T HE Mayaguez Incident, America's last military stand in its long war in Indochina,
was commemorated Monday - Memorial Day in the United States - as the US Embassy unveiled
a memorial to 19 servicemen who died in Cambodia in the 1970s.
"I have memories of a place so far removed from the comforts of America that
I have learned to forget the anguish it once caused me," said US Senator John
McCain, who spent nearly six years as a POW during the Vietnam War, and who was on
a three day visit to Phnom Penh.
"But my happiness these many years has not let me forget the friends who did
not come home with me."
Together with Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, McCain unveiled a plaque listing the names
of the 18 servicemen - mostly from the US Marine Corps - who were killed, or presumed
killed, in the attempted rescue of the crew of the American ship Mayaguez, which
had been captured by the Khmer Rouge off Cambodia's southeastern coast in May 1975,
and to a Marine embassy guard, Charles W Turber-ville, who was killed by a bomb in
Phnom Penh in Sept 1971.
A detachment from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force from Okinawa, Japan, paid the
19 full military honours - including a color guard, taps, and a gun salute - while
Cambodian and international officials, watched solemnly.
Special tribute was paid to three Marines - Private first Class Gary Hall, Lance
Corporal Joseph Hargrove, and Private Danny Marshall - who disappeared on Koh Tang
island, approximately 35 miles from Sihanoukville, after they landed to provide cover
for withdrawing Marine contingents.
Twenty-one years on, no traces of the fireteam have been found. Yet it is believed
the three survived on the little island for between a week to a month after the rescue
mission was called off and they were left behind.
At Monday's gathering at the Ambassador's residence, these Marines were remembered
for having lived up to the creed of their Corps: Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful.
McCain, who on Capitol Hill pressed for normalization of diplomatic relations between
Washington and Hanoi, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane, said the time had come to bury past
animosities and to build upon new relationships.
"For Americans, the Mayaguez should have been an end point, a final chapter,
yet this proved not to be the case, and sadly so," he said. "For more than
a generation, Americans have let the arguments and divisions that afflicted our country
during the war in Southeast Asia distort our present perceptions about the countries
where we once fought and the people here who have struggled since to move beyond
the ravages of war.
"American memories should not always be haunted by the ghosts of what we lost
here in those terrible days of long ago," McCain said. "Nor should the
memories of Cambodians forever be haunted by all the unspeakable horrors that were
visited on the people of this beautiful country."
Quinn - who during the Mayaguez crisis was a National Security staffer under Dr Henry
Kissinger at the White House - thanked Cambodian co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng
for assisting in the recovery of the remains of the servicemen.
Quinn said: "I hope that all who come and see this monument will take a message
away from it. For all Americans to be reminded of that special bond, so that wherever
we are in the world, we know that if we're in trouble the men and women of our armed
services will come to help us. And to all of our friends and allies, that it's a
reminder that being an ally isn't just a name. It too is an obligation, one in which
we will come to help each other equally in a time of adversity."
At the memorial service was one such American, Brigadier General Dennis Krupp, deputy
commanding general of the 3rd Expeditionary Force, who recalled his days as a young
pilot in Indochina.
"I see many people here who spent a great deal of time in this part of the world
as I did at one time," he said. "In fact, I flew many a combat mission
right over here - Phnom Penh - in striking targets on the outskirts of this fine
city in support of the Cambodian government."
Krupp flew fifty combat missions over Southeast Asia out of Nam Phong airbase, Thailand,
in 1973. This was the year when US airstrikes over Laos and Vietnam had ceased following
the conclusion of the Paris Peace accords between Hanoi and Washington. However,
during a five month stretch, American B52 carpet-bombing of Cambodia were stepped
to unprecedented levels.
Krupp also reminisced about how in 1974 and 1975 he had been stationed in the Gulf
of Siam, waiting with the Amphibious Ready Group to evacuate American citizens from
the Cambodian capital.
"The Marines of that day who were assigned to the rescue mission they never
expected that they would not return," he added. "I know they would have
never even considered that they would be part of the final chapter of the Vietnam