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On 14 March 1970 two American merchant marine sailors, Clyde McKay and Alvin Glatkowski, using guns they had smuggled aboard, seized control of their ship, SS Columbia Eagle, in the first armed mutiny aboard an American ship in 150 years. The ship was sailing on a Department of Defense supply charter carrying napalm to the US Air Force bases in Thailand for use in the Vietnam War.
The mutineers claimed that there was a live bomb on board the ship, and forced the captain to order 24 of the crewmen to abandon ship in the lifeboats. The ship's cargo, 3,500 500-pound bombs and 1,225 750-pound bombs, gave this threat credibility.
The merchant ship Rappahanock picked up the lifeboats and crew members and broadcast the news of the mutiny. The United States Coast Guard cutter Mellon was the first US Naval vessel on station, pursuing the Columbia Eagle. The amphibious transport dock USS Denver was diverted to relieve the USCGC Mellon in its pursuit. However, the Columbia Eagle reached Cambodian waters before any US Naval assets could intercept.
With only 13 crewmen remaining onboard besides themselves, the mutineers sailed into Cambodian waters, where they assumed they would be welcomed as heroes. They anchored within the 12-mile (22.2 km) territorial limit claimed by Cambodia on the afternoon of 15 March.
At 0951 on 16 March, Denver anchored 15.6 miles (28.9 km) from the coast in the Gulf of Siam, remaining outside Cambodian waters. The Mellon joined shortly thereafter with Commander, Amphibious Squadron Seven, as senior officer present. Two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters landed on Denver from bases in Vietnam to assist in visual surveillance. Meanwhile, the mutineers had turned the ship over to Prince Norodom Sihanouk's government, declared themselves anti-war revolutionaries, and were granted asylum.
On 17 March, the helicopters were detached and Denver, with Commander, Amphibious Squadron Seven, departed for Singapore, passing on-scene command to Mellon.
On 18 March at 0636 Denver reversed her course; Prince Sihanouk had been deposed by a coup led by the pro-US Sirik Matak and Lon Nol. If the Cambodians could be persuaded to release Columbia Eagle, Denver's flight deck could help the rescued crew members rejoin their ship. The coup was unfortunate for McKay and Glatkowski; they had hoped to find asylum in a (pro-)Communist country; instead, they became prisoners of the new Cambodian government. At 2359 on 18 March, Denver anchored in the Gulf of Siam 17.0 miles (31.5 km) from the coast of Cambodia.
Sihanouk, now in exile, charged that the CIA had masterminded the mutiny to deliver weapons to Lon Nol. Both the mutineers and U.S. officials denied his charges, but the damage was done; no Communist forces would shelter them now that the suspicion that they were CIA stooges had been created.
When it became clear that Columbia Eagle's release was not imminent, Denver was detached to proceed to Da Nang.
Almost three weeks elapsed before Columbia Eagle was allowed to leave. She was taken to Subic Bay where her crew was reunited and her cargo was delivered to Thailand by another vessel. A Navy Seal, a Coast Guard officer and 2 Coast Guard enlisted men were put on board for her return to Subic. She was accompanied to Subic by the Coast Guard Cutter Chase, a sistership of the Mellon.
After months of imprisonment, Glatkowski was extradited to the United States to face trial. He was charged with mutiny, kidnapping, assault and neglect of duty, convicted, and served his sentence.
Richard Linnett & Roberto Loiederman, co-authors of The Eagle Mutiny, wrote an article for the February 2005 issue of Penthouse in which they report that remains brought back from Cambodia were positively identified as Clyde McKay's at the Naval forensic lab in Hawaii. Subsequently, the remains were cremated and the ashes were buried in the family plot in Hemet, California, where McKay had spent his youth.
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