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By the end of the first week of May 1975, the last traces of South Vietnamese sovereignty had been erased with the final lowering of the barred crimson and gold ensign of the Republic of Vietnam on vessels of the ARVN Navy standing off Subic Bay in the Philippines. Having brought operation FREQUENTWIND to a successful conclusion, the ships of Task Force 76 and Task Force 77 departed Vietnamese waters, some for long-overdue repairs and maintenance in either the Philippines or Japan and some for the United States. The attack carrier Coral Sea was scheduled for a port call in Australia to commemorate the anniversary of the victory over the Japanese Navy in June 1942 for which she was named. The Air Force helicopters that had participated in the operation had flown off from the Midway, standing off the Thai coast on 2 May; now, with a deck load of VNAF helicopters and F-5 fighters loaded at U Taphao, the Midway was on her way home. For their part, the helicopters of the 21 st 80S and 40th ARRS had returned to Nakhon Phanom, where aircrews reverted to the routine of peacetime training and ground crews worked to catch up with deferred maintenance.
At this point, the unexpected happened. On the afternoon of 12 May, the Khymer Rouge boarded and seized the American container ship SS Mayaguez in international waters off the Cambodian coast. The Ford Administration's response was swift and decisive. The Result was a sharp, forceful action in which U.S. Marines attacked a small island named Koh Tang off the Cambodian coast where the crew was thought, erroneously, to be held; Navy air craft from the Coral Sea mounted retaliatory raids against targets on the Cambodian mainland; Air Force fighters and AC-130s sunk numbers of Khymer gunboats and a marine boarding party from the Coral Sea's escort frigate, the Harold H. Holt, recaptured the Mayaguez.. The result was a victory for President Ford, but only by a narrow margin. The Khymer Rouge relinquished the vessel's crew, but not before the Marine assault force had become embroiled with a well-armed garrison in a vicious fight for Koh Tang, during which most of the Air Force helicopters were either shot down or so badly shot up that they had to make forced landings on the Thai coast. During the pre-invasion deployment, another Air Force helicopter crashed in Thailand killing the crew of four and nineteen Air Force Security Policemen. The Marines were extricated from their predicament by a combination of hard fighting, good luck, good leadership, determination on the part of the crews of the surviving helicopters, the provident intervention of AC-130 gunships and the sound and timely decisions made at the eleventh hour by an extraordinarily capable Air Force FAC. The arrival of the destroyer Henry B. Wilson, clear which. The flight accelerated when the Han (government expelled tens of thousands of Vietnames of Chinese origins in the wake of the Chinese attack o North Vietnam that was, in turn, in retaliation for Vietnam' invasion of Cambodia. The flight still continues today Since the fall of Saigon, over one million Vietnamese have fled the country, refugees who come from ever walk of life and every imaginable background from ordinary peasants and fishermen, and their families, t(disillusioned former officials of the Revolution and Provisional Government. Out of the total, over a quarter have died either of drowning, thirst or exposure or at the hands of the pirates who infest the South China Sea and the Gulf of Siam.
In Cambodia as in Laos the war also continues with Lon Nol Army remnants, Sihanoukist partisans and Khymer Rouge guerillas striving to overthrow the Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh, which grows increasingly vulnerable as the PAVN divisions that overthrew the Pol Pot regime withdraw. It is unlikely that this war will end soon.
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