Information on the Battle of Hamburger Hill during The Vietnam War, also known as Hill 937. The battle, which was fought on May 10-20, 1969 was a direct assault against a heavily defended and strategically insignificant hill, resulted in over 400 U.S. casualties and caused an outrage back home.
‘Don’t mean nothin’. That was the refrain of the powerful 1987 movie about the battle for Hamburger Hill, more correctly called Ap Bia Mountain or Hill 937. Many veterans of that May 1969 fight would no doubt agree, since the hill was abandoned to the enemy soon after it was taken. But the truth is that it was one of the most significant battles of the war, for it spelled the end of major American ground combat operations in Vietnam.
The Hamburger Hill battle had run afoul of a fundamental war-fighting equation. Master philosopher of war Karl von Clausewitz emphasized almost a century and a half earlier that because war is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made for it both in magnitude and also in duration. He went on to say, Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced. And that’s exactly what happened. The expenditure of effort at Hamburger Hill exceeded the value the American people attached to the war in Vietnam. The public had turned against the war a year and a half earlier, and it was their intense reaction to the cost of that battle in American lives, inflamed by sensationalist media reporting, that forced the Nixon administration to order the end of major tactical ground operations.
This was not the first time the American public had stopped supporting a war. Contrary to widespread belief, Vietnam is not the most unpopular war in American history. The Mexican War in 1848 was far more unpopular, as was the 195053 war in Korea. The majority of Americans supported the war in Vietnam from the landing of the Marines in Da Nang in March 1965 (64 percent supporting, 21 percent opposed after the first U.S. combat engagements) until October 1967, when for the first time a plurality (46 percent opposed, 44 percent supporting) turned against the war. Those 30 months equaled the period of time the American people supported the ground war in Europe in World War II, from the landing of U.S. forces in North Africa in November 1942 until the end of the war in May 1945. Public opinion had turned–not on ideological grounds, as the anti-war movement would claim, but for pragmatic reasons. Either win the damn thing or get the hell out! was the prevalent sentiment, and when the Johnson administration seemed unable to do either, the American people’s patience ran out.
American public opinion turned against the war in Korea after only five months, percentages of those in favor falling precipitously after Chinese intervention in the war in November 1950. The war became stalemated after the U.S. Eighth Army’s defeat of the 230,000-man Chinese Spring Offensive in April 1951 (as it did in Vietnam with the defeat of the enemy’s 1968 Tet Offensive), degenerating into a series of bloody outpost skirmishes.
The last of those skirmishes was the battle for Pork Chop Hill between July 6 and 10, 1953. Officially Hill 255 (from its elevation in yards), it was dubbed Pork Chop Hill because of its geographic shape. One of a series of outposted hills along the Iron Triangle in the western sector of the line of contact, it had long been contested by the enemy. Earlier, in November 1952, the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division’s Thailand Battalion had come under heavy Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) attack there, but the assault was beaten back.
On March 1, 1953, then defended by the 7th Infantry Division’s 31st Infantry Regiment, Pork Chop Hill came under an 8,000-round CCF artillery barrage. Then on March 23, the CCF 67th Division, under cover of an intense mortar and artillery barrage, made a ground attack on Pork Chop Hill. After some initial gains they were beaten back, only to resume the attack on April 16. Once again they were beaten back by counterattacks from the 31st Infantry, reinforced by a battalion from the 7th Infantry Division’s 17th Infantry Regiment. But it was artillery that made the difference, as the 7th Infantry Division massed the guns of nine artillery battalions and fired 77,349 rounds in support of the two-day battle.
On July 6, 1953, the CCF made yet another attempt to capture Pork Chop Hill. This time they gained a foothold on a portion of the crest. After repeated attempts to dislodge them were repulsed, General Maxwell D. Taylor, the Eighth U.S. Army commander, ordered the hill to be abandoned on July 11, 1953. Two weeks later, with the signing of the armistice agreement at Panmunjom on July 27, the hill became part of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.