Mt. Olive, NC

Name: Joseph Nelson Hargrove
Rank/Branch: E3/US Marine Corps
Unit: F BLT/2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division
Date of Birth: 15 May 1951
Home City of Record: Mt. Olive NC
Date of Loss: 15 May 1975
Country of Loss: Cambodia/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 101800N 1030830E (TS960400)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Refno: 1998
Other Personnel in Incident: Daniel A. Benedett; Lynn Blessing; Walter Boyd;
Gregory S. Copenhaver; Andres Garcia; Bernard Gause Jr., James J. Jacques;
Ronald J. Manning; James R. Maxwell; Richard W. Rivenburgh; Antonio R.
Sandoval; Kelton R. Turner; Richard Van de Geer (all missing on CH53A);
Danny G. Marshall (missing on Koah Tang Island); Elwood E. Rumbaugh (missing
from a CH53A)

Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 2001.


SYNOPSIS: When U.S. troops were pulled out of Southeast Asia in early 1975,
Vietnamese communist troops began capturing one city after another, with Hue, Da Nang and Ban Me Thuot in March, Xuan Loc in April, and finally on April 30, Saigon. In Cambodia, communist Khmer Rouge had captured the capital city of Phnom Penh on April 17. The last Americans were evacuated from Saigon during "Option IV", with U.S. Ambassador Martin departing on April 29. The war, according to President Ford, "was finished."

2Lt. Richard Van de Geer, assigned to the 21st Special Ops Squadron at NKP, had participated in the evacuation of Saigon, where helicopter pilots were required to fly from the decks of the 7th Fleet carriers stationed some 500 miles offshore, fly over armed enemy-held territory, collect American and allied personnel and return to the carriers via the same hazardous route, heavily loaded with passengers. Van de Geer wrote to a friend, "We pulled out close to 2,000 people. We couldn't pull out any more because it was beyond human endurance to go any more..."

At 11:21 a.m. on May 12, the U.S. merchant ship MAYAGUEZ was seized by the
Khmer Rouge in the Gulf of Siam about 60 miles from the Cambodian coastline and eight miles from Poulo Wai island. The ship, owned by Sea-Land Corporation, was en route to Sattahip, Thailand from Hong Kong, carrying a non-arms cargo for military bases in Thailand.

Capt. Charles T. Miller, a veteran of more than 40 years at sea, was on the bridge. He had steered the ship within the boundaries of international waters, but the Cambodians had recently claimed territorial waters 90 miles from the coast of Cambodia. The thirty-nine seamen aboard were taken prisoner.

President Ford ordered the aircraft carrier USS CORAL SEA, the guided missile destroyer USS HENRY B. WILSON and the USS HOLT to the area of seizure. By night, a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft located the MAYAGUEZ at anchor off Poulo WaI island. Plans were made to rescue the crew. A battalion landing team of 1,100 Marines was ordered flown from bases in Okinawa and the Philippines to assemblE at Utapao, Thailand in preparation for the assault.

The first casualties of the effort to free the MAYAGUEZ are recorded on May 13 when a helicopter carrying Air Force security team personnel crashed en route to Utapao, killing all 23 aboard.

Early in the morning of May 13, the Mayaguez was ordered to head for Koh Tang island. Its crew was loaded aboard a Thai fishing boat and taken first to Koh Tang, then to the mainland city of Kompong Song, then to Rong San Lem island. U.S. intelligence had observed a cove with considerable activity on the island of Koh Tang, a small five-mile long island about 35 miles off the coast of Cambodia southwest of the city of Sihanoukville (Kampong Saom), and believed that some of the crew might be held there. They also knew of the Thai fishing boat, and had observed what appeared to be caucasians aboard it, but it could not be determined if some or all of the crew was aboard. The USS HOLT was ordered to seize and secure the MAYAGUEZ, still anchored off Koh Tang. Marines were to land on the island and rescue any of the crew. Navy jets from the USS CORAL SEA were to make four strikes on military installments on the Cambodian mainland.

