Mayaguez Rescue Operation – 40th Anniversary
By Wallace Gowin, Captain USAF Security Police, Retired
On 12 May 1975, the SS Mayaguez cargo ship was enroute to Sattihip, Thailand to deliver supplies to the US Military and US Embassy in Thailand. At 1430 hrs, she was attacked by two Cambodian Gunboats who captured the 39 man crewmen and ship.
After negotiations failed to release the ship and crew, it was decided to have 150 Security Policemen from two bases in Thailand to take the ship back.
The SP’s were selected as the closet Marines were days from arriving in Thailand.
Although some have claimed this was the first time SP’s had been involved in such a high-priority rescue mission, it was not. SP’s were also tasked with, and participated in, the evacuation of Vietnam; and the evacuation of US Embassy staff in both Vientiane, Laos, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia earlier. The author flew in to Tan Son Nhut AFB on C-130 evacuation missions; and participated in both the US Embassy evacuations.
On May 13, General Burns and his Seventh Air Force staff developed a rescue plan to retake the Mayaguez using an assault force composed of men of the USAF 56th Security Police Squadron based in Nakhon Phanom AFB, and the 635th Security Police Squadron based at U-Tapao Royal Thai Naval Base. The volunteers would be dropped onto the containers on the decks of the Mayaguez on the morning of 14 May to seize back the ship and rescue the crewmen. In preparation for this assault, seven CH-53’s and five HH-53s were to proceed to U-Tapao RTNB for staging. On 13May 1975, at approximately 21:30 hrs, one of the 21st SOS CH-53s (68-10933, call sign Knife 13) crashed enroute to U-Tapao, killing 18 security police and its four-man crew and one Linguist. A trailing CH–53 helicopter landed and the security police force on-board tried to assist the crew and SP’s on the downed aircraft. Unfortunately, all on-board were killed in the crash. The 18 SPs who perished in the crash were listed as having died in a training accident although all were awarded posthumous Bronze Stars with a “V” for Valor.
Security Police Casualties
- COLLUMS, BOBBY, SGT
- FORD, BOB W., SGT
- HAMLIN, DARREL, L., SGT
- HIGGS, DAVID A, SGT
- LONDON, DENNIS W., SGT
- McKELVEY,, WILLIAM R., SGT
- COYLE, GERALD A., SSGT
- FRITZ, GERALD W., SGT
- HANKAMER, GREGORY L. SGT
- ILADA, FELEAGUFULU, SGT
- MATHIAS, ROBERT P., SGT
- NEALIS, THOMAS R., SGT
- DWYER, THOMAS D., SGT
- GLENN, JACKIE D., TSGT
- BLACK, JIMMY, SGT
- LANE, MICHAEL D., SGT
- MORAN, EDGAR C II., AMN
- ROSS, ROBERT W., SGT
- JAMES KAYS, G. USAF PILOT, CPT
- RABER, PAUL J., USAF, SGT
- FROEHLICH, LAWRENCE, USAF CO-PILOT, 1st LT
- WELDON, ROBERT P, USAF, SGT
- MCMULLEN III GEORGE USAF FLIGHT MECHANIC, TSGT
After the crash, a decision was made to utilize a USMC assault force rather than the SP force.
The assault on the island was a disaster and 13 Marines were killed, 44 wounded and 3 still missing in action. USAF casualties in the attack were 2 Killed and 6 wounded.
On 12 May 2015, VFW Commander John Muller (former US Army MACV-SOG – a highly classified, multi-service United States Special Operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations prior to and during the Vietnam War), the VFW post in Cambodia, plus veterans of the battle and of preparations in Thailand leading to the assault, plan to honor the fallen by visiting the site of their final battle – Koh Tang Island. If you would like to join this group or to help in supporting this event please contact VFW Commander John Muller, VFW Post 11575 Mayaguez Chapter Phnom Penh, Cambodia and the organizing committee at John@gss.com.kh
We would appreciate any photographs pertaining to the crash, mission planning; the site in Trat Thailand where one of the helicopters was guarded by SP’s upon return from Cambodia, and or of the SP’s who lost their lives. You can send these to Wallace Gowin at email@example.com
Article Author: Wallace Gowin, Captain, USAF Security Police retired, spent 20 years in the security police field, both enlisted and officer. Enlisting in June 1972, he was posted in Washington DC with the USAF Honor Guard, U-Tapao RTNB Thailand, Grand Forks AFB ND, Anderson AFB Guam, Charleston AFB SC and then back to Grand Forks AFB ND. Attaining the rank of MSgt in 1983, he attended OTS and became a security police officer in 1984. As an officer, he was posted to Vandenberg AFB CA, Anderson AFB Guam, and his last assignment was with the USAF Logistics Command Security Police staff at Wright-Patterson AFB OH. He retired in 1992 and has lived in Asia since 1993. He is currently the Associate Director, Global Corporate Security, Asia Pacific for Mead Johnson Nutrition based in Bangkok, Thailand.
(All article content and images provided by Wallace Gowin)
Photo Taken just after the Security Police boarded the helicopter
Plaque to be mounted on Koh Tang Island