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Mayaguez: the final tragedy of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.


On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized Cambodia and, within two weeks, Communist-led forces overran South Vietnam. At the same time, the Laotian Government fell to the Pathet Lao, and "United States Forces departed the immediate area except for those in Thailand." Even as the U.S. abandoned her decade long commitment to a conflict she, in hindsight, may never have had a chance to win, events between May 12-15, 1975, in the waters off Cambodia drew them back, one more time, to the bitter fruits of that Southeast Asian conflict. (1)


The crisis began to unfold on May 12, 1975, when Cambodian communist naval forces, operating former U.S. Navy "Swirl Boats," approached the container-ship SS Mayaguez, en route to Sattahip, Thailand, flying an American flag in the Gulf of Siam, eight miles from Poulo Wai Island and 60 miles south of Cambodia. For generations, these had been generally accepted as international sea lanes. The new Cambodian communist regime claimed this area as their territorial waters. Initially, these Khmer Rouge naval forces sprayed machine gun fire across the ship's bow. Concerned for the safety of his crew, Mayaguez 's, Captain Charles T. Miller, directed engine room personnel to reduce speed to a maneuvering level to avoid the machine gun fire. in response, the Khmer Rouge fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). (2)

Miller, realizing the peril he was in, had his radio operator send a general "Mayday," and then he stopped the ship. Alter delaying the inevitable as long as possible, Miller finally allowed seven Khmer Rouge, led by Battalion Commander Sa Mean, to board. Once aboard the Mayaguez, the Khmer Rouge and the Captain began difficult communications during which Sa Mean accused the crew of spying and had his men subject some of the crew to what was later described, euphemistically, as "intense interrogation." Depending on the source, this translated as either "torture" or slaps on the face. Ultimately, with the radio operator still secretly sending SOS signals, Sa Mean pointed to a map and demanded that Miller sail his ship east to Poulo Wai Island--which he did. (3)

At some point in this confrontation, an Australian ship received the call for help from the Mayaguez. They radioed their home offices in Australia which sent out a general message to U.S. officials. Not long after, the Mayaguez reached Poulo Wai where it was boarded by 20 more Khmer soldiers. They insisted that Miller proceed to the port of Ream on the Cambodian coast. Miller, using hand gestures, finally explained that the ship's radar was not working and that he feared the Mayaguez might run aground. Sa Mean radioed his superiors who instructed them to stay at Poulo Wai. Unknown to the participants in this evolving drama, the ship's distress signal had also been received around 0718 hours Zulu time by several other listeners most notably, John Neal, a member of the Delta Exploration Company in Jakarta, Indonesia who notified the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. In turn, the Embassy sent a message to Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC) for transmission to Washington, D.C. It read simply, "Have been fired upon and boarded by Cambodian armed forces at 9 degrees/48 minutes north/102 degrees /53 minutes east. Ship is being towed to unknown Cambodian port." (4)

By 1715 hours on the east coast of the United States, several messages reached the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in Washington D.C. alerting American government and military officials to events unfolding half a world away. As this transpired, a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft began searching for the 30-year old container ship. Soon, while taking fire from Khmer forces, the crew identified the Mayaguez at anchor at Koh Tang Island, 50 miles off the southern coast of Cambodia, near their common border with Vietnam. (5)

Initial Responses

President Gerald R. Ford received the news about the seizure of the ship during his morning briefing with deputy assistant for national affairs, Brent Scowcroft. The details arrived slowly but when everything became clear, the reality hit the Ford Administration like a lightning bolt from the heavens. Devastated by the fall of Saigon and the embarrassing U.S. withdrawal, better known as Operation Frequent Wind, two weeks earlier, the Ford Administration was now confronted by yet another potentially humiliating incident they feared might further damage the nation's reputation. (6)

At noon in Washington, on May 13, the President convened a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) to mull over what could be done to allay the potential diplomatic disaster. It was during this time that the NMCC had directed CINCPAC, Admiral Noel Gayler, to launch the previously mentioned P-3 reconnaissance aircraft in an effort to locate the container ship and its crew. (7)

The general tenor of the NSC meeting began with concern for the crew and this latest attack on U.S. prestige. By the end, everyone in attendance was determined to act quickly and resolutely to save the crew and right this wrong done to U.S. honor. Having been president for only 10 months and having not been elected, Ford believed he had to use military force. He was mindful of the possibility that cautious action might be compared with the apparently "timid" action taken by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the USS Pueblo incident of 1968 when the Noah Koreans captured and held a U.S. Navy intelligence ship and its crew for eleven months. Throughout the Communist World, leaders used that event to embarrass the United States and leverage their erstwhile diplomatic relations with the U.S. (8)

Still, the President knew that any American military action would be complicated since U.S. forces were scattered all over the Pacific as they redeployed from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Ford believed he had few other options since the U.S. had no diplomatic contact with the new Kampuchean regime. For this reason, close advisers suggested that negotiations were not feasible. In hindsight, one wonders if they had not been so anxious to act militarily if an avenue to backdoor negotiations, such as those undertaken during the Cuban Missile Crisis, might not have been more seriously attempted. Whatever the possibilities, following the NSC meeting, it seems the die had been cast in favor of military action. Since the United States had no diplomatic contact with the Khmer Rouge government, the President directed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to ask the People's Republic of China to persuade the Khmer Rouge to release the Mayaguez and its crew. in turn, Kissinger instructed George H.W. Bush, Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing, to deliver this demand to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. In fact, this apparent diplomatic afterthought never really had time to succeed. (9)

Even as these decisions moved forward, Ford publicly declared the seizure to be an act of "piracy," and he privately ordered military leaders to swiftly draw up a plan to retake the ship and its 40-man crew. He redirected the aircraft carrier, USS Coral Sea (CV-43), and her supporting flotilla, headed for Australia, to the Gulf of Thailand near Cambodia. Military leaders designated 10 Air Force CH-53 Knife or Sea Stallion (not capable of aerial refueling) helicopters of the 21 st Special Operations Squadron (21 SOS) and nine HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters (capable of aerial refueling) of the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron (40 ARRS), both stationed in Thailand. The next day, U.S. officials repositioned 600 Marines from Okinawa, Japan and Subic Bay, The Philippines to U Tapao Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), Thailand. They did so without the express permission of the Thai government.

