"Mayaguez"

Assault on Koh Tang Island



At 1400 hours on May 12th 1975 the container ship SS Mayaguez was stopped by a warning shot across her bow, about eight miles from Poulo Wai, an island about sixty miles from the coast of Cambodia. Around noon the next day she was anchored off Koh Tang Island, where Air Force and Navy aircraft kept her under constant surveillance (reportedly they were P-3s, F-4Es, F-111As, A-7Ds, and an AC-130H). The ship’s crew was removed around 1900 hours. (COURTESY OF THE TLCB)

 

 

This article by Bob Blough appeared in The Thailand Laos Cambodia Brotherhood (TLCB) Newsletter, Mekong Express Mail (MEM), Volume 4, Issue 2, June 2003.

 

This article contains information of an Air Force helicopter operation and is a valuable part of our Air Force helicopter history.

 

The TLCB and Bob Blough has granted USAF ROTORHEADS permission to use this story.

 

USAF ROTORHEADS thanks the TLCB with a special thanks to Dave MacDonald, Editor, Mekong Express Mail, TLCB and USAF ROTORHEADS member Bob Blough.

       



         


    



KIA

"RICHARD VAN DE GEER"


Major Howard A. Corson, aircraft commander; 2nd Lt. Richard Van de Geer, pilot; SSgt. Jon D. Harston and Sgt. Randy Hoffmaster, both flight engineers; comprised the crew of  CH-3C #68-10925, call sign "Knife 31."

 

As the flight approached the beach, the communists opened fire with a withering barrage of heavy weapons and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). A deadly moving grid of tracers crisscrossed the designated landing zone (LZ).

 

As the two-aircraft flight approached the island, Major Corson's helicopter was hit by ground fire during the initial barrage including a direct hit by a RPG in the left fuel tank that exploded causing a frightening ball of fire. Major Corson fought to keep the helicopter in the air as it came to a hover just offshore. SSgt. Harston and Sgt. Hoffmaster fired their miniguns at enemy positions from inside the cabin inferno. At the same time 1st Lt. Van de Geer fired an M-16 out his open cockpit window as fire burst through the cabin sidewall. Dazed and wounded, with plexiglas and instrument panel ripped away from their mounts in front of them by another RPG round, the flight crew rode their aircraft into the surf 10 meters from the shore. Inside, the men unbuckled their seatbelts and attempted to douse the flames. Ammunition began exploding and the helicopter's magnesium rotor head caught fire.  SSgt. Harston, who had already sustained second and third degree burns, appeared from the submerged forward hatch to lead some of the dazed and wounded Marines out.  Of the 28 men on board "Knife 31", all but 13 were recovered.

 

Officially, Lt. Van de Geer was the last man to die in the Vietnam War. 



KIA

"ELWOOD EUGENE RUMBAUGH"


While off-loading Marines on the Western Beach of Koh Tang Island, Cambodia, in support of the Mayaguez incident, his CH-53C #68-10926, call sign "Knife 21", was hit by ground fire. The pilot managed a single engine takeoff and headed out to sea, skipping along the water, taking on water each time it hit the surface. The helicopter made it nearly a mile off shore when it crashed. The helicopter rolled on its left side and all of the crew managed to exit the helicopter; however, SSgt Rumbaugh disappeared a short time later and is presumed drowned. SSgt Rumbaugh was serving with the 21st SOS at the time of his death, but served with the 20th SOS in 1970-1971. On The Wall Panel 01W Line 132

 

 

While enroute to U-Tapao 21st SOS CH-53C #68-10933, call sign "Knife 13" crashed due to Main Rotor Head failure resulting in the death of the five aircrew and the eighteen Secuity Police that were onboard. 

 

The five aircrew were:


 ~ James G. Kays (P) ~  Laurence E. Froehlich (CP) ~ Robert P. Weldon (FE) ~


~ George E. McMullen (FE) ~ Paul J. Raber (CC) ~

 


The eighteen Security Police were:


~ Jimmy P. Black ~ Bobby G. Collums ~ Gerald A. Coyle ~ Thomas D. Dwyer ~ Bob W. Ford ~ Gerald W. Fritz 


~ Jackie D. Glenn ~ Darrell L. Hamlin ~ Gregory L. Hankamer ~ David A. Higgs ~ Faleagafula Ilaoa ~ Michael D. Lane ~ 


~ Dennis W. London ~ Robert P. Mathias ~ William R. McKelvey ~ Edgar C. Moran II ~ Tommy R. Nealis ~ Robert Ross ~



WIA

 

