My Memory







Ky Lim


On 17 April 1975, the entire country of Cambodia, under the dreamlike rule of Lon Nol, was in the process of losing the war to the Khmer Rouge or the Khmer Liberation Army.  It was also the day of victory for the Khmer Rouge who had worked hard and struggled for a long time to conquer the city of Phnom Penh from the Lon Nol Republic.            This was the day in which the people throughout the country of Cambodia awaited the victory of a group of Khmer that had been struggling. This group was called the Khmer Liberation Army.  On this day, since morning, along the roads and homes, there was silence.  Only the sound of rumbling bombs could be heard.  The sound of guns could be heard near and far, firing randomly every minute.  I could hear the sound of Chinese GMC cars driving up and down, each car filled with soldiers.  I could not distinguish what side the soldiers belonged to, because sometimes I saw them dressed in black and sometimes I saw them dressed in camouflage.  They were all mixed together.  Once in a while a civilian motorcycle could be seen driving into the city in haste.  It was uncertain where it was going.  Everyone’s faces revealed signs of worry because of the events that were passing within the country.  We did not know what would happen the next day. 


That day I was in my cousin’s home near De Po Market because I had to escape from my house.  For two or three days, there had been heavy shelling around my house.  When I witnessed such events, I had many reasons to worry about my house and my few belongings. 


I wanted to return home in order to bring some things with me.  Later in the day, everyone was silent.  When I saw, in the silence, that there were no army cars driving back and forth I decided to return to my house which was near an alligator farm on Pochentong Street.  When I left, I did not dare drive my motorcycle because I was afraid it would be stolen along the road.  Some days earlier, I heard that a Lon Nol soldier seized the motorcycle of a civilian driving along the road.  I rode my bicycle along the small shops.   The large streets were usually filled with army cars driving fast and dangerously.  Sometimes there were crowds of soldiers walking in large groups and I was afraid of them. I rode my bicycle along Doung Ham Street lining Tep Pan Street, until I reached my house. 


When I reached this area, it was so silent underneath the hot sun in the dry season.  Once in a while, I heard the rumbling sound of bombs and this made me feel even more distressed.  I could hear the sound of guns, sometimes from the distance and sometimes very nearby.  Not long after, I ran up my house and quickly gathered my things, stuffed my clothes into a French bag, and collected half a bag of rice, dried fish, and two large tails of prah fish that my mother had salted for me in Takeo Province.  When I finished preparing my things and while I was dragging a bag of clothes downstairs, one bullet flew into the air and barely missed my husband’s ears!  He screamed to me, “Go, leave immediately!  You cannot stay! They are certain to shoot and kill us!” When I heard this, I helped to quickly tie up the bags of clothes and rice and placed it on the bike. I led the bike out and left regretting I had to leave my home, standing there alone and silent.  I felt sorry for the chickens nibbling on the rice I had given them, unaware of the chaotic events that were passing.  I took one opportunity to pick four or five zucchinis in front of my house and brought it with me for cooking.  I led my bicycle and ran so that I could quickly enter the small roads. There were also trees to hide me from the eyes of the soldiers that were shooting.  I walked until I reached my cousin’s house in De Po Market. 


When I reached home after lunch, each house became even more silent.  I could only see army cars and soldiers walking along the roads.  The soldiers were dressed in black with a white scarf wrapped around their necks.  Some rolled up their pants.  Everyone watching from inside their homes thought they were probably the Liberation Army, the army of the White Scarf!  A little while later, probably around 1:00 in the afternoon, I saw cars and cars of soldiers in black with a white scarf wrapped around their necks, carrying a white flag, yelling, “Victory!” At this time the people in their homes gathered outside and helped in yelling congratulations and victory to the Liberation Army.  Some people even ran to find white cloth to tie on to the end of sticks so they could wave it in the air in congratulations with the others.  My neighbors and my family in the house gathered and talked, “We should help congratulate with the others and welcome them.  From now on, our country will be at peace.”  Each person was happy because they believed their country had achieved peace and stability and would no longer suffer from shooting and shelling like today. So many people were injured and killed by the shelling and many did not dare walk outside. 


The chaos and the shooting suddenly ceased.  When the army cars past by other cars stopped driving along the roads.  Once again it became completely silent.  It became even more silent and once in a while I could see two or three soldiers walking along the road inspecting each house.  These soldiers were young.  They wore Chinese caps, rolled up their sleeves and pants, wore rubber tire shoes, carried a gun, had one or two bullets tied to their waists, and carried a bag of rice on their back.  When I saw these soldiers my older sibling said to me, “I feel sorry for them. They are all so young and they have come to serve as liberation soldiers. They do not know what it is like to be exhausted and hungry.  We do not know where they come from.”  We were talking, when suddenly a cyclo driver drove past our house carrying some injured people.  My older sibling saw this and went out to tell them, “If they are hit by a shell, you should take them to the Soviet Hospital.” I observed the events of that day with mixed feelings of worry and fear, because I have never witnessed anything like this before.  There were people freshly injured, there were soldiers carrying rifles that ought to be feared, and along the roads it was completely quiet.  What will it be like tomorrow?  Everyone’s faces showed signs of uneasiness and worry.  We simply looked blankly at each other.  We were not certain what we should say or do.  We could only wait and see what would happen. 


