Operation Dewey Canyon was the last major offensive by the 3rd Marine Division during the Vietnam War. It took place from 22 January through 18 March 1969 and involved a sweep of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN)–dominated A Shau and Song Đa Krông Valleys by the 9th Marine Regiment. Based on intelligence and captured documents, the PAVN unit in contact was believed to be the 9th Regiment.
The 56 days of combat were a tactical success but did not stop the overall flow of North Vietnamese men and matériel into South Vietnam. The 9th Marine Regiment and attached units were awarded the Army Presidential Unit Citation for their actions in Operation Dewey Canyon.
Throughout 1967 and into 1968, the United States Marine Corps units in the northern I Corps region had been tied to their combat bases along the South Vietnam border as part of the McNamara Line. This "line" was a combination of infantry units and ground sensors devised to stop PAVN infiltration into South Vietnam across the border and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. When Maj. Gen. Raymond G. Davis took command of the 3rd Marine Division, he ordered Marine units to move out of their combat bases and engage the enemy. He had noted that the manning of the bases and the defensive posture they developed was contrary to the aggressive style of fighting that Marines favor.:16-8
In early 1969, intelligence reports indicated there had been a large PAVN build-up in the A Shau and Đa Krông Valleys. The A Shau was just 10 km east of the Laotian border and some 34 km long, while the Đa Krông was several kilometers further east and separated by two mountain ranges.:27–8
The operation, named Operation Dawson River South was to comprise 3 distinct phases: first was the southern movement of the 9th Marines and supporting units into mutually supporting firebases near the objective area, second was a period of intensive patrolling around the firebases and finally, the Regiment would attack into the PAVN base areas. The Marine operation would be coordinated with supporting actions by the 101st Airborne Division and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 2nd Regiment, 2nd Division east of the operations area.:29
On 18 January the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines was lifted from Vandegrift Combat Base to reoccuppy Firebase Henderson. On 20 January Company L, 3/9 Marines reoccuppied Firebase Tun Tavern ( ) and on the 21st Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines reoccupied Firebase Shiloh ( ).:30
On 22 January the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines was lifted from Vandegrift to establish two new firebases further south: Dallas( ) and Razor ( ). On 24 January the 9th Marines command post was moved from Vandegrift to Razor.:31
On 25 January 3/9 Marines established Firebase Cunningham 6 km southeast of Razor and over the following four days the 9th Marines command post and five artillery batteries from 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines moved to Cunningham.:31
The Operation was renamed Operation Dewey Canyon and on 24-5 January Companies from 2/9 and 3/9 Marines began patrolling south from Razor and Cunningham discovering the PAVN 88th Field Hospital which had been abandoned the previous day.:33–4
On 31 January after a brief firefight with PAVN forces Company G secured Hill 1175, while Company F established Firebase Erskine (:34). On 1 February Company K established Firebase Lightning which was occupied by the ARVN 1st and 2nd Battalions, 2nd Regiment.
On 2 February Firebase Cunningham was hit by 30-40 rounds of PAVN 122mm artillery fire from Laos resulting in 5 Marines killed.:34
With bad weather limiting patrolling and resupply, the Marine infantry were withdrawn to their bases. On 5 February as Company G withdrew from Hill 1175 they were ambushed resulting in 5 Marines killed and 18 wounded, while only 2 PAVN bodies were found. LCpl. Thomas Noonan, Jr. would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the engagement.:35–6
On 10 February, Company H, 2/9 Marines captured a large cache of ammunition, weapons and equipment while on patrol five kilometers northwest of FSB Cunningham.:89 The haul of ammunition included 363 RPG-2 rounds and 120 rounds of 60mm mortar ammunition.
