Salutes & Awards

May 31, 2013

S.S. Mayaguez lost remembered, honored at Luke

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Airman 1st Class James Hensley
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Members of the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard lower the American flag during the S.S. Mayaguez Memorial Retreat Ceremony May 16 at flag park. The ceremony was held to honor the security forces members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

The 56th Security Forces Squadron hosted an annual retreat ceremony May 16 at the Luke Air Force Base flag park in front of the 56th Fighter Wing headquarters building to honor the 23 men assigned to the 56th Special Operations Wing who lost their lives May 15, 1975.

Many people may not know why this ceremony still occurs after 38 years or what the history is of the S.S. Mayaguez incident. For Master Sgt. Katherine Mahana, 56th SFS installation security superintendent, knowing what it’s all about is very important.

“I love this event because of its history and it serves as an important reminder of those who are no longer with us,” she said. “I feel it’s important for our younger members to see this event, know its history and understand why we continue to perform this ceremony.”

The S.S. Mayaguez incident took place May 12 to 15, 1975. The Mayaguez was seized by the Khmer Rouge communist forces of Cambodia in international waters off the coast of Cambodia, which sparked an American military response. Before the S.S. Mayaguez was captured, it was sailing from Hong Kong to Sattahip, Thailand.

President Gerald Ford tried negotiating with the Khmer Khmer Rouge. After negotiations 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.

The Mayaguez ceremony demonstrates how much respect security forces members have for their heritage.

“This event is something good to continue having to help preserve our history and to honor those who have fallen,” said Senior Airman Chris Vonhatten, 56th Security Forces Squadron NCO-in-charge of police services.




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