On February 15, a legendary Marine left us to report for duty in Heaven. This particular Marine Legend was a legend for two very impressive actions.
The first heroic action William H. Dabney undertook was the courtship and marriage of Virginia Puller, eldest daughter of Chesty Puller. Having chased the daughters of such famous Marines as Col. Wes Fox and Master Gunnery Sergeant Thompson, I know how intimidating it can be to knock on that door. Of course, Bill Dabney was 6'5" and weighed 235 pounds, while Chesty was only about 5'10, and about 165. But I doubt the toughest of the tough would dare say they didn't find Chesty intimidating.
Later, as a Captain, Dabney was placed in command of a re-inforced company on top of Hill 881s, over-looking the base at Khe Sanh. From January 21 until April 14, Dabney and his Marines held their position against overwhelming forces. The Marines said there were only two ways off Hill 881s: Flown off or Blown off. They endured enemy mortar and artillery fire, and could only be re-supplied by helicopter. The Marines knew they had a twenty second window from the pop of the enemy mortars to the impact of the shells, but Capt Dabney never had to order anyone to carry stretchers to the helicopters. The Marines prided themselves in raising the flag every morning, rushing the job in order to get it done before the mortar rounds landed. Again, Dabney never had to call for volunteers. Morale under his leadership, even under these terrible conditions, was high.
Captain Dabney's Navy Cross recommendation went down in a helicopter crash, and he was not awarded the medal until 37 years after the Siege of Khe Sanh.
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.
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1990, Colonel Dabney became the Commandant of Cadets at VMI, his Alma Mater.