[Image 1: Marine
Corps Historical Collection. An Air Force HH-53, JG 41, bears
evidence of the resistance at Koh Tang. JG 41 made four attempts
to enter the western zone and finally, on its fifth attempt.
successfully unloaded 2dLt Richard H. Zaies 2d Platoon, Company
G. By the end of the retrograde three of the original 14 helicopters
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50 meters of beach stood between them and disaster. With recovery at this time
an impossibility. Jolly Green 13 decided to abort its rescue attempt.
The four remaining helicopters in the first wave had only slightly better luck. One of these (JG 41), carrying Second Lieutenant Richard H. Zaies' 2d Platoon, Company G, finally made it into the western zone at 0930 on its fifth attempt. Earlier, two other helicopters, Knife 32 and Jolly Green 42, had inserted their heliteams into that zone*
The fourth helicopter in the first assault wave, JG 43, gave up trying to get into the site and unloaded its Marines far short of the zone. To make matters worse, this helicopter carried Lieutenant Colonel Austin, his staff, and the mortar section. Thus upon disembarking from the helicopter, they not only found themselves 1,000 to 1,200 meters southwest of the zone, but also separated from the main body.
The main body, now commanded by the Company G executive officer. First Lieutenant James D. Keith, the next senior officer present, had to expand its perimeter. While attempting to enlarge it under heavy enemy fire Lieutenant Keith also had to make contact with Austin and his 29 Marines. Besides Austin's group and Keith's 60 Marines, Second Lieutenant Ci-cere counted 20 Marines in the eastern zone, including one who had sustained wounds. The first wave of the assault force had numbered 180 when it left Uta-pao. It now stood at 109, plus five Air Force crewmem-bers, divided among three positions. Not until Second Lieutenant Zaies and his 21 Marines landed (at 0930) would the total Marine Corps strength change, and then it would only increase to 131. These were less than ideal conditions from which to mount a raid, especially when facing a well fortified and entrenched enemy.40
Thus the assault forces found themselves divided into three groups, separated from their supporting elements, and without the planned buildup of fighting strength. Complicating this perilous situation was the fact that the command group was isolated, separated from the main body by hundreds of meters of rugged jungle.
Except for a man-made opening connecting the eastern half of the island's middle to the western section, heavy foliage covered every inch of the terrain. From a position south and west of this cut, the enemy directed multiple fire at the Marines in the western zone. To gain relief from this shelling. First Lieutenant Keith ordered one of his platoon commanders, Second Lieutenant McDaniel, to destroy the position. The absence of other officers in the zone made this mission even more critical; Keith could not afford to lose anyone, especially a platoon commander.
McDaniel led a reinforced squad against the Cambodians whose exact location was impossible to pinpoint because of the thick underbrush. While McDaniel and his squad attempted to identify the source of harassing automatic weapons fire, another group of Cambodians hit their flank from close range with grenades and small arms. As in the case of the initial attack, the source of this fire could not be pinpointed cither because the ground level visibility extended no more than 15 feet. Surprised by the attack against the flank, McDaniel and five of his Marines sustained wounds, including Lance Corporal Ashton N. Looney of Albany, New York, who later died. In the ensuing moments, McDaniel and his patrol responded with an intense volume of fire directed at the enemy's concealed location. It forced the Cambodians to cease firing and retreat.41
Having witnessed the firefight and fearing an en-
*The number of Marines in the western zone at any set time cannot be pinpointed
because official accounts vary. The description of Knife 32's insertion serves
as an example of why this confusion exists. Air Force records state that Knife
52 unloaded 13 Marines, a 14th Marine was wounded and remained on board, and
an Army language specialist refused to disembark. Marine Corps records reflect
that 15 Marines disembarked. 2/9 Koh Tang Report, "Assault on Koh Tang," and
CNA Mayaguez Report.
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