Concurrently, Ford also directed the Seventh Air Force (7 AF) to "keep an eye" on the Mayaguez to prevent the Khmer Rouge from moving the crew to the mainland port of Kampong Sore from which rescue would be nearly impossible. Initial planning even considered using B-52D bombers to attack key positions along the Cambodian coast to limit the response that could come from the mainland in support of Khmer Rouge forces at Koh Tang Island or elsewhere. (10)

The main body of the American reaction force came from the Second Battalion, Ninth Marines (BLT 2/9) commanded by Lt. Col. Randall W. Austin. They were conducting a training exercise on Okinawa when orders to redeploy arrived. As a matter of standard operating procedure, the response force should have been from the First Battalion (BLT I/9), but the vast majority were at the end of their tours of duty in Asia which could not be extended, in addition, the BLT 3/9 forces were just returning from Operation Frequent Wind and were scattered in ships all across the Western Pacific. There is some irony in the Ninth Marines participation in the Mayaguez rescue attempt since it had been the first U.S. ground combat forces committed to the Vietnam War in 1965. (11)

The rescue effort did not get off to an auspicious start. On May 13, before the Marine forces had been alerted, the Air Force moved 125 Security Police to U Tapao as a contingency security force. As one of the CH-53s made the flight to U Tapao, it crashed and killed 18 security personnel of the 656th Security Police Squadron (656 SPS) and five airmen. (12)

The next day, F-111A fighter-bombers from the 347th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) and F-4Ds of the 388 TFW based at Korat RTAFB located the Mayaguez which was being escorted toward mainland Cambodia by four enemy gunboats. AC-130 Spectre fixed-wing gunships of the 16th Special Operations Squadron (16 SOS) were ordered to shadow the four gunboats and fire across their bows to prevent them from reaching the coast. The Spectre's 40mm cannon and 105mm howitzer forced three of the gunboats to turn back. Flights of F-111A, F-4D, and A-7D fighter-bombers fired in front of the remaining gunboat. It refused to stop, so an A-7D sank it.

The pilots soon reported that they had spotted "a fishing vessel approximately 40 feet in length with approximately 30-40 people of undetermined race aboard, seated on deck." Not long after, this wooden fishing boat departed Koh Tang Island. In the After-Action report, air crews noted that, "This boat '... was not taken under direct attack because of the probability of Americans being on board.'" During the four hours it took this boat to reach Kampong Som, A-7s and F-4Ds dropped ordnance in front of the ship in an attempt to make it return to Koh Tang. As it turned out, the crew was on the small craft but, since this fact could not be confirmed at the time, military planners proceeded as though the crew were still on the Koh Tang Island. (13)


Since preparation time was short and mission planners expected the mission to be a low intensity operation, the rescue soon took on an ad hoc nature. As it turned out, Marine units and helicopter crews scheduled to attack Koh Tang were unaware the island was defended by elite Khmer Rouge naval infantry forces. Worse, with Ford pushing for quick action, planners worked with inadequate intelligence on the Khmer Rouge forces at Koh Tang. As a result, U.S. forces expected 20 to 30 lightly-armed militia fighters. Instead, they found a well armed reinforced company of 100-150 men originally sent to protect the island from their former Vietnamese allies. (14)

It is worth noting that not long after Cambodia fell, U.S. intelligence sources indicated there were only 18-20 Cambodians on Koh Tang Island. However, on May 13, 1975, Intelligence Pacific (IPAC) submitted a report to the Marine Ground Security Force (GSF) commander that the "Khmer Communists" had a company of about 90-100 men with "heavy weapons." Somehow, this piece of information never reached the GSF commander. It did reach the transport helicopter pilots but was overridden by another report which read:
   According to Major J.B. Hendricks, Operations Officer of
   the Second Battalion of the Ninth Regiment (2/9), from
   which the Koh Tang Island assault force was drawn; their
   briefings informed them 'that there were 20-30 Khmer
   Rouge irregulars on the island, possibly reinforced by
   whatever naval support personnel that were there associated
   with the gunboats sighted in the area.' (15)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) "After-Action report," confirmed that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) indicated that there were at least 100 and probably more Khmer Rouge regulars present. This was one of several examples of the lack of communication and cooperation by the various agencies and services involved. (16)

When BLT 2/9 arrived on station, Col. Austin immediately undertook an aerial inspection of Koh Tang in a U.S. Army U-21 Beechcraft King Air 100 aircraft. As he reported, for fear of compromising the secrecy of the mission, "we were limited to a minimum altitude of 6,000 feet and could not see the necessary detail." (17) He decided that the island had such dense jungle growth that the only two practical landing zones were beaches on the eastern and western shores of the northern portion of Koh Tang. The rescue mission was organized into several groups. Plans called for 57 Marines from "Delta" Company, First Battalion, Fourth Marines (BLT 1/4) to be transferred, by three helicopters, to the destroyer escort USS Harold F. Holt for boarding the Mayaguez. A larger force of 600 Marines from BLT 2/9, composed of "Golf" and "Echo" Companies, was assigned to conduct a combat assault in eight helicopters to seize and hold Koh Tang and rescue the crew. Plans called for the assault force to be comprised of about 200 with the remainder held in reserve until needed. (18)

At this point, with Kissinger's back channel diplomacy creeping along, the military plan began to evolve into a hastily created mission based on a complex plan that not only included multiple groups of Marines but eight to eleven helicopters to land or support the Marines at Koh Tang. There were several moving parts, and they all had to function perfectly for the mission to succeed. However, from the outset, there was confusion over command and control as well as a long chain of command stretching all the way back to the White House running down to the JCS, CINCPAC, Marine, Air Force and Navy forces on the scene and numerous intelligence agencies such as the DIA, Naval Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and even a multitude of layers of the State Department, the NSA, and the Ford Cabinet. In many ways, this resembled the highly restricted decision-making that troubled President Johnson's handling of Operation Rolling Thunder. In retrospect, had the planners had more time to absorb the various opinions and reports, things might have gone better, but with Ford determined to act "decisively" and "quickly," they did not! (19)

