The Mayaguez Incident: The Final Battle Of The Vietnam War Took Place At Sea

When countries enter conflicts with each other, there is a whole lot of risk involved. Generally, they need to be prepared to be in things for the long haul and have lots of resources like money, weaponry, and soldiers to invest. As war often comes with an astronomical price tag, many of them are controversial. For America, one of the most contentious wars it was ever involved in was the Vietnam War.

Less than a decade after the end of World War II, the United States found itself embroiled in a war in the jungles of Vietnam. The country entered into the conflict on the side of South Vietnam in an effort to stop the spread of communism that threatened to take over the whole country. Though the war did eventually end, it didn't really end until a couple of years after peace was negotiated. It also ended in rather spectacular fashion, with an unexpected attack and a valiant rescue.

The End of the Vietnam War For America Did Not End All Conflict

According to History, the United States entered the Vietnam War in 1965, though the country had a complex history of inner turmoil. The American military joined forces with the South Vietnamese military, which had taken a beating as this conflict had been going on for a decade prior to American involvement. With this assistance, the South Vietnamese were able to start eliminating their enemies in an attempt to thwart a communist takeover.

The war in Vietnam lasted decades, and the U.S. participation alone was almost 10 years. The conflict was grueling, bloody, and to some, it was a waste of time and human life. Millions of Vietnamese died, both civilians and military, and 57,939 soldiers in the U.S. military were either killed or missing (per Britannica). There were other countries involved in the war that lost soldiers as well. Finally, on January 27, 1973, a peace agreement was reached by the United States, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam to allow America to withdraw its troops. By March of that year, all of the U.S. military had left Vietnam. Despite the peace agreement that was in place, in 1975, the capital city of Saigon fell, resulting in a united Vietnam and a communist country.

A Traumatic Capture And Daring Rescue

The war in Vietnam was technically over for American forces in 1973. However, on May 12, 1975, the United States was dragged into an "international incident"' when a U.S. freighter named the Mayaguez was captured by Cambodian forces (per History). This took place a month after the communist Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia, and they claimed the Mayaguez sailed into their territory. The American crew of 39 was imprisoned when their vessel was captured. Luckily for them, the United States government acted quickly to bring them home.

President Gerald Ford organized rescue efforts to retrieve the captured boat and crew. According to the Gerald Ford Museum, the president sent the nearby USS Henry Holt and the marines on board to recapture the Mayaguez and crew. They were able to secure the boat, but unfortunately, the crew was not on board. Simultaneously, the U.S. launched attacks on targets in mainland of Cambodia in retaliation.

On May 15, 1973, the USS Henry B. Wilson located the crew and was able to rescue all crewmembers safely. The United States was then able to withdraw its military, though 41 Americans died during the rescue operation. It has been suggested that the strong military response was potentially unnecessary and due to America's failure in Vietnam. Though there may have been alternative options, the successful rescue of the crew of the Mayaguez helped restore some faith in American military capabilities.