May 20

This Day in History

General Interest

May 20, 1969:

Battle for Hamburger Hill ends

After 10 days and 10 bloody assaults, Hill 937 in South Vietnam is finally captured by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. The Americans who fought there cynically dubbed Hill 937 "Hamburger Hill" because the battle and its high casualty rate reminded them of a meat grinder.

Located one mile east of the Laotian border, Hill 937 was ordered taken as part of Operation Apache Snow, a mission intended to limit enemy infiltration from Laos that threatened Hue to the northeast and Danang to the southeast. On May 10, following air and artillery strikes, a U.S.-led infantry force launched its first assault on the North Vietnamese stronghold but suffered a high proportion of casualties and fell back. Ten more infantry assaults came during the next 10 days, but Hill 937's North Vietnamese defenders did not give up their fortified position until May 20. Almost 100 Americans were killed and more than 400 wounded in taking the hill, amounting to a shocking 70 percent casualty rate.

The same day that Hamburger Hill was finally captured, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts called the operation "senseless and irresponsible" and attacked the military tactics of President Richard Nixon's administration. His speech before the Senate was seen as part of a growing public outcry over the U.S. military policy in Vietnam. U.S. military command had ordered Hill 937 taken primarily as a diversionary tactic, and on May 28 it was abandoned. This led to further outrage in America over what seemed a senseless loss of American lives. North Vietnamese forces eventually returned and re-fortified their original position.

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