Release Date: May 10, 2022
Hill 937 was the center of a brutal and legendary battle that began 53 years ago this week. After eleven days of vicious fighting and heavy losses on both sides, it would become known by another name: Hamburger Hill. Hear a personal account from a soldier who survived it.
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(MICHAEL): [00:00:10] We were actually heading toward the hill mass of 937 But that was just a number on a map.
(ERIC): [00:00:22] Going into this, there were no particular expectations that there was going to be either a huge battle or that 937, that particular hill, was going to be the focal point.
(HOST): [00:00:37] Hill 937, as it was known to US forces because of its elevation in meters, overlooks the A Shau Valley near Vietnam’s border with Laos and was the center of a brutal and legendary battle that took place 53 years ago this week. The Vietnamese called the hill Dong Ap Bia, and it’s a rugged, uninviting wilderness covered in double and triple canopy jungle. After 11 days of vicious fighting and heavy losses on both sides, it would become known by another name, Hamburger Hill. Attacking the Hill were the 3rd Battalion of the Army’s 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. The Rakkasans, as the 3rd of the 187 was known, were among the most storied and celebrated units in the 101st Airborne Division, having won glory in both World War II and Korea. Defending the Hill with a 29th NVA Regiment, they were fresh, dug in, well concealed, and they outnumbered their attackers 2 to 1. In this episode, we’ll hear two accounts of the Battle of Hamburger Hill. One is a personal account shared with us by an E3 replacement assigned to the Rakkasans, a man who survived all 11 days of the battle. His name is Michael Smith.
(MICHAEL): [00:01:55] We were awful damn close, but we ran out of men, water and ammo and the rain and there’s no support and we just had to withdraw.
(HOST): [00:02:09] The second perspective comes from Dr. Erik Villard, a historian at the US Army Center of Military History and a specialist on the Vietnam War who has spent a significant amount of time in the company of the Rakkasans who survived Hamburger Hill.
(ERIC): [00:02:23] It should be remembered as an example where the American soldiers is, is at its finest. It was mission accomplished. It absolutely was mission accomplished.
(HOST): [00:02:38] Stick around. From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founders of the Wall, This is Echoes of the Vietnam War. I’m your host, Michael Croan, bringing you stories of service, sacrifice and healing from people who still feel the impact of that conflict… nearly 50 years later. This is Episode 28: Hamburger Hill. So why don’t we just start with some context? What’s what’s going on in the larger war in the spring of 69?
(ERIC): [00:03:31] This is a moment when the American fighting strength in South Vietnam has reached its peak.
(HOST): [00:03:37] That’s Eric Villard.
(ERIC): [00:03:39] So there’s just just under 545,000 military personnel there in South Vietnam. This is also just about a year after the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was an important moment in the war where the communists tried to achieve a quick victory and that failed. So there’s been, over this past year, the most intense fighting. And that’s kind of important to keep in mind, is the greatest number of casualties in a single year period have happened in the time leading up to the spring of 1969. Now, from the American point of view, they’ve got a couple of things that they are having to keep foremost in mind. One of them is the possibility of beginning the withdrawal of American troops. Now, this is not been officially declared and it hasn’t been finalized, like, how that will happen, what time frame and what increments. But the broad consensus in the Nixon administration is, yes, that’s going to happen and it’s going to begin sometime later this year. So that is behind the scenes part of the thinking. So with that in mind, the American strategy, the South Vietnamese strategy in the country is going to be whatever we can do to buy time, to buy time for the South Vietnamese, to get on – on their feet – and be able to take the war over progressively to the point where it’s mostly just South Vietnamese fighting. So these are the things we’re thinking about in the spring of 1969, and that helps explain the context behind this battle, because one of the big problem areas throughout the war has been the this I Corp area.