On May 15, the first wave of 179 Marines headed for the island aboard eight Air Force "Jolly Green Giant" helicopters. Three Air Force helicopters unloaded Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines onto the landing pad of the USS HOLT and then headed back to Utapao to pick up the second wave of Marines. Planes dropped tear gas on the MAYAGUEZ, and the USS HOLT pulled up along side the vessel and the Marines stormed aboard. The MAYAGUEZ was deserted. Simultaneously, the Marines of the 2/9 were making their landings on two other areas of the island. The eastern landing zone was on the cove side where the Cambodian compound was located. The western landing zone was a narrow spit of beach about 500 feet behind the compound on the other side of the island. The Marines hoped to surround the compound.

As the first troops began to unload on both beaches, the Cambodians opened fire. On the western beach, one helicopter was hit and flew off crippled, to ditch in the ocean about 1 mile away. The pilot had just disembarked his passengers, and he was rescued at sea.

Meanwhile, the eastern landing zone had become a disaster. The first two helicopters landing were met by enemy fire. Ground commander, (now) Col. Randall W. Austin had been told to expect between 20 and 40 Khmer Rouge soldiers on the island. Instead, between 150 and 200 were encountered. First, Lt. John Shramm's helicopter tore apart and crashed into the surf after the rotor system was hit. All aboard made a dash for the tree line on the beach.

One CH53A helicopter was flown by U.S. Air Force Major Howard Corson and 2Lt. Richard Van de Geer and carrying 23 U.S. Marines and 2 U.S. Navy corpsmen, all from the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. As the helicopter approached the island, it was caught in a cross fire and hit by a rocket. The severely damaged helicopter crashed into the sea just off the coast of the island and exploded. To avoid enemy fire, survivors were forced to swim out to sea for rescue. Twelve aboard, including Maj. Corson, were rescued. Those missing from the helicopter were 2Lt. Richard Van de Geer, PFC Daniel A. Benedett, PFC Lynn Blessing, PFC Walter Boyd, Lcpl. Gregory S. Copenhaver, Lcpl. Andres Garcia, PFC James J. Jacques, PFC James R. Maxwell, PFC Richard W. Rivenburgh, PFC Antonio R. Sandoval, PFC Kelton R. Turner, all U.S. Marines. Also missing were HM1 Bernard Gause, Jr. and HM Ronald J. Manning, the two corpsmen.

Other helicopters were more successful in landing their passengers. One CH53A, however was not. SSgt. Elwood E. Rumbaugh's aircraft was near the coastline when it was shot down. Rumbaugh is the only missing man from the aircraft. The passengers were safely extracted. (It is not known whether the passengers went down with the aircraft or whether they were rescued from the island.)

By midmorning, when the Cambodians on the mainland began receiving reports of the assault, they ordered the crew of the MAYAGUEZ on a Thai boat, and then left. The MAYAGUEZ crew was recovered by the USS WILSON before the second wave of Marines was deployed, but the second wave was ordered to attack anyway. Late in the afternoon, the assault force had consolidated its position on the western landing zone and the eastern landing zone was evacuated at 6:00 p.m. By the end of the 14-hour operation, most of the Marines were extracted from the island safely, with 50 wounded. Lcpl. Ashton Loney had been killed by enemy fire, but his body could not be recovered.

Protecting the perimeter during the final evacuation was the machine gun squad of PFC Gary L. Hall, Lcpl. Joseph N. Hargrove and Pvt. Danny G. Marshall. They had run out of ammunition and were ordered to evacuate on the last helicopter. It was their last contact. Maj. McNemar and Maj. James H. Davis made a final sweep of the beach before boarding the helicopter and were unable to locate them. They were declared Missing in Action. The eighteen men missing from the MAYAGUEZ incident are listed among the missing from the Vietnam war. Although authorities believe that there are perhaps hundreds of American prisoners still alive in Southeast Asia from the war, most are pessimistic about the fates of those captured by the Khmer Rouge.

