Migration NewsFrom the Stars and Stripes archives
A Shau — A thorn in S. Viet's side
February 12, 1971
SAIGON — As men of the 9th Marine Regt., 3rd Marine Div., began mopping up in early March 1969 after a six-week push in the A Shau Valley, a Marine said, "We could never keep him (the enemy) out unless we occupied every piece of ground in these mountains. When he does return, we will just have to go back and knock him out again."
The operation then winding down was Dewey Canyon I, predecessor to Dewey Canyon II, which began in northwestern South Vietnam Jan. 29, Dewey Canyon I, which ran from Jan. 22 to March 18, 1969, was aimed at blunting a suspected North Vietnamese offensive against Hue.
Dewey Canyon II was initiated to rout a buildup of Communist men and supplies that U.S. officials felt threatened the American withdrawal from South Vietnam.
The U.S. Command announced Tuesday it was dropping the name Dewey Canyon II to avoid confusion among newsmen, but operations were continuing to provide security for U.S. forces against enemy buildups in the northern provinces.
Intelligence reports for the 1969 thrust indicated North Vietnam began to stockpile weapons and ammunition in the A Shau Valley around the first of the year.
Maj. Gen. Raymond Davis, then commander of the 3rd Marine Div., said Communists had hacked a road from Highway 922 to within 17 miles of Hue. He said the road, if extended another four miles, would have allowed the North Vietnamese to bring their big 122mm guns within range of Hue.
The 5,000 men of the 9th Regt. began moving into Fire Support Bases Razor and Cunningham at the north end of the valley, just four miles from the Laotian border, Jan. 22.
In the ensuing campaign, the Marines killed 1,355 NVA regulars and unearthed what were then the largest enemy supply caches of the war — 525 tons of weapons and ammunition.
U: S. casualties in Dewey Canyon I were 121 killed and 803 wounded.
Monsoon rains and fog hampered Marines in the early weeks, but Feb. 24 the Leathernecks capped a week of heavy fighting when they took an NVA bunker complex carved in the top of 3,600-foot Tam Bouie, killing 105 Communists.
When the Reds pulled out of their their bunkers, they left behind two Russian 122mm cannon with 21-foot barrels. Marine commanders viewed the abandonment of the big guns as an indication that Communist strength may have been sapped after weeks of jungle fighting.
A little over a week later, senior Marines felt confident enough of the success of Dewey Canyon I to begin lifting thousands of Marines off the fog-shrouded peaks overlooking the valley, leaving only scattered units as a watchdog and mopping-up force.
"You have to go back into areas like this continually," large numbers of troops just to watch over them. It will take the enemy a while to build up in A Shau. Then we'll go in and unbuild it."