At least this made more sense than an aspect of the original plan to use 125 Air Force security police personnel to rescue the crew. In the final version of the plan, officials called for the four helicopters of the initial part of the first wave to attack in four directions, two landing on the east beach and two on the west. Once a foothold was established four more helicopters would land the remainder of the first wave. Two other CH-53s were to act as search and rescue helicopters, supported by an HC-130 King command-and-control aircraft. Planners assigned the guided-missile destroyer U SS Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7) to support the Koh Tang operation, and the frigate USS Frank H. Schofield (FFG-3) to block the water passages between U.S. forces and Khmer reaction forces on the mainland. Concurrently, aircraft from the carrier Coral Sea were to attack targets on the Cambodian mainland to prevent interference with the rescue. As noted, initial plans considered using B-52Ds stationed at Andersen AB, Guam but, at the last minute, Ford decided this was overkill and opted for the use of tactical carrier based fighter aircraft.

Another puzzling aspect of the rescue plan proved to be the near omission of AC- 130 fixed-wing gunships for close air support (CAS). Located in nearby Thailand and having been so effective throughout the Vietnam War, this air asset might have seemed to be an obvious element of the operation. Ultimately, while they did participate in the operation, with positive results, at this point they were mostly relegated to a backup role. In retrospect, the Air Force provided significant CAS during the operation including the extended services of 24 A-7Ds, 17 AC-130 gunships, and 40 OV-10 Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft. The expectation that there were only a few enemy troops on Koh Tang probably influenced this decision not use CAS as much as they eventually did. (20)

One last point about the planning must be mentioned, and it comes directly from the pages of the CINCPAC's own history. The U.S. could, due to the breakneck speed necessary to carry out the plan, only operate with the forces that were still close by. That is why the initial plan called for using 75 to 125 Air Force security police and, when 23 airmen died in the aforementioned crash, planners had to turn to the Marines in the area. As for the number of Marines injected into the fight at Koh Tang, there were many more available but, to quote the official report, "Helicopter availability dictated the size and composition of forces; thus, the initial insertion was marginal in size, and rapid buildup ashore was not possible." Worst of all, the CH-53s did not have aerial refueling capabilities and had to stop periodically to land, refuel and re-launch. This often took hours. (21)


At 0300 on May 15, D Company's 57 Marines, an Army linguist, six volunteer Air Force bomb disposal experts, six sailors from the USS Duluth, and six volunteers from the Merchant Sealift Command (MSC) boarded three helicopters in Thailand and took off for the Holt. The destroyer's crew had jury-rigged a boarding platform top side to facilitate the Marines assault on the Mayaguez. Since the CH-53 Knifes were too big to land on the ship's helicopter pad, they hovered over the Holt so the first Marines could deploy down a rope and help the remainder of those on board the choppers descend down the cargo ramp as the CH-53s touched down their rear wheels.

At 0600, the operation to retake the ship began following the transfer of Marines to the Holt. At 0720, the destroyer escort came alongside as an A-7 aircraft poured down tear gas canisters on the Mayaguez. Wearing gas masks, the Marines captured the ship after a relatively brief fight only to discover the crew was not there. Within minutes of the ship's capture, they had triumphantly raised a U.S. flag over the Mayaguez and had her in tow.

As this transpired, five CH-53 Knifes and three HH-53 Jolly Green helicopters attacked Koh Tang Island landing on the east and west beaches. They encountered unexpectedly heavy automatic weapons and RPG fire from enemy forces. One CH-53 Knife 23 was hit and crash-landed on the east beach. Its twenty Marines and crew of five survived. They quickly established a defensive perimeter but remained isolated until the end of the operation. (22)

Soon after the first CH-53 went down, a second (Knife 31) was shot down by two RPGs. it crashed just offshore where the pilot, five Marines, and two Navy corpsmen were killed. Another Marine drowned swimming from the wreckage, and three Marines were killed by gunfire trying to reach the beach. A tenth Marine died of his wounds while clinging to the burning wreckage. The surviving ten Marines and three Air Force crew members had to tread water for four hours before being rescued by the Wilson. (23)

On the west beach, two other CH-53s (Knife 21 and Knife 22) arrived around 0630. As the Marines began to off-load, they came under heavy fire and Knife 21, piloted by Lt. Col. John H. Denham, lost its engine. After some frantic repair efforts, the chopper took off covered by suppressing fire from the second CH-53 Knife 22. Bellowing smoke, the first CH-53 flew out to sea and was able to ditch a mile off-shore where all but one crew member was rescued by another helicopter. Soon, the enemy damaged the second CH-53 so severely that it turned back with its Marines, including the company commander, and crash-landed on the Thai coast, where all on board were saved. The helicopters of the two remaining sections of the first wave eventually landed all their Marines by 0930. They were supported by withering fire from an AC-130H gunship of the 16 SOS. The Spectre was literally able to cut a path through the enemy positions and escort the helicopters to their landing area to unload their Marines. All totaled, 81 Marines landed on west beach during this initial insertion of forces. About 50 more would soon follow. (24)

With AC-130 Spectre 61 overhead, the tactical situation began to improve. The pilot identified himself to the pinned down Marines and fired several spotting rounds--one of which hit an enemy bunker. "How was that?" an AC- 130 spotter asked. "Right on, but it didn't do much," a Marine replied. Then the Spectre fired a 105ram round which demolished another bunker. "Jesus Christ," the Marine exclaimed. "What was that? Man, have I got targets for you!" The firepower from Spectre 61 and her sister ships enabled the groups of Marines to join forces and survive. (25)

As the 130 Marines on the west and east beaches carried out their mission, they continued to meet heavy resistance. Only fire support from numerous mortars, as well as CAS allowed them to make any progress. Of the eight

helicopters assaulting Koh Tang, three had been destroyed, and four others were damaged so badly they could not continue operations. One of the three choppers originally employed on the Holt portion of the operation had also been severely damaged attempting to pick up the platoon isolated on the east beach. This left only three helicopters of the original eleven available to bring in reinforcements. To compensate for these losses, the helicopters scheduled for search and rescue were reassigned to carry troops. These helicopters began airlifting the 127 Marines of the second wave from U Tapao RTAFB around 0900. (26)

A cruel paradox was that the crew of the Mayaguez had been moved from the mainland two days before the rescue effort. From the beginning of the incident, the Khmer Rouge had been publicly indicating, though not in direct communication with the U.S. government, that the crew would be released. Around 1045 hours, the Holt took the Mayaguez, now flying its American flag, in tow. Even as the battle for Koh Tang raged, a Thai fishing boat approached the Wilson. On board was a Thai crew, Captain Miller and the 39-man crew of the container ship. They were tired from their ordeal but, for the most part, they were in good health. As it turned out, earlier that morning they had been moved from Kompong Som in a small Cambodian gunboat and released on tiny Kach Island. From there, the Thais had taken them to the Wilson.

