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Koh Tang 1975

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Koh Tang or Tang Island, is an island approximately 60 miles southwest off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. The only inhabitants on the island are Cambodian military personnel. The Khmer word Koh, meaning island, is also commonly transliterated into English as Kaoh.

The island was the site of the last combat action during the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s. On May 15, 1975, U.S. Marines on board U.S. Air Force helicopters landed on the island in hopes of finding the crew of the SS Mayagüez. The crew of the merchant vessel were not on the island as U.S. Intelligence had reported but had been transferred from the ship to the nearby Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville, also known as Kampong Saom. The seizure of the vessel by Khmer Rouge forces and subsequent assault on Koh Tang became known as the Mayagüez Incident.

Marine Assault on Kaoh Tang

Meanwhile, on the northern tip of Kaoh Tang, the marine assault force arriving at 6 AM on the east and west beaches met heavy fire. Khmer Rouge held their fire until the CH-53 helicopters were close in. Machine guns, mortars, and rocket propelled grenade launchers devastated the helicopters. At 7:30 AM only 109 of the planned 180 marines were on the island in 3 separate locations, with Khmer Rouge infantry entrenched in bunkers in the 1000 feet of jungle between them. A-7D Corsairs provided cover, but the Mayaguez crew was thought to be in a building directly by the gun emplacements.

At 11:30 AM, 100 more marines landed. The plan called for 250 marines in the second wave, but by then there were only 4 helicopters available. Then word came of the safe arrival of the Mayaguez crew on the USS Wilson and the marines planned their withdrawal. Khmer reinforcements coming in from the south were stopped by 15,000 pound BLU-82 bombs.

After the last helicopter left around 8 PM, a head count showed 3 marines were left behind on the island. In 1999, Department of Defense investigators found evidence to indicate one of the Marines was killed a few days later while trying to steal food from the Khmer Rouge. The other two were captured within a few days, executed, and buried on Kaoh Tang island. The final U.S. tally for the assault:

Killed Wounded Missing Non-Battle Deaths
Army 0 0 0 0
Navy/Marine Corps 13 44 3 0
Air Force 2 6 0 *23
US Total 15 50 3 23

* Crash of helicopter carrying Combat Security Police Squadron in Thailand -- due to mechanical failure

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