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 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.
Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!


  • Top Pro USMC ’64-’84

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

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