Clearly, the process of releasing the crew members and invading Koh Tang Island by the Marines were a nearly simultaneous pair of events. At the time, this was not clear. In many parts of the U.S., newspapers reported that the Koh Tang assault took place after the crew had been released. For a time, this created a growing public belief that the Ford White House initiated the attack on Koh Tang to make up for the humiliating losses in Southeast Asia suffered during the previous month. Even though many authors and experts are still not convinced that the Koh Tang assault was necessary, the vast majority of scholars and military specialists agree that in the chaos of the frantic efforts by the U.S. to recover the crew and ship, the attack was underway before the release of the crew members. A year later, in the fall of 1976, both the previously cited official CINCPAC report and a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), circulated in October 1976, raised questions about the President's handling of the incident. Neither agency was too concerned whether the attack on Koh Tang preceded the crews' release. They were more interested in why Ford had not given diplomacy a chance before committing the lives of U.S. forces. (27)


With word of the ship's rescue and the crew's release, the JCS decided that further actions were not necessary, and they recalled the second wave. At Koh Tang, Lt. Col. Austin soon made it clear that additional troops were necessary to prevent his forces from being overrun as they departed the theater of operation, dolly Greens 11, 12 and 43, and Knife 51 successfully landed additional Marines. At midday the Marines on east beach began a linkup with the bulk of "Golf" Company on the west beach. Supported by mortar fire and CAS to clear the jungle between the two forces, they finally reached the west beach perimeter. At this point, the second wave was in place, and they had evacuated nine wounded. This left a total of 202 Marines and five airmen on the west shore of Koh Tang including the 20 from east beach. (28)

Supported by AC-130s and mortar fire, the evacuation of these Marines continued all night under heavy fire. Those on the ground knew that each time a helicopter picked up a group of Marines, it would require an AC-130 to escort the Marines back to the Coral Sea. As they withdrew, the Marines also recognized that they would have to contract their perimeter. Plans called for three helicopter crews, flying Jolly Greens 43 and 44 as well as Knife 51, to remove Marines from Koh Tang supported by fire from several AC-130s and naval gunfire from the Holt. With evacuation plans in place, the Marines waited for evening, and, at 1830 hours, the first 41 Marines departed on Knife 51. Thirty minutes later they landed on the Coral Sea. They were soon followed by 53 airlifted by Jolly Green 43 and 34 more by Jolly Green 44. Those still on the Island now came under intense attack and were in danger of being overrun.

The process proved agonizingly slow. To facilitate the evacuation process, Jolly Green 44 pilot First Lieutenant Robert Blough decided to deliver his Marines to the Holt, the nearest ship to Koh Tang. Despite flying in pitch black darkness, he hovered his damaged helicopter over the ship with only its front wheels touching down, in order to deliver his cargo. Using this extraordinary technique, he was able to return to Koh Tang in only five minutes and extricate 40 more Marines.

Finally, Knife 51 landed and thought they loaded the last 39 Marines on board. At this point, the pilot, Captain James H. Davis, Gunnery Sergeant Lester A. McNemar and TSgt. Wayne Fisk made one last search of the beach for stragglers. Finding none, they left Koh Tang at 2010 hours and arrived at the Coral Sea at 2035 hours. It appeared to have been a perfect evacuation, it had been carefully supervised with the redeployment of remnant forces to ensure no one was missing. However, sometime afterwards, during a final head count, officers discovered that three Marines manning a machine gun were accidently left behind on the beach.

As the troop removal took place, officials in charge of the operation decided to cover the withdrawal with an unusual weapon. Flying a specially rigged C-130 Hercules, one aircrew dropped a BLU-82 15,000-pound bomb in the jungle between the east and west beaches to destroy any enemy positions threatening the Marine position. At the time, this was the largest conventional bomb in the American inventory. (20)


All together, 14 Marines were killed or missing, two Navy corpsmen and two airmen were killed. In an apparent attempt to reduce the shock of the casualty list, officials waited until later to announce that 23 airmen had died in the pre-operational crash in Thailand on May 13th. This raised the final U.S. death toll to 41. The Marines had 35 wounded and the Air Force six. Reconnaissance estimated that the Khmer Rouge lost 50-60 killed and had about 20-30 wounded. The U.S. casualties included 2d Lt. Richard Vandegeer, the pilot of Knife 31 and SSgt. Elwood E. Rumbaugh, the flight engineer on Knife 21, both in the 21 SOS. Rumbaugh drowned when his CH-53 ditched. His remains were never recovered. Ten of the Marine dead were from the 2/9 Battalion and included: LCpl. Gregory S. Copenhaver, LCpl. Andres Garcia, PFC Richard W. Rivenburgh, PFC Walter Boyd, PFC Antonio R. Sandoval, PFC Daniel A. Benedett, PFC James J. Jacques, PFC James R. Maxwell, PFC Kelton R. Turner, and PFC Lynn Blessing. The Navy corpsmen included HM 1 Bernard Gause, Jr. and HN Ronald J. Manning. They were all killed in the crash of Knife 31, but their bodies were recovered and returned home. Four Marines were not recovered. These included the three left behind: LCpl. Joseph N. Hargrove, PFC Gary L. Hall, and Private Danny G. Marshall. LCpl Ashton N. Loney also perished on Koh Tang, and his body was never recovered.

