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Merchant Marine

September 30, 1990

As a Vietnam War historian, I was pleased to read the Aug. 26 review by Charles Bowden on "Looking for a Ship" by John McPhee. Bowden's review summarizes the changes within the merchant-marine industry during the past 20 years and it clearly outlines the potential impacts the current events in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf may have on the merchant fleet.

However, readers should not forget that when American merchant ships become the illegal targets of foreign governments' military action, it is the American military that is called to the rescue. All we have to do is recall the Vietnam War and the SS Mayaguez.

On May 12, 1975, while the U.S. was still at war in Southeast Asia, the Mayaguez, under Capt. Charles Miller, was fired upon by Cambodian gunboats and forcefully boarded while in international waters off the coast of Cambodia. The 40 civilian crew members were taken hostage.

As outlined in Roy Rowan's book, "The Four Days of Mayaguez," President Ford ordered a rescue mission involving Air Force, Marine and Navy personnel. The crew members and ship were rescued, but at a loss of 15 American military personnel killed and three missing. Fifty more were wounded in the rescue effort.

As the United States answers a new call for democracy, let us not forget that when serving in a battle zone, the merchant marine is at times exposed to danger. Yet it is ultimately the American military personnel, earning far less per year than the $30,000 to $60,000 of a merchant seaman, who will be called upon to rescue that merchant fleet, even at the risk of being wounded or killed.

JOSEPH MONTOYA

SOUTH PASADENA

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