Death Valley - August 1969 Summer Offensive in Que Son Valley, Vietnam
Death Valley was the title Keith William Nolan gave to his 1987 book about the NVA/VC summer offensive of August, 1969 in the 196th Brigade Area of Operations west of Chu Lai, Vietnam. The map includes information about the many US, NVA, and Viet Cong units that participated in the month of battle.
Google Map software now allows you to see all 435 data points on one page with a scroll-down list on the left. Click on the "expand" rectangle in the upper right map title bar to open a large map. I have left the zip file available for those who want to use it that way.
Using Google Earth - If you click on the .zip file below, it will download to your default download location in your computer. You can then unzip it and open the .kml file in Google Earth.
Comment by Don DeGain December, 2016 I was with Charlie Company 3/21 on Nui Lon 8/27/69. I remember it well, my first days in the field, flown in to meet my company, but the first day the helicopter could not land because of enemy fire, back to LZ Center for the night, and brought out the next day. What a start to my year! I never thought I would last a year. I remember the motars coming in, they had the top of that hill zeroed in! I remember Alpha Company coming up the hill and then returning into that mess they had just had left. They were so worn from that trip up the hill on that day. I remember the recovery of the helicopter down in the valley a few days after we left the hill.
Comment by Ernest Huerta, October 3, 2016 I commented on an NVA Sapper attack against Hawk Hill the night of 11/12 Aug 1969. The 196th LIB TOC/Hqs had recently relocated there from LZ Baldy. The 7th Marine Regt. took over a large piece of territory from the Americal Div.-196th LIB, after moving onto LZ Baldy from south of Da Nang. The Americal TAOR, which was huge and included the Que Son mountains, valleys, jungles, coastal marshes, and lots of uncharted territory. It's northern boundary ran from south of Da Nang (east along) the coast, continued down to a bridge "ambush alley" south of Duc Pho (11th LIB), west to the Laotian border, and back north to the line south of Da Nang. There was increased NVA activity in the western mountains and valleys. The 196th TAOR ran south to the vicinity of Tam Ky then west. Four Infantry Battalions were scattered throughout LZs, some having a company. The most westerly was Kham Duc (a large SF base). The attack on Hawk Hill led to what became known officially as "The Summer Offensive-I Corps, August 1969 and locally as the Battle of Death Valley ( AK Valley, Antenna Valley, The Arizona Territory-used exclusively by the Marines), part of the Que Son Mountains & valleys system. On 18 Aug 1969 D Co 4/31 Inf. was patrolling near route 534 and south of LZ West. Part of their mission involved retrieving a KIA from an early fight. The company's strength was probably less than 100 men. D Company "bumped" into a large NVA force of battalion size later determine to be a regiment of the 2nd NVA Division. One of the main NVA objectives was to destroy the Village of Hiep Duc and a refugee resettlement camp with buildings constructed of wood frames and tin roofs, water and medical facilities and surrounded by a fence. It was labeled a model of the pacification effort. On 29 Aug 1969, after battles between the 2nd NVA Div. and the 196th LIB and 7th Marines the NVA retreated back into the mountains and Laos having suffered very heavy losses. Shortly thereafter my partner and I, after patrolling the village along the access road from QL1 to Hawk Hill, decided to head to the MACV Compound at Tam Ky for a late breakfast/early lunch. It was about 1000 hrs and we're zipping along QL1 southbound. It was a beautiful but hot morning. Traffic began slowing down and Al wheeled left of center around the mainly military traffic including a troop of cavalry APCs, ACAVs etc. What had stopped traffic was a large crater (8-10 feet deep and about 20 feet across) had removed all of S/bound QL1 and part of the N/bound lane. There were rice paddies on both sides with a small grove of trees ahead-left and nothing else but the crater. Cordite still hung in the air but it was quiet except from engine noise. We notified our platoon MP Desk and requested engineers. A N/bound convoy lead by a fuel truck began "driving around the defile". We learned what had happened and I honest to God saw my life pass by... One thing I was sure of, none of us would feel a thing if a tanker loaded with gas set off another mine. This crater, we determined, had been caused when a civilian bus pulled off and onto the shoulder and set-off an estimated 250 pound dud bomb buried under QL1. "Road Master", the Marine Engineers tasked with sweeping and repairing QL1 showed up. Sure as shit the found a second bomb buried under the N/Bound lane. Luckily that was set for command detonation- wires were found running from QL1 to a paddy dike way off. Aside from one of or MP patrols bringing C-rations and water we weren't relieved. The Marines, who have a very weird sense of humor, shouted "Fire In The Hole" ONLY once before blowing the 2nd mine. I was on the south side of the crater and just managed to hunker down and pull my helmet tight. I was showered with paddy water and mud. I've had tinnitus that's gotten progressively worse through the years. The Marines finished filling the holes with crushed rock at sundown and we made it back to Hawk Hill after dark. That whole day vividly returns to me even now. The worse part was watching an old gentleman from the VN government and wearing waders walking in the paddy water, stopping and reaching down, to pick up human body parts. The largest piece I saw was an ankle minus toes. At Hawk Hill Al and I showered, put on clean pants and drank warm "Red Beer". My fatigues stunk to high heavens so I burned them. It took a while to get rid of the stench, especially the smell of death. Ernie H.
