20 April 2002
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Major James T. Egan,Jr.
Lt. Col. Charles J. Ramsay
Music: Nearer My God To Thee
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In Memory of
PFC James Joseph Jacques, USMC
Rubbing courtesy of www.vietnamwall.org
JACQUES, JAMES JOSEPH Name: James Joseph Jacques Rank/Branch: E2/US Marine Corps Unit: G/2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division Date of Birth: 09 October 1956 Home City of Record: Denver CO Date of Loss: 15 May 1975 Country of Loss: Cambodia/Over Water Loss Coordinates: 101800N 1030830E (TS965400) Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered Category: 3 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: CH53A Refno: 22003 Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 1998. Other Personnel in Incident: Lynn Blessing; Walter Boyd; Gregory S. Copenhaver; Andres Garcia; Bernard Gause Jr., Daniel A. Benedett; Ronald J. Manning; James R. Maxwell; Richard W. Rivenburgh; Antonio R. Sandoval; Kelton R. Turner; Richard Van de Geer (all missing on CH53A); Gary L. Hall; Joseph N. Hargrove; Danny G. Marshall (missing on Koah Tang Island); Ashton N. Loney (missing from Koah Tang Island); Elwood E. Rumbaugh (missing from a CH53A) REMARKS: 750515 MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT LOSS SYNOPSIS: When U.S. troops were pulled out of Southeast Asia in early 1975, Vietnamese communist troops began capturing one city after another, with Hue, Da Nang and Ban Me Thuot in March, Xuan Loc in April, and finally on April 30, Saigon. In Cambodia, communist Khmer Rouge had captured the capital city of Phnom Penh on April 17. The last Americans were evacuated from Saigon during "Option IV", with U.S. Ambassador Martin departing on April 29. The war, according to President Ford, "was finished." 2Lt. Richard Van de Geer, assigned to the 21st Special Ops Squadron at NKP, had participated in the evacuation of Saigon, where helicopter pilots were required to fly from the decks of the 7th Fleet carriers stationed some 500 miles offshore, fly over armed enemy-held territory, collect American and allied personnel and return to the carriers via the same hazardous route, heavily loaded with passengers. Van de Geer wrote to a friend, "We pulled out close to 2,000 people. We couldn't pull out any more because it was beyond human endurance to go any more..." At 11:21 a.m. on May 12, the U.S. merchant ship MAYAGUEZ was seized by the Khmer Rouge in the Gulf of Siam about 60 miles from the Cambodian coastline and eight miles from Poulo Wai island. The ship, owned by Sea-Land Corporation, was en route to Sattahip, Thailand from Hong Kong, carrying a non-arms cargo for military bases in Thailand. Capt. Charles T. Miller, a veteran of more than 40 years at sea, was on the bridge. He had steered the ship within the boundaries of international waters, but the Cambodians had recently claimed territorial waters 90 miles from the coast of Cambodia. The thirty-nine seamen aboard were taken prisoner. President Ford ordered the aircraft carrier USS CORAL SEA, the guided missile destroyer USS HENRY B. WILSON and the USS HOLT to the area of seizure. By night, a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft located the MAYAGUEZ at anchor off Poulo Wai island. Plans were made to rescue the crew. A battalion landing team of 1,100 Marines was ordered flown from bases in Okinawa and the Philippines to assemble at Utapao, Thailand in preparation for the assault. The first casualties of the effort to free the MAYAGUEZ are recorded on May 13 when a helicopter carrying Air Force security team personnel crashed en route to Utapao, killing all 23 aboard. Early in the morning of May 13, the Mayaguez was ordered to head for Koh Tang island. Its crew was loaded aboard a Thai fishing boat and taken first to Koh Tang, then to the mainland city of Kompong Song, then to Rong San Lem island. U.S. intelligence had observed a cove with considerable activity on the island of Koh Tang, a small five-mile long island about 35 miles off the coast of Cambodia southwest of the city of Sihanoukville (Kampong Saom), and believed that some of the crew might be held there. They also knew of the Thai fishing boat, and had observed what appeared to be caucasians aboard it, but it could not be determined if some or all of the crew was aboard. The USS HOLT was ordered to seize and secure the MAYAGUEZ, still anchored off Koh Tang. Marines were to land on the island and rescue any of the crew. Navy jets from the USS CORAL SEA were to make four strikes on military installments on the Cambodian mainland. On May 15, the first wave of 179 Marines headed