A moment later, two soldiers walked in front of my house.  At that time, my older cousin was washing his Peta car.  The soldier walked over and asked, “Who is the owner of this Peta?” My older cousin replied, “Yes, I am the owner.”  The soldier then ordered my older cousin to give him the car keys.  Then he said, “I would like to ask to drive the car for work.  In a little while I will bring it back.” My older cousin was a person who was very hard.  He was a military police.  He replied, “No! I will not give it to you!  Why is it so easy for you to borrow someone else’s car?” The soldier then raised his voice and said, “Are you going to give it to me or not?  Comrade, in a little while you will not have a car, a motorcycle, or even a house!  They are all the property of Angkar.” When he heard this, my cousin’s father-in-law dragged his hands away.  He was afraid there would be problems so he handed the car keys to the soldier and let him drive away.  When the soldier drove away, he drove away so quickly black smoke appeared.  My cousin said, “He probably doesn’t even know how to drive.”  He felt incredible remorse for his car.


Approximately 2:00 in the afternoon, when my family and I gathered and sat together in the house, two soldiers suddenly knocked on the door and commanded us to open up.  When we opened the door, my older brother asked, “Brother, what business do you have?”  The soldier answered, “All brothers and sisters in every house are requested to prepare their things and leave the city for three days so that we can organize and prepare the city and then you can return.  Don’t take too many things with you.  You are only leaving for three days and then you will come back.”  When we heard this, everyone was scared and worried. We did not know what to think.  We got together and asked, “We are leaving for three days, where are we going and where will we sleep?  What will we have to eat?” 


The families next door observed each other back and forth, still afraid to leave. They wanted to know what others would do first.  Not long after, a car filled with soldiers dressed in black, drove along the streets, commanding all citizens to move ten kilometers away from the city for three days so they could re-organize and prepare the city.  After they made their announcement, I saw many people leaving from the roads on the East.  My cousin was not yet satisfied. He ran and asked them, “Brother! Brother!  Where are you going?” They answered him, “They are forcing us out of our homes for three days.  No one can stay.  They will kill you right there in front of everyone. I have seen it.  Don’t stay.  Leave with everyone else.  Just follow everyone else.”  When we heard this, my family and I prepared to leave like everyone else.  At this time, I was completely terrified, I cried.  I was so worried that I would be separated from my parents.  I thought that perhaps they would not be able to find me, because we did not know where we were going.  I missed my older sister who lived in Kilo 4.  I didn’t know what it was like for her family and I wondered how the little children would fare along the journey. When I thought about how much they would suffer, I cried the entire time.  I prepared my things and cried at the same time. When I thought about it, I wanted to go and try to find my older sister because I was only with my husband’s family.  At that time I missed my older sister very much.  I missed my mother and father who were in Takeo Province.  I wasn’t sure if they were well or not.  At this time we were all separated from each other.  We did not know where everyone went. 


In front of the houses, the number of people began to increase. They were walking their children, carrying bundles of clothing. Some carried bundles on their shoulders while other carried their goods on their heads.  Some cried loudly on the streets, because they had been separated from their parents and family.  Some families had people on the cyclo and had their children push from behind.  At that time I carried a suitcase of clothes, some important items, and medicine.  My husband led the motorcycle with a bag of clothes placed in the front and a bag of rice in the back.  Everyone was walking out with sad and unhappy faces and tears of remorse for the homes in which they had peacefully lived in everyday.  The roads were filled and crowded with people.  Even if we had a motorcycle or a car, we could not drive it, because the roads were so crowded.  We could only walk one behind the other.  The entire city that day was filled with people who had to leave their homes and go outside of the city for three days according to the command of the Liberation Army.  Along the roads, after a while, I could see soldiers dressed in black. There were both men and women.  They held bottles of soda in their hands for fun.  Some raised the bottles and after they drank from it, they threw the bottle and shattered it on the ground.  When people saw the soldiers like this everyone became increasingly afraid. They were scared of their brutality.  At this time the city transformed into chaos as people screamed and cried.  Some of the animals people brought with them were dogs and pigs. Little children were so hot they cried.  Some were thirsty and some cried because they were hungry.   On the street, I saw soldiers dressed in black walking and piercing the pillows and blankets and scattering the stuffing all over the place. 


