Memories of 17 April 1975







Veng Chheng


            17 April 1975 is an historical day of victory for the Cambodian army over the U.S. imperialists and the Lon Nol lackeys.  Every Cambodian person had reason to be happy and joyful, because each person understood that the war had ended, they had achieved independence, positive and abundant peace, and they had escaped the yoke of foreign oppression.  But we should feel great remorse, because the happiness and hope of the people transformed into pain and suffering and devastation as families were separated from each other.  The soldiers dressed in black shirts and pants created turmoil and chaos throughout the country, by forcing the people to flee from one region to the next, and from one place to another.  Hundreds of thousands of people from the city of Phnom Penh were ordered and threatened by the Khmer Rouge soldiers out of their homes and relocated in rural areas far away.  They even killed innocent people.  Each of these deeds has never before been encountered in the history of Cambodia.


            I was still a small child, about ten years old. I was part of a family of nine people, including my mother.  We lived in a house in front of the 6 Kilometer Market. I remember that not many hours after Phnom Penh was liberated, the Khmer Rouge soldiers evacuated the people out of Phnom Penh. They announced, “People, Angkar has ordered for all brothers and sisters to leave Phnom Penh for three days so Angkar can easily clear out the enemies that still remain.  You don’t have to take many things with you, because Angkar already knows how to care for you.”  The Khmer Rouge soldiers forced the people out of the city using the threat of their guns and the following propaganda: “If anyone is unwilling to leave their homes, we will kill them.”  With such threats from the people dressed in black, the people who lived in Phnom Penh had to force themselves to leave their homes and travel along the routes the Khmer Rouge had assigned them. 


At that time, my father found an old and small abandoned car.   We packed it with dishes, pots, clothes, rice and other things and pushed the car out of the house.  We made the journey towards the north along National Road #5, underneath the scorching sun during the dry season.  I saw a throng of thousands of people, young and old, walking slowing along the road, under the command and threats of the soldiers dressed in black.  In the afternoon, my family and I reached a temple I do not know the name of.  At that time everyone stopped to rest so they could prepare lunch.  We did not even finish eating lunch, when the soldiers forced us to continue our journey forward again.  While we were traveling, around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, the atmosphere shifted from being hot to cool.  The sky became cloudy and dark and brought with it heavy rains that old people usually say is a signal for the rainy season to come.  One should really feel pity and compassion for the young children who had no home or plastic to shelter them and had to walk forward through the rain, hugging their arms.  The rains made everyone so cold they shivered.  Even though it was raining very hard, the soldiers dressed in black would not allow the people to stop and rest.  They forced them to walk even faster.  They should have felt compassion for the children. After the rain fell and the sun once again scorched the earth, the children became ill at once.  My family traveled the entire day before we reached one place.  I’m not certain where this place is. I only know that in this place there was a three story stone house that was not yet finished.  The top floor had no walls, but it had a roof.  My family and I joined many other people and they allowed us to rest here temporarily, because it was almost dark.  My mother and my older sister quickly prepared the rice and food.  I took some time from my rest to climb to the top floor of the stone house.  When I reached the top I saw two plates of corrugated roof placed on top of each other.  Underneath the corrugated roof, there were thousands of roaming flies. Curious to know what was there, I opened the corrugated roof and found the corpses of three people dressed in military uniforms, piled on top of each other.  There were bruises on their heads, covered with fresh blood.  The three corpses looked like Lon Nol soldiers.  When I saw this I felt shocked and terrified.  I quickly ran back downstairs.  Other people had also discovered about ten other corpses around the house. 


After we finished our dinner, my family and other people continued our journey until we reached Kampong Chamlong.  We were also able to take a boat across to the far bank.  When the boat reached the shore on the other side, it was already about 9:30 at night.  Others, whose boats were lagging behind, kept rowing forward without stopping.  When the people crossed over to the eastern shore, large buses waited for them on the other side and they had to continue their journey along the routes Angkar had already assigned.  I didn’t know where all the people had to go.  My family climbed into a bus and we traveled all the way to Kampong Thom.  Although there were a lot of people on the bus, not a single voice could be heard.  This was because everyone was tired from travelling since morning.  In addition, they were each probably wondering how their destiny would pan out and what would happen to them in the future.








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