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SS Mayaguez Rescue / Battle of Koh Tang

SS Mayaguez Rescue / Battle of Koh Tang

Monday, May 15, 2017, will mark the 42nd anniversary of an oft forgotten event in both Marine Corps and U.S. military history. But, it will not be forgotten by the hundreds of Marines, Sailors and Airmen who participated in the rescue of the U.S. container ship S.S. Mayaguez and the battle fought on Koh Tang, an island off the Cambodian mainland, for the release of the ship and her crew. It is not my intent in this posting to recite the entire story because it is too long, many books and articles have been written about the operation and are available to anyone who wishes to delve deeper into it. I would suggest to start at www.kohtang.com which is the web site for the Koh Tang/Mayaguez Veterans Organization. My intent today is just to make it known and ask that everyone take a moment on Monday to remember those 41 servicemen who sacrificed their lives to rescue 41 the merchant sailors of the S.S. Mayaguez, Here’s the story in a nut-shell: On 12 May 1975 the SS Mayaguez was captured by Cambodian Khmer Rouge pirates and taken to Koh Tang (island), Aircraft from Thailand and the Philippines responded to ascertain the situation. On 13 May 1975 2nd Battalion/9th Marines (WestPac Air Contingent Battalion) we alerted, pulled from the field in NTA & Kin Blue on Okinawa, during monsoon rains, back to Camp Schwab for deployment to Royal Thai NAS U-Tapao, Thailand. At the same time USS Coral Sea, USS Wilson and USS Holt were diverted to the Gulf of Siam (Thailand). At U-Tapao, CH/HH-53 helicopters from the Air Force 40th ARRS and 21st SOS squadrons rendezvoused to provide lift from U-Tapao to Koh Tang, about 180 miles. During this rendezvous, one of the choppers crashed killing 23 Airmen. The morning of May 15, 1975 the Marines of 2/9 assaulted Koh Tang, while a detachment from Delta 1/4 landed aboard the USS Holt and cross-decked to the SS Mayaguez. It was a massacre on the island due to poor intelligence which led us to believe that there were only about 20 irregulars on the island instead of the 200+ battle hardened Khmer Rouge regulars with heavy armament. USS Holt towed SS Mayaguez from the island, while USS Wilson picked up the crew who had been released by the Cambodians. Getting off the island was now the problem, with so many aircraft damaged and destroyed during the insertion. Final extraction from West Beach was not accomplished until after dark that evening. Marines of 2/9 were scattered between all three ships and the final muster brought a shocking realization. A three man MG crew, as well as bodies from the days combat had been left on the island. This was a direct violation of the adage that Marines never leave their brothers behind. However, regardless of how much we begged the Admiral aboard the Coral Sea to let us return to the island, our requests fell on deaf ears due to the geopolitical situation at the time. Most of their remains have now been recovered and are buried in their hometowns or Arlington National Cemetery. There is still much controversy about the remains of the 3 man MG crew which may have been taken to mainland Cambodia. The Koh Tang/Mayaguez Veterans Organization continues to monitor and do what it can to find out what happened to our brothers. “All Gave Some, 41 Gave All” Semper Fi, Edd Prothro, MSgt USMC Ret.
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Comments

David Boling - January 16, 2022

I was with ALPHA co. 1st Amtrac bn. we were attached to Delta Co. 1/4 aboard the LST Barbour County. All these years I still wonder why we weren’t used assault the island, still do. Our 50cals and bullet proof skin would have went along way towards keeping those Marines alive and guaruntee we wouldn’t have left any behind. Oh yeah the ville outside Camp Schwab was Henoko or Hooterville to us Marines.

