Corporal (Ret.) Al Bailey vividly remembers the battle scenes at Cambodia’s Koh Tang island on May 15, 1975. The retired Marine veteran was on the first of several U.S. Air Force CH-53 heavy transport helicopters that deployed in an attempt to rescue the crew of the U.S. merchant container ship SS Mayaguez, which had been captured by Khmer Rouge naval forces three days prior.
Dubbed the “Last Battle of the Vietnam War,” May 15 marked the 45th anniversary of the U.S. rescue attempt and assault on Koh Tang island, which was foiled by heavier-than-expected Khmer Rouge resistance on the small islet off the Cambodian coast.
The Khmer Rouge had planned to release the crew of the SS Mayaguez, historians have documented, yet the U.S. proceeded with the assault, resulting in fierce fighting at Koh Tang and the loss of 41 U.S. lives and several Cambodian fighters.