Thomas J. Bateson ~ Howard A Corson Jr. ~ Jesus P. De Jesus ~ Ronald A. Gross ~ Jon D. Harston ~ Nick Morales


 

"AIR FORCE CROSS"

 

DONALD R. BACKLUND 

First Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force


Date of Action: May 15, 1975

Citation:

The Air Force Cross is presented to Donald R. Backlund, First Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander on 15 May 1975. On that date, while engaged in the recovery of the SS Mayaguez and crew, Lieutenant Backlund, exhibiting superb airmanship, placed a contingent of United States Marines aboard the destroyer escort, USS Holt. He then successfully landed several United States Marines on Koh Tang Island despite intense ground fire. After escorting his wingman to the USS Coral Sea, Lieutenant Backlund then returned to Koh Tang Island and successfully recovered a group of United States Marines and airmen although encountering heavy, consistent ground fire. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Lieutenant Backlund reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Special Order GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF


RICHARD C. BRIMS

First Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force


Date of Action: May 15, 1975

Citation:

The Air Force Cross is presented to Richard C. Brims, First Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander on 15 May, 1975. On that date, while engaged in the recovery of the S.S. Mayaguez and crew, Lieutenant Brims successfully landed United States Marines on Koh Tang Island despite overwhelming ground fire. Prior to leaving the island, Lieutenant Brims held his position against heavy ground fire and managed to extract five seriously wounded Marines. He then twice flew his aircraft into intense ground fire, successfully removing remaining groups of United States Marines. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Lieutenant Brims reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Special Order GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF

 

JON D. HARSTON 

Staff Sergeant, U.S. Air Force


Date of Action: May 15, 1975

 

Citation:

The Air Force Cross is presented to Jon D. Harston, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force. Staff Sergeant Harston, a helicopter mechanic, was the only enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross for heroic action during the S.S. Mayaguez incident. The Mayaguez had been seized by the Cambodian armed forces; on May 15, 1975, SSgt Harston's helicopter was involved in the recovery mission. His helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crash-landed on the shore of Koh Tang Island. Although wounded in the leg, Sergeant Harston reentered the burning aircraft and led three Marines to safety. As the survivors of the crash swam away from the beach, Sergeant Harston provided covering fire. He returned to the wrecked helicopter again to pull out another wounded Marine. He then kept himself and two wounded Marines afloat with his damaged life preserver until they were rescued by a navy destroyer approximately three hours later. Through his extraordinary heroism and willpower, in the face of the enemy, Staff Sergeant Harston reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Special Order GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF

 

ROWLAND W. PURSER

Captain, U.S. Air Force


Date of Action: May 15, 1975

Citation:

The Air Force Cross is presented to Rowland W. Purser, Captain, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an HH-53 helicopter pilot involved in the assault on Koh Tang Island on 15 May 1975. In the rescue of the crew of the S.S. Mayaguez, which had been seized at sea by the Cambodian Navy, Captain Purser made two tries under heavy fire before landing 29 Marines on the island. He picked up another group of Marines in Thailand and returned to Koh Tang Island. In the evacuation of the Marines fro Koh Tang Island, Captain Purser's helicopter was severely damaged and he had to return to the U.S.S. Coral Sea, which was nearby. Getting his helicopter repaired, he returned to the island to pick up 54 Marines and return them safely to the Coral Sea. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Purser reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Special Order GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF

 


"THE SILVER STAR"


THOMAS J. BATESON, JOHN J. ELDRIDGE, WAYNE L. FISK, BRAD E. MARX, JOSEPH S. STANALAND  



"Some people have compared this mission to the Son Tay raid,"  Lt. Col. John Denham, commander of the 21st Special Operations Squadron and pilot of "Knife 21", said to AIRMAN later. "I hope you don't do that.  Son Tay was a special situation where crews were handpicked and trained for months to perform an extraordinary task." The Mayaguez incident just happened.  We responded with regularly assigned Air Force crewmen and each man accomplished his end of the mission with outstanding success. This shows you what kind of professionals we've got manning our aircraft today."

 

 

    


             


INTERNET PHOTOS



 

COURTESY OF JIM DUFFY


Knife 22 was one of several CH-53C's from the 21st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) along with HH-53s belonging to Air Rescue (ARRS) that were involved with inserting US Marines on a heavily defended Kho Tang Island on 15 May 1975.