Comment by Ernest Huerta, October 2,2016 Seven Soldiers of C Troop 1st Cavalry WERE KILLED DURING THIS ATTACK among others. At least two M-48 tanks were damaged/destroyed. One (?)155mm howitzer was damaged by an RPG that hit the gun shield. Fragments hit a Sergeant, the Mess Sergeant for the battery, in his left thigh causing a large wound. This SGT was a Prince! My platoon (2nd/23rd MP Company, Americal Division) was assigned to the 196th LIB but had no mess arrangements since the move from LZ Baldy. The Sergeant took us under his wing and fed us until we were assigned. His name is unknown to me but I'll never forget this Gentleman Soldier's kindness.
Comment by Thomas Bruzan, July 5, 2016 I was a member of Hotel Co. 2/7 USMC We fought with the Americal and lost many good men in Chu Lai August of 69. How ironic it was that they made such a big deal out of Woodstock when we lost so many brave men in battle. I was on Outpost Lion protecting the airbase from rocket attack. I am proud to have served alongside our brothers in the US army and all branches It was an honor and privilege to have served alongside so many brave men! Cpl.Thomas Bruzan USMC infantry Vietnam 68/69
Comment by John Spencer, June 6,2016 I was 1Lt, Platoon leader with Delta Co. 3/21. I served from July 68, to July 69. I read the book, (Death Valley),and knew some of the guys. It was my former RTO, Richard Doria, who went down in the LTC chopper on August 19th. I actually played a part of getting him out of the field and up the CC to be RTO for the LTC.
Comment by James Lytle, November 22, 2015 I was a member of the 3rd. platoon of Charlie Company 4/31 from early February 1969, until I transferred to the Combat Center in early Nov.69.
Our platoon was ordered to help Bravo Company the first night of the battle. I was amazed that we got to there without a shot being fired! After we linked up with Bravo, I remember lying down behind a dry rice paddy dike, thinking that we would hold up there for the night. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, when the word came down that we were going to move out, with what was left of Bravo and their KIAs.
My next thought was "I feel sorry for whoever has to walk point across that open area." As luck would have it, it turned out to be me and Juan Glass (PR). When Lt. Simms gave the order, I was sure the two of us were going to die! Juan took the point, and I was slack man. Halfway across the paddy, I took over point. The platoon crossed the river and started down the trail when we were ambushed. The first four or five of us in column had walked through the ambush. When the firing stopped, I could hear the NVA running past me down the trail. I was certain they planned to leap frog ahead and set up another ambush.
I heard the order to move out. Once again, I thought I was dead. But war is strange. Without another shot fired our platoon continued down the trail, until we linked back up with the company.
The next day we tried to get to the KIAs that were left after the ambush. The 3rd platoon went down the main trail toward the ambush site. While the 1st platoon and the company CP were on our right. Before we got to the KIAs, the 1st platoon was hit. We were ordered to help them. Once again, without any loss in our platoon we arrived right at dark. Most of that night was spent getting the 1st platoon and it's wounded to the evac point. I was part of a six man team carrying Rocky Blier lying in a poncho through that terrible night.
After a day or so, we finally recovered the KIAs. The next day, our squad was tasked to pull TOC security on Million Dollar Hill. The rest of the company went back into the valley looking for the enemy. Shortly after they left, we started receiving incoming mortars. Tony Fitch and I were wounded and med-evaced to LZ West where we were treated and placed us on light duty. For a few days we helped out in the mortar section.We rejoined the company, when it was rotated up to West a few days later.
