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Chief Master Sergeant Wayne Fisk High Risk, High Reward

Son Tay Raid   On November 21, 1970, then SSgt. Wayne Fisk, a pararescueman, joined the all-volunteer search and rescue operation at Son Tay, North Vietnam. Sixty-one American POWs were reportedly held at the camp. Although no prisoners were found, the raid was considered a tactical success. On the return flight, Sergeant Fisk rescued a downed pilot from a separate mission. His overall actions earned him his first Silver Star.

SS Mayaguez Incident   Aboard a CH-53 helicopter, call sign Knife-51, TSgt. Fisk volunteered to extract American forces off Koh Tang Island in May 1975. As a pararescue specialist, he was responsible for retrieving US service members from the island. Despite heavy weapons and rocket fire, Knife-51 landed and evacuated the remaining personnel. TSgt. Fisk’s actions earned him a second Silver Star.

During his distinguished career, Chief Fisk served on the primary recovery team of NASA Apollo missions 8, 9, and 10. He is also credited with being the last American to engage communist forces in Southeast Asia. Finally, Chief Fisk led the efforts to establish the USAF Enlisted Heritage Hall, which preserves the history of enlisted Airmen, serving as it first director.

After South Vietnam fell to communist forces, the US was again involved in combat in Southeast Asia. In May 1975, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge Navy seized the American cargo ship SS Mayaguez and its crew of thirty-nine in international waters.

President Gerald Ford acted decisively to rescue the crew. Air Force gunships sank three Cambodian patrol boats to prevent them from taking the Mayaguez’s crew from Koh Tang to the mainland. Soon after, US Marines boarded the Mayaguez and found it abandoned.

Near Disaster   Marines landed on Koh Tang in Air Force helicopters to rescue the crew, but incomplete intelligence made the operation a near disaster. The Cambodians shot down four helicopters, damaged five more, and killed fourteen Americans. More troops moved in urgently to reinforce the 131 Marines and five USAF aircrew trapped on Koh Tang.

As the assault continued, the Mayaguez crew appeared in a small boat, and were rescued unharmed. President Ford halted offensive action, and the operation shifted from assault to evacuation.

Determined Evacuation   Another 100 Marines moved into Koh Tang to reinforce and extract the trapped Americans. Only three USAF helicopters were left to extract more than 200 troops. On the last trip to the beach, USAF pararescueman TSgt Wayne Fisk left his helicopter to find two missing Marines still laying down covering fire. He led them to the helicopter, and the fourteen-hour mission ended.

Three Marines, inadvertently left on the island in the darkness and confusion, were killed and buried within a few days by the Khmer Rouge. Total US casualties included eighteen dead and fifty wounded. Twenty-three more USAF personnel died in a support force helicopter crash in Thailand due to mechanical failure.

Quick, effective action at Koh Tang by USAF, Marine, and Navy forces prevented a bad situation from becoming much worse. In particular, the persistence, determination, and heroism of USAF helicopter crews saved many lives. The action at Koh Tang between May 12-15, 1975, was the last combat action in Southeast Asia for US forces.

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