Final hours of the last MIAs in Vietnam
- By Dan Verton
- Nov 21, 1999
For most Americans, the war in Vietnam ended April 29, 1975, when the U.S. ambassador to Saigon officially evacuated his post. But for a small band of Marines, there would be one final mission.
On May 12, the Khmer Rouge, known for its brutal tactics on the killing fields of Cambodia, seized the U.S. merchant ship Mayaguez as it ferried cargo to bases in Thailand and took its crew prisoner. Although U.S. participation in the Vietnam War had ended, the seizure of a U.S. vessel in international waters propelled U.S. forces into action.
As the Khmer Rouge moved the Mayaguez and its crew to the island of Koh Tang, 35 miles off of the coast of Cambodia, the Marines began their assault.
On May 15, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines hit the beach on Koh Tang and came under heavy fire from hundreds of Cambodian troops. Meanwhile, an Air Force helicopter carrying 23 Marines and two Navy Corpsmen to a landing zone on the island crashed into the surf after it was struck by rocket fire. Twelve of the Marines onboard and the Air Force pilot survived the crash and were rescued. The co-pilot, 10 Marines and two Navy Corpsmen were never found. (Their names are listed here.)
As the battle raged on Koh Tang, Khmer Rouge leaders set their captives free. A fishing boat carrying the 39 crew members of the Mayaguez and bearing white flags approached the destroyer USS Wilson, and the ordeal for the captured merchantmen ended.