(ERIC): [00:05:31] I Corp is the South Vietnamese tactical zone that encompasses the five northernmost provinces, and the two close to the demilitarized zone, Quảng Trị and Thua Thien Province have always been amongst the most threatened because the Communists can mask their forces there. So this has always been a problem area. And effectively, if we’re going to buy time for the South Vietnamese, we need to make sure that, that those two provinces in particular are pretty locked down. So the thing that, that focuses most of the attention is this valley in the interior mountains called the A Shau Valley, and it has been the principal communist logistical area throughout the war for Northern I Corp. The material and troops that are coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Laos, get stored at these various weigh stations called Binh Trams, and then they get moved over into South Vietnam and many of them get concentrated in the A Shau Valley. Now, if the allies don’t shut down the A Shau Valley, then it will be possible for the Communists to descend upon the coastal lowlands and potentially take over Hue or Da Nang or other big cities. That’s why the A Shau Valley matters. We have to deny it to the communists. And so the operations that are planned in early 1969 in I Corp are designed to prevent the enemy from using this valley.
(HOST): [00:07:04] Can you just describe the terrain a little?
(ERIC): [00:07:07] It’s a relatively narrow section of land, and this is pretty rugged terrain. These are jagged mountain peaks and ridges which generally run from north to south. And this is important because there’s only a few places where you can go east to west. Once you get in there, I mean, you are really far away from any population. The only people you’re likely to see there are, again, that the North Vietnamese and the Americans, the two combatants, the allies, have conducted a series of operations and have closed off most of those crossing points. So in April, May of 69, there’s really only one part of the valley, the central part of the valley, the allies have not closed off. And that’s the context for what becomes this monumental battle. The Allied intelligence is giving giving information to the commanders that, yes, there’s potentially several North Vietnamese units in the valley, but they don’t know exactly where they are. They’re not even clear on what their current strength is. So they know, yes, potentially there may be two or three North Vietnamese regiments somewhere in the A Shau, but not necessarily where you’re going. And we don’t even know if you’ll encounter them. So going into this, there were no particular expectations that there was going to be either a huge battle or that 937, that particular hill, was going to be the focal point.
(HOST): [00:08:40] Yeah. So how did the Rakkasans and and Hill 937 become the focal point?
(ERIC): [00:08:47] Well, the the battalion commander of the 3rd of the 187th, Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt. He had he had flown over the area in a helicopter, so he’d seen it himself, and he had chosen 937 because there was a place nearby where there was kind of a natural corridor going across this river into Laos said he thought: A) the enemy, if they’re going to be anywhere, probably going to be there; And B) you always want to take the dominating landmass, right?
(MICHAEL): [00:09:28] I went in the Army in July of 68.
(HOST): [00:09:32] That’s Michael Smith talking to me from his home in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, the town he was born and raised in.
(MICHAEL): [00:09:39] I went off to Fort Polk, Louisiana, and then I did back to back. I did my advanced infantry training right there at Fort Polk also. To be totally honest, we weren’t totally prepared for the general environment, really, because we trained hard. We were physically doing a lot of stuff, but we weren’t used to the combat loads, it turns out that we had to carry and the things we had to do.
(HOST): [00:10:09] When did you arrive in Vietnam?
(MICHAEL): [00:10:12] January 20th, 1969.
(HOST): [00:10:16] What do you remember about arriving there?
(MICHAEL): [00:10:19] Oh, the instant heat and the smells getting off the plane, on the tarmac. I mean, just hit you right in the face. Total, total, total distance. Environmental shock, I guess, is the way you would say it, but, but, you know, we went straight to reception and right into the 90th Replacement Battalion down there in Bien Hoa.
(HOST): [00:10:46] So where’d you go from there? From Bien Hoa?
