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William H. Dabney Papers

Identifier: MS-0508
The bulk of the papers consist of oral history interviews; printed material; articles and clippings; citations for military awards, photographs; military papers; incoming correspondence; and other material relating the career of COL William H. Dabney, USMC. Included is information about COL Dabney's role in the Battle of Khe Sanh, defense of Hill 881S ( Hill 881 S.


  • Majority of material found within 1968-1988


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Manuscript collections in the VMI Archives are made available for educational and research use. The VMI Archives should be cited as the source. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright holders. Materials from our collections may not be redistributed, published or reproduced without permission from the VMI Archives. Contact the VMI Archives for additional information.


1.5 cubic feet (2 boxes)

Biographical / Historical

U. S. Marine Corps officer William H. Dabney was born in St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of the Hugh Keane Dabney and Mary Hennessey Dabney. Raised in Panama and the Tidewater area of Virginia, he graduated from Christ Church School in Middlesex County, and attended Yale University and then enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1954. He attained the rank of Sergeant before enrolling at Virginia Military Institute and graduating with the class of 1961. He married Virginia McCandlish Puller, daughter of Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller in September, 1961.

An infantry officer, Colonel Dabney served 37 years in the Marine Corps, including two tours in Vietnam, and earned numerous citations, including the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry, and the Navy Cross. While in Vietnam, he commanded India Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines, on Hill 881S during the Battle of Khe Sanh, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross in 2005.

In 1987 COL Dabney reported to VMI as Professor of Naval Science and head of the NROTC unit. He was subsequently appointed Commandant of Cadets, retiring from VMI in May 1990. He spent his retirement years in Lexington, Virginia, where he died in 2012.

Navy Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Colonel [then Captain] William H. Dabney United States 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 resupply, 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 resupply 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.

Action Date: January 21 - April 14, 1968

Physical Location

Manuscripts Stacks

Repository Details

Part of the Virginia Military Institute Archives Repository

VMI Archives
Preston Library
Lexington VA 24450