for the island aboard eight Air Force "Jolly Green Giant" helicopters. Three Air Force helicopters unloaded Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines onto the landing pad of the USS HOLT and then headed back to Utapao to pick up the second wave of Marines. Planes dropped tear gas on the MAYAGUEZ, and the USS HOLT pulled up along side the vessel and the Marines stormed aboard. The MAYAGUEZ was deserted. Simultaneously, the Marines of the 2/9 were making their landings on two other areas of the island. The eastern landing zone was on the cove side where the Cambodian compound was located. The western landing zone was a narrow spit of beach about 500 feet behind the compound on the other side of the island. The Marines hoped to surround the compound. As the first troops began to unload on both beaches, the Cambodians opened fire. On the western beach, one helicopter was hit and flew off crippled, to ditch in the ocean about 1 mile away. The pilot had just disembarked his passengers, and he was rescued at sea. Meanwhile, the eastern landing zone had become a disaster. The first two helicopters landing were met by enemy fire. Ground commander, (now) Col. Randall W. Austin had been told to expect between 20 and 40 Khmer Rouge soldiers on the island. Instead, between 150 and 200 were encountered. First, Lt. John Shramm's helicopter tore apart and crashed into the surf after the rotor system was hit. All aboard made a dash for the tree line on the beach. One CH53A helicopter was flown by U.S. Air Force Major Howard Corson and 2Lt. Richard Van de Geer and carrying 23 U.S. Marines and 2 U.S. Navy corpsmen, all from the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. As the helicopter approached the island, it was caught in a cross fire and hit by a rocket. The severely damaged helicopter crashed into the sea just off the coast of the island and exploded. To avoid enemy fire, survivors were forced to swim out to sea for rescue. Twelve aboard, including Maj. Corson, were rescued. Those missing from the helicopter were 2Lt. Richard Van de Geer, PFC Daniel A. Benedett, PFC Lynn Blessing, PFC Walter Boyd, Lcpl. Gregory S. Copenhaver, Lcpl. Andres Garcia, PFC James J. Jacques, PFC James R. Maxwell, PFC Richard W. Rivenburgh, PFC Antonio R. Sandoval, PFC Kelton R. Turner, all U.S. Marines. Also missing were HM1 Bernard Gause, Jr. and HM Ronald J. Manning, the two corpsmen. Other helicopters were more successful in landing their passengers. One CH53A, however was not. SSgt. Elwood E. Rumbaugh's aircraft was near the coastline when it was shot down. Rumbaugh is the only missing man from the aircraft. The passengers were safely extracted. (It is not known whether the passengers went down with the aircraft or whether they were rescued from the island.) By midmorning, when the Cambodians on the mainland began receiving reports of the assault, they ordered the crew of the MAYAGUEZ on a Thai boat, and then left. The MAYAGUEZ crew was recovered by the USS WILSON before the second wave of Marines was deployed, but the second wave was ordered to attack anyway. Late in the afternoon, the assault force had consolidated its position on the western landing zone and the eastern landing zone was evacuated at 6:00 p.m. By the end of the 14-hour operation, most of the Marines were extracted from the island safely, with 50 wounded. Lcpl. Ashton Loney had been killed by enemy fire, but his body could not be recovered. Protecting the perimeter during the final evacuation was the machine gun squad of PFC Gary L. Hall, Lcpl. Joseph N. Hargrove and Pvt. Danny G. Marshall. They had run out of ammunition and were ordered to evacuate on the last helicopter. It was their last contact. Maj. McNemar and Maj. James H. Davis made a final sweep of the beach before boarding the helicopter and were unable to locate them. They were declared Missing in Action. The eighteen men missing from the MAYAGUEZ incident are listed among the missing from the Vietnam war. Although authorities believe that there are perhaps hundreds of American prisoners still alive in Southeast Asia from the war, most are pessimistic about the fates of those captured by the Khmer Rouge. In 1988, the communist government of Kampuchea (Cambodia) announced that it wished to return the remains of several dozen Americans to the United States. (In fact, the number was higher than the official number of Americans missing in Cambodia.) Because the U.S. does not officially recognize the Cambodian government, it has refused to respond directly to the Cambodians regarding the remains. Cambodia, wishing a direct acknowledgment from the U.S. Government, still holds the remains.