(MICHAEL): [00:10:49] I got lucky, so to speak, in one fashion. They were looking at my Army records, and apparently the fighting wasn’t too bad. But the army nest at that time, and they looked at my civilian record and stuff and saw I was familiar with surveying profession. So I skated and went to a engineer group with to a surveying platoon of all things, as my first assignment in Long Binh. So. But I didn’t go immediately to the field. But in April, I got ordered to go to 101st in I Corps, northern Vietnam. And so I reported to search training or their school there, in Long Binh. And then for the 101st and in April. But they pushed us pretty hard. Our group ended up at Camp Evans and on May 1st we got in there and I got assigned to D Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry… So that was on May 1st in 1969. They really gave us a ton of shit to carry and pack. All, we were all issued our weapons and ammo and that very first night pulled guard duty.. the whole thing. Shifts all night on the perimeter. The next day they were they were prepping us to go out in the field, and they were just waiting for an insertion point for us. And on late that afternoon, on May 2nd, there was a Chinook load of us, went out to a firebase in the A Shau. Squads/patrols would come in and grab a group of us and we’d head out to our platoon and out in the out on their current operation. And so the next three days, my first three days in the field, we were in firefights every day.
(MICHAEL): [00:13:17] Well, we lost a man killed in our… in our squad on my second day there. And so it was quite the initiation. I was a E3 at the time. I was in a fire team and, right at that point, I was still carrying an M-16. Later on, I got switched to the M79 grenade launcher. I’m exhausted. I wasn’t… Platoon sergeant was beating me up and down the hillsides, but it was okay. He saved my life, basically, cause he we never cut me any slack. Most of the area was triple canopy in that part of the country. You have the sun’s going down and it’s dark in five minutes. I mean, the jungle just – boom – turns black. We didn’t put up hooches or poncho-liner tents or anything out there in the A Shau, ’cause that would leave a silhouette, the daybreak or against the sky or stars. You hear the jungle moving. You hear all the jungle life and the lizards. And you would hear things move in the jungle at night and, okay, was that the bad guy? You never knew, I mean, you can’t see ten yards… If it gets real quiet, you’re in trouble. You know there’s trouble out there, if it gets real quiet. It was either the seventh or the eighth, we came in for a stand down, a very brief stand down. We were in for like one day – on the eighth, and sometime that day, someone, hey, we’re going, we’re immediately going to go deploy on another operation. You got to be ready to go. So on the ninth, we were back out in the A Shau, this staging area for a combat assault on May 10th.
(HOST): [00:15:35] After a short break, the Rakkasans land in the A Shau Valley, where all is quiet. But not for long. Stick around. Have you ever heard of Wall Magic? People who visit the wall talk about it… That unexpected, often spiritual connection or discovery that happens when you visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial? It’s one of those things that if you know, you know. You’ve either experienced it or you haven’t. Maybe you’d like to, but you can’t easily get yourself to The Wall in Washington, D.C. That’s exactly why VVMF created The Wall That Heals: an exact replica of The Wall at three-quarter scale that travels to communities all across America. The Wall That Heals and The Mobile Education Center that travels with it, will be in Belvidere, Illinois, May 12 through 15, and Winchester, Indiana, May 19 through 22. To see the rest of this year’s tour schedule and to learn how you can bring The Wall That Heals to your town, visit vvmf.org. This year, we’re celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. To commemorate this milestone every day at 3:00 pm eastern, we read the name of every Wall honoree who died on that date. This is in addition to the live in-person reading of the names that will be held in Washington, D.C. beginning on November 7th. You can visit vvmf.org/rotn for more information about the daily virtual reading of the names and about the in-person event. The 2022 In Memory induction ceremony at The Wall is set for Father’s Day weekend and we’re already accepting applications for the 2023 In Memory Honor Roll.
(HOST): [00:17:33] So if you have loved ones who survived the Vietnam War and died after returning home, you can honor them in next year’s ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We also have an In Memory Facebook group with more than 15,000 members, so be sure to join that if you want to feel part of a community of people who’ve experienced a loss similar to yours. You’ll find the 2023 In Memory Honor Roll application and a link to the Facebook group by going to vvmf.org and clicking on “In Memory.” For 40 years, VVMF has led the way to help heal our nation. Remember those who gave all, and honor all who served. Our new Legacy Endowment will ensure that we can continue honoring Vietnam veterans for the next 40 years and beyond. We launched the Legacy Endowment with a $500,000 matching gift campaign, The Legacy Challenge. Each new outright gift or gift established through a will, will be matched up to 50%, with a maximum of $50,000 matched per gift. All qualifying gifts established or newly identified before November 12th of this year are eligible for the match. Learn more at vvmf.org/legacy. It’s May 10th, 1969, and the Rakkasans are landing in the A Shau Valley. Michael Smith, a replacement only recently assigned to Delta Company, has no idea what’s waiting for him. None of them do. Here’s Eric Villard again.
