The Mayaguez Incident


The hijacking of the Maersk Tigris by the Iranian armed forces and their attempted piracy of the Singapore flagged Alpine Eternity it is fitting that we take a look at a similar incident that took place 50 (math is hard) 40 years ago.


On May 12, 1975 the US container ship, SS Mayaguez passed within 12 miles of  Cambodia, then under the Khmer Rouge regime thanks to the efforts of the Democrat party. While the US only recognized a three-mile zone as territorial waters, the Khmer Rouge claimed twelve miles. Shortly after two pm, an American made patrol craft (a Swift boat, no word if John Kerry was aboard but he was rumored to have served in Cambodia) crewed by Khmer Rouge navy personnel intercepted and boarded the Mayaguez then took it into a Cambodian port.

This took place less than a month after Democrat policy in South Vietnam came to fruition and President Gerald Ford decided to act. The location of the Mayaguez wasn’t known and the next two days were spent searching for the ship and assembling a landing force to recover it. On May 14, the Mayaguez was located at the Cambodian island of Koh Rong Sanloem. The next day a raiding party from the Fourth and Ninth Marines attacked. Unfortunately, the crew had been taken from the ship and moved to another location.

A day of confused fighting ensued and by the time the battle wound down fifteen Marines and probably twice than number of Khmer Rouge were dead. The SS Mayaguez was recaptured. Four Swift boats (none presumably containing John Kerry) were sunk.


Tragically, three Marines, Lance Cpl. Joseph Hargrove, Pfc. Gary Hall and Pvt. Danny Marshall, were left behind in the chaos of the withdrawal. The best evidence indicates that Hargrove was killed by the Khmer Rouge and that Hall and Marshall were taken prisoner and, in best communist style, beaten to death. Their remains have not been recovered and time is running out:

A Russian consortium leased the island from the Cambodian government in 2008, and construction has already begun on what will one day be a casino, resorts, a seven-hotel complex and luxury villas aimed at drawing 300,000 tourists annually from China, Korea and Japan.

By the time the last Marine evacuated Cambodia, the crew had already been returned to US control.

From a military standpoint, the operation was a metaphor for what the late-Vietnam Era military did well (logistics) and did poorly (small unit operations and inter service cooperation). The fact that the crew had been removed and released while the battle raged could indicate that the resolve shown by President Ford in these waning days of our involvement in Southeast Asia made that possible. It could, just as plausibly, indicate that we suffered 68 casualties, plus 23 supporting USAF personnel who died in a helicopter crash in Thailand, to retrieve a merchant vessel that was scrapped in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge had already decided to release the crew.


The seizure of the Maersk Tigris indicates just how the provocations by Iran in the Persian Gulf have the propensity to escalate… or would under any president with the vaguest interest in preserving American power and influence. But in a few months we will not have the ability to effect the rescue of ships and crews seized by Iran without the very real possibility of a nuclear response.


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