Comment by Robert Wallace, November 8, 2015 I was a grunt with Charlie company 4/31st 196th LIB. I was med-evaced on August 20, 1969 as a result of a fire fight during the battle of Hiep Duc. Onboard my chopper was a fellow soldier named Rocky Blier, who later played halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rocky was a very cool guy and when we got to 95th Evac in Da Nang our gurneys were next to each other in the hallway and he asked me if David Freeman made it and what happened to Pineapple, this kid from Hawaii that was in His squad. I told him I saw Freeman after we set up our last perimeter but Doc had given him morphine because He was screaming too much and we were worried about being overrun as Charlie had tried to toss in a couple of Chi Coms on us. Pineapple was dead I told him and when he asked if anyone was able to get his body I just said no,not as far as I knew. I remember that day pretty good as we had walked into a fortified NVA position and when they sprung the trap they had about 6-7 of our guys inside the kill zone. The NVA bullets were so heavy in the air that the bush was getting cut down around us like a big invisible weed whacker. I was humping the M60 by then and immediately returned fire because giving away my position wasn't much of an issue by then. During the ambush I got separated from one of my assistant gunners so only had half the ammo belts with me. We yelled at the guys that got cut off to run towards my gun position, and here is the weird thing, my M60 jammed just as three of our guys broke bush and ran into my line of fire, otherwise I would have shot my own guys. Thought about that many many times in the last 46 years..anyhow, that is part of my story from August 20, 1969. maybe it's of some interest to someone.
Comment by Rick Hast, November 3, 2015 I served in Charlie Co. 4/31 Infantry 196th LIB Dec. '68---Dec. '69. LZ West was battalion base camp. Spent entire tour working in Hiep Duc area with a brief stays on LZ Center. I have had little or no contact w/folks from unit except Bob Herman & Rocky Blier a number of years ago. I did return to Vietnam in March of 2014, walked up north side of what was LZ West and visited July 20th 1969 ambush site that devastated our platoon along with company commander Capt. Tom Murphy's command unit which was w/us that day. I'm curious as to his status today?
Comment by John Garland, July 10, 2015 I was on gun 2, 3/16 arty c btry. Me and 1 other guy went on an advanced party from Lz West . we were to start getting ready for our gun (155mm) to arrive. It rained so hard we slept on pallets and under u shaped culverts. We ran out of food except for the c ration chocolates I used to save I,m pretty sure this was 1969. I remember Gable , Ron Villagracia, Buck, After Siberia we went to Fat city via Lz Baldy where we got hit during the day time, my gun direct fired in to a tree line and got a secondary explosion and it was over. Bless all of you men. I am presently taking viekira for hep c, which seems to be working great. I also have cll (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) from agent orange, get tested please. Good luck to all.
Comment by George Pepper, July 10, 2015 After getting your email, I went to copies of letters I had written from LZ West. Unfortunately, there was nothing helpful there. As I remember, when the Chinook crash-landed on LZ West, we got the impression that the pilot had come in too hot and heavy. I will never forget seeing the pilot sitting there with his face buried in his hands. I assumed he was the pilot, anyway, but the crash was definitely on the LZ, and there was at least one survivor. Now then, on page 272 of Death Valley, Nolan writes that 3/7 Marines were airlifted on Aug 27 from LZ Baldy to LZ West. On page 272 he writes that they then marched down from the LZ around noon, which is what I remember, because it wasn't safe for the choppers to take them down to the valley.
Incidentally, on page 282 Nolan describes a friendly fire incident where marine artillery dropped two rounds on M/3/7 Marines. That was my unit, Whiskey Battery 3/11 that fired those rounds. We had just recently moved from Hill 55 to LZ Baldy, on 18 August. Right around that time our battery, which had consisted of six 4.2 mortars, received two 155mm howitzers. I was a member of the Fire Direction Control (FDC), and as I remember, and Nolan confirms, we used co-ordinates left by the Army to locate our battery center. Based on those co-ordinates, we were registering the new guns for the first time with the help of an observer in a plane or chopper. He was unable to see those first two rounds impact, and then the bad news came in. Our corporal in charge in the FDC was absolutely devastated. I just discovered the 3/11 unit diaries online at Texas Tech University. There is no mention of the above incident.
