Matthew McKeon Court-Martial: 1956
Panic In The Mud
After sunset McKeon told his platoon that he was going to take it to a place where the non-swimmers would drown and the swimmers would be eaten by sharks. He then marched his men into the flooded marshes leading to Ribbon Creek. McKeon himself had never been into the area before. Once he reached the creek he led the men into water that was knee-to waist-deep and ordered them to move parallel to the bank, pointing out that in combat, staying near the banks was essential to avoiding detection in the moonlight. The creek bed was covered with deep, suction-producing mud, which filled the men's boots.
McKeon then reversed the column's course and moved nearer to the middle of the creek, where the water was shoulder-deep. Ribbon Creek was a tidal stream and high tide had been two hours earlier. The tide was now ebbing, creating a strong undertow that tugged at the recruits who were trying to maintain their balance in the slimy mud. Several men found themselves in an area where the bottom dropped off suddenly. Panic broke out among the men who found themselves in water over their heads. McKeon, who now reacted quickly, was pulling one of the struggling men near him to shore when another one grabbed him and they all went under. Around them several panic-stricken men were latching onto anyone near them in a desperate effort to save themselves. Strong swimmers who tried to help the non-swimmers went under.
McKeon ordered the platoon out of the water. Dripping and disheveled recruits began straggling toward their barracks. Once news of the incident reached the officer of the day, lights were set up along the creek and a full-scale search for missing men began. A head count found seven men missing. One was found shivering on the far bank of the creek. Six remained unaccounted for. McKeon was arrested, and because there was evidence that he had been drinking earlier in the day, he was sent to the medical officer to be checked for signs of intoxication.
The following day the bodies of Norman Wood, Leroy Thompson, Donald O'Shea, Jerry Thomas, and Charles Reilly were pulled from the water. On April 10 a diver recovered the body of Thomas Hardeman.