Capture and Release of SS Mayaguez by Khmer
Rouge forces in May 1975
From the perspective of the U.S. Merchant Marine
A Tragedy of Errors
The Mayaguez Incident remembered
On May 12, 1975, the American container ship `Mayaguez' was intercepted and its crew taken hostage 60km off the Cambodian coast by naval units of the newly-victorious Khmer Rouge. Four days later, 41 American soldiers and an unknown number of Cambodians were dead in the aftermath of a bungled rescue attempt on the island of Koh Tang and an intensive bombardment of the coastal town of Sihanoukville. In this special report the `Taipei Times' looks back at the Mayaguez Incident, the final tragic act of American military involvement in Southeast Asia in the 1970s.
By Phelim Kyne and Chea
The otherwise routine voyage of the Sealand container ship Maya-guez to the Thai port of Sattahip was brought to an abrupt halt on the afternoon of May 12, 1975, by a pair of Khmer Rouge patrol boats and their heavily-armed crews.
Accused of violating Cambodian territorial waters, the ship and its 39 member crew were diverted toward the nearby island of Koh Tang.
Coming just 12 days after America's humiliating retreat from Vietnam, the hostage-taking became the focus of American government efforts to salvage a superpower reputation tarnished by the recent twin Communist victories in Cambodia and Vietnam.
"The National Security Council was convened and [then-US Secretary of State] Kissinger argued that much more was at stake than the seizure of an American ship ... [that] American credibility was more involved than ever," the British journalist William Shawcross wrote in his 1979 book Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger and the Destruction of Cambodia. "Throughout the crisis the Secretary insisted that for domestic and international reasons, and particularly to impress the North Koreans, the US must use force."
Although the Mayaguez crew was transferred by fishing boat to the port of Sihanoukville on the afternoon of May 13, American military intelligence believed that at least half the crew remained on Koh Tang and plans were laid for a rescue attempt by American Marines based in Thailand.
The plan went quickly wrong.
The KR vessel carrying the Mayageuz crew to Sihanoukville was repeatedly strafed and tear-gassed by American planes unsuccessfully seeking to force the craft back to Koh Tang.
A group of the Mayaguez crew later unsuccessfully tried suing the US government for chronic health problems incurred as a result of those aerial attacks.
On the evening of May 14, 23 US servicemen became the Mayaguez Incident's first fatalities after their helicopter crashed en route from Thailand's Nakhon Phanom airbase to the operation's departure point of U Tapao air base.
A US government memorial unveiled in Phnom Penh in 1995 by visiting American Senator John McCain makes no mention of those men.
At dawn on May 15, 170 Marines in eight Knife and Jolly Green Giant helicopters approached Koh Tang in the first stage of a rescue attempt in which little or no resistance was expected from what American military intelligence had described as an opposition force of 35-40 KR "irregulars."
Instead, they entered a firestorm orchestrated by a well-armed and well dug-in platoon of battle-hardened veterans of the April 17 "liberation" of Phnom Penh, who brought their newly-acquired American guns and ammunition confiscated from losing Lon Nol forces to bear on the invading force.
Within minutes, three helicopters had been shot down and for the next 24 hours US forces fought for their lives in a battle that eventually killed 16 KR combatants and additional 18 American servicemen, their remains the focus of intensive searches by US government MIA retrieval teams on Koh Tang that continue to this day.