There were plenty of living heroes besides those who gave their "last full measure of devotion." Colonel Austin, Marine Corps First Lieutenants Michael S. Eustis and Terry L. Tonkin as well as Air Force Sergeant Thomas J. Bateson and Airman First Class (AIC) Brad E. Marx won the Silver Star, while TSgt. Wayne Fisk, a Pararescueman on Knife 51, MSgt. John J. Eldridge, USAF and SSgt Joseph S. Stanaland, USAF received a Bronze Oak leaf cluster in lieu of a second Silver Star. For his decision to airlift Marines to the Holt to facilitate the evacuation of Koh Tang, Lt. BIough was awarded the Silver Star. Capt. Rowland Purser, pilot of Jolly Green 43, 1st Lt Donald Backlund, pilot of Jolly Green 11, 1st Lt Richard C Brims, pilot of Knife 51, and SSgt Jon Harston, flight mechanic of Knife 31 all received the Air Force Cross. Second Lieutenant James V. McDaniel won the Navy Cross. (30)


On July 21, 1976, the three missing Marines were reclassified killed in action due to what senior Marine Corps officials called "a lack of reliable information to corroborate their survival." Later, unproven stories arose that suggested they had survived the battle and were executed by the Khmer Rouge. In looking back, what one can clearly say is that during the evacuation of forces from Koh Tang the situation became not only fluid but very chaotic. The body of LCpl. Loney who was killed early in the battle was also left on the beach. As the helicopters came in during the rapidly encroaching darkness things got even more intense and each evacuation forced the remaining Marines to contract their perimeter on the west beach. For example, LCpl. John S. Standfast, squad leader of the 3d Squad, 3d Platoon, Company E and his Marines covered Company G's withdrawal during the final reduction of the perimeter. As soon as this was done, he directed the pullback of his own squad. They had repeated this procedure each time the choppers came in and took off. Each time, before he and his platoon guide withdrew into the new defensive position, they searched forward to be sure that no one had been left behind. In spite of these efforts, the three-man M60 machine gun team was overlooked.

Hours after the evacuation was completed, with the returning Marines located on three Navy ships, Company E commander, Captain Mykle K. Stahl, discovered that three of his Marines were missing. The Marines double-checked every inch of each ship hoping that the three might have been wounded and unable to speak up. They never found Hargrove, Hall and Marshal I, who had been originally ordered to protect the right flank of the ever-shrinking perimeter. According to the subsequent interview of the Marines on Koh Tang, Sgt. Carl C. Andersen had been the last person to see the three Marines alive at about 2000 hours when he ordered them to move back to a new position located on the left flank commanded by Captain James H. Davis.

Their fellow Marines proposed a rescue operation, but their superiors turned it down since they considered it too dangerous, and they lacked evidence that the men were still alive. The Holt continued to patrol the shore off Koh Tang for the next 48 hours in case any of the missing men emerged from the jungle and tried to swim out to sea. This never happened and, eventually, officials listed them Missing in Action (MIA) and presumed dead. (31)

In his final report of the evacuation and the loss of the three Marines, Major Peter C. Brown concluded:

1. That all Marine force personnel exercising authority over Hall, Hargrove and Marshall performed their duties in a satisfactory manner.

2. That Hall, Hargrove and Marshall did not obey the order issued by Sergeant Anderson to report to Captain Davis' position and moved elsewhere.

3. That Hall, Hargrove and Marshall were not in the helicopter landing site area after liftoff of the 5th and 6th extrication helicopters.

4. That Hall, Hargrove and Marshall were not in the helicopter landing site area after liftoff of the 6th and final extraction helicopter landed.

5. That if Hall, Hargrove and Marshall had been in the general vicinity of the helicopter landing site area they would have attempted to board either the 5th or 6th helicopter unless they were unconscious, incapacitated because of wounds, or were dead.

6. That if Hall, Hargrove and Marshall had been conscious, and/or wounded or separated from the Marines remaining in the helicopter landing site area, they would have called for help during the 30-40 minute period of quiet which prevailed after the 5th of 6 helicopters lifted off.

7. Supporting Data Attached.

8. That Hall and Hargrove would not have attempted to swim from Koh Tang Island because they were unqualified swimmers.

9. That Marshall could have attempted to swim to safety from Koh Tang Island.

10. That Hall, Hargrove and Marshall could have been fatally wounded subsequent to the time they were last seen by Sgt. Anderson about 2000 and the time when the final helicopter lifted off, since there was firing by both enemy forces and the Marines awaiting extraction from Koh Tang Island. (32)

As a result of his investigation, Major Brown recommended that, "the status of Hall, Hargrove and Marshall be changed from missing in action to killed in action (body not recovered)." His superiors agreed. (33)

Over the next several years, this official explanation stood but, among the family members and some authors who wrote about the Mayaguez Incident, such as Lt. Col. Ralph Wetterhahn, U.S. Air Force, retired, the explanation was not satisfactory. Headed by the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) service, from 1991 to 1999, American and Cambodian authorities conducted seven joint searches for remains of the Marines. Three times, Cambodian officials, without urging, gave the U.S. the remains of American servicemen. In October and November 1995, specialists from both nations undertook an underwater recovery of the Knife 31 crash site where they located numerous remains and personal effects. The Navy salvage vessel, USS Brunswick (ATS-3), also helped with this offshore effort. The Vietnamese also helped and ultimately turned over remains that were positively identified as those of Second Lieutenant Richard Vandegeer, LCpl Gregory S Copenhaver, LCpl Andres Garcia, PFC Lynn Blessing, PFC Walter Boyd, PFC Antonio R Sandoval and PFC Kelton R. Turner. (34)

In the summer of 1995, the controversy was resurrected when a supposed eyewitness reported that the three Marines survived for several days on the island without food, water, or supplies, and were out of ammunition before they were finally captured, tortured and executed. This same person said that a Marine, possibly Hargrove, resisted before being captured; and, under the order of Khmer Rouge commander on the island, Em Son, he was executed. The report claimed that the other two were ambushed and captured while scavenging for supplies. The Khmer Rouge took them to Kompong Sore where they were tortured and killed. (35)

Recovery efforts have continued to 2009, both by the JTF-FA and Duplin County Commission Chair Cary Turner (Kenansville, North Carolina) 2007-2009. He is Hargrove's cousin and the family's representative. Supported by Wetterhahn and other important journalists and investigators, they have found several bone fragments and other remains. Even so, in all cases, the subsequent DNA tests have proved inconclusive. As a result, as of this writing, the original report, written by Brown, remains the official Marine Corps position, and they do not believe the Marines were alive when the last helicopter departed. (36)


Subsequent diplomatic controversy arose since the Thai government never gave the U.S. approval to use U Tapao RTAFB for the rescue. Some Thai officials called it a violation of their national sovereignty. To calm things down, returning Marines were spirited off to The Philippines. Many Thai groups called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces. During the ensuing months and years, U.S.-Thai relations became strained.