Comment by George Pepper, July 3, 2015 I was a member oF W Btry 3-11, (4.2 mortars) and spent two weeks on LZ West in August, 1969. It was a TDY, I was in the FDC, and we were there to support M-3/7. We watched them march down the hill into battle, and I remember the Marine helicopter crashing into the LZ. I was sure some Marines died, as we helped carry at least several bodys in ponchos from the wreck. I don't believe our battery every fired a round during our time at LZ West.
Comment by John Rorhbough, Apr 27, 2015 I was the crew chief on a 105mm howitzer on LZ Siberia, Gun Section 1. On August 30 1969 we were attacked by NVA. A 90mm recoilless rifle round landed in front of our gun wounding me and 3 members of my gun crew. Their names are: Dennis Longnecker, George Sherbondy and Scott Browman.
We were operating under new rules of engagement at that time..."do not fire unless fired upon". We watched the NVA build up in the valley below us for several days prior to the attack.
Comment by Robert Wiggins, Jan 10, 2013 As a former US Army Captain and pilot of an AH-1G Huey Cobra, call-sign "Blueghost 26" with F Troop 8th Cavalry, I flew in that valley during the entire 19 days and nights of the battle. After-action reports from F Troop will show that during the 2-3 days before the battle began, my fire-team tracked the movements of the 2nd Division NVA from the Laotian border into the area west of Hiep Duc. Also it was my fire-team that was the first gunships on station covering the south western slope on the very early morning of the assault LZ West. We flew fire mission for all 3 movement battalions of the 196th LIB plus the USMC contingent that moved from LZ Ross into the valley from the east. History and fact, not opinion and or conjecture.
Comment by Hank Gaylor, August 17, 2012 I was CO of B-4/31 during this fight. Your accounts of 18-19 Aug for Bravo are basically correct. CPT Thomas, CO C Co, did send 3rd Plt to my aid. Link was made and since my position was not tenable, I made the decision to move. LCT Henry told me to link up with Charlie for the remainder of the night. We were ambushed as we crossed the river. I made the decision to fight our way out without the KIA bodies. The following day, after B Co was moved to LZ Siberia, CPT Thomas took Charlie Co back to recover our bodies. They were in turn engaged and almost overrun. CPT Thomas and several others including Rocky Blier (NFL football player) were wounded. It is also true that after all my wounded were evacuated (plus my 9 US KIAs), my strength was reduced by some 40%. After movement to LZ Siberia, we were given replacements and soon were returned to the field.
Commentby Les Hines 02/68-04/70 Americal Division A/123rd Avn Bn. Crewchief. (Americal Division Veterans Association historian) Wow, you have put a lot of stuff together. I do not have much new information to send you. I do have a bunch of information on the 1/46th Inf. Bn that is new. I am not sure if you have a copy of the 1970-71 196th Unit Album and the 1968 196th Unit album on DVD. There are photos like a high school year book. We now have all the Sitreps from 1967 (April -December 1967). Have some new stuff on artillery and etc. I have made up a new map of the area from Hue to Baldy. Just cleaning up a few things. General Kroesen said the 196th took over the Thua Thien province after the Marines left Vietnam. So I wanted to cover this area better. It is a struggle as the firebase names changed a lot. LZ Pike was now FSB Yonkers and etc. I have a video from 1967-68 of the 3/21 in their trip to the DMZ. Found out that the 1/20 th infantry Brigade unit that filled in around LZ Center for the 3/21st trip to the DMZ lost a lot of men. It was almost as bad for them to fill in as it was for the 3/21st on the DMZ. Take care. Like this. I will check it out a bit more. I think you can zoom in on your map; but at first look it is pretty densely packed with incidents. Oh, Yeah I have some new materials from General Negris about the last patrol days for the 3/21st. Take care.
Comment by Dick Elgin As a Warrant Officer I flew a "LOH" helicopter for HHC, 196th LIB. Our cal lsign was Charger. The pilots of our little aviation section lived on LZ Baldy (and later on Hawk Hill). I arrived on Baldy 12 May 1969, my 21st birthday. We flew all sorts of mission......flying liaison personnel, sniffer missions, POW extractions, resupply, med-evac, C&C, quiet insertions, you name it. When you in the field called, we responded, albeit single-ship, single pilot in our little LOH's. During the summer of 1969, I don't think there was an LZ in our AO that I did not fly to and land in. All my best to you grunts who suffered and endured.