In a bitter irony unknown to the Marines on Koh Tang until after their harrowing escape back to the US aircraft carrier Coral Sea on the morning of May 16, the crew of the Mayageuz had been released by their captors onto a Thai fishing boat several hours before the attack had commenced.
At 10:08am on May 15, while US helicopter gunships perforated with small arms fire struggled to land reinforcements and evacuate wounded personnel from Koh Tang, the crew of the Mayaguez was picked up by the US navy in the Gulf of Thailand.
As Shawcross noted in Sideshow, US President Ford was quick to describe the Mayaguez mission as a success in that "...it did not only ignite confidence in the White House ... it had an electrifying reaction as far as the American people were concerned. It was a spark that set off a whole new sense of confidence for them, too."
Calculating the costs of the battle -- 41 dead servicemen in return for the safe return of 39 American seamen and the loss of life and property of Cambodians unaware of their position in American foreign and domestic policy objectives, Shawcross is unequivocal in his condemnation of Ford's upbeat assessment of the results of the Mayageuz Incident.
"In the attacks on [Sihanoukville] the railroad yard, the port, the oil refinery and the airfield were virtually destroyed. At Ream naval base, 364 buildings were flattened. Nine Cambodian vessels were sunk at sea. In order to rescue the Marines on Koh Tang, the island was heavily bombarded ... [ignoring] the August 1973 ban on bombing Indochina as well as the 1973 War Powers Act. The principal purpose of the bombing seem to have been to punish the Cambodians and to reassert a concept of American bellicosity, which the collapse of Phnom Penh and Saigon was seen to have damaged."
Even more disturbingly, the battalion commander of the Khmer Rouge forces on Koh Tang admitted during an interview with the Taipei Times last week that, contrary to long held Pentagon assertions to the contrary, American servicemen had been abandoned on Koh Tang during the confusion of their withdrawal.
"Ten days after the American soldiers left Koh Tang, a tree-cutting detail sighted a figure taking water from a well," Mao Run told the Taipei Times. "When they investigated, they found boot marks which we knew had to belong to an American soldier because our men only wore sandals."
According to Run, the abandoned American Marine was found and executed shortly after.
Run's admission 25 years after the fact adds credence to the belief held by many Marines who participated in the Koh Tang operation of a "lost machine-gun team" inadvertently left behind on the island.?
"We were told on the US Coral Sea that a machine-gun team was killed by the KR as we withdrew from the island, but years later I suspect that they were left behind," Koh Tang marine veteran Dale L. Clark told the Taipei Times. "I believe the US government knew the team was alive on the island because I heard and saw preparations made on the USS Coral Sea to return to the island, [but] no attempts were made to travel back to the island for their recovery ... I suspect the US government canceled the plans not wanting to have any more Marines killed during the recovery."
Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Childress, Public Affairs Officer of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting for MIAs in Hawaii was unaware of Run's allegations, but assured the Taipei Times that MIA investigators were still pursuing rumors that US Marines had been left behind on Koh Tang.
"The case of the three-man
machine-gun team is still under investigation," Childress said.
"There are still places to investigate and places to be excavated [for
MIA remains on Koh Tang]."
War veterans explain how a simple plan went horribly wrong for the US
"I still remember feeling the heat from the burning chopper next to us. I remember the flash and watching our tail section fold away from the chopper. I remember seeing my fellow Marines' bodies floating into the beach and others swimming to open sea. Yes sir, hell is an understatement."
-- Larry Barnett, former US Marine and survivor of the second of three US helicopters shot down over Koh Tang on May 15, 1975.
By Phelim Kyne and Chea
"Our group's mission was to land on the beach, link up with the other groups and move toward the middle of the island [where] we were to link up and surround a compound believed to hold the captured Mayaguez crew," explained Dale L. Clark, a Marine fire team leader during the Koh Tang assault. "My group had two US Army interpreters that spoke fluent Cambodian [who] were equipped with bullhorns and tasked with influencing [the Khmer Rouge] in giving up the crew without a fight."