In some quarters then, as now, the American military is criticized for its handling of the operation. The failure to determine where the Mayaguez crew was and identify the large enemy force on Koh Tang was a source of much ridicule. Questions over the timing of the Koh Tang attack also swirled around Washington until it became clear that combat operations had been underway before the crew was released. Later, the Marines who participated in the operation were critical of the haphazard nature of the joint operation and blamed pressure from the Ford White House for the hastily constructed plan they believed was designed to save face for the loss of Vietnam. (37)

The one clear success was the performance of the AC-130s. Even though they were not originally a primary component of the plan, the 16 SOS remained on constant alert at their bases in Thailand, acting swiftly to deal with each emerging crisis during the rescue mission. When it became clear how much resistance the Marines were facing, they covered the injection of troops and once the Marines dug in, the gunships protected them against heavy enemy fire. When it was time to get out, the AC-130s escorted each helicopter on their way to the ships at sea. (38)

Throughout the operation, the AC-130s provided accurate suppressive fire and used their sensors to confirm the location of friendly units. They proved so effective that many in the special operations world wondered, in retrospect, why the gunships had not been used more. To be sure the Mayaguez recovery was an ideal scenario for the AC-130, but its full capabilities were not completely understood by command and control officials who, at that time, were mostly Navy personnel who had never worked with a side-firing gunship. While the Spectres made a vital contribution to the mission, they could have done more if the full potential of their precise firepower, and video tape documentation capabilities had been better understood and utilized. (39)

In any important military mission adequate planning, professional skill and brain power are indispensible. All other components of an operation are supplemental. In a sense, what took place off the southern shore of Cambodia violated this notion from beginning to end. Inside the White House, some advisers realized they had been lucky to recover the ship and its crew. Not long after the Mayaguez incident, a chagrinned Henry Kissinger admitted privately that, "We entered Indochina to save a country and ended by rescuing a ship." (40)

President Ford makes an easy target for critics but, as he pointed out years later, given the timing of the event, he believed he had no practical choice but to take decisive military action as quickly as possible. If he had not, he might well have wound up in the same public relations mess as Jimmy Carter did in Iran only a few years later. Considering the devastation U.S. pride had suffered with the fall of Vietnam, one sharp punch in the nose of some international "bad guy" seemed to satisfy American governmental leaders and public opinion. Most polls at the time were supportive of the President's actions. The entire Time Magazine edition of May 26, 1975, described the President's "resolve" in glowing terms. (41)

The official report on the incident by CINCPAC quoted Admiral Gayler as saying that:

Cambodian adventurism tested the United States with the seizure of the merchant ship MAYAGUEZ on the high seas in May. The recovery operation has left no doubt as to our resolve and capabilities in that part of the world. Our Marines, sailors and airmen again met the challenge. Stories of their courage abound--from the Marine who directed air strikes while swimming off-shore after his helicopter was shot down, to the sailors in the motor whaleboat who took on dug-in heavy weapons with small arms, to the Air Force pilots who forced their way into the landing zones while taking hits. (42)

The military options also had appeal to the White House given the lack of any sort of diplomatic relationship with the anti-American Cambodian communist regime. As for casualties, once Ford committed to military action (and the entire Cabinet agreed), the chance of some Americans dying was a foregone conclusion since no rational analyst can deny that military action is without risk. Many have argued it was, regrettably, the only course open.

The same Time Magazine article that noted the public relations success of the U.S. handling of the Mayaguez Incident also provided a note of caution. It indicated that the seizure of the ship was something the President was not at all sorry to see happen since he had been hoping for weeks to find a dramatic way to demonstrate to the world that the Communist victories in Indochina had not turned the U.S. into a paper tiger. He had been searching for a means to show that the U.S. was conducting what Kissinger called an "abrasive" foreign policy. The article noted that prior to the seizure of the Mayaguez, "one policy planner had told Time, 'There's quite a bit of agreement around here that it wouldn't be a bad thing if the other side goes a step or two too far in trying to kick us while we're down. It would give us a chance to kick them back--hard!'" (43)

On the other side of this analysis the Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun asked, "Why did [the U.S.] have to use a cannon to shoot a chicken?" As it turned out, the cannon proved effective because it demonstrated to the international community that America was not going to pull in its horns and accept every humiliating provocation her enemies might want to heap upon her. However, as the previously mentioned Time edition stated, "the U.S. success owed almost as much to luck as to skill in combat, if the Communist Cambodians had dug in and refused to release the Mayaguez crew, the military mission might well have aborted." In a subsequent interview with Time correspondent Joseph J. Kane, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger admitted: "The outcome was fortunate." (44)

While the President and his advisers were seeking only what was best for the nation, its reputation and future in the world community their rush to act tough was, at least, partly the cause for the loss of 41 American lives and what can at best be described as a flawed rescue operation. Then, as now, conservative analysts have blamed Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson for constantly interfering with military planning and execution keeping the U.S. military from winning the war. Yet, it was Republican President Ford's advisors who micromanaged this operation and hurried, on several occasions, to construct and carry out aspects of their plan without all the facts. Worse, their plan had too many moving parts, few aspects of which worked well together. In retrospect, with the lack of good intelligence and poor cooperation among the military services, it is a matter of wonder; and a tribute to the commitment and bravery of America's fighting forces, that things did not go much worse since what made the mission "successful" was the ability of its attack forces to "adapt and overcome."

