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Awards of the Silver Star

for 
Conspicuous Gallantry
in Action during the
S.S. Mayaguez
Incident
(May 15, 1975)

 

On May 12, 1975, two weeks after the fall of Saigon ending the Vietnam War, Cambodian Khmer Rouge naval forces operating former U.S. Navy "Swift Boats" seized the American container ship SS Mayaguez in recognized international sea lanes claimed as territorial waters by Cambodia. The civilian crew was captured and held for questioning, and the Mayaguez was moved to and anchored at Koh Tang Island, just off the coast of Cambodia and near the Vietnam border.

Late on that same evening, as CH-53 Sikorsky in a flight out of Nakhon Phanom fell out of formation and exploded on impact, killing all 23 men aboard. While purportedly a "training flight", all 23 men aboard were posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal. Meanwhile, reacting swiftly to the incident, President Ford ordered the U.S.S. Coral Sea into the area while Air Force reconnaissance aircraft monitored events and U.S. Marine ground forces were assembled to recover the ship and her crew. 

The joint Navy/Air Force/Marine Corps rescue operation commenced at dawn on May 15, when eleven CH-53s began landing Marines on Kho Tang Island. The rescue force was met with intense enemy fire and four helicopters went down with their crews. The Mayaguez was boarded by U.S. Marines and found empty. Unknown to other Marines fighting for survival on the island in a battle that would last 15-hours, the Mayaguez' crew had also been released even as the operation commenced.

In the intense fighting at Kho Tang Island and the air operations in support of that mission, four helicopters were lost and 41 Americans were killed in action (including the 23 killed in the air crash in Thailand on May 13), 44 American Sailors and Marines were wounded, and 3 were listed as missing in action. One Navy Cross and four Air Force Crosses were awarded, along with with Silver Star Awards to THREE U.S. Marines and FIVE Air Force Pararescuemen.

 

Award Name Branch
Navy Cross McDaniel, James V. USMC
Air Force Cross Backlund, Donald R. USAF
Brims, Richard C. USAF
Harston, Jon D. USAF
Purser, Rowland W. USAF
Silver Star Austin, Randall W. USMC
Bateson, Thomas J. USAF
Eldridge, John J. USAF
Eustis, Michael S. USMC
Fisk, Wayne L. USAF
Marx, Brad E. USAF
Stanaland, Joseph S. USAF
Tonkin, Terry L. USMC

Citations

McDANIEL, JAMES V.
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to James V. McDaniel, Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism on 15 May 1975 as Platoon Commander, First Platoon, Company G, Second Battalion, Ninth Marines, THIRD Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, while engaged in the recovery of S.S. MAYAGUEZ which had been seized in the Gulf of Thailand by units of the Cambodian Navy. Landing on Koh Tang Island in the first helicopter of the initial assault wave, Second Lieutenant McDaniel's helicopter team immediately came under intense enemy fire. Quickly organizing his small force, he attacked inland, securing a landing zone for subsequent waves. Given the mission of neutralizing an enemy automatic-weapons position, he organized an eight-man patrol. After moving thirty meters through dense undergrowth, the patrol came under a fierce enemy attack, instantly killing his point man and wounding five out of the eight Marines, including Second Lieutenant McDaniel. Painfully wounded and with complete disregard for his own safety, he moved to the front of his patrol, aiding the wounded Marines and directing fire into the enemy. Although in pain from multiple fragmentation wounds and under intense enemy fire, he personally carried two wounded Marines back to friendly lines. Only after ensuring that the wounded Marines were being treated did he accept medical aid and then immediately returned to his Platoon where he directed the defense in his area, routinely exposing himself to enemy fire for the remainder of the day. As the extraction of the Marine force began, he remained in the landing zone, personally ensuring all members of his Platoon were extracted. By his daring actions, inspiring leadership, and undaunted courage in the face of grave danger, Second Lieutenant McDaniel upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Authority: Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals




BACKLUND, DONALD R.
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Donald R. Backlund, First Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander of an HH-53 Helicopter of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, SEVENTH Air Force, in action on 15 May 1975 at Koh Tang Island, Cambodia. On that date, while engaged in the recovery of the S.S. MAYAGUEZ and crew, Lieutenant Backlund, exhibiting superb airmanship, placed a contingent of United States Marines aboard the destroyer escort, U.S.S. Holt. He then successfully landed several United States Marines on Koh Tang Island despite intense ground fire. After escorting his wingman to the U.S.S. Coral Sea, Lieutenant Backlund then returned to Koh Tang Island and successfully recovered a group of United States Marines and airmen although encountering heavy, consistent ground fire. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Lieutenant Backlund reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Special Orders GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF
Personal Awards: Air Force Cross (S.S. Mayaguez Incident), Meritorious Service Medal, 2@ Air Medals, Air Force Commendation Medal