In 1988, the communist government of Kampuchea (Cambodia) announced that it wished to return the remains of several dozen Americans to the United States. (In fact, the number was higher than the official number of Americans missing in Cambodia.) Because the U.S. does not officially recognize the Cambodian government, it has refused to respond directly to the Cambodians regarding the remains. Cambodia, wishing a direct acknowledgment from the U.S. Government, still holds the remains.

National Alliance of Families
02/26/00 Newsletter

Inadvertently Left Behind - Within the next several months, the Defense Department will announce the remains identification of servicemen lost on May 15th 1975, at the Kho Tang Island, Cambodia. Eighteen airman, sailors and marines were lost during an attempt to free the U.S. merchant vessel Mayaguez. A detailed article by Lisa Hoffman of Scirpps Howard News Service, published in the Washington Times, on February 23rd 2000 details incident and the evidence that three men were inadvertently left behind... alive. "...absent is a final accounting of the fate of three Marines who inadvertently were left behind on the island when the rest evacuated. They are believed to have been captured and executed days later.

The tragic story of the Kho Tang battle began with the seizure of the Mayaguez off the southern coast of Cambodia, 12 days after the fall of South Vietnam's capital, Saigon. President Ford ordered U.S. forces to rescue the 39 crew members.

By the time the Marines launched their assault, the Cambodians had released the Mayaguez sailors on the Cambodian mainland. An intelligence failure left the Marines unaware that their services no longer were needed. More than 230 Marines stormed ashore on Kho Tang, expecting an easy job of overcoming a small enemy encampment numbering no more than 20. Instead, they were met by a well-armed force of 150. A furious battle lasted three hours. Among the losses was the CH-53A helicopter, on which 13 GIs died. In all, 18 U.S. troops were killed.

The Marines drew back and waited 15 hours to be evacuated from the island, in what became one of the most dramatic rescues of the war. A three-man machine gun team, which included Covington, Ky., native Gary Hall, was dispatched to protect the troops' flank during the withdrawal. But in the fog of battle, the team was mistakenly overlooked. It wasn't until the next day that their absence was realized. By then, it was too late to go back. Although their fate is not entirely certain, it is believed the trio survived for several days before being captured and killed. One reportedly was shot to death after being caught stealing food from the Khmer Rouge camp. The other two apparently were bludgeoned to death.

It wasn't until 1992 that military investigators with the Pentagon's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting operation, which is in charge of accounting for U.S. MIAs, were able to explore either the island or the helicopter wreckage just offshore.

By 1995, the team - which faced obstacles ranging from unexploded ordnance,
poisonous snakes, fierce storms and tropical diseases - had come up with an
elaborate method of essentially salvaging the CH-53A chopper so it could be
searched for remains. They built a dam around the helicopter and pumped out
the water and sand.

Despite a quarter century of squalls, tides and scavengers, the investigators managed to recover 161 human bone fragments and a few personal effects - all that was left of the GIs, according to Tom Holland, scientific director for the Army's identification lab.

Later, scientists determined that the bones came from 13 different men. It took another three years to "harvest" enough DNA from the bones and then match it with DNA samples taken from maternal relatives to definitively identify nine of them. That left four men unidentified. The remains of three of them were too small to obtain a DNA sample.

Three Marines were left behind on Koh Tang. They are Joseph Hargrove, Gary Hall and Danny Marshall. In the almost 25 years, since that battle, we wonder if anyone has ever explained to the Hargrove, Hall and Marshall families how these men were "inadvertently left behind." Or, why it was "to late" to go back for them. Imagine what these men thought as they waited for rescue and their thoughts when they finally realized no one was coming for them.

One Families Thoughts - The following was sent to us, by Sandy Hargrove. She is the sister-in-law of Joseph Hargrove, "inadvertently left behind" on Kho Tang Island.

