Publisher: Norm Brozenick
Editor: Paul Harmon
Managing Editor: Rick Newton
Senior Editor: Scott McIntosh
Contributing Editor: Ron Dains
Contributing Editor: Matt Durham
Contributing Editor: Joel Higley
Contributing Editor: Mike Russell
Layout Editor/Graphics: Jeanette Elliott
Advertising: Melissa Gross
It has been over four decades since a little-known battle occurred in the Gulf of Thailand, in the shadow of America’s most unpopular war–Vietnam. In May 1975, Cambodian Khmer Rouge gunboats seized the US container ship, SS Mayaguez, in international waters. President Ford made the decision to mount a joint military operation to recover the ship and rescue the crew. I was Don Backlund’s copilot on Jolly Green 11, a Rescue HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant. As such, for 14.7 hours I had a front row seat to the extraordinary heroism and selfless dedication of all who put themselves in harm’s way that day. Collectively, we relearned hard lessons from the World War II Pacific Campaign as to the extreme difficulty in assaulting heavily defended islands. As a side note, the helicopter Backlund and I flew during Operation EAGLE PULL, the evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and again on May 15th, 68-10364, was converted to an MH-53J Pave Low during the mid-1980s. That same aircraft was also the one I flew as the 20th SOS commander 14 years later, in 1989, during Operation JUST CAUSE. It was a true “warhorse.” MH-53M, 68-10928, now in the Memorial Air Park at Hurlburt Field, was a CH-53, Knife 22, flown by Terry Ohlemeier during the Mayaguez Incident.
This edition of the Air Commando Journal keeps alive the memory of those Airmen, Marines, and Sailors who, without question, said, “Send me” when communist Khmer Rouge fighters seized the ship. Between the front and back covers you will find articles that give the history, but more importantly the personal perspectives of those who flew and fought that day. Many of the captains, lieutenants, and young NCOs from the 21st SOS, 40th ARRS, and 16th SOS would go on to form the nucleus of what became Air Force Special Operations Command. Their experiences shaped who we became as Air Commandos, serving at the leading edge of America’s efforts to defend itself against those who seek to harm our nation.
The Mayaguez story is also one about the danger of ad hoc joint special operations and the lessons we did not learn before Operation EAGLE CLAW (Desert One) and the creation of US Special Operations Command. Though the battle at Koh Tang island is now almost “ancient history,” what happened in 1975 offers lessons that modern Air Commandos can and should learn. They illustrate the value of clear command and control, communications, joint mission planning, teamwork, interoperability, and comprehensive intelligence—all of which we now take for granted but were not common practices then.
So, I invite you to read and enjoy another excellent and important edition of the ACJ.