The third phase commenced on 11 February 1969. 1/9 Marines engaged a PAVN force preparing to attack Firebase Erskine and killed 25 PAVN. Company M repulsed a PAVN platoon killing 18 for the loss of 2 Marines, while Company C killed 24 PAVN for the loss of 2 Marines. On 16 February Company K, 3/9 Marines killed 17 PAVN.:38 On the 17th Company G, 2/9 Marines killed 39 PAVN for the loss of 5 Marines.:39
On the early morning of 17 February PAVN sappers attacked Firebase Cunningham resulting in 4 Marines and 37 PAVN killed.:39
On 18 February Company A, 1/9 Marines encountered a PAVN bunker system which they overran killing 30 PAVN. The following morning Company C continued the attack against nearby PAVN positions killing a further 30 PAVN with total Marine losses of 1 killed. On the afternoon of the 20th Company C encountered another PAVN bunker system killing 71 PAVN and capturing 2 122mm field guns. Company A continued the attack killing a further 17 PAVN, total Marine losses were 6 dead.:40
Also on 18 February Company L, 3/9 Marines discovered a PAVN cemetery containing 185 bodies buried in June 1968.:46
As the Marines approached the Laotian border and in response to the artillery attack on Cunningham, Major General Davis had sent requests up the chain of command to get permission to enter Laos. This led to a redirection of MACV-SOG's Operation Prairie Fire to conduct reconnaissance near Base Area 611 in Laos. On February 20, Lieutenant General Richard G. Stilwell forwarded Davis' request to have a limited raid into Base Area 611 up to COMUSMACV General Abrams for his approval.:40
By 20 February, 2/9 Marines had both Companies E and H on the Laotian border. From their position, Company H could see enemy convoys traveling along Route 922. Company H Commanding Officer David F. Winecoff later reported:
"The company, of course, was talking about let's get down on the road and do some ambushing. I don't think they really thought that they were going to let us go over into Laos ... I knew if the military had their way we'd be over there in Laos and the company was all up for it.... With the Paris Peace Talks going on, I wasn't sure what route was going to be taken.":41
On 21 February, Captain Winecoff received a message from Colonel Barrow, 9th Marines Commanding Officer, to set up an ambush along Route 922. The Captain's men needed rest, and he requested a postponement but was denied by Colonel Barrow. The Captain utilized his 1st and 2nd Platoons, and at 16:10, 1st Platoon moved out and made its way to 2nd Platoon's position. At 18:30, Winecoff briefed his men on the ambush. After dark they moved out towards Route 922, about 900 meters away. By 01:00, Captain Winecoff and Company H were in place and setting up the ambush.:42–3 Within minutes of getting into position they started hearing trucks coming down the road and continued to observe as 40 minutes later, a lone truck and one PAVN soldier also walked through the kill zone. Winecoff had not wanted the ambush sprung on one truck or soldier, realizing that eventually a bigger target would come down the road. At 02:30, the lights of eight trucks appeared, and as three trucks came into the kill zone the column of vehicles stopped. Not wanting to give away the ambush or their position Winecoff, set off the claymores and the ambush. The Marines poured small arms and automatic weapons fire on the three vehicles, the forward observer alerted the artillery, and rounds bracketed the company position.:44
After minutes of fire, Captain Winecoff had his men moved forward, ensuring that everything was destroyed. The company proceeded to move out to the rally point 600 meters away and waited till daylight. Later, it rejoined with 3rd Platoon who had not been involved with the ambush because of the heavy patrols it had been involved with in the previous days. H Company was resupplied and the men rested. They had destroyed three trucks and killed eight PAVN soldiers. Company H did not suffer any casualties.:44
After Action Reports of the patrol were met with positive reviews, General Abrams formally approved the operation. The success of the operation was more valuable than just the destruction of the enemy, because it allowed Colonel Barrow to request that continued operations in Laos be approved. His reasoning for continued operations was the presence of the enemy in the area was a threat to his troops. Barrow noted, "I put a final comment on my message, which said, quote, "Put another way, my forces should not be here if ground interdiction of Route 922 not authorized." The message finally reached General Abrams via General Stilwell, who had adopted the Colonel's recommendation. General Abrams approved further action on 24 February, but restricted discussions of the Laotian operation.:44–5