In May 1975, the U.S. military was not fully prepared to execute such a rescue. Military leaders hated the operation mostly because of their lack of confidence in the directives coming from the White House. To quote Vice Admiral George P. Steele, the 7th Fleet commander:

The sad part of the Mayaguez is that we had sufficient force coming up with the Seventh Fleet, after it had been turned around from the evacuation of Vietnam, to seize Southern Cambodia. I begged for another day or two, rather than commit forces piecemeal as we did. The idea that we could use U.S. Air Force air police and Air Force helicopters as an assault force appears to me as ridiculous today as it did then." (45)

Then again, leaders make mistakes, and the U.S. military tries to learn from those mistakes. It took several more rescue disasters before decisive steps were taken to create a formal structure to extricate captured citizens. Carter's failure in Iran, Ronald Reagan's misstep in Grenada and George Bush's costly mission in Panama finally led to the creation of the Special Operations Command in the early 1990s designed to, among other things, coordinate military action for complex rescue missions. Even so, the lack of intelligence cooperation for America still remains an issue as demonstrated by 9-11.

The best known critic of the Mayaguez rescue operation has been Lt. Col. Ralph Wetterhahn who is a decorated Air Force pilot having flown 180 missions while in Vietnam. Not only has he written a scathing critique of the operation in his book The Last Battle: the Mayaguez Incident and the End of the Vietnam War, but he has led the search for the three Marines he believes were abandoned on Koh Tang Island. Throughout his work, which is well researched, he hammers the Ford planners and policy makers. He describes them in stark contrast to the performance of the heroes on the ground. To him this was an example of how desperate Ford and Kissinger were to make up for the fall of Southeast Asia. He is convinced that the three Marines left behind were tortured and executed by the enemy and blames American officials for this catastrophe. (46)

Many others have been reticent to go so far in their criticism recognizing the conundrum in which America found herself in May 1975. These experts have argued that the official reports of the incident made adequate suggestions to prevent similar future issues from reoccuring. At the same time, considering the fact that DNA tests have not been able to prove beyond a double that the three Marines were left alive on Koh Tang, it is not reasonable to write off the official Marine Corps version of the overall mission of this specific incidents. (47)


Ultimately, Mauaguez remains a footnote in the history of the Vietnam War. The desire of the nation to distance itself from the Vietnam debacle has had much to do with that. The final paradox is that the Mauaguez affair was technically a success, as it did recover the container ship and its crew. It defined the Ford Presidency's foreign policy, and until his death in 2006, he pointed to the mission as one that saved America's pride and reputation. In spite of all the missteps by the Administration, this much cannot be denied. However, if it can be called a "success," it came at a terrible price and, in the end it was the last awful tragedy in a decade long tragedy on the mainland of Southeast Asia.


Members of Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines board the Mayaguez. Gas masks were worn because the ship was bombed with tear-gas cannisters by Air Force A-7D aircraft.



Container Ship Mayaguez Source: Aerial surveillance showing two Khmer Rouge gunboats during the initial seizing of the SS Mayaguez Source: Date: May 15, 1975 Author US Air Force. Permission: PD-USGov-Military-Air.


Time Cover after rescue


Marines on Koh Tang Island: Unidentified U.S. Marines run from a CH-53 helicopter during the SS Mayaguez operation. Source: photos/090424-F-1234P-028.jpg-, date May 15, 1975.


(1.) CINCPAC Command History (original Top Secret), by Command History Branch, Office of the Joint Secretary, Appendix VI--"The SS 'Mayaguez' Incident, 1975" Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, 1976, p. 1, 3, [hereafter"Mayaguez Incident"]. Document declassified by Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 8 May 1980.

(2.) John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident," Air Force Magazine, Vol. 74, No. 9, (September 1991), [hereafter "Mayaguez Incident"]; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War: The Mayaguez and the Battle of Koh Tang, (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1995), pp. 27-30, [hereafter A Very Short War]; Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle: The Mayaguez Incident and the end of the Vietnam War (New York: Carroll & Graf, Inc, 2001), pp. 25-27, [hereafter The Last Battle]; Ralph Rowan, Four Days of Mayaguez (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), pp. 15-22, [hereafter Four Days]. U.S. Merchant Marines, "Capture and Release of SS Mayaguez by Khmer Rouge forces in May 1975," 2000,, [hereafter USMM Mayaguez]. The ship was launched in April 1944 as the SS White Falcon, built by North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, Wilmington, North Carolina. It was renamed on three occasions. In 1960, she was expanded into a container ship carrying 382 containers below and 94 above decks. She was finally named the Mayaguez in 1965. She was scrapped in 1979.

(3.) George M. Watson, Jr., "The Mayaguez Rescue," Air, Online Journal of the Air Force Association, (July 2009) Vol. 92: No. 7, pp. 1-2 [hereafter "Mayaguez Rescue"], July%202009/0709May; John L. Frisbee, Mayaguez Incident; Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 26-28; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 29-31; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 33-35; USMM Mayaguez.

(4.) CINCPAC History, "Mayaguez Incident," p. 3; Troy M. Watson, "Mayaguez Rescue;" Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 25-32; John L. Frisbee, Mayaguez Incident; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 29-31, Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 35-38; USMM Mayaguez.

(5.) Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 25-32; John L. Frisbee, Mayaguez Incident; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 29-31; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 38-44; USMM Mayaguez.

(6.) Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 30-34; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 31-32; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 44-48; CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," p. 1, 3; Memo, Secretary of Defense to President, "Seizure of U.S. Merchant Ship Mayaguez," 12 May 75. The original was classified "Top Secret." It was declassified on 16 February 1999.

(7.) Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 33-36; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 32-39; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 49-52; CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," pp. 13-14.

(8.) Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 33-36; John L. Frisbee, Mayaguez Incident; Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 32-39; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 49-52; CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," p. 1, 3.

(9.) Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 35-38; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 40-44; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 50-55.

(10). John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 32-52; Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 33-41; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 49-65; USMM Mayaguez; Message, JCS to CINCPAC, et. al., "Mayaguez/Koh Tang Planning Directive," 140645Z May 1975.