When I walked out of De Po Market, I walked straight into Stung Meanchey. I followed the road until I reached the base of the bridge where the road divided towards the Soviet Hospital.  I saw people pushing the beds of patients who were sick and had a serum attached to them.  Some were still having surgery performed on them and were not yet properly stitched up.  Blood stained the white sheets that covered them.  When I saw this I became nervous.   As I walked along and past the Stung Meanchey Bridge, I encountered the fresh corpses of soldier who were recently shot.  Blood flowed from their necks.  They lied on the ground wearing the uniform of the Lon Nol army.  They had on khaki uniforms the color of horse dung.  Some lied there bloated and it was not certain when they had died.  There were three soldiers placed barely apart from each other on the road.  When I passed such fresh corpses, I was so frightened my hands became dry and cold.  Since I was little until I am this big, I have never seen anything like this.  This is the first time. On the 17th of April 1975, I have seen everything, the most horrific scenes possible.  After I walked past the corpses I saw people who had recently died from their sickness because the Khmer Rouge had forced them to leave the hospital. 


After walking for one evening and night was approaching, we reached a glass factory.  We all agreed to rest here for only a little while, because the glass factory was more than 10km away from the city.  Therefore we agreed to stay there and rest for three days then return home again.  That night, hundreds of families stopped here to cook and rest.  The glass factory became like a camp for hundreds of people who had set up camp there.  Children were crying and people were crying and screaming because they had lost their children. They had lost each other and they didn’t know where their children were because there were so many people.  Some of the children were sick and their cries filled the place. 


At that time I took some rice so I could cook it.  As I sat there making the fire, I felt sorry for the families who left with nothing.  They were not able to bring anything with them.   They did not even have rice to eat.  They walked around and tried to buy rice from others but no one would sell.  The people who lived in the villages nearby acted like they hated and despised the urban people.  Even when people begged them for water they refused to give it to them. Such scenes were too difficult to bear.  This was only one night. What will happen in the coming days?  How insufferable will it be? 


After the rice was cooked everyone gathered and ate in tears.  Our hearts were so full we could barely swallow the rice, because we were separated from our families.  I turned around and looked behind me.   There was one Chinese family that asked to buy a scarf full of unhusked rice. They gathered together to unhusk the rice because they did not yet know how to beat the rice.  This was probably a rich family.  When I saw them forced to experience something so horrible, it looked unbearable. 


That night, everyone slept in silence.  Once in a whole I heard the sound of guns firing from the distance and I could not sleep.  I thought that the war was probably not yet over.  Everyone slept in silence. Some of the children cried.  They were probably hungry or sick.  That night I saw soldiers dressed in black walking around with a flashlight and inspecting all the areas.  But I didn’t know what they were looking for.


In the morning, we woke up and walked around looking for firewood to cook rice with. We wanted to cook it first in case there was an emergency and we were not able to cook the rice on time.  At that time I walked to a well so I could draw some water to cook rice with.  When I reached the well, I saw a crowd of people around the well.  I thought that they were waiting to draw out water.  But when I came close I heard people chattering loudly.  Everyone was staring into the well.  When I got there and I also stared in, I was terribly shocked.  Inside the well was a human corpse who had died there, its head floating above the water.  I then ran back and told my family.  Everyone shuddered.  They wanted to vomit, but they could not.  Last night we had drawn water from this same well to cook our rice.  We had even bathed in the water.  At that time, my brother-in-law said, “I wondered, when we drew water from that well, why was it so difficult to draw the water?  By the time we could get a pail of water, we had to dip our pail in two or three times.  I could not imagine there was a corpse inside the well, that’s why it was so difficult.”  When we met such a horrible situation, we decided to walk to a village pond to draw water and cook our rice.  When I walked to the pond, I saw there were many soldiers dressed in black walking from the distance towards the gathering where people were living.  As I drew water I wondered where so many soldiers were going.  When I reached the place, I saw them tell the people to sit around together and then they told them, “After you have finished eating, leave this place immediately.  Whatever district you are from, go to that district.”  When each person heard this, everyone wondered and worried greatly.  At that time one man asked, “But they told us that we only had to leave the city for three days and then they would allow us to return.” The soldier replied, “You will not enter again.  Angkar has ordered everyone to leave the city.”  Afterwards, their people separated and walked forward, carrying rifles as if they had an urgent job to perform.  After we heard the message, everyone, including myself and the others, cooked our rice and prepared our journey forward, with the intention to return to my native district and land in Kirivong District, Takeo Province.  I thought that if we reached Takeo, I will meet my mother and father and I will live with them.  I will not live in Kirivong District. 


After we finished eating our meal, we gathered together and began our journey again.  At that time, I saw a line of people walking in a row.  They had on civilian clothes. Some wore shirts and some were shirtless. Two soldiers soldier dressed in black guarded from the front and from behind.  Everyone wondered, but no one dared ask, because they were forcing us to leave as quickly as possible.  They did not let us stand there and watch. 


All the people, including my family, were able to begin our journey from one place to another.  Whenever we rested, there was always a soldier forcing us to get up and continue walking.  They did not allow us to rest in one place.  All the people and I left the city in this manner from 17 April 1975 until we finally reached the base of Kirivong District after 21 days, with great difficulty and suffering.  Since I was very young, I have never encountered anything like this before.







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