James E. Wise Jr. and Scott Baron’s 14-Hour War: Valor on Koh Tang and the Recapture of the SS Mayaguez (Naval Institute Press, 256 pp., $34.95) is the second recently published book on the May 12-15, 1975, Mayaguez Incident, the Southeast Asian postscript to the American War in Vietnam. The most recent book, Robert J. Mahoney’s The Mayaguez Incident: Testing America’s Resolve in the Post-Vietnam Era, is a very detailed, almost hour-by-hour, recounting of the entire four-day event.
Wise and Baron’s book, on the other hand, zeroes in on the action that took place on May 14 on Koh Tang Island off the coast of Cambodia where some two hundred mostly inexperience Marines were sent in to try to rescue the container ship’s crew. When the Marines landed, there were no crew members on the island. But there were tons of Khmer Rouge fighters and the Marines wound up fighting for their lives in a vicious fourteen-hour battle. Forty-one American troops died.
Wise, a former Navy aviator, intelligence officer, and Vietnam veteran, and Baron, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, have collaborated on several military-themed books. In this one they tell their story well, using many long, first-person recollections of those who took part in the fighting on Koh Tang Island.