(ERIC): [00:19:14] When the Americans are coming in, 3rd Brigade of the 101st, they’re landing three battalions at different areas in that central region. So the Rakkasans, the 3rd Battalion 187th, they’re landing in the middle portion on or near Hill 937. Then you’ve got two other battalions, one landing to the north, one landing to the south, and even a South Vietnamese battalion landing farther to the north. So you have a string of these units and it’s not clear how much action they’ll see or where the action is going to take place. These 3rd Battalion, 187 soldiers, when they landed, they were not going in thinking, oh, my gosh, you know, we’re going to be in for the fight of our lives. It was we’re going to go in search and see what we see.
(HOST): [00:20:05] Here’s Michael Smith.
(MICHAEL): [00:20:07] You were just always out there moving, looking for the bad guys. We had no idea what was going to happen. But so on the morning of May 10, Delta Company was the first company to go into our designated LZ for Hamburger Hill. We were the first company in and we landed in this huge tall elephant grass area and just had to jump out. You know, there was no putting the Choppers down. And it was not a hot LZ at that time at all. We were actually heading toward the hill mass of 937, but that was just a number on a map, just the top of a hill. And then Alpha Company came in and Charlie Company… And Alpha Company went toward Laos, toward the river, and Charlie went in another direction… And then Bravo Company was the last company come in that day. So that evening, a few potshots had been taken at us and, we ended up doing a perimeter around the battalion command post. So we spent our first night digging fighting positions, you know, on the side of our perimeter and just spent another another night back in the A Shau.
(ERIC): [00:21:44] Now, the North Vietnamese, they know how the Americans fight. They knew that that was likely going to be one of the landing zones. And so they were prepared. In fact, several weeks before the Rakkasans actually land, North Vietnamese commanders had made a decision that they were going to choose this place in the valley for a major battle. So they assigned it to a unit which, was just coming down to Ho Chi Minh Trail after re-training in North Vietnam. So this was a fresh unit, the 29th NVA Regiment. So it is full strength. Most of the soldiers were in good health. They hadn’t come down with the malaria, they were fairly well fed. So they chose this place because they figured the Americans would land there. So before the Americans arrived, they honeycombed the mountain with trenches and bunkers. And the mountain is a… Think of it like a starfish. You sort of have a high central blob and then you’ve got these arms that radiate. And so what they would do is they would also build bunkers on either side of the arms because they know how the Americans operate. And the Americans always come up the spine of any ridge. They don’t they don’t walk on the sides of of a slope. They go along the spine. So they’re, again, anticipating American tactics. So they have committed themselves, the entire regiment. And the intent is to to wipe out at least one company, like totally annihilate it. They are in for the duration.
(MICHAEL): [00:23:30] The next day, May 11, was a pretty uneventful day for us. But Bravo company had moved through our position and they were in a hell of a fight already on May 11th, and portions of the other two companies… And we had patrols out also small, but Bravo was already amongst the bad guys, so to speak. And they headed up in the direction of the summit, the peak of 937, lost several people, wounded, and was killed… And they made a couple of attempts that day. But at the end of May 11th, while this fighting was going on, we’re still… protecting the battalion CP and around 4:30 in the afternoon, 4:15 so, there is just a bunch of explosions in the trees above our position. And it turns out that was a friendly-fire incident from an aerial rocket artillery helicopter attack. So there was 27 wounded in second platoon, Delta Company, and my squad mate in my fighting position was killed by shrapnel. Clifford Taira, he’s from Hawaii, he’s buried in the Punchbowl there, near Diamond Head in Oahu. He’d been with me for three days. Shrapnel up on the top of the triple canopy in the jungle and scattering everywhere down to the…. just below and several people in the battalion CP got wounded. The next morning we were just re-supplying, re-grouping, and getting sent a few replacements in to reorganize. And myself, I ended up in a different fire team in second platoon. So I was the new guy amongst three other guys.
