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Dak To

"The thing that I can't forget about Nam was the smell of it. The smell. You smelled the napalm and you smelled the flesh burning. That will live with me to the end of my days. Nothing smells like Vietnam smells."----A U.S. soldier

Amidst the chaos and paraphernalia of war, exhausted American troops converge on Hill 875, captured by paratroopers after some of the fiercest battles of the conflict.

Located in the rugged mountainous area along the Laotian and Cambodian borders, where peaks rise to 6,000 feet, Dak To was the site of a U.S. Special Forces camp. In October 1967, intelligence reported that the 1st NVA Division, with its 24th, 32nd, 66th and 174th Infantry regiments and 40th Artillery Regiment had occupied the hills near Dak To and was preparing for an attack on that camp and the nearby camp at Ben Het. Instead of waiting for the assault, General Creighton W Abrams, the acting U.S. commander in Vietnam while General William C. Westmoreland was conferring with political leaders in Washington, ordered a spoiling attack by the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, reinforced by the 173rd Airborne Brigade and six ARVN battaliions.

The battle began on November 3 with a clash between the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry and NVA regulars south of Dak To. Other firefights followed, as the U.S. began to construct fire bases throughout the area. As the battle intensified, the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry assaulted the heavily fortified Hill 1338 south of Dak To, and after hard fighting, drove the 32nd NVA Regiment from the position. Similarly, after a four-day battle the ARVN 3rd and 9th Airborne battalions drove the NVA 24th Regiment from Hill 1416 to the northeast.

To cover their retreat the enemy committed their reserves, the 174th NVA Regiment, to a blocking position on Hill 875 to the southwest of Dak To. On November 19, the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry (2/503) was ordered to take the hill, which the NVA had turned into a fortress. Stalled by the network of underground tunnels, reinforced bunkers and fortified trench lines, the 2/503 was relieved on November 20 by the 4th Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry 4/503).

After hard fighting the hill was finally taken on Thanksgiving Day, earning the unit the Presidential Unit Citation for bravery. The NVA broke contact and pulled back into its sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia and the battle of Dak To officially ended on December 1. Enemy losses were put at 1,644 killed at a cost of 289 U.S. and 73 ARVN dead. As in earlier battles, this disparity reflected the intensity of U.S. fire support. But although U.S. artillery fired more than 170,000 rounds during the operation, MACV estimated that 70 percent of the enemy casualties were caused by air strikes. Tactical fighter bombers launched some 2,100 bomb, rocket, and napalm strikes while B-52 bombers flew an additional 228 sorties.

There were outstanding feats of military skill and bravery from men like these in the taking of Hill 875 at Dak To.