Friday, November 27, 2009

The Mayaguez Incident...

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that I was on board the USS Long Beach in May of 1975, during the Mayaguez incident.  The Cambodian Kmer Rouge forces captured the Mayaguez, a US Navy supply ship manned by a civilian crew.

At the time the Mayaguez was captured, the USS Long Beach was in the port of Sattahip, Thailand, and much of the crew (including me) was in Bankok.  The crew was recalled and the ship got underway on the second day of the four-day incident.  We sailed just over 200 miles to the southeast, to Koh Tang island, some 60 miles off the coast of Cambodia (modern satellite photo at right).  I remember seeing the island from the deck of the ship, watching the air support and ship-based bombardment in action.

Forty one Americans died in the Mayaguez incident, including eighteen who died in heavy fighting on Koh Tang.

Just recently it occurred to me that at this remove their might actually be a book about the incident, and in fact I found two, which I bought and read: The Last Battle, by Ralph Wetterhahn and The Four Days of Mayaguez by Roy Rowan.  Both were fascinating reads for me, the former for its rich content, the latter for the human story of the captured crew.

One thing about both books absolutely floored me: neither of them contains any mention of the USS Long Beach, or any other US Navy ships besides the USS Holt, the USS Wilson, and the USS Coral Sea (all of which were direct participants in the battle).  I don't know for certain how many other US Navy ships were present, as my memory of events almost 35 years ago is a bit shaky.  But my best estimate is that at least six US Navy ships were there (and I think one Australian ship as well). 

My role on the ship kept me in CIC (Combat Information Center) most of the time, and I had access to some information as the battle progressed.  On reading these books, I realize now that what I “knew” at the time was very sketchy and often inaccurate.  The USS Long Beach's primary role was air defense control, and that's the main involvement I remember us actually having in the incident.  However, there was discussion of our Marine detachment (roughly 60 men) participating in the rescue effort, and also there was the possibility that the 5 inch guns on board would be used in supporting the troops on Koh Tang.

It was quite a strange experience to read two books about an incident that I was a witness to...

1 comment:

  1. My husband was one of the 60 Marines that you mention in your blog but there does not seem to be any record of this anywhere. He served on the Long Beach for 2 years.