Also on 21 February Company M, 3/9 Marines discovered a PAVN maintenance facility including a bulldozer and on further searching around Hill 1228 discovered 2 122mm field guns and a large tunnel complex inside the mountain.:46–7
On 22 February Company A, 1/9 Marines overran a PAVN position eight kilometers southeast of FSB Erskine killing 7 PAVN for the loss of 1 Marine. As Company A continued patrolling they encountered and overran an entrenched PAVN Company killing 105 PAVN for the loss of 11 Marines. Captured documents indicated the unit in contact was the 3rd Battalion, 9th NVA Regiment (also known as the K.16 NVA Battalion).:193 The Company A commander 1Lt Wesley L. Fox would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.:44–5–6
Company H was ordered to go down Route 922 on 24 February. Morale was low because the Marines were tired after several days of patrolling, additionally, they did not want to leave the resupplies that included 60 mm mortar ammunition and C-rations.:47 Company H was to move into Laos followed by Companies E and F and push eastward on the road, forcing the PAVN into the 1st and 3rd Battalions. After a six-hour night march, Company H set up a hasty ambush; at 11:00 on 24 February, six PAVN soldiers walked into their kill zone, of which four were killed. On February 25, Company H continued to move eastward again engaging PAVN, resulting in the capture of one 122 mm field gun, two 40mm antiaircraft guns and the killing of eight PAVN soldiers. Company H suffered two dead and seven wounded. Later that day a company patrol was ambushed by an estimated 15 PAVN troops who were dug in fortified bunkers and fighting holes. The patrol was reinforced and was able to fight its way through, capturing a second 122 mm gun and killing two. Casualties were mounting for Company H: three killed and five wounded. Corporal William D. Morgan was one of the men killed in action when he made a daring dash and directed fire away from Private First Class Robinson Santiago and Private Robert Ballou. Robert Ballou was wounded multiple times that day and Robinson Santiago was killed-in-action. Corporal Morgan was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for this action.:47
Company H, flanked by Companies E and F, continued their drive east, which was rapid and did not allow for the Companies to conduct thorough searches. Advancing much slower would have garnered much more equipment. However, 2nd Battalion did capture 20 tons of foodstuffs and ammunition, while killing 48 PAVN soldiers. On 26 February, Company F, 2/9 Marines discovered a large cache nine kilometers south of FSB Erskine which included 198 rounds of 122mm artillery ammunition and 1,500 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition for anti-aircraft guns.:203
On 28 February at 13:00 a squad patrol from Company G, 2/9 Marines came under heavy fire from approximately 25 PAVN. The squad was pinned down and reinforcements were sent to the location (), however as the patrol leader had lost his map it was difficult to locate the patrol or use supporting arms. After some time, patrol was located and an artillery mission was called in which routed PAVN. 3 Marines were killed and 12 wounded, while PAVN losses were estimated to be 12 dead.
The three companies were within 1,000 meters of the South Vietnamese border by 1 March and were flown by helicopter to Vandegrift Combat Base on 3 March, officially ending operations in Laos. 2nd Battalion sustained eight killed and 33 wounded during the operation. For the record, all of the dead were listed as being killed in Quảng Trị Province, South Vietnam and for political reasons no reference was made about being in Laos.:47 On 27 February Company D discovered a large PAVN weapons cache near Hill 1044 that included 629 rifles and over 100 crew-served weapons.:46
With the Marine objectives achieved by early March the operations plan called for the phased withdrawal of the Marines from the operational area, however this was hampered by bad weather. As 3/9 Marines withdrew to Firebase Cunningham on 3 March they were ambushed by a PAVN force and PFC Alfred M. Wilson would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the firefight.:49 The operation concluded at 20:00 on 18 March as the last Marines arrived back at Vandegrift.:50
Marine losses were 130 killed and 932 wounded, in return, the Marines reported 1,617 PAVN killed, the discovery of 500 tons of arms and munitions, and denial of the valley as a PAVN staging area for the duration of the operation.:50
Notable decorations and awards during the operation were:
In 1971, the operation to clear Highway 9 from Đông Hà Combat Base to the Laotian border was named Operation Dewey Canyon II in an attempt to misdirect enemy attention towards the A Shau Valley instead of Tchepone, the actual objective of the combined campaign.
