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nicknames and using the radio call sign "Knife," were owned by the 21st Special Operations Squadron (21st SOS).10
These helicopters departed Korat and Nakhon Pha-nom the evening of 13 May for Utapao. Seventh Air Force Headquarters ordered the 21st SOS CH-53s to transport the Nakhon Phanom base security police. General Burns intended to deploy these men as an early answer to the need for ground security should Admiral Gayler order him to immediately effect the rescue of the crew.
In General Burns' initial operations order issued a little after midnight on 14 May 1975, he directed the use of 125 Air Force Security Police as helicopter landing zone security stating, "The Airborne Mission Commander will establish contact with 7AF/TACC on the HF command net and control the mission as directed by ComUSSAG/yAF"*^ Three hours later, after Admiral Gayler's chief of staff, Lieutenant General William G- Moore, Jr., USAF, talked to General Burns on the phone. Admiral Gayler amended General Burns' operating order by changing "USAF Security Police" to read "USMC GSF personnel," and adding "Command and control will be maintained by CinCPac who will be acting under direction from JCS (NMCC)."**12
During the initial hours of this crisis, because of the Marine Corps' continued involvement in post-evacuation and refugee-related operations, the combination of Air three ground and air assets in Thailand represented the only option available to implement immediately an NMCC order to recover the SS Mayaguez and its crew. The first of the helicopters designated for this possible mission departed Korat at 1943 followed by a second flight which departed Nakhon Phanom at 2000. A half-hour later, Knife 01 and his wingmen in three CH-53s also launched from Nakhon Phanom. Shortly after takeoff, 40 miles west of the field, Knife 01-3 disappeared from departure control's radar screen. The 21st SOS helicopter had crashed, killing all on board. Its passengers, 18 air police and crew of five became the first casualties of the Mayaguez rescue operation.13
The two helicopters that Colonel Anders had Stationed at Korat Air Base as search and air rescue attempted to assist at the crash scene, but once the pilots determined that no assistance was possible, they proceeded directly to Utapao and joined the others-With their arrival, the initial assault force consisted of 11 helicopters: six HH-53s and five CH-53s. The HH-53 or "Jolly Green" (call sign designator "]G") possessed an inflight refueling capability and the CH-53C or "Knife" (call sign designator "K"), the Air Force version of the Marine Corps' "Sea Stallion," carried external fuel tanks which extended its range capabilities. Considering the distance from Utapao to Koh Tang, range (based on weight and fuel consumption) would be a critical factor in deciding what forces to employ and where and by what means to deploy them.
By the time these helicopters arrived in Utapao, the President and his staff had decided to proceed with the military option with final authorization and the order to execute to be delivered from President Ford via JCS. Later that evening, sometime between 2355 on 13 May and 0255 the next day, General Burns phoned CinCPac's chief of staff. Lieutenant General William G. Moore, Jr., to discuss his options. In seeking a decision, he offered his recommendation: "I believe that the Marines are the preferred troops for this mission and if the two hours later time which they can make is acceptable, I recommend their use with a planned insertion time of 0050Z."14
Concurring with this recommendation, Admiral Gayler decided to use the Marines. He had already alerted Major General Carl W. Hoffman to expect orders on short notice which would call for his air contingency battalion landing team and its support elements to assist General Burns and USSAG forces in recovering the Mayaguez. General Hoffman had chosen Colonel John M. Johnson, the III MAF G-3, to command the task group, 79.9-*** It contained two separate elements known as task units. The infantry battalion, BLT 2/9, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Randall W. Austin, bore the task unit designator 79.9.1, while rhe second element carried the designation 79.9.2. Major Raymond E. Porter, the battalion's executive officer, commanded this smaller force, comprised of Company D(-)(reinforced) of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. With BLT 2/9 on Okinawa and Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines in the MAU camp in Subic, getting the task group to the scene
*The Airborne Mission Commander or AMC's role included the responsibility of serving as the airborne on-scene coordinator. He would perform that function while aloft in an EC-130 known as an airborne battlefield command and control center or ABCCC.
**National Military Command Center (NMCC), located in the Pentagon, was responsible for coordinating and controlling military responses to international crises such as the illegal seizure of an American vessel on the high seas.
***Colonel John F. Roche III, the 31st MAU commander, mentioned that at the
time of Colonel Johnson's selection to lead the rescue mission, Colonel Johnson
was "unassigned awaiting change of station." Roche Comments.
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