(11.) John P. Guilmartin, a Very Short War, pp. 53-60; Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 53-68; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 79-93. A useful book recounting the history of the 3d Division and the Mayaguez rescue is U.S. Marine Corps, The Third Division's Two Score and Ten History (Peducah, Kentucky, Turner Publishing Inc., 1992).

(12.) John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 55-60; Ralph Rowan Four Days, pp. 89-93; USMM Mayaguez; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident."

(13.) John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 48-77; Ric Hunter, "The Last Battle of Vietnam," Flight Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2 (April 2000), ["Last Battle"]; Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 43-46; George M. Watson, Jr., "Mayaguez Rescue," pp. 2-3; CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," p. 17. The original source of this came from the JCS "After Action Report" of 14 May 1975 with information provided by pilots of the 347 TFW and 388 TFW.

(14.) John P. Guilmartin, ,4 Very Short War, pp. 53-80; Ric Hunter, "The Last Battle;" Ralph Wetterhahn, the Last Battle, pp. 43-52; Ralph Rowan, Four Days, pp. 79-93.

(15.) CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," p. 19.

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) Ibid., pp. 18-20; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," pp. 16-25; Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War," pp. 153-168; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 53-81; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident."

(18.) See note 17.

(19.) See note 17.

(20.) George M. Watson, Jr., "Mayaguez Rescue."

(21.) CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," pp. 21-22, 27-28.

(22.) Ibid., pp. 21-24; John P. Guihnartin, A Very Short War, pp. 82-104; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" USMM Mayaguez.

(23.) CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," pp. 21-28.

(24.) George M. Watson, Jr., "Mayaguez Rescue," pp. 3-4; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War," pp. 169-176; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 82-104; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident." George R. Dunham, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Bitter End, 1973-1975, Marine Corps Vietnam Operational Historical Series, 1990, Marine Corps Association, pp. 239-263, [hereafter Bitter End].

(25.) Quote from George M. Watson, Jr. "Mayaguez Rescue," pp. 4-5; George R. Dunham, Bitter End, pp. 238-263; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War," pp. 179-184; John P. Guihnartin, A Very Short War, pp. 53-81; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident."

(26.) John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 77-102; Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War," pp. 223-250; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident."

(27.) USMM Mayaguez; CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," pp. 1, 28; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 129-144; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident." As an example of the negative press of the time, see "Report Casts Doubt On Ford's Mayaguez Strategy," The Pittsburgh Press, 6 Oct 1976; "U.S. Was Told Mayaguez Crew Was Off Island Before Assault," St. Petersburg Times," 6 Oct 1976; "GAO Report Says Rescue Based On Bad Information," The Spokesman--Review, 6 Oct 1976; "Report Raps Mayaguez Rescue," The Milwaukee Sentinel, 6 Oct 1976; "Debating our Destiny: Reaction to the Second Canner/Ford Debate of October 6th," MacNeil/Lehrer Report, Public Broadcasting System, 7 October 1976.

(28.) George M. Watson, Jr., "Mayaguez Rescue," pp. 5-6; George R. Dunham, Bitter End, pp. 238-263; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War," pp. 237-266; USMM Mayaguez; John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 129-144; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident."

(29.) John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 129-144; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War, 223- 250; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" George R. Dunham, Bitter End, 255-263; USMM Mayaguez.

(30.) John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 145-161; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War, 281-290; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" George R. Dunham, Bitter End, 255-263; George M. Watson, Jr., "Mayaguez Rescue," pp. 5-6.

(31.) Message, Major Peter C. Brown to Command General 3d Marine Division, "Investigation to Inquire into the Circumstances Surrounding the Missing in Action Status in the Cass o Private First Class Gary C. Hall, 0331 USMC, Lance Corporal Joseph N. Hargrove, 0331 USMC, and Private Danny G. Marshall, 0311 USMC," 7 Jun 75, [hereafter Major Peter C. Brown Investigation]. This document was declassified and released to CBS News Los Angeles on 24 Jan 01 at 1726 hours. John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 129-161 ; Ric Hunter, "Last Battle;" Ralph Wetterhahn, End of the Vietnam War, 223-290; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" George M. Watson, jr., "Mayaguez Rescue," p. 6

(32.) Major Peter C. Brown, Brown Investigation.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Ibid; Ralph Wetterhahn, The End of the Vietnam War, pp. 69-74, 83-89, 125-130, 267-280, and 291-314.

(35.) See note 34.

(36.) See note 34.

(37.) John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 128-160; John L. Frisbee, "Mayaguez Incident;" Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Renewal, see chapter 18, "Anatomy of a Crisis: The 'Mayaguez'".

(38.) Maj. Gen. Clay T. McCutchan, "USAF Gunship Overview," January 1994, [hereafter "Gunship Overview"]; George M. Watson, Jr., "Mayaguez Rescue."

(39.) Maj. Gen. Clay McCutchan, "Gunship Overview;" Interview, Author with Maj. Gen. Clay McCutchan, Eglin AFB, Florida, 29 Jan 08, [hereafter Maj. Gen. Clay McCutchan Interview].

(40.) Maj. Gen. Clay McCutchan Interview; Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Renewal, see chapter 18.

(41.) "Armed Forces: A Strong but Risky Show of Force," Time Magazine, Vol. 105, No. 22, 26 May 1975, magazine/article/0,9171,917461,00.html, [hereafter "Armed Forces"]. The cover had a picture of President Ford above the Mayaguez and the headline "Ford Takes A Stand."

(42.) CINCPAC History Office, "Mayaguez Incident," p. 3.

(43.) "Armed Forces."

(44.) Ibid.

(45.) George R. Dunham, Bitter End, p. 239.

(46.) Ralph Wetterhahn, The Last Battle, pp. 291-314.

(47.) John P. Guilmartin, A Very Short War, pp. 145-161.

* Dr. William P. Head, United States Air Force, Area of Specialization: U.S. Military History/U.S. Foreign Relations with East and Southeast Asia. Chief, Office of History WR-ALC, 111 Robins Parkway, Robins AFB, GA 31098-2423, Phone: (O) 478-926-5780, (H) 478-953-8475, (C) 478-955-0963. Email: and
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