BRIMS, RICHARD C.
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Richard C. Brims, First Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an HH-53 Helicopter Aircraft Commander of the 21st Special Operations Squadron, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, SEVENTH Air Force, in action on 15 May 1975, at Koh Tang Island, Cambodia. On that date, while engaged in the recovery of the S.S. MAYAGUEZ and crew, Lieutenant Brims successfully landed United States Marines on Koh Tang Island despite overwhelming ground fire. Prior to leaving the island, Lieutenant Brims held his position against heavy ground fire and managed to extract five seriously wounded Marines. He then twice flew his aircraft into intense ground fire, successfully removing remaining groups of United States Marines. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Lieutenant Brims reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Special Orders GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF
Personal Awards: Air Force Cross (S.S. Mayaguez Incident), @ Meritorious Service Medals, 2@
Air Medals, Joint Service Commendation Medal, 2@ Air Force Commendation Medals


HARSTON, JON D.
Synopsis:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Jon D. Harston, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Helicopter Flight Mechanic on board a CH-53 helicopter of the 21st Special Operations Squadron, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, SEVENTH Air Force, in action on 15 May 1975, at Koh Tang Island, Cambodia. On that date, while engaged in the rescue of the crew and recovery of the SS Mayaguez, Staff Sergeant Harston's helicopter encountered extremely heavy hostile fire and crashed at the shoreline of Koh Tang Island. Although wounded in the leg, Sergeant Harston reentered the burning aircraft and led three Marines to safety. As the survivors of the crash swam away from the beach, Sergeant Harston provided covering fire. He returned to the wrecked helicopter again to pull out another wounded Marine. He then kept himself and two wounded Marines afloat with his damaged life preserver until they were rescued by a navy destroyer approximately three hours later. Through his extraordinary heroism and willpower, in the face of the enemy, Staff Sergeant Harston reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Special Orders GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF
Born: July 1948 at Newport News, Virginia
Home Town: Newport News, Virginia


PURSER, ROWLAND W.
Synopsis:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Rowland W. Purser, Captain, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an HH-53 Helicopter Pilot of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, SEVENTH Air Force, in action on 15 May 1975 at Koh Tang Island, Cambodia. On that date, Captain Purser made two tries under heavy fire before landing 29 Marines on the island. He picked up another group of Marines in Thailand and returned to Koh Tang Island. In the evacuation of the Marines fro Koh Tang Island, Captain Purser's helicopter was severely damaged and he had to return to the U.S.S. Coral Sea, which was nearby. Getting his helicopter repaired, he returned to the island to pick up 54 Marines and return them safely to the Coral Sea. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Purser reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Special Orders GB-583, 7/14/1975, USAF




U.S. Air Force

BATESON, THOMAS J.
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Thomas J. Bateson, Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, for Sergeant Thomas J. Bateson distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force on Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Thailand on 15 May 1975. On that date, Sergeant Bateson was the Pararescue Specialist of a helicopter crew which on two separate missions delivered a contingent of United States Marines to the island in spite of heavy and constant hostile ground fire. Later on the same day while attempting to remove an isolated Marine force, the aircraft received additional damage, was forced to withdraw and make a single engine landing on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Coral Sea. After emergency repairs were accomplished, the aircraft returned to the island and still facing intensive ground fire and with the added hazard of total darkness made a successful removal of ground crew forces. This courageous action aided in the recovery of the S.S. MAYAGUEZ and its crew. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Bateson has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


ELDRIDGE, JOHN J.
(Second Award)
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star Medal to John J. Eldridge, Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force on Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Thailand on 15 May 1975. On that date, Sergeant Eldridge was the Pararescue Specialist of a HH-53C helicopter which flew three sorties spanning more than fourteen hours. Sergeant Eldridge and fellow crew members placed United States Marines aboard the destroyer escort U.S.S. HOLT and then escorted a damaged aircraft to friendly territory where they recovered its contingent of the United States Marines. They then delivered a contingent of United States Marines to the island despite intensive hostile ground fire. They remained close to the island and provided protective fire for another aircraft and escorted it to safety. Later in the day, they returned to the island and again braved heavy hostile fire to successfully remove a group of United States personnel. This courageous action aided in the recovery of the S.S. MAYAGUEZ and its crew. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Eldridge has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


