13 lost in Mayaguez Incident laid to rest in Arlington Today
Thirteen servicemembers who were killed when their helicopter was shot down during the final battle of the Vietnam War will be buried together Wednesday in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Their CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter — known as Knife 31 — had been among those tasked with rescuing the American merchant vessel SS Mayaguez and its crew, who were detained by Cambodian Khmer Rouge forces several days earlier in what became known as the “Mayaguez Incident.”
The chopper, with 26 servicemembers aboard, crashed in waist-deep surf just east of Koh Tang — a Khmer Rouge-controlled island in the Gulf of Thailand about 60 nautical miles from mainland Cambodia — as it approached to offload Marines on May 15, 1975.
Today The American Legion Magazine Editor, Jeff Stoffer, put up his piece on it, titled Moment of Closure.
"They may be gone, but they’re back on American soil," said Marian Boyd of Norfolk, Va., whose son, U.S. Marine Pfc. Walter Boyd, was among those remembered at the service. "He’d always told me in his letters to keep the faith. I put it in God’s hands."
Families of the 10 fallen Marines, two Navy corpsmen and one U.S. Air Force chopper pilot gathered with surviving veterans of the operation and others to pay homage to their fallen loved ones and comrades.
Veterans of the May 15, 1975, military mission to rescue the crew of the merchant ship S.S. Mayaguez came from across the country. Their association – the Koh Tang Mayaguez Veterans Organization – is named for the 5-mile-by-1-mile island off the coast of Cambodia where a 14-hour battle occurred less than three weeks after the fall of Saigon. Members of the club have been dedicated to the identification and repatriation of all who lost their lives in the joint operation, which involved U.S. troops of every service branch.
Nearly 200 Americans directly participated in the rescue attempt after Cambodian Khmer Rouge guerrillas captured the U.S.-flagged Mayaguez in the Gulf of Thailand on May 12, 1975. U.S. officials believed the ship and crew were held captive on Koh Tang Island, and three days later, President Gerald Ford authorized military action to free them.
Nine helicopters loaded with Marines and Navy corpsmen were deployed to the island. Two destroyers and an aircraft carrier moved into the waters surrounding it.
The first CH-53 chopper to go down – code-named Knife 13 – claimed all 23 onboard near the border of Laos and Cambodia. They were the first casualties of the mission. Eighteen more were killed in the assault, including the 13 who were shot down in the CH-53 Sea Stallion called Knife 31, off the shore of the well-fortified island.
A lot of folks don't know much about the Mayaguez Incident. Here's an old TV News account about the basics:
Those who survived the battle that etched the last 41 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington were recognized onstage Tuesday at the 94th National Convention of The American Legion in Indianapolis.
The president of the Koh Tang/Mayaguez Veterans Organization, Dan Hoffman of Columbia, S.C., told thousands of Legionnaires the story of the deadly, unexpected combat mission in mid-May 1975 to rescue the S.S. Mayaguez and its crew from the Khmer Rouge. The communist guerrillas had seized the American cargo ship in international waters on May 12 and played a bloody three-day game of cat and mouse with the American military.
Here is an awesome video (about 10 mins) about the Incident:
And although this video is fairly long, Mr. Hoffman had an absolutely incredible address on Mayaguez that should be watched in its entirely.