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[Image 1: Marine
Corps Historical Collection. A shell fired from the USS Henry
B. Wilson (DDG 7) explodes over a Koh Tang beach. The Wilson
and its gig, "Black Velvet," and the USS Holt provided gunfire
support to the Marines as they evacuated the western zone
between 1830 and 2010 on 15 May.]

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and it was obvious a helo extraction of the main force was on."70


Despite having no prior warning, the Marines were ready to depart. They had already prepared for the moment by gathering their wounded into one area and devising a staggered withdrawal plan. This allowed them to reduce the zone without compromising its overall security. The phased withdrawal would permit Lieutenant Colonel Austin to shrink the zone after each lift and fortify the new perimeter before the next flight arrived. Unfortunately, in the darkness and the confusion caused by the deafening noise of the helicopter rotor blades mixing with the ugly chatter of enemy gunfire, all did not go as planned, but this fact would not be known until many hours after the last flight had landed. Lieutenant Colonel Austin recalled how the final two hours on Koh Tang began:


"When the first helicopter approached the zone which was being marked by Marines with flashlights since by this time it was completely dark, it was met by a heavy volume of fire."71


During the next two hours, the gunners of the incoming HH-53s fired at the suspected Cambodian positions while the AC-130 used its 20mm and 40mm weapons against the flashes of the enemy's guns. At the same time, the Air Force F-4s and A-7s, directed by Nail 68 and Nail 69, two OV-10 FACs, conducted strafing runs in an effort to interdict the Communists and keep them from shooting at the recovery helicopters. The Spectre gunship reported, "We expended 200 rounds of 20mm HEI, 158 rounds of 40mm MEISH, and 87 rounds of 105mm HE at the target."72


With the Cambodians' attention diverted by this firepower, each helicopter would hover at the beach's edge with its nose pointed in the direction of safe haven, the sea, and load as many Marines as possible. The recovery helo would then take its load of Marines to one of the Navy ships standing off the coast of Koh Tang. Most of the Marines eventually disembarked on the Coral Sea, but 34 ended up on the Holt.


The third ship in the area, the destroyer Wilson, already had on board 10 Marines from BLT 2/9 (the Knife 31 survivors) and 15 from 1st Battalion, 4th Marines (Mayaguez security crew). With these 25 Marines on board, the Wilson stood by offshore as its gig assisted in the recovery of the 20 Marines and five airmen isolated on the eastern beach. After the Wilson's well-armed small boat, "Black Velvet," completed this support mission, it moved around the northern tip of the island to a position near the western shore. From its new location, "Black Velvet" laid down a band of suppressive fire in the area of Staff Sergeants Tuitele and Burnett's position, the western zone Marines' northern perimeter. Besides this assistance, earlier in the evening, the Wilson sank at least one and possibly two Cambodian gunboats which had been harassing the Marines and their air cover. In total, in support of the two extraction efforts, the Wilson fired 157 5-inch rounds and provided an alternative to helicopter extraction, evacuation by boat.73 To the 10 Marines

 

 









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