and Honeycutt shot an NVA soldier.
Then the rain came. It was so bad and was lasting so long the slopes became slick mud and visibility was about twenty meters. Forward movement was impossible so he called the 3rd Brigade CO and after discussing his situation, decided to withdraw. Earlier in the day, Honeycutt requested another company of the 506th from Conmy and it was granted but unknown to Honeycutt General Zais, the 101st Abn. Division commander was hesitant to send one so at 1700 he flew to Honeycutts CP. After a heated exchange with the general, Honeycutt told him that the 3/187th deserves to take the hill and if he didn’t agree with that, to fire him. Gen. Zais agreed to send him another company. At 1830 A/2/506th began to land.
My platoon spotted a large group of NVA near the border. They were moving along the Trung Pham River. We called in arty. When we performed a sweep of the area we found five of the enemy killed and numerous blood trails leading back towards Laos.19 May 1969
At 0630 the fast movers arrived and hit the enemy positions with seven air strikes using bombs, napalm and rockets. For some strange reason, the NVA popped purple smoke. We didn’t use “grape” so the jets had accurately marked targets.
3/187th and A/2/506th moved to what was called “the lower LZ”. 2/3 ARVN moved by chopper from Hue to an LZ 1000 meters south of AP Bia and then climbed northwest to an assault position 500 meters from the top of hill 900. Three companys of 2/501st air assaulted from FSB Airborne to an LZ 800 meters northeast of Ap Bia and humped to 400 meters from the base of hill 937. The 1/506th positioned south of the mountain.
Over a captured NVA radio, Honeycutt received an eerie message. The NVA taunted him with; “Black Jack we are going to kill all your men tomorrow. When you come up the mountain in the morning Black Jack we will be waiting for you. All you men are going to die. Can you hear me Black Jack? , all will die.”
Honeycutt barked back “We’ll see who dies tomorrow, asshole”. 20 May 1969
After two hours of air strikes beginning around dawn and an intense artillery barrage, at 1000 hours the 3/187th and the units of the 506th attacked the hills known as Dong Ap Bai. There are too many details to go into here but in the end Hamburger Hill was taken with the remaining NVA retreating and trying to get to Laos. The 4th platoon CAed from FSB Currahee and joined the company and we were pulled from the border area, and us and B/1/506 setup on the southwestern draw of Dong Ap Bai and caught a large force of NVA in the open fleeing to Laos. We called in air strikes and arty and engaged them. The jets made passes up and down the draw strafing the enemy. I don’t think any of them survived. The rest of the day was spent mopping up. "mopping up" is a term not to be taken lightly. There were many contacts with the fleeing enemy. 21 May 1969
The companies of the 3/187th were extracted and sent to Eagle Beach for a well deserved stand down while the 1/506th, 2/501st and the ARVN units continued looking for the NVA with sporadic contact and destroying any enemy bunkers.
Operation Apache Snow continued until 8 June with little enemy contact.
My company was ambushed twice on 31 May and had five WIA’s. Enemy casualties were unknown. All units continued to find and destroy bunker complexes. The companies of the 1/506th were rotated in and out of Eagle Beach for stand downs during the time period 21 May - 8 June.
On 9 June, Operation Montgomery Rendezvous started.