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AP Bia Mountain anchors the northwest corner of South Viet Nam's A Shau Valley, since 1966 a major infiltration route for Communist forces from the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos to the coastal cities of northern I Corps. It is a mountain much like any other in that part of the Highlands, green, triple-canopied and spiked with thick stands of bamboo. On military maps it is listed as Hill 937, the number representing its height in meters. Last week it acquired another name: Hamburger Hill. It was a grisly but all too appropriate description, for the battle in and around Ap Bia took the lives of 84 G.I.s and wounded 480 more. Such engagements were familiar enough in Viet Nam up until a year ago. But coming at this stage of the war and the peace talks, the battle for Hamburger Hill set off tremors of controversy that carried all the way to Capitol Hill.

Assaults Repulsed. The battle for Hill 937 began uneventfully enough. On May 10, nine battalions of American and Vietnamese troops were helilifted into landing zones between the A Shau Valley and the Laotian border to disrupt possible North Vietnamese attacks toward the coast and to cut off Communist escape routes. There was little contact at first, but the next day, conditions changed for Lieut. Colonel Weldon F. Honeycutt's 3rd Battalion, 187th Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division. Wheeling away from the border and eastward toward Hill 937, Honeycutt's troops surprised a North Vietnamese trail-watching squad and wiped it out. Estimating that a company of North Vietnamese occupied the hill (it turned out to be part of two regiments), Honeycutt sent his men up Ap Bia on May 12. The troopers quickly ran, as Specialist Four Jimmy Speers recalled, "into garbage": rocket grenades, fire from automatic weapons, lethal Claymore mines dangling from bushes and trees. The American attackers were forced to pull back. An assault by two companies on May 13 was also repulsed by the North Vietnamese. Honeycutt, a hard-nosed commander who often walks the point (the exposed forward position in a formation) with his battalion, did not give up. On May 14 the battalion, trying again, nearly made the top of the hill. But while Honeycutt, whose radio code name is "Black Jack," radioed, "Get up off your butts, get moving," the commander of the lead company was wounded and the attack petered out.

After so many costly failures to gain Ap Bia's summit, some U.S. soldiers were dispirited. "There were lots of people in Bravo company [which had borne the brunt of the casualties] who were going to refuse to go up again," one soldier said. "There'd been low morale, but never before so low—because we felt it was all so senseless." Two other battalions from the 101st and a battalion from the Vietnamese 1st Division were brought up as reinforcements. On May 18, two battalions—all of their men loaded down with 40 magazines of rifle ammunition—tried again, and were thrown back just short of the crest in a blinding rainstorm and a shower of Communist grenades. One company commander stilled growing discontent among his men by telling them that "we are soldiers, and we have to do our job." He was scared, he said. "Everybody was scared. But we had to go back up."

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