The 9th Marine Regiment was an infantry regiment of the United States Marine Corps. Formed during World War II, it served until 1994, when it was deactivated during the post Cold War drawdown. Battalions of the Ninth Marine Regiment, but not the regiment itself, were reactivated from 2007 to 2014 as part of the Marine Corps' growth during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The battalions have subsequently been deactivated again.A Sầu Valley
The A Shau Valley (Vietnamese: thung lũng A Sầu) is a valley in Vietnam's Thừa Thiên-Huế Province, west of the coastal city of Huế, along the border of Laos. The valley runs north and south for 40 kilometers and is a 1.5- kilometer-wide flat bottomland covered with tall elephant grass, flanked by two densely forested mountain ridges whose summits vary in elevation from 900 to 1,800 meters. A Shau Valley was one of the key entry points into South Vietnam for men and material brought along the Ho Chi Minh trail by the North Vietnamese Army and was the scene of heavy fighting during the Vietnam War. The A Shau Valley is bisected lengthwise by Route 548. The Ho Chi Minh Highway now runs along the valley floor.Battle of A Sau
The Battle of A Shau (Vietnamese: trận A Sầu) was waged in early 1966 during the Vietnam War between the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the forces of the United States and South Vietnam. The battle began on March 9 and lasted until March 10 with the fall of the U.S. Army's Special Forces camp of the same name. The battle was a strategic victory for the PAVN in that they were able to take control of the A Shau Valley and use it as a base area for the rest of the war.Firebase Cunningham
Firebase Cunningham (also known as FSB 2, FSB Cutlass or Hill 672) is a former U.S. Marine Corps firebase southwest of Đông Hà in central Vietnam.Firebase Henderson
Firebase Henderson was a U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army firebase located south of Ca Lu, Quảng Trị Province in central Vietnam. It was approximately 9 km south of Ca Lu Combat Base and 12 km southeast of Vandegrift Combat Base.Firebase Veghel
Firebase Veghel is a former U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) firebase located southwest of Huế in central Vietnam.Khe Sanh Combat Base
Khe Sanh Combat Base was a United States Marine Corps outpost south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) used during the Vietnam War. Military Grid Reference: 48Q XD 841422 (abandoned runway 10/28).Marine Aircraft Group 39
Marine Aircraft Group 39 (MAG-39) is a United States Marine Corps aviation unit based at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California that is currently composed of four AH-1Z "Viper" Cobra and UH-1Y "Venom" Huey light attack squadrons, two MV-22 Osprey squadrons, an aviation logistics squadron, a Headquarters Squadron, and the H-1 Fleet Replacement Squadron. The group falls under the command of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF).
The unit is commanded by a US Marine Corps Colonel, and each subordinate unit is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel. The Group is known as VENOM.Operation Apache Snow
Operation Apache Snow was a joint U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) military operation during the Vietnam War designed to keep pressure on the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) units in the A Sầu Valley and prevent them from mounting any attacks on the neighboring coastal provinces.Operation Lam Son 719
Operation Lam Son 719 or 9th Route - Southern Laos Campaign (Vietnamese: Chiến dịch Lam Sơn 719 or Chiến dịch đường 9 – Nam Lào) was a limited-objective offensive campaign conducted in the southeastern portion of the Kingdom of Laos. The campaign was carried out by the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) between 8 February and 25 March 1971, during the Vietnam War. The United States provided logistical, aerial, and artillery support to the operation, but its ground forces were prohibited by law from entering Laotian territory. The objective of the campaign was the disruption of a possible future offensive by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), whose logistical system within Laos was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Truong Son Road to North Vietnam).
By launching such a spoiling attack against PAVN's long-established logistical system, the American and South Vietnamese high commands hoped to resolve several pressing issues. A quick victory in Laos would bolster the morale and confidence of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), which was already high in the wake of the successful Cambodian Campaign of 1970. It would also serve as proof positive that South Vietnamese forces could defend their nation in the face of the continuing withdrawal of U.S. ground combat forces from the theater. The operation would be, therefore, a test of that policy and ARVN's capability to operate effectively by itself.
Because of the South Vietnamese need for security which precluded thorough planning, an inability by the political and military leaders of the U.S. and South Vietnam to face military realities, and poor execution, Operation Lam Son 719 collapsed when faced by the determined resistance of a skillful foe. The campaign was a disaster for the ARVN, demonstrating deficiencies in ARVN military leaders and that the best units of the ARVN could be defeated by PAVN and destroying the confidence that had been built up over the previous three years.Operation Maine Crag
Operation Maine Crag was a US Marine Corps, United States Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) operation that took place in northwest Quảng Trị Province, lasting from 15 March – 2 May 1969.Raymond G. Davis
Raymond Gilbert "Ray" Davis (January 13, 1915 – September 3, 2003) was a United States Marine Corps four-star-general who had served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Davis was decorated several times, he was awarded the Navy Cross during World War II and the Medal of Honor during the Korean War. While serving as the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, he retired with over 33 years service in the Marine Corps on March 31, 1972.