"Joseph Hargrove was lost on May 15th 1975 his 24th birthday. I know the whole Hargrove family just knows that Joseph was sacrificed. We were never told the truth. Joseph's older brother Lane was killed on April 21,1968. When Lane was going over he was asked if he wanted to go to Canada by one of his older brothers who had already done his time in the Army. Lane said no he wanted to go to Nam.

In those days we honestly believed that the government cared about us as people. They wouldn't send someone to a foreign country and have him risk his life for no reason... or would they. What we know now and what we knew then. With all that we have gone through I think we would have all gone to Canada with him.

So Lane was blown up stepping on a land mine and his little brother Joseph just got left behind. So will someone tell me how this country is a better place because it is missing Joseph and Lane Hargrove. Joseph is a human being not a number. How dare anyone to think they can just forget about them. If it wasn't for Ralph writing that article in Popular Science over a year ago I would still get the standard reply I usually get when I mention the Mayaguez. The What?

Well Joseph never came home because of that What. How easily people forget. But now there is a movement out there to hold the government accountable. I love my country don't get me wrong but the people who run it haven't done a very good job as far as Viet Nam. If anything I hope the guys deaths will prevent this from happening again.

There are other little Hargroves growing up now Thank you God. Maybe they all will have a chance to grow up and have families not just some of them. The families that Lane or Joseph never had, leave a big empty spot at the family reunions."

Sandy Hargrove

National Alliance of Families
For The Return of America's Missing Servicemen
World War II - Korea - Cold War - Vietnam
Dolores Alfond - 425-881-1499
Lynn O'Shea --- 718-846-4350
Web Site ------- http://www.nationalalliance.org

Bits 'N' Pieces May 20, 2000

MIA Marines Identified From Mayaguez Incident - From the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense - News Release May 18, 2000 - "Six Marines missing in action from the Vietnam War have been accounted for and their remains are being returned to their families for burial in the United States.

They are identified as Lance Cpl. Gregory S. Copenhaver, Port Deposit, Md.; Lance Cpl. Andres Garcia, Carlsbad, N.M.; Pfc. Walter Boyd, Norfolk, Va.; and Pfc. Kelton R. Turner, Los Angeles, Calif. The names of two Marines are being withheld at the request of their families.

"...Between 1991-99, U.S. and Cambodian investigators conducted seven joint investigations, led by the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting. Additionally, on three occasions Cambodian authorities unilaterally turned over remains believed to be those of American servicemen. In October and November 1995, U.S. and Cambodian specialists conducted an underwater recovery of the helicopter crash site where they located numerous remains, personal effects and aircraft debris associated with the loss. The USS Brunswick, a Navy salvage vessel, enabled the specialists to conduct their excavation off shore. In addition to the support provided by the Cambodian government, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam also interviewed two Vietnamese informants in Ho Chi Minh City who turned over remains that were later positively identified...."

"...Analysis of the remains and other evidence was made by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii, which also conducted all the remains recovery operations. The CILHI made extensive use of mitochondrial DNA as one of the forensic identification tools to establish the identity of these men...."

Mayaguez Documentary - We hope you all saw the excellent documentary on the Mayaguez incident aired by the Discovery Channel. Titled "Seized at Sea" this documentary provided detailed information on the actual battle as well as the behind the scenes political decision making that led to the ill-fated rescue.

An interview with one of the Cambodian soldiers provided information on three Marines left behind alive. According to the Cambodia the three emerged from the jungle three days after the battle, seeking food and water. The fate of the three, Joseph Hargrove, Danny Marshall and Gary Hall remain unknown.

Another Question - viewers of "Seized at Sea" were left with is -- Just what does the "I" in "CIA" stand for. Based on the information provided by the CIA for this operation the "I" sure didn't stand for "Intelligence."

