May 24, 2012

Defenders remember fallen brothers

by Airman 1st Class Grace Lee
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

An annual security forces retreat ceremony occurred May 17 at the Luke Air Force Base flag pole, in memory of  the 18 Airmen who lost their lives May 15, 1975.

Many may not know or fully understand the history of the Mayaguez incident and why even 37 years later it still lingers within the thoughts of the 56th Security Forces Squadron.

For Senior Airman Stephanie Harp, 56th SFS unit training manager, knowing the history is very important.

“It’s vital to know about the Mayaguez history because it’s part of who the 56th SFS is today,” Harp said. “It’s important to know where you came from.”

The Mayaguez incident, also known as the last official battle of the Vietnam War, took place from May 12 to 15, 1975. The SS Mayaguez, an American merchant ship, was captured by the Khmer Rouge, which sparked an American military response. In all of 56th SFS history, May 15, 1975, is remembered as the darkest day. Before the SS Mayaguez was captured, it was sailing from Hong Kong to Sattahip, Thailand. Eighteen Airmen and Marines were killed or missing in the attack and withdrawal from Kho-Tang.

President Gerald Ford tried negotiating with the Khmer Rouge. After this failed, he prompted a rescue operation, which resulted in the deaths of 41 Americans, including 18 Airmen and Marines. Forty-four others were wounded and three went missing in action. Eventually the 39 men of the Mayaguez were found at tiny Kach Island, where they were freed. By noon the Mayaguez crewmen were back aboard their ship.

That day will always be remembered by Airmen as one of the most tragic days in 56th SFS history, but even through loss, Airmen continue to push forward with the Air Force mission.

“Those Airmen were our fellow defenders, who volunteered to protect and rescue U.S. personnel without hesitation, said Tech. Sgt. Kelly Speaks, 56th SFS NCO in-charge of training. “Their sacrifice reminds us all to put our game face on and take charge everyday to represent and protect the 56th Fighter Wing.”

In conjunction with the Mayaguez anniversary, Luke Air Forces Base and the 56th SFS took part in National Police Week, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of U.S. law enforcement. Airmen from the squadron planned various activities for the community to take part in including a police department demonstration, a car wash, a “Refuse to be a Victim” seminar, Children’s Safety Awareness program, and a golf tournament.

The efforts of the 56th SFS did not go unnoticed. They gave the community further understanding of their history, where they came from, and who they are today.

“We are all extremely proud to be a part of this heroic unit, which has such an exceptional display of service before self,” Speaks said.

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