General Davis had a close association with Marine Corps legend, Chesty Puller, having served with General Puller on Guadalcanal during World War II and in Korea during the Korean War. A middle school was built and named the "General Ray Davis Middle School", in 2006, in Conyers, Georgia near Stockbridge where he had resided.Robert H. Barrow
Robert Hilliard Barrow (February 5, 1922 – October 30, 2008) was a United States Marine Corps four-star general. Barrow was the 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1979 to 1983. He served for 41 years, including overseas command duty in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. General Barrow was awarded the Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in Korean and Vietnam, respectively.The New Soldier
The New Soldier was published as both a hard and soft cover book in October, 1971, by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Principally a photographic essay accompanied by text, the work was edited by David Thorne and George Butler, with a section written by John Kerry. The work includes photographs captured by many photographers across five days in April, 1971.
The New Soldier documents what VVAW called Operation Dewey Canyon III. This pseudo-operation, "a limited incursion into the country of Congress", was basically a series of demonstrations, marches and street theatre designed to protest US involvement in the war in Vietnam. In one activity, Vietnam War combat veterans, wearing uniforms and carrying unloaded weapons, enacted for astonished visitors to Washington, DC, the actions common to descending upon and sweeping a Vietnamese village for enemy combatants. This theatre was performed on Constitution Mall, under heavy police supervision. This was only one of several events participated in by hundreds of Vietnam Veterans and not a few Gold Star Mothers from across the country.
The New Soldier documents two events of emotional significance. In one, war veterans queue up in a long line to return their medals and decorations to the U.S. government. They hurled them upon the steps of Congress. This was a shocking scene on American television.
A second event was a worship service held at the main gate to Arlington National Cemetery. The desire had been to hold the service on the actual hallowed grounds but the Vietnam Veteran demonstrators were locked out of Arlington. Marines guarded the gates with loaded weapons and kept them pointed outward. The worship service had to be conducted with the clergyman's back to those Marines. To some readers, a shortcoming of The New Soldier is that the words spoken by this Vietnam War battlefield chaplain, a United Methodist clergyman, were not included in the volume. That sermonette has not been lost to American history (see link below).
The book contains excerpts of testimony by veterans at the Winter Soldier Investigation on war crimes committed during the Vietnam War and a portion of the Fulbright Hearing testimony given by John Kerry to the Senate committee.
The New Soldier documents a most unusual event in American history: returned veterans of a foreign war appearing en masse in the nation's capital to demand that the war be stopped. Only 5000 copies of the book were printed, consequently, the book is considered a collector's item.VMO-6
Marine Observation Squadron 6 (VMO-6) was an observation squadron of the United States Marine Corps which saw extensive action during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II and the Korean War and Vietnam War. The squadron would become the first Marine Corps helicopter squadron to participate in combat operations when they participated in the Battle of Pusan Perimeter in August 1950. They were deactivated on January 1, 1977.Vandegrift Combat Base
Vandegrift Combat Base (also known as FSB Vandegrift and LZ Stud) is a former U.S. Army and Marine Corps and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) base north of Ca Lu in Quảng Trị Province, Vietnam.Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) is an American tax-exempt non-profit organization and corporation founded in 1967 to oppose the United States policy and participation in the Vietnam War. VVAW says it is a national veterans' organization that campaigns for peace, justice, and the rights of all United States military veterans. It publishes a twice-yearly newsletter, The Veteran; this was earlier published more frequently as 1st Casualty (1971–1972) and then as Winter Soldier (1973–1975).
VVAW identifies as anti-war, although not in the pacifistic sense. Membership has varied greatly, from almost 25,000 veterans during the height of the war to fewer than 2,000 since the late 20th century. The VVAW is widely considered to be among the most influential anti-war organizations of the American Vietnam War era.William D. Morgan
William David Morgan (September 17, 1947–February 25, 1969) was a United States Marine Corporal who posthumously received the Medal of Honor — the United States' highest military decoration — for heroic actions during the Vietnam War. Corporal Morgan was killed in action on February 25, 1969.
Easter Offensive (1972)
Post-Paris Peace Accords (1973–1974)