(MICHAEL): [00:25:46] So there were four of us in my fire team on the 12th. So we had an uneventful day on the truck, but the other parts of the battalion were not, they were still trying to advance up two different ridge lines. So on the 13th we got orders to try to flank the hill in a different direction from what Bravo and Charlie and Alpha had been working on. So we headed out east and down as these tremendous ravines, some of the worst terrain I’ve ever seen in my short time, nor since – I never saw anything quite like that again. It was just steep, still triple canopy jungle. But occasionally you would you would go through a tiny break and you could look off to, we could look off to our right and see the top of Hamburger Hill in the near distance… Where all the air strikes and artillery had been hitting. We got to this little tiny stream that was coming from the mountain. It was only maybe two or three feet wide, and, so we turned left to go downstream, and we were the stream-crossing security for the rest of our unit. And another fire team went up to up to the right and the company started moving down and through our position. Then we get fired up again by RPG’s. And everybody in my fire team was wounded, except me. Several other guys fell on the ground, was killed. So we’ve been hit again by the enemy.
(ERIC): [00:27:42] It was a battle that developed in stages. Like I said, you might think of the first day 10 May, when the Rakkasans landed as a kind of tabula rasa, a blank slate. They really weren’t sure what was there. Didn’t know who was in the area and were just trying to suss out the situation. And for the first couple of days, they begin to realize that there are North Vietnamese troops on the hill, but they’re just not clear how many. It isn’t until about the fourth or fifth day that they’re trying to get to the top of the hill. They keep running it a harder and harder resistance. They realize, holy smokes. They realize they’re everywhere and they’re dug in and they’re they actually outnumber the Americans. When the battle begins, and in fact, the Americans are basically outnumber 2 to 1. And they’re fighting an enemy that are well dug in, well prepared, concealed. So, I mean, all the advantages are on the North Vietnamese side.
(MICHAEL): [00:28:47] Second Platoon reorganized. The B Company Commander with us, Capt. Sanders, and we started up the other side toward the objective. Things have changed quite dramatically. We were not on a search and destroy mission. There is a bunch of bad guys here. We knew there was tons of them. So we get up to the top of this ridgeline that does lead to the top on the east side. About that time, we had organized a small platoon perimeter. [INAUDIBLE] Some, a few of us that were left from second squad brought up the rear…so we dumped into the small perimeter they had. And Capt. Sanders was figuring out with Lt. Walden, what’s the next move? And we hear a chopper comin’. It turns out it was a medevac. So coming to pick up our guys that were left at the bottom of the ravine behind us… and I wasn’t looking directly at it at the time, but there was this big boom and the NVA had hit the center mass of that medevac and shot it straight out of the air. It just dropped straight down on Delta Company down to the bottom stream. The exact number killed were there were several. One of my original wounded guys that I knew from. My squad that was wounded was killed. He was in the basket. When being lifted up on a chopper was shot down. The chopper blades and stuff did some real damage on the ground. The medevac caught on fire. Our guys on the ground couldn’t save some of the crew.
(MICHAEL): [00:30:56] They were able to pull one fella out in time. You could just see it burning… down through the jungle at the bottom of the stream. It was… yeah. Our position was untenable at that time, we we had so many casualties at our company… first from the RPGs and then from the helicopter shoot down. We had over 20, some 30, 20 to 30 casualties. But we had no other companies in support of us who were out there on our own. We could hear the NVA running down through the trees toward us, down from the top of the hill. And they stopped. Quite possible if we wouldn’ve stayed, none of us would have come back. So we… we did pull back to the bottom of the stream and pulled all the wounded up out of the other side because there was no way anyone could be medevacked and… our medics kept the last-surviving helicopter pilot… he made it. I’ve actually talked to him several, several years ago. The next day, the 14th and 15th portions of Alpha Company came down, down to help us pull people out, carry wounded, and then begin to carry bodies out. And that was a long few days. It was just…. struggling getting everything back up to the Battalion CP. The 16th and the 17th were uneventful as far as combat goes, and everybody was not standing down, but they were prepping the hill with more artillery and air strikes and all that.
