54 years ago today, January 22nd 1969, Operation Dewey Canyon began. the operation would last 56 days and be the last major operation of the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam. The goal of the operation was to neutralize a PAVN build-up in the A Shau and Đa Krông Valleys for essentially annual spring offensive. The operation would consist of 3 phases; the first would be to set up firebases to support the operation, the second would be to patrol around the firebases and the third phase would be to push into PAVN base areas.

“Leathernecks of the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines [2/9] trudge across a mountain stream in search of the enemy during Operation Dewey Canyon in the northern A Shau Valley complex (official USMC photo by Lance Corporal Bill Carroll).”

Phase one and two saw light resistance but the third phase saw significant action. Following an artillery attack on Firebase Cunningham on February 17th the Marines pushed up to the Laotian boarder and eventually tip toed over. The patrolling and ambushed of either side continued through February when the marines began to withdraw after destroying large stockpiles of supplies left but the PAVN. In the beginning of march the Marines began dismantling their temporary firebases and pulling back to Vandegrift, where they had launched from. By the 18th the operation was over.

For a more detailed look at the battle I have some links at the bottom.

“Colonel James Moore (Denison, Texas) points out an enemy sniper position to Staff Sergeant Henry W. Taylor, Jr. (foreground) of Marshallville, Georgia. Both are members of the 9th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division and are participating in Operation Dewey Canyon in the northern A Shau Valley complex (official USMC photo by Corporal J. G. McCullough).”

Now let’s get into the gear of the operation.
The Marines of 1969 looked pretty different from those that had landed in 1965. Most wore the new ERDL camouflage uniform although a large number of the plain OD jungle uniforms are seen in photos. Why the mix? I’m not sure, it could be that since it was a long operation as uniforms wore out and were replaced the replacement was the plain uniform. Much more “Army” equipment is also seen in use during Dewey Canyon. The standouts being the lightweight rucksack and 3/4 collar or M69 flak vests. The most common vest was still the M1955 with 2nd and 3rd patterns present, but there number of the M69s are present in photos.

It is hard to determine just what the web gear set up is from the photos. For one there is a lack of clear photos but also due to the habit of Marines wearing their flak vest over the top of their web gear. The pictures I was able to identify had M1956 suspenders and a couple canteens on the back. Since M1956 ammo pouches turn up in large numbers in earlier battles I assumed that they would be the case here so used those. Though I wasn’t able to verify. It is also possible that ammo pouches weren’t used. It was not uncommon to eschew pouches for just magazines in bandoliers later in the war.

“Tough Climb: Leathernecks of H Company, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, make their way up a mountain during Operation Dewey Canyon. Elements of the 9th Marines captured the largest enemy arms cache of the Vietnam war during the operation conducted in the northern A Shau Valley complex (official USMC photo by Lance Corporal Bill Carroll).”

The rucksacks were heavily loaded but it is a bit difficult to determine just what they have packed onto them in the photos unfortunately. They all look pretty sloppily loading. Just slapped everything and the kitchen sink on there. I do see some M1951 shovels without their covers on the packs. I identify them by the holes in the head. A little interesting as the normal shovel should have been the M1943 for the USMC at that time as far as I know.

A last thing of note is the lack of helmet bands. There are plenty in the photos and some even look to be the “Army” elastic ones but most seem to have no band. I just point it out since the M1 helmet with helmet band is such a quintessential image of the Vietnam war but it isn’t always as common as one would assume. Also it looks like every chinstrap is clipped up behind the helmet.

Multiple canteens on the back of the web gear. A rare example of vegetation on a helmet too.

The Captain below has a 1911 and compass (It’s the same as the M1942 first aid pouch but the description changed to compass) pouch.

“Captured SKS: Captain Edward F. Riley, 32 (South Portland, Maine), a company commander with 9th Marine Regiment, examines one of over 600 North Vietnamese Army rifles captured by men of his company during Operation Dewey Canyon. Riley led his men on an assault of an enemy held hill to capture the weapons. His men accounted for 30 enemy dead in unearthing the largest enemy arms cache of the Vietnam war (official USMC photo by Lance Corporal E. E. Hildreth).”
“Close Look: Three Marines of D Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines [D/1/9] look over a captured North Vietnamese Army 7.62mm antiaircraft machine gun. The weapon was part of an arms cache believed to be the largest ever found in Vietnam. The Marines are (left to right) Private First Class Edward F. Culp, 20 (Dayton, Ohio), 2d Lieutenant John E. Trapp (Laconia, New Hampshire), and Lance Corporal Val Fisher, 20 (Holt, California).

Below is a shot of an M69 flak vest and M7 holster.

“Stacks and Stacks of Rifles: Infantrymen of the 9th Marines inspect some of the 606 enemy rifles captured near the Laotian border during Operation Dewey Canyon. The rifles were part of a 288 ton cache unearthed February 28 (official USMC photo by Lance Corporal E. E. Hildreth).”

Hard to make out much below but I thought the marines 2nd from the left had an interest helmet set up with a net reminiscent of WWII. A rare sight in Vietnam.

“After the Battle: Men of the 4th Marines move along a ridgeline following a battle with a well entrenched North Vietnamese force near the Demilitarized Zone. The Marines killed 31 of the enemy and unearthed large caches of enemy supplies and ammunition (official USMC photo by Lance Corporal M. C. Patterson).”

You can see a good mix of gear below. There are the Lightweight rucksacks, regular M1941 Haversacks and a packboard. As well the M1955 and M69 flak vests along with a mix of ERDL and plain jungle uniforms. One Marine appears to be wearing a rain jacket as well.

Marines from Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, take five on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in northern Laos, in February 1969, as part of Operation Dewey Canyon.

Here is some neat period footage of the battle.

Further reading below

The Wikipedia article on the battle


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