 

The actions of that day are well documented however there is little known about one of the 21st SOS CH-53C's, 68-10928 call sign "Knife 22". "Knife 22" sustained extensive battle damage however the flight crew was able to make it to the mainland before setting down. (Aircraft tail number was confirmed by Norman Paul who was one of the Flight Engineers that day). Aircraft was repaired and returned to flight status. (AIRCRAFT NOW ON DISPLAY AT HURLBERT AIR PARK, DEDICATED 3 DECEMBER 2007)


Bob Blough provided the following list of flight crew members on the Mayaguez Operation:


Knife 13/68-10933
P - 1Lt Jimmy Kays 
CP - 1Lt Larry Froehlich 
FE - TSgt George McMullen

CE - Sgt Paul Raber

FE - Sgt Robert P. Weldon
 
Knife 21/68-10926
P - Lt Col John Denham
CP - 1Lt Karl Poulsen

FE - SSgt Woody Rumbaugh
FE - TSgt Bob Boissonnault


Knife 22/68-10928

P - Capt Terry Ohlemeier

CP - 2Lt Dave Greer

FE - SSgt Mike Wilson

FE - Sgt Norman Paul

 
Knife 23/70-1627
P - 1Lt John Schramm
CP - 1Lt John Lucas

FE - SSgt Ron Gross

FE - A1C Eduardo Arrieta

Cameraman - SSgt James Barschow
 
Knife 31/68-10925
P - Maj Howard Corson
CP - 2Lt Rich Van de Geer 
FE - SSgt Jon Harston 

FE - SSgt Randy Hoffmaster

 
Knife 32/68-10932 
P - 1Lt Mike Lackey
CP - 2Lt Calvin Wachs
FE - TSgt Mike Olsen

FE - SSgt Nick Morales

 
Knife 51/68-10927
P - 1Lt Dick Brims
CP - 2Lt Dennis Danielson
FE - SSgt Marion Riley

FE - A1C Phillip Pack,

PJ - TSgt Wayne Fisk

PJ - Sgt Ronald Cooper
 
Knife 52/70-1626
P - 1Lt Bob Rakitis

CP - 2Lt Dave Lykens

FE - SSgt Donald McDowell

FE - TSgt William Dunbar                                         

Nail Crews


Nail 68  Major Bob “Underdog” Undorf

Nail 47 Capt Rick Roehrkasse


Nail 69 Capt Greg “Growth” Wilson

Nail 51 1Lt Will Carroll



Jolly Green 11/68-10364

P - 1Lt Don Backlund 

CP - 1Lt Gary Weikel

FE - SSgt Harry Cash

PJ - MSgt John Eldridge

PJ - SSgt Stu Stanaland

PJ - A1C Brad Marx  

AP - 1Lt Ronald T. Rand   BGen, USAF (Ret)


Jolly Green 12/69-5793 (AM)

P - Capt Paul Jacobs

CP - Capt Marty Nickerson

FE - SSgt Kaiser

PJ - MSgt Dave Gray

PJ - Sgt Cook


Jolly Green 12/69-5793 (PM)

P - Capt Barry Walls

CP - 2Lt Comer MGen, USAF (Ret)

FE - SSgt Jesse DeJesus 

PJ - TSgt Dave Patterson

PJ - A1C Rheinheardt


Jolly Green 13/69-5794

P - 1Lt Chuck Greer

CP - 1Lt Charlie Brown

FE - SSgt King

PJ - SSgt Mark Froehlich

PJ - Sgt Ron Lundrigan

PJ - Sgt Steve Lemminn


Jolly Green 41/69-5795

P - 1Lt Tom Cooper

CP - 1Lt Dave Keith

FE - TSgt Little

FE - SSgt Jeff Donovan

PJ - Sgt Tom Beranek

PJ - A1C John Ferris                


Jolly Green 42/69-5785 

P - 1Lt Phil Pacini

CP - Capt Bob Dube

FE - TSgt Straughn, Jr.

FE - SSgt Jablonski

PJ - Sgt Mike Brown

PJ - A1C Dunham II


Jolly Green 43/69-5792

P - Capt Wayne Purser

CP - 1Lt Bob Gradle

FE - TSgt Bill Willingham

PJ - TSgt PeteHarding

PJ - Sgt Tom Bateson

PJ - A1C McKiver


Jolly Green 44/69-5784

P - 1Lt Bob Blough

CP - 1Lt Hank Mason

FE - SSgt Bob Bounds

FE - SSgt Jim Howell

PJ - Sgt Bruce Daly

PJ - A1C Dave Ash


Jolly Green 69-5784/69-5786 FCF Crew

P - Major Joe Guilmartin

CP - Lt Col Joe McMonigle

FE - SSgt Woody Freeman



            



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