(MICHAEL): [00:33:01] And, so the 17th there was an assault. On the 18th of May, it was our turn, so to speak. Delta Company, with the support of an Alpha Company, was going to be off to our right flank. So we ended up making an assault through the same direction that Bravo Company originally had tried for so many days. It was an eight-hour day. It was eight-hour day, or longer… working our way up the hill and. Lots of casualties. You know, but the thing was, if someone got hit and think they could make it, they were told, try to get back yourself. We don’t have the men to carry everybody down if you think you can do it. Get yourself back. We started running low on ammo and water and men… and then there was a hell of a thunderstorm and everything turned to mud, and it was horrendous. You couldn’t make any progress on that, and you can’t see far, ya know, and you’re trying to advance and they’re throwing hand grenades at you. And down the hill you. And every now and then they throw a rock. You’d think it was a hand grenade. Well, the idea is get your head down. Make you get down. No one ever came back that I fought with in my squads, to the unit because almost all of them were wounded and most didn’t come back. A couple did. Some were wounded on the 13th. Some were wounded on the 18th.
(HOST): [00:35:00] The Rakkasan have been fighting in the A Shau Valley for eight long days. They’re getting maybe two or three hours of sleep a night, if any. They’re soaked to the bone from the thunderstorms. They’re exhausted. They’ve taken serious casualties, though not nearly as many as they’ve inflicted. And they still haven’t been able to take Hill 937.
(MICHAEL): [00:35:22] We were awful damn close. But we’re running out of men, and water and ammo and the rain… there’s no support because Alpha Company is having their own problems and they’re horrific. And we just had to withdraw. So. We get to the bottom of the hill and we’re standing around. At the end of the day, it’s dusk. The rain has stopped. Everyone’s exhausted. We’ve been going all day long. And I distinctly remember counting that there was 11 people still standing from Second, the entire Second Platoon. By the end of day, 11th, we had no officers left. They’d all been hit. One was killed. Capt. Sanders severely. Everybody thought we’d died. And Lt. Walden was propped himself up against the tree for the night because he was wounded three times. Then on the 19th, I remember a bunch of replacements coming in on the night of the 19th. I’ve never seen so many people with their eyes so big. You know, they knew there’s some really bad stuff going on, but they were just so…we could just see their faces. It was…and I don’t know why I remember that part so clear. So here I am after, where we at? Twenty days now? And so I’m the old guy. The other platoons were just as bad. They were just… they were in the same boat we were. Same numbers under 15, you know. So it was really. So the company was decimated by the end of the 18th. On the 20th of May the next morning. There was an assault on Hamburger Hill by another battalion, a portion of battalion that was assigned to the 187th, and that was part of the 506th. And they did take the summit of Hamburger Hill on the 20th.
(ERIC): [00:37:39] Once the battle is joined, the only way out was up. And Col. Honeycutt knew this was going to be a battle for the ages. He knew this was going to be a defining fight for the Rakkasans, which it has become. It should be remembered as an example where the American soldier is at its finest. When they finally do get to the top of the hill, you know, after ten, 11 days, they have accomplished the mission. They’ve more or less destroyed the 29th Regiment In the process. Eighty percent of the regiment is either dead or wounded. So this is a new regiment.. they spent six or nine months rebuilding… and – boom – it’s gone. And that’s important. What they did was they took out really the one effective communist unit in the valley. That meant it was going to be another four, six or even eight months before the Communists could, could, could bring back that type of power. And again, this is all about buying time. And in that sense, it was it was mission accomplished. Absolutely was mission accomplished.
