Page 241(The Bitter End)
of the action quickly became General Hoffman's top priority.15
When the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines received word that it had been chosen to deploy to Thailand, it was still in the training cycle. In fact at that precise moment, it was in the midst of a training exercise on northern Okinawa in the Central Training Area. Less than five hours later, by 0200 14 May, the battalion had arrived back at its Camp Schwab base, and along with its support elements had prepared to mount out, still uncertain of its destination. Ju$t 15 minutes prior to its arrival at Camp Schwab, the battalion landing team's artillery elements had left for Kadena Airbase. In the ensuing three hours, all of the units attached to BLT 2/9 made their way to Kadena, with the last one arriving at 0545. The command element launched first at 0530, followed by the main body at 0615. They flew to Utapao on Air Force C-l4ls.19
While the preparations on Okinawa began to take shape, the Marines of Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines completed the packing of their gear and at 0030 started to board an Air Force C-141 at the Naval Air Station Cubi Point. Led by Major Porter and their company commander. Captain Walter J. Wood, the Marines of Company D landed at Utapao at 0445, Just as the first elements of BLT 2/9 started arriving at the Kadena passenger terminal. Accompanying the Marines from Subic on the flight to Thailand were 12 volunteers, six sailors from the Duiuth and six civilians from the Greenville Victory, a Military Sealift Command ship, who had agreed to use their technical expertise to sail the Mayaguez.\7
Upon their arrival in Utapao, Major Porter and the officers of Company D met with members of General Burns' staff. At this meeting, the staff informed them that their company of Marines would board the Mayaguez from Air Force helicopters. In addition, Major Porter and Company D learned that from this point on, they should consider themselves in a 30-minute standby status. Less than six hours later, at 1200, they boarded helicopters but remained on the ramp, waiting for word to launch. Two hours later, still sitting in the helicopters, they received orders to disembark. Major Porter later learned that General Burns had cancelled the mission for that day* The US-SAG commander believed that insufficient time remained to complete the recovery before sunset and he had no desire to attempt it at night. Thus, the Marines continued in a standby status until 0200 the next day when the USSAG staff finally completed its plan for the recapture of the Mayaguez.16
Boarding the Mayaguez from Air Force helicopters would be no easy feat, and because of the variables involved, additional preparations would have to be made.** First, and foremost, Major Porter's command element had to deal with incompatibility factors. The Mayaguez's cargo consisted of containers which covered all of the main deck. Because of the weight of the HH/CH-53s and the distribution and stress characteristics of the aluminum containers, planners deemed a landing on the Mayaguez unsafe. Consequently, the Marines would have to Jump or rappel from the helicopters onto the cargo, and then using some type of ramp or bridge, move from container to container until they could lower themselves onto the ship's deck. From there they would move quickly to secure the critical areas of the ship.
For almost 24 hours, this concept did not change. Admiral Weisner's Initial orders to Admiral Steele at 1014 on 14 May did not foresee using Steele's ship, the Holt, as a boarding platform for the Marines. He reached this conclusion based on the assumption that the Holt would not arrive in the area until sometime after sunrise on 15 May Later, on the evening of l4 May, when General Burns and his staff learned of the favorable change in the Holt's ETA, they decided to use it to board the Mayaguez. In the intervening period, Major Porter and his Marines continued to prepare for the boarding of the Mayaguez from Air Force helicopters.19
At 0730, the rime the Task Group 79-9 commander, Colonel Johnson, arrived at Utapao-about three hours after Major Porter-Marines had their then-assigned task well in hand. At this point. Colonel Johnson learned that his mission to recover the Mayaguez would probably be expanded. It would include the requirement to "seize, occupy, and defend Koh Tang," and rescue and recover any crewmembers found there.20
While Colonel Johnson and his forces moved south to Thailand, the Navy repositioned its ships and recon-
*According to one account. President ford did not issue the order [o begin the operation undl early morning on 15 May, 0345 Cambodian time: "At 4:45 [p.m.. Eastern Daylight Savings Time. 14 May] . . . the President issued the orders for one Marine assault force to seize and hold Koh Tang. and for another Marine force ... to board the Mayaguez" Roy Rowan. The Four Days of Mayaguez (New York: W. W, Norton & Co., 1975), p, 176.
**Admiral Steele revealed in his comments: "I suggested that rhe Mayaguez be covered with rear gas in order to subdue whoever was on board, even the crew could have been there, or some of them, and we did not want to endanger them." Steele Comments,
Page 241(The Bitter End)