Like an Omen
Posted on 9/27/13
I want to dedicate this short story to my friends (EON 7) Ko Kim Chhe, Kong Chan Chhom and Lim Chhay for their bravery and their ultimate sacrifice for our country. You will always be remembered. May your souls rest in eternal peace.
It all happened between 1971 and 1973. We were young pilots flying different airplanes and missions into the war zones fighting the enemies every day and night.
Chhom was shot down and crash landed his T28 at Skun, Kampong Cham. The plane caught fire and he got burned about 90% of his body. He died a few weeks later at the hospital after giving us his last words of advice,"Don't fly too low". He was right, but in the heat of battle, you're so concentrated on your target that nothing can distract you, even the enemy’s fires. Chhom was the first casualty of our class 7.
Chhay, he was the youngest of our class. That morning, the fighting squadron received some T28s from Thailand and the mechanics just loaded them up with MK500 bombs and ammunitions. I remembered that unfortunate day very well. I was about to take off on my helicopter and all of a sudden I saw Chhay's T28 taking off, crashing and bursting into a big ball of fire in front of the control tower. The fire fighters could not even get close to the plane because all the ammunitions except the bombs exploded in every direction. I just circled my chopper over the fire and prayed for Chhay. There was nothing that I could do to help him. He was dead on impact. I was shaken to see my friend burned in his plane. It was gruesome. Chhay was the 2nd casualty of my class in a span of a couple weeks. We were very sad. The reality of war hit us very hard, but we were very determined to defend our country.
Chhe, he was the last "Chh.." of our class. He was originally from Siemreap province and we loved to tease him for his accent. Although that didn’t make him very mad, we discovered a new way to make him really really pissed off. We said, "Chhom is gone, Chhay is gone, when will it be your turn Chhe?" Those words made him fly off the table trying to beat us, but we ran and laughed and laughed. He was so angry that he cussed the "f" words, but we were so happy because it sounded like a song, especially since he had soft Siemreap's accent. His words still ring in my ears while I write this story. ChhayHong and TievEng used to mimic his "f" words with his accent and made us laugh.
Chhe flew the small L19 observation plane and unfortunately in 1973 he was shot down in Takeo province. I happened to be around that area and as soon as I heard the news I headed to find him for the rescue. While circling to find his plane, I got lower and lower. There were groundfire from ennemy's positions, but I didn't pay much attention, I just kept looking for him. All of a sudden, my aircraft was hit by a gunshot and within minutes I found a friendly zone to land my chopper. Upon inspection, our crews found a hole where a bullet hit the control cable to the tail rotor, but luckily it did not snapped off, otherwise we would be in big trouble. I radioed the tower to send a rescue team and I cautiously brought the cripple copter back to Pochentong, but we never heard from Chhe again and presumed that he was dead or captured and killed by the enemy.
This concluded the story of the three "Chh...".
Forty years have passed and looking back we thought we should never play that kind of joke. It was superstitious and it became real. But we were young at that time. We didn't believe in it, unafraid and just wanted to have fun and a good time. Until now, we regret it and we want to apologize to you my dear friends: Chhe, Chhom, Chhay.
We will never forget you, “The Trio”. You're always in our hearts.
May God bless your brave souls.
Your Class 7
Thoughts About 8/19 Demonstration
Posted on 8/21/13
When I got there it was already a quarter past 11am. I parked on the street behind the nearest food plaza and walked passed the smell of Church Chicken on the corner of Orange and Anaheim Street in Long Beach. I glanced at three police cars parked in front. Inside each vehicle were officers keeping eye on the demonstration. I hear sounds of Khmer people on microphones calling out for Freedom, Democracy and Justice was ever so crisp and clear. This is not the first Cambodian demonstration I've been to I thought. My first demonstration was at this very same spot last year. But this time, there was a much greater turnout almost 5x's larger and everyone looks so bright, cheery and brave under the summer sun. I scanned in search for my father or my sister who arrived before me as I walked through the crowds thinking to myself where did all of these Khmer folks come from?
There were Cambodian Veterans on wheelchairs holding smartphones snapping pictures and recording videos of the whole event. Children were walking, dancing, hopping and climbing nearby trees like they playfully do but at a demonstration. Women and men were holding and wearing signs demanding for an independent election body, justice for Cambodia and pictures of Hun Sen as a cowardly dictator. A few young adults stand in support of their parents and relatives taking pictures of the event. More photographers and media news reporters rise to the scene to interview people and capture the story. It's hard to hear and gravitate everything that is going on now because the street of Anaheim becomes unsettled with people honking everywhere from left to right in support of the protest. Not only that a Black gentlemen is strolling a cart up and down the sidewalk with a large stereo playing Aretha Franklin's hit song Respect! While a senior lady standing next to me shouts "Chaiyo! Chaiyo! Chaiyo!" She asks me to help cheer with her and I budge not sure what to say except I point out to her how noisy the cars are honking.
You can't miss the Caucasian guy with bright red hair who suddenly appears in the crowd snapping pictures and trying to grasp what people are protesting about. He makes eye contact with me and asks me for an audio recording explanation. I agree and shared with him as much information I could provide and thanked him for his support.
Next I see a Khmer beast dancer what they call "yek" roll out of what must be a legendary Toyota. His face is completely painted with different colors making him look creepy and exotic. The kids must think this is all some type of entertainment and then a classic Cambodian song is played to uplift people's spirits and help them rise above the challenge of helping free Cambodia from corruption and dictatorship. This is when I learned what "Chaiyo" means. I asked my dad and he explained it to me in one simple word like Viva in Spanish it means long live the country. Long live Cambodia! Amen to that.
I hope you all got a better picture of the demonstration that happened earlier this week. I know that for some of us our families have been restless for the last few days, weeks, months and who knows how long… I wanted to reach out to you and anyone who has much love for Cambodia because I think we're at a serious point in our time that will determine the fate of the country we love so much. So I ask you to stay informed, whether it means talking to your parents, relatives, friends or listening to the news. Find out what is really happening for yourself and then you be the judge. Cambodia is hurting and she needs your help!