Hill 937 – Hamburger Hill
Deep in to the mountainous areas in the northern parts of the highlands stretching to the Laotian border lies the Ashau Valley. During the war the valley was one of the most important infiltration routes in to South Vietnam for the Hanoi forces. The valley provided access to the lowlands surrounding Hue and Da Nang and was, for a long time, a sanctuary for PAVN forces making the long journey from the north.
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Because of the importance of the valley, PAVN forces fortified parts of it with fixed installations and set up large amounts of anti-aircraft-weapons such as heavy machine guns and light automatic cannons.
With defense systems that were almost impenetrable, the valley was, during long periods of time, left for the PAVN forces. Over the years U.S. forces carried out a number of operations in the valley, some of them are described on the Ashau Valley page. There were also smaller reconnaissance missions launched regularly.
In 1969, plans were drawn up for a large operation to establish a number of bridgeheads in the valley in order to destroy the PAVN forces that were stationed in the central parts of the valley. Operation Apache Snow started with establishing firebases on hilltops on the eastern ridges and then the main forces assaulted the western parts. One of the hills was Doi A Bia also known as Hill 937. Forces, primarily from the U.S. 3rd Battalion of the 187th of the 101st Airborne, The Rakkasans, landed on a ridgeline of the hill and started the ground assault. As they met serious resistance, it became clear that the hill was one of the most fortified places in the entire valley.
Trenches, tunnels and bunkers littered the hill and the PAVN forces seemed determined not to let anyone up. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was the terrain, or as the late Lt. Frank Boccia stated: *If the terrain had been like in the movie (Hamburger Hill, 1987), we would have taken the hill the first day.” Lt. Boccia was one of the platoon leaders in the Rakkasans (187th Airborne) who charged the hill. Lt. Boccia wrote “The Crouching Beast” which describes the initial battles of the operation as well as the fight for Hill 937. The book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the war.
Over the course of the next 10 days, The Rakkasans made 11 assaults up the hill and after some of the most intense fighting of the war, they finally reached the summit. The surviving PAVN forces had retreated towards Laos through narrow valleys in which the American forces had set up blocking units in order to destroy as much of the PAVN units as possible.
As the objective to destroy the PAVN forces on the hill was met, U.S. forces stayed on a couple of months before moving on to new missions.
How to get there
The hill is not located in the actual Ashau valley, but in a side valley stretching west from Aluoi town towards the Laotian border. It is possible to visit the hill, but a special permit and an approved guide is needed. Ask at your hotel in Aluoi and they might be able to help you. Climbing the hill takes a lot of energy and is only recommended for fit and healthy people. Going up the hill will require at least half a day, more for those who wants to spend time discovering. With that we recommend those who wants to try this to stay over night in Aluoi even though it is still possible to do the visit on a daytrip from Hue.