U.S. ship makes historic return to Cambodia
The USS Gary arrived in Cambodia on Friday for the first port visit by a Navy ship in more than three decades, the 7th Fleet announced in a news release.
Royal Cambodian sailors stood in formation and many local residents waited on the pier as the Gary — with some 230 sailors — pulled into Sihanoukville harbor.
“It’s certainly a special honor to be chosen to be that ship,” Cmdr. Joseph Deleon, the Gary’s commanding officer, was quoted in the release as saying.
Crewmembers checked impoverished villagers’ health and painted a clinic in western Cambodia on Saturday, the Associated Press reported, while at a nearby Buddhist pagoda, a team of Navy doctors examined those in a queue of about 200 villagers, some holding their crying babies.
A civil affairs coordinator attached to the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia said the ship’s doctors were set to offer primary health and dental care to about 300 villagers Sunday, according to the wire service report.
The Navy’s last trip to Cambodia unfolded under drastically different circumstances, according to the www.aeroflight.co.uk military-history Web site:
On May 12, 1975, Khmer Rouge naval forces seized the U.S. merchant ship SS Mayaguez and its 40-man crew in international sea lanes. President Ford launched the Navy, Air Force and Marines on a massive military rescue mission three days later.
But unknown to military planners, the merchant crew had been released in good health before the Marines reached the Mayaguez, finding it deserted. The USS Wilson found the crew on a Thai fishing boat and transferred them to the USS Holt.
The incident marked the last official battle of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Counting 23 airmen killed in a CH-53 crash, 41 servicemembers lost their lives during the crisis and 35 Marines and six airmen were wounded. The Khmer Rouge are believed to have executed three Marines left behind inadvertently.
Names of the U.S. troops killed, including the three Marines, are the last on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
The Gary is expected to remain in Cambodia until Tuesday, the Navy announced previously. Sailors are to interact with the local community in activities including sporting events and medical aid. The crew also is scheduled to conduct exchanges with the Royal Cambodian navy.
“We’ve been very pleased so far,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Steve Curry said Saturday. “This has been planned for quite some time. It’s just another routine port visit we do to build partnerships and work on relationships with other countries in the Pacific. … The people in Cambodia are very excited to have the Gary there.”
The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate is assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15 out of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, part of the 7th Fleet and the Navy’s forward-deployed forces.
“USS Gary’s visit to Cambodia shows not only an expansion, but a deepening of relationship,” U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph A. Mussomeli was quoted in the releaseas stating. “While this is clearly a military ship and has a military purpose … it also has a humanitarian purpose and a diplomatic purpose.”