Rm2(AW) USN RET Joseph Kriz - August 30, 2021

I was blessed to retire early after this last deployment on the salvage dive ship USS BRUNSWICK ATS 3(SUPPER TUG). Was a top secret mission on the day of MIA/KIA Celebration of remembranc we embarked to KohTang… months before we practiced outside small island outside Okinawa Japan with mike boats and zodiac.. and
cofferdams sorting trays and all the ship had to work in the water as far I as I know.
Because sand simular to sand on koh tang…. we I helped as radioman commo on beach and on ship to hold on to the money. To bribe and to get info etc. To get what we needed for the window given us tons of needle on beach needed cleaning to set up tent ,lots of boas traded to eat.. some of us had rewards on us .. because given changed rapidly I got in trouble for video taping by my xo who said I needed a leash on me.. he is lucky I prayed for him.. he didn’t deserve his post my Co I was his radioman as E5..COMMO My RMSC worked crypto.. so I was in charge of radio.
Nevertheless it was the most enjoyable last tour of duty and as the place was placed on the pilots seat after we removed over 10,000 lbs of sand from the cover dams. We took out the largest remains according to central identification laboratory HI. We also had teem go to Phnompen to recover remains.. well to you who were there I felt the spirit and the horror there you had to go thru it was not in vain.. never think it was sacrifices have Been made..no winners or lovers so let’s remember them as they were for only the body dies they moved on to a world of no hurt…. I’ll always remember you whom taken you to hell and back.. for to live life we live for them too ..

Top Pro USMC ’64-’84 - April 14, 2020

In reply to Gunny Hall.
Gunny Hall – Please read my responce to Gunny Bennett above. We certainly would have preferred to have Marine air assets, so would have the Air Force, but there were just none available in the time frame required. We members of the Koh Tang/Mayaguez the greatest respect and enpathy with our Air Force breathern. They did one helluva job!! Semper Fi!

Sgt. Heston - April 14, 2020

I remember this action very Will. I was at Camp Schwab when the 2/9 pull out on that mission it was a big deal that day on the whole base! My unit was with the Amtrac Battalion on the top of the base. The 2/9 was on the very bottom of the base! We were put on standby but yes it was planned as a easy rescue,our brothers were not expecting what came! But all the training in the jungle off of Schwam really paid off!! After 2/9 got back the base showed there respect to the Marines that were lost! But man the little town just outside of the base I think it was called Ha-noko. But it was really Rocken we party toasted and praise our brothers and gave them a hell of send off!! US MARINE FOREVER!

Gunny Hall - April 14, 2020

I was a SSgt stationed at MCAS Futema as a GCA Tech at the time of these events. Grunts loaded into VMGR 152 C-130’s right outside of our Op’s bldg. I was puzzled by the use of Air Force 53’s. Where were the Marine 53’s? They weren’t at Futema! All A/C stationed at Futema except the VMO squadron (OV-10’s) were deployed as P/O Operation Eagle Pull (Saigon evacuation) or the mission at Koh Tang. At one point I stood at midfield of the landing strip at Futema and marveled at the ghostly stillness of the entire base. Piss poor intel and plain inexperience cost too many good men their lives.

Top Pro USMC ’64-’84 - April 14, 2020

In reply to artymgysgt.
Regretfully, it was tit-for-tat. 41 American servicemen gave their lives to save 41 merchant sailors from an American flagged ship. Semper Fi!

artymgysgt - April 14, 2020

I had just returned to Okinawa from USNB Subic Bay after off loading from USS Vancouver and spending some time at the base and Olongapo City after Operation Frequent Wind. I was walking to the snack bar at Camp Hague and there was a lot of vehicle traffic and other Marines moving around the camp. The following morning Found out what was going on. I thought Vietnam was over with. After rotating back to Camp Pendleton I later got to work around Vietnamese again as thousands of refugees were there. Some time later a friend and I went back and forth regarding casualties I said we lost more service men then crew members of the Mayaguez who were recovered.

Top Pro USMC ’64-’84 - April 14, 2020

In reply to aardq.
There were 20 Air Police plus the 3 man crew aboard the aircraft which crashed in Thailand on 14 May 75. Killed during the assault on the island’s East Beach were 10 Marines, 2 Navy Corpsmen and the Air Force copilot aboard Knife-31; One Air Force crew chief drowned at sea due to crash; One Marine killed on patrol on West Beach; and the 3 Marines machine gun crew were unknowingly left on West Beach. These comprise the last 41 names on the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial. May they rest in peace. Semper Fi!

aardq - April 14, 2020

Clarification on the casualties. Does the 41 include the 23 airmen that were lost, or in addition to the air crew?Thank you

Top Pro USMC ’64-’84 - April 14, 2020

In reply to GySgt Bruce V. Bennett USMC (ret.).
There was no “inter-service turf battle” about who would fly the mission. The CH/HH-53’s were the only ones available. Read further below:

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