THE former platoon commander of Khmer Rouge forces that repulsed the May 15, 1975,
US Marine assault on the offshore island Koh Tang has told the Post that at least
one US Marine was discovered at large on the island 10 days after the American withdrawal
and subsequently killed.
The revelation is the most concrete evidence to date that US Marines were abandoned
on Koh Tang during the confusion of the American withdrawal from a battle in which
18 US servicemen remain officially "unaccountable" 25 years later.
"Ten days after the American soldiers left Koh Tang, a tree-cutting detail sighted
a figure taking water from a well," explained Mao Ran, KR platoon commander
on Koh Tang in 1975. "When we investigated the area, we found boot marks which
we knew had to belong to an American soldier because our men only wore sandals."
Ran immediately organized a search of the area, and shortly after, the abandoned
Marine was discovered by KR troops.
"The American jumped out from behind some vegetation and attempted to attack
one of our men," Ran recalled. "He was killed with a burst from an AK-47
and we buried him nearby."
Ran's admission adds credence to the belief held by many Marines who took part in
the operation of a "lost machinegun team" abandoned alive on the island
during the withdrawal.
"We were told on the USS Coral Sea that a machinegun team was killed by the
KR as we withdrew from the island, but years later, I suspect they were left behind,"
Koh Tang Marine veteran Dale L Clark told the Post. "I believe the US government
knew the team was alive on the island because I heard and saw preparations made on
the USS Coral Sea to return to the island to recover the team [but] no attempts were
made ... I suspect the US government canceled the plans not wanting to have any more
Marines killed during the recovery."
Clark's suspicions were heightened by a Feb 23 Washington Times article that described
the three abandoned Marines - Gary Hall, Joseph Hargrove and Danny Marshall - as
having survived for several days before being captured and killed.
One reportedly was shot dead after being caught stealing food from the Khmer Rouge
camp, the Times reported. The other two apparently were bludgeoned to death.
Ran, who is now a Commune Chief in rural Kampong Speu, denies any knowledge of surviving
servicemen on Koh Tang other than the one whose killing he witnessed.
Lieutenant-Colonel Franklin Childress, Public Affairs Officer of the Joint Task Force
for Full Accounting of MIAs in Hawaii, was unaware of Ran's allegations, but said
MIA investigators were closely following the case.