(HOST): [00:38:55] Can you talk about the cost in terms of American casualties and particularly to, to the Rakkasans?
(ERIC): [00:39:02] At the very least? Hill 937 you’re talking – at least – American killed, in the mid-fifties, and you had up to 400 wounded. Those are pretty significant numbers. The Rakkasans got the brunt of it because they were in from the beginning and got got the worst of the action. It was significant. It was not on the scale of North Vietnamese casualties, but compared to a lot of the fighting that had been taking place in, in this spring of 69, this was noteworthy. I mean, you don’t usually have battles that last more than a day. So one that lasts ten days stands out. And then, generally speaking, in any particular action, if you had four or five or six Americans killed in an action, that’s, you know, that’s… that’s significant. And that’s heavy action for a unit. So suddenly you have 56 killed, 400 wounded. I mean, the scale just jumps to a-whole-nother level. At the end of the battle, apparently one of the paratroopers wrote on a, like, a c-ration box and stuck it on the top with his knife that said, Hamburger Hill, you know, a name for this meat grinder. And this is part of the reason that that battle got so much attention back home. Some folks are like, what is going on? You know, again, there were a lot of people who believe we are on the verge of being withdrawn, thought that that the war was was beginning to settle down a little bit. And suddenly you have this ten day fight. And I think. You know, combine that with the catchy title, Hamburger Hill, and suddenly you have folks at home asking the question, you know, what are we doing here?
(MICHAEL): [00:40:59] I left Vietnam in January of ’70, so I didn’t… I had whatever that is, six, seven months to go or whatever it was. And so I remained with the Second Platoon, Delta Company almost the rest of the year. We went through some more firefights and we lost more people. I lost some more friends, a couple more friends that I, that were replacements, that I had become friends with. So at some point. After that. I didn’t really make any more friends. I was done. But I came home and didn’t say anything to people for 30 years.
(HOST): [00:41:47] Three decades later, Michael Smith made contact with some of his comrades from the Battle of Hamburger Hill. In 2019. The Rakkasans who fought there held a 50th Anniversary reunion organized by Lt. Col. Martin Bowling, who was then commanding the 3rd of the 187th. Twelve veterans returned to the A Shau Valley where they climbed Hamburger Hill together.
(MICHAEL): [00:42:12] You know, it’s still so sad and everything, but, now I’m so honored to remember all these guys that did this amazing thing. So long ago. I have no regrets except for my friends who aren’t here. I’m so honored to have served with these men.
(HOST): [00:42:36] Today, Michael sits on the board of the National Rakkasan Association. You can learn more about them at https://www.rakkasanassociation.org/. We’ll be back in two weeks with more stories of service, sacrifice and healing. See you then.
Full Interview with Michael Smith
Full Interview with Dr. Erik V. Villard
- Lt. Col. Walden Honeycutt – www.valor.militarytimes.com/hero/4634
- The Wall That Heals – www.vvmf.org/The-Wall-That-Heals
- VVMF In Memory Program – www.vvmf.org/Honor-Roll/
- Reading of the Names – www.vvmf.org/rotn
- VVMF Legacy Endowment – www.vvmf.org/legacy
- The Wall Of Faces: Clifford Taira, Squad mate of Michael’s – www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/50927/CLIFFORD-K-TAIRA/
- 1Lt. Jerry T. Walden – www.valor.militarytimes.com/hero/5294
- Michael’s Return to Hamburger Hill in 2019 – www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/05/10/climbing-hamburger-hill-years-after-vietnam-wars-brutal-haunting-battle/
- National Rakkasan Association – www.rakkasanassociation.org
- Full Interview with Michael Smith – https://youtu.be/s064_Y3If7c
- Full Interview with Erik V. Villard – https://youtu.be/wrdy34T_wL8
- YouTube Echoes of the Vietnam War Interview playlist – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLK63b6Cn53unMMj-yZYEch0RuYy1YN1zl