Mayaguez Correction - In the last edition of "Bits" we referred to the Mayaguez as USS Mayaguez. The correct designation is S.S. Mayaguez. The difference, USS denotes a United States Naval Ship. The S.S. denotes a commercial freighter. The Mayaguez was a civilian ship. Thanks to Dewey Martin, U.S. Merchant Marines (Ret) for bringing this to our attention.

CBS News Online
CBS News Online
A Military Mission Gone Wrong
A New Look At The Mayaguez Incident
ARLINGTON, Virginia, January 24, 2001
(CBS) In a two-part series, CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports on new information that casts doubt on the declared success of a 25-year-old military mission.

At the motel where she works, the graveyard shift can be lonely. But Gail Hargrove has had 25 years of practice being alone.

On the day of her wedding, she was 18, and her bridegroom was 23. Just 33 days later, she said goodbye to her new husband, Cpl. Joseph Hargrove, as he shipped out for the Far East.

Two months later, in April 1975, the war in Vietnam ended. As Americans fled Saigon, Joseph Hargrove was thousands of miles away on a Marine base in Japan, writing love letters to Gail: "I love thinking of you. There's nothing I'd rather do. And when this year is up, my love, I'm coming back to you."

But he never came back. Just two weeks after the humiliating defeat in Vietnam, Cambodia seized an American merchant ship, the S.S. Mayaguez. U.S. intelligence said the crew was taken to the island of Koh Tang. Cpl. Hargrove was part of a rescue mission ordered by President Ford. It was hailed as a success. At the time, President Gerald Ford announced, "The vessel has been recovered intact, and the entire crew has been rescued." But, according to military documents and films obtained by CBS News and also according to interviews with veterans of the Mayaguez incident, the operation was an intelligence disaster that needlessly cost American lives.

A last love letter.
Just for you. Joseph Hargrove was seen alive. It was also his birthday. His last love letter to Gail, which she received a few days after he disappeared, was postmarked May 15, 1975. It included the following poem. I'd walk 1,000 miles. I'd swim across the ocean. I'd work all day and all night, too. These are just a few of the things I'd do just for you. I'll make you as happy as anybody could be. I'll make you a queen because a queen you are to me. I'll do anything you ask. I would steal. I would lie. I'd be blue. I'd do anything you ask, darling. I would even die...just for you. Your loving husband, Joseph

Jim Davis and other Marine officers planned the assault, even though no maps of the island were available. They didn't even have proper aerial photos. Davis actually went up in a Navy plane and took his own photos, using a camera and film bought at a base PX. But the plane was too high and the fuzzy images were not much help.

The Marine officers were told to expect 14 to 40 lightly armed pirates on Koh Tang Island. Instead, hundreds of heavily armed Cambodians were waiting. Incredibly, intelligence reports prepared two days before the assault accurately estimated as many as 300 heavily armed Cambodian soldiers on the island. But the Marines never saw those reports.

Just before the assault began, as he was boarding his helicopter, Davis was finally handed spy-plane photos of the island. They showed fortifications and a Cambodian force that was dug in and ready for battle.

Most of his Marines had never been in combat. Davis, as one of the few combat veterans, knew they were in trouble. He recalls, "Having been in Vietnam, I'll be honest with you, what went through my head was, 'Oh, Lord! Here we go again.'"

Planes circling the island in the days before the attack took anti-aircraft fire and saw 30 to 50 campfires in the jungle below. Again, the information was not passed on. And the Mayaguez crew wasn't even on Koh Tang Island. The men had been released at a different location before the Marines had even landed. As the U.S. Air Force helicopters carrying the Marines prepared to land on Koh Tang, the Cambodians opened fire. Most of the rescue mission's helicopters were severely damaged. Three of them were blown out of the sky.

The final toll: 15 dead, 50 wounded, and three missing, including Joseph Hargrove. "A few good men can't do their job if you don't give them a few good facts," says Gail Hargrove.

"It still wears very heavy on your mind, those that did not make it out, especially the missing. That part was a disaster," says Davis. "It was a bad day," concludes Gail Hargrove. "A real bad day."