Instead, what ensued was a near-textbook exemplar of a military disaster: inexperienced troops with inaccurate intelligence pitted against a seasoned enemy on its home turf.
"Very few of our company had any previous combat experience ... lots of the guys were fresh out of boot-camp or like myself had just been in about a year," recalled Koh Tang survivor Larry Barnett. I guess a fair general term to describe our company was `greenhorns.'"
As they skimmed over the Pacific toward their fateful encounter with the Khmer Rouge on Koh Tang, the Marines were comforted by military intelligence reports of the light resistance, if any, they would encounter upon arrival.
"We were told to expect the operation to be easy and with a quick withdrawal," Clark said. "We were told not to `lock and load' our weapons until told to do so because combat was not expected."
Clark admits to going into "mild shock" by the intensity of the KR resistance to the Marine landing on Koh Tang.
"I could not believe what I saw ... the KR opened up on the first four helicopters that attempted to land. I saw an aircraft gun emplacement near the edge of the island. I also saw a lot of smoke coming from a tree line we flew over ... from rifles being fired at the helicopters. I remember hugging the bottom of the helicopter as we began evasive maneuvers to get out of the kill zone. I looked up and saw fuel spraying all over the inside of the front of the helicopter. I could not believe what I was seeing."
Both Clark and Barnett describe themselves and their fellow Marines as victims of a severe failure of military intelligence regarding the strength of the force facing them on Koh Tang.
"Being told not to expect resistance and having the opposite experience ... tells me it was an intelligence disaster," he said.
Barnett is even more explicit in where to lay blame for what befell the Koh Tang operation.
"The intelligence that [the US military] had on the island was good ... but it did not make its way into the proper hands," Barnett explained. "Our company commander and company gunnery sergeant received a photo of the island's gun emplacements and bunkers the night before [the assault] ... but elected not to tell the troops for fear of making us more nervous than we already were."
Surprise and dismay over the events of May 15, 1975 were shared by Mao Run, platoon commander of the KR forces on Koh Tang. Dispatched to the island the week before in advance of an expected Vietnamese invasion, a landing by US Marines was the last thing on his mind.
"I met those men [from the Mayageuz] and we were friendly and kind to them ... I had no idea they would be the cause of fighting between Cambodia and America," the disabled veteran explained from his rural village in southern Cambodia. "I think the Americans attacked us out of revenge because they had lost the war and they used [the Mayageuz Incident] as an excuse."
While post-battle American estimates of the size of the KR force on Koh Tang range as high as 200 men, Run insists there were no more than forty fighters on the island during the operation.
"We had 40 men, but only 20 men took part in most of the fighting," he said. "But those American troops were not professionals like the Khmer Rouge ... they spoke loudly, laughed and smoked so it was easy to monitor their movements."
In the air above Run and his fellow KR defenders, American planes and AC-130 Specter gunships subjected their positions to withering cover fire that continued uninterrupted throughout the operation.
At the height of the fighting the KR positions were targeted with a 15,000 pound BLU-82 cluster bomb, at the time the biggest non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal, carving out a huge crater still clearly visible on the island 25 years later.
"We lost six men on the island, and another ten when their boats were sunk when approaching Koh Tang," Run recalled. "But many, many more people were killed by bombs in [Sihanoukville].
While Clark and Barnett both express interest in someday meeting with Run and his fellow Koh Tang defenders in an effort "to bring closure" to the painful lingering memories of the battle, Run makes it clear that any such reunion is unlikely.
"[Koh Tang] was just like a
training exercise ... the real battle and the real victory was the
liberation of Phnom Penh on April 17," he said. "People say now
that the Khmer Rouge killed one million people [between 1975-1979] but
another million people must have been killed by American B-52 attacks
on Cambodia ... I saw whole villages destroyed by B-52s and I'll never
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Link to DoD press
release - 18 May 2000
MIA MARINES IDENTIFIED FROM MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT
& Mayotte Families
Links of Interest
Col. Robert A. Scherr, USMC