Colonel William H. Dabney, Unites States Marine Corps (Ret.) passed away today. He was the son-in-law of legendary Marine Lewis “Chesty” Puller, and was a mustang officer who commanded a two-company detachment of 3rd Bn 26th Marines on Hill 881S near Khe Sanh for seventy-seven days in early 1968. Colonel Dabney’s Marines held onto that key terrain with clenched fingers against anything and everything the NVA could throw at them. Only two ways off the hill, they said. “Blown off, or flown off.” A 2005 Leatherneck Magazine article tells the story.
Colonel Dabney waited 37 years to receive a Navy Cross for his actions. It was awarded in 2005, at Virginia Military Institute, his alma mater. Here is his citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to:
William H. Dabney (0-80399), Colonel [then Captain], U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Commanding Officer of two heavily reinforced rifle companies of the Third Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, THIRD Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam from 21 January to 14 April 1968. During the entire period, Colonel Dabney’s force stubbornly defended Hill 881S, a regional outpost vital to the defense of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Following his bold spoiling attack on 20 January 1968, shattering a much larger North Vietnamese Army (NVA) force deploying to attack Hill 881S, Colonel Dabney’s force was surrounded and cut off from all outside ground supply for the entire 77 day Siege of Khe Sanh. Enemy snipers, machine guns, artillery, and 120-millimeter mortars responded to any daylight movement on his position. In spite of deep entrenchments, his total casualties during the siege were close to 100 percent. Helicopters were his only source of re-supply, and each such mission brought down a cauldron of fire on his landing zones. On numerous occasions Colonel Dabney raced into the landing zone under heavy hostile fire to direct debarkation of personnel and to carry wounded Marines to evacuation helicopters.
The extreme difficulty of re-supply resulted in conditions of hardship and deprivation seldom experienced by American forces. Nevertheless, Colonel Dabney’s indomitable spirit was truly an inspiration to his troops. He organized his defenses with masterful skill and his preplanned fires shattered every enemy probe on his positions. He also devised an early warning system whereby NVA artillery and rocket firings from the west were immediately reported by lookouts to the Khe Sanh Combat Base, giving exposed personnel a few life saving seconds to take cover, saving countless lives, and facilitating the targeting of enemy firing positions.
Colonel Dabney repeatedly set an incredible example of calm courage under fire, gallantly exposing himself at the center of every action without concern for his own safety. Colonel Dabney contributed decisively to ultimate victory in the Battle of Khe Sanh, and ranks among the most heroic stands of any American force in history. By his valiant combat leadership, exceptional bravery, and selfless devotion to duty, Colonel Dabney reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Great web site about the “Warriors of Hill 881S”, of which Colonel Dabney was the mightiest. “India Six Actual”. Colonel Dabney was 77.
“Another Marine reporting, Sir, I’ve served my time in hell.”
h/t Masta G
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC
- The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War
- On Midrats 22 March 2015 – Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again – with Will Beasley
- Missile Defense and Budget Issues
- On Midrats 3/15/15 – Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter “