[Image 1: Department
of Defense (Air Force) 507-541. USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG 7),
seen off the coast of Koh Tang, rescued 13 survivors of Knife
31 and supported the retrograde from the island by expending
157 5-inch rounds.]
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of BIT 2/9, the many contributions the Wilson made during the operation, which
duly gained the ship noteworthy recognition, paled when placed alongside their
rescue: "Crew and troops of single downed helo on northeast beach recovered by boat to USS Wilson"'1'^ The Seventh Fleet's commander, Admiral Steele, aptly summarized the Wilson's "other" contributions: "The Henry B. Wilson delivered naval gunfire on hostile positions ashore on Tang Island to assist Marines landed there. She even armed her gig and used it successfully to suppress and direct fire, aiding extraction of the Marines from the island."*75
As the Wilson's gig moved to a position from which it could support the western zone. Knife 51 accompanied by Jolly Green 43 and 44 appeared. When Knife 51 landed at 1830 and loaded 41 Marines, the extraction of the western zone officially began. As K 51 headed to the Coral Sea, JG 43 landed and loaded 54 Marines. While JG 43 recovered on board the Coral Sea, JG 44 executed a quick turn-around by depositing its 34 Marines on the Holt, the nearest ship to Koh Tang. JG 44's shortened round-trip enabled it to extract the next-to-last load, 40 Marines, leaving 32 still on the island.**76
The group of 32 Marines remaining on Koh Tang included Captain Davis and Gunnery Sergeant Lester A. McNemar. These two Marines had known for hours that once the retrograde began, their most serious challenge would be a Cambodian counterattack. Somehow they had to ensure that the Cambodians did not overrun their final defensive position. Even before Captain Davis and Gunnery Sergeant McNemar shrunk the perimeter for the last time, they received a taste of the peril they would face. Prior to Jolly Green 44's arrival, at which time it picked up the nexr-to-lasi load, the 72 Marines then in the zone experienced some harrowing moments.
In its official description of those critical minutes, the Air Force recorded: "Radio contact with the friendlies was lost, and no helicopters were immediately available to make pickups. Finally at approximately 1225Z (1925L), communication with the ground commander was reestablished, and he reported that he might be overrun in fifteen minutes. Two minutes later, he reemphasized the urgency of immediate evacuation."77 In fact, it was reported that at this point Captain Davis said to the helicopter pilots, "Go for broke."78 At this critical juncture, through luck and the good headwork ofJG 44's pilot, things improved:
"Within five minutes . . . JG 44 had returned from the USS Holt and had landed in the LZ, assisted by a strobe light set up by the Marines." Jolly Green 44's independent decision to go to the Holt had literally saved the day for the Marines remaining on the island.79
Even though the immediate crisis had passed, the Cambodians now posed an even greater threat to Captain Davis and his small contingent of Marines:
"Twenty-nine Marines were still under fire on the western beach and there were no helicopters immedi-
*Admiral Steele shared his thoughts about the dearth of overall gunfire
support. He commented: "Imagine the distress of the Seventh Fleet Commander,
with an enormous force within 24 (o 36 hours from the combat zone, (o find
Henry Wilson's gig was being used to suppress and direct fire, and aid extraction
of the Marines from Koh Tang." Steele Comments.
**This number docs not include the fatally wounded Lance Corporal Looncy. As his body was still in the western zone, the total number that remained was 33, which when added to the number already extracted accounted for the 202 Marines still on Koh Tang at 1800. 15 May.
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