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Archive for May 15th, 2019

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Mayaguez,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 15, 2019

Remember the Mayaguez

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Forty-four years ago this week the SS Mayaguez, a US merchant ship, was captured by the Khmer Rouge on the coast of Cambodia (Kampuchea.)

President Gerald Ford decided that an emphatic response was called for and so elements of the 4th and 9th Marine Regiments boarded Air Force helicopters and assaulted Koh Tang Island.

What occurred on Koh Tang proved, for the men who fought there, a disaster due to lack of planning and the need to make a quick and vigorous statement to the communist regime that had just taken over Cambodia, as well as put our other enemies on notice that though we’d left Vietnam, we weren’t going to be kicked around.

Thirty-eight US personnel were killed in action in the assault and on the briefly occupied beachhead on Koh Tang. Three Marines were left behind and subsequently killed, one by being beaten to death by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Fifty US personnel were wounded and three CH-53 choppers were destroyed.

SS Mayaguez, photo courtesy of By US Air Force. Public Domain,

 

Some years ago, while Betty and I worked on BRAVO!, one of the historians at the Marine Corps History Division talked to Betty and me about making a film about the Mayaguez Incident. He told me that the chronicle of what happened at Koh Tang was one of the pieces of Corps history that begged additional telling and a documentary might be a good way to relate what happened.

I remembered well the incident and thought it might be of interest, so I ordered some books on the subject and read about what occurred on Koh Tang.

Betty and I never made that film, but the details of the affair still haunt my memory; the lack of planning, the need for politicians to make big statements about what were, and what were not, hostile actions acceptable to the United States of America.

What happened to those men who assaulted Koh Tang dredged up all my emotions from back in 1975 after we’d just hightailed out of South Vietnam and left our allies there to face the onslaught of NVA. I couldn’t get it out of my head, the pictures of folks trying to get out of Nam and us bugging out with what seemed to me very little regard for what responsibility we had.

I’d first heard about our final retreat from Vietnam while driving down the road between Stanfield and Casa Grande, Arizona, past the fields of newly planted cotton and off in the distance, the desert mountains to the north, capped with snow. The news announcer blurted out of the radio that we’d left the country. It came as no surprise to me. I’d been expecting the fall of Saigon.

I was in my boss Charlie Weaver’s truck and I didn’t say anything to him. What could I say? Well, I could have probably articulated boatloads of things—my chagrin, my rage—but instead, I said nothing, just looked at the ditches full, the irrigation pipes pouring water into the rows of freshly planted cotton.

So, when the Mayaguez incident occurred a few weeks later, I went into a funky rage that infested every notion that invaded my mind.
A friend of mine, with whom I’d served in the Corps (but not in Nam), called me on the landline and asked me what the hell we thought we were doing attacking Cambodia.

He was anti-war. I was ambivalent, my Vietnam War experience like a noxious dose of Castor Oil that someone had crammed down my mouth.
I thought I’d fought the good fight. I thought we’d fought the good fight. I hated that we had cut and run after all the death and maiming. Intellectually, I understood what happened, but emotionally I felt like something was trapped in my gullet and would blow up like a balloon that would explode and take me down. Down.

 

Blogger Ken Rodgers, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

My friend baited me with comments about Marines and the war in general. It wasn’t so much about his distaste with our country’s actions, but something we did back and forth: baiting, teasing, arguing about war and politics.

That evening, with the phone in my hand and at my ear, I boiled like acid was eating the cells in my brain. . It hurt.

It still does.

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