Page 249

[Image 1: Marine
Corps Historical Collection. Downed CH-53s are visible in
the eastern LZ at Koh Tang. At left is Knife 23, which carried
2dLt Michael A. Cicere and members of his platoon, who established
defensive positions in the rocky ground to the left of the
helicopter. At right is Knife 31. which was hit by an RPG
round fired from the tree line at middle right. The destroyed
Cambodian Swift boat, upper right, attests to the accuracy
of Air Force A-7 bombing runs.]

Page 249(The Bitter End)

on Koh Tang, no less than nine Marines, two corpsmen, and an airman were dead.38

The survivors, afloat amongst the debris and flaming wreckage, opted to swim seaward and await rescue. These 10 Marines and three airmen lost most of their weapons and equipment in the crash. Two of them demonstrated exceptional initiative, resourcefulness, and courage. During the difficult swim, which lasted three and one-half hours, Private First Class Timothy W. Trebil, a fire team leader, continually encouraged and assisted others, especially the weaker swimmers. At the same time, First Lieutenant Terry L. Tonkin (the assault team's forward air controller), using an Air Force survival radio he had recovered from the crash, directed Air Force attack aircraft on bombing runs of enemy positions on the eastern half of the island. His contributions lasted until the Wilson plucked him and 12 other tired survivors from the sea almost four hours after they had escaped from the wreckage of Knife 31. The rescue by the Wilson gained added significance when the survivors discovered that the ship had happened upon them by chance. The Wilson had been proceeding to Koh Tang to provide naval gunfire support when a lookout spotted something floating in the water.39

Meanwhile, the first chopper into the eastern zone (K 23), suffered such extensive damage that it crash-landed at the water's edge. Without a moment's hesitation, the heliteam exited the aircraft and immediately set up a defensive perimeter. These Marines would be the first and last into this zone as the AMC decided to halt any further insertions. Thus, Second Lieutenant Michael A. Ciccrc and 20 Marines of his 3d Platoon, Company G, along with five aircrewmen, instantly became isolated, cut off from the rest of the assault forces. Wisely, the Air Force copilot, before exiting the wrecked CH-53, grabbed the emergency UHF radio. Once ashore, he used it to establish contact with the strike aircraft. With the crew and passengers of Knife 23 in a nearly untenable position, support of them suddenly became a priority. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, USSAG directed one of the Holt mission helicopters to effect a recovery. Jolly Green 13 made an unsuccessful attempt to rescue them at approximately 0815. Sitting on the beach for less than a minute, the HH-53 took automatic weapons fire from the treeline for the entire time. As they waited for the embattled Marines to move from their defensive perimeter to the helicopter, the pilots ofJG 13 could sec that only a matter of moments and

Page 249(The Bitter End)