FISK, WAYNE L.
(Second Award)
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star Medal to Wayne L. Fisk, Technical Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, for gallantry in the all-volunteer Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed United States Army and Air Force military operation against an opposing armed force on Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Thailand on 15 May 1975. On that date, Sergeant Fisk was the Pararescue Specialist of a CH-53 helicopter aircrew which delivered a contingent of United States Marines to the Island. In spite of extremely heavy automatic weapons and rocket fire, the crew delivered the Marines to the small landing zone on the beach and provided suppressive cover fire which successfully allowed for the removal of wounded United States Marines from their perilous position. This courageous action aided in the safe recovery of the S.S. MAYAGUEZ and its crew. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Fisk has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


MARX, BRAD E.
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Brad E. Marx, Airman First Class, U.S. Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force on Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Thailand on 15 May 1975. On that date, Airman Marx was the Pararescue Specialist of a CH-53 helicopter which flew three sorties spanning more than fourteen hours. Airman Marx and fellow crew members placed United States Marines aboard the destroyer escort U.S.S. HOLT and then escorted a damaged aircraft to friendly territory where they recovered its contingent of United States Marines. They then delivered a contingent of United States Marines to the island despite intensive hostile ground fire. They remained close to the island and provided protective fire for another aircraft and escorted it to safety. Later in the day, they returned to the island and again braved heavy hostile fire to successfully remove a group of United States personnel. This courageous action aided in the recovery of the S.S. MAYAGUEZ and its crew. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Airman Marx has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


STANALAND, JOSEPH S.
(Second Award)
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star Medal to Joseph S. Stanaland, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force on Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Thailand on 15 May 1975. On that date, Sergeant Stanaland was the Pararescue Specialist of a HH-53C helicopter which flew three sorties spanning more than fourteen hours. Sergeant Stanaland and fellow crew members placed United States Marines aboard the destroyer escort U.S.S. HOLT and then escorted a damaged aircraft to friendly territory where they recovered its contingent of United States Marines. They then delivered a contingent of United States Marines to the island despite intensive hostile fire. They remained close to the island and provided protective fire for another aircraft and escorted it to safety. Later in the day, they returned to the island and again braved heavy hostile fire to successfully remove a group of United States personnel. This courageous action aided in the recovery of the S.S. MAYAGUEZ and its crew. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Stanaland has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.



U.S. Marine Corps

AUSTIN, RANDALL W.
Synopsis:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Randall W. Austin (0-75337), Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action on 15 May 1975 as Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion, Ninth Marines while engaged in the recovery of S.S. MAYAGUEZ which had been seized in the Gulf of Thailand by units of the Cambodian Navy. By his daring actions, resolute determination, and inspiring leadership, Lieutenant Colonel Austin reflected great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.
Home Town: Glenside, Pennsylvania


EUSTIS, MICHAEL S.
Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Michael S. Eustis, First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action on 15 May 1975 as the Artillery Liaison Officer with Battalion Landing Team, Second Battalion, Ninth Marines while engaged in the recovery of S.S. MAYAGUEZ which had been seized in the Gulf of Thailand by units of the Cambodian Navy. While participating in the assault operation of Koh Tang Island, the helicopter in which First Lieutenant Eustis was riding was hit by a heavy volume of enemy fire and crashed into the shallow water just off the beach. As the burning wreckage lay in the water, First Lieutenant Eustis began evacuating the trapped team from the aircraft until it exploded and threw him into the water. Recovering quickly, he noticed the severely wounded pilot struggling to escape the still burning helicopter. Although wounded himself, First Lieutenant Eustis came to the pilot's aid and pulled him away from the burning wreckage and the ground fire coming from the island. Sensing the anger of their position under the intense enemy fire and with only two life preservers available for the nine survivors, he made a float with his trousers and assisted others in doing the same. This allowed the party to clear the danger zone and kept them afloat for three and a half hours until their rescue. By his daring actions, resolute determination, and inspiring leadership, First Lieutenant Eustis instilled the will to survive in the others; thereby reflecting great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.


TONKIN, TERRY L.
Synopsis:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Terry L. Tonkin, First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action on 15 May 1975 as the Forward Air Controller with Battalion Landing Team, Second Battalion, Ninth Marines while engaged in the recovery of S.S. MAYAGUEZ which had been seized in the Gulf of Thailand by units of the Cambodian Navy. While participating in the assault operation of Koh Tang Island, the helicopter in which First Lieutenant Tonkin was riding was hit by a heavy volume of enemy fire and crashed into the shallow water just off the beach. By his daring actions and resolute determination First Lieutenant Tonkin instilled the will to survive in the others; thereby reflecting great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.

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