The widow and the officer recently met at the funeral of another casualty of the Mayaguez incident. And they discovered they are bound together not only by sorrow but by a fear -- fear that the three missing Marines were left behind. Alive.

"I worry about the worst scenario, the fact that they could have survived for days," says Davis. "They could have been captured." Dead Or Alive?

Fate Of 3 Marines Lost On Koh Tang Island Still Unknown Marines Might Have Been Alive After Last Chopper Left Military Reports Reveal Sightings On The Beach

(CBS) In the second report in a two-part series, CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports on newly declassified documents that suggests three Marines might have been left behind, alive, after a military mission off Cambodia.

They are the last names on the Vietnam War Memorial; 15 men who died in a
battle waged weeks after the war had ended, killed on the beaches of Koh Tang during an attempt to rescue the crew of a captured American merchant ship, the S.S. Mayaguez.

Remains are still being recovered on this Cambodian island and returned home for a proper burial. But nothing can put to rest the fear that three Marines who didn't make it out alive -- may have been alive when the last U.S. helicopter took off from Koh Tang Island. "That's the worst possible scenario I could think of," recalls Lt. Col. Jim Davis (Ret.), U.S. Marine Corps.

Davis was the last officer on the island. In battlefield radio tapes obtained by CBS News, Davis can be heard as U.S. forces pulled out under heavy fire: Davis: "They're all around us. What can you do for us? Over?" Pilot: "We're coming! We're coming! How many people you gonna have left?" Davis: "I just don't know. It's dark out here and I don't know who's going and who's here. I'm just going to have to do the best I can." A short time later Davis got all his men out and he'd been assured other units were off the island. Pilot: "Captain Davis advises that all Marines are off the island." Pilot #2: "Outstanding. That's exactly what we're looking for."

But he wasn't told three Marines from another unit were missing: Gary Hall, Danny Marshall and Joseph Hargrove. Davis volunteered to go back. Request denied. "If there would have been any inkling that they were alive, we would have returned. There would have been no doubt," says Davis.

Even though the Pentagon concluded the Marines were killed in action, CBS News has learned that right after the battle, military investigators talked to four Marines who saw one of the men alive, "on the beach," just "ten minutes" before "the last helicopter" took off. And from the crew of that helicopter, more evidence men were left behind alive.

Pilot #1: "Some of the Marines on board say there are still Marines on the island at this time."
Pilot #2: "OK there is still Marines on the island, in the LZ? Is that affirmative?"
Pilot #1: "That's affirmative. That's what was passed on to us by the Marines on the chopper at this time."
Pilot #2: "OK, find out if they were in the LZ or whether they were maintaining a perimeter defense position?"
And then later:
Pilot #1: "Sir, we are told by the people in here that there are more Marines on the beach."

And since the 1980s, the military has collected numerous reports from Cambodians describing Marines who "survived for days or weeks" before being "captured, executed and buried." Some describe "three Americans...killed in a firefight."

"They were not in my rifle company. What I regret and what makes me feel bad
about the situation is I was the last commander on the island. So, regardless of who those Marines belonged to, I still share the guilt of those missing Marines. I think about it every night," admits Davis. So does Gail Hargrove, who lost her husband, Joseph. "For years you know you think hopefully he's alive, then I decided the best thing to do was pray him to heaven."

She'd only been married to him for 33 days before he was sent into battle; she's been grieving for 25 years. "Everything you want is right there. And all of a sudden you open your eyes and boom. Just like the snap of a finger and everything you got is taken away," explains Gail.

Recently, the widow and the officer met for the first time as the remains of an Air Force pilot, another casualty of the Mayaguez Incident, were buried. After the ceremony, Gail Hargrove had comforting words for Jim Davis. "If you're losing any sleep over my husband-- don't. Cause he's in heaven." They have a special bond, the agony felt by those who carry the memory of men whose fate is unknown.

Source: POW Network