My First Flying Experiences

The war was in full scale everywhere. Takeo town was attacked by mortar, day and night. The life was very difficult. The schools were temporarily closed. It was in 1973. I was at that time 11 years old. My parents decided to send me to Phnom Penh for continued learning. My uncles and some other relatives were moved to Phnom Penh several months/years ago. My parent could not afford to send all children to Phnom Penh, but I was the oldest and also learned diligently. He would like to invest in me. 

 I followed my parent’s decision. During the Sihanouk‘s regime before the war I was in Phnom Penh several times with my uncle, but did not know much about the city. I was delighted to see Phnom Penh again and at the same time very sad to leave behind my parent and my siblings in Takeo town. The security was bad.

 We could not travel by car since all the connection roads to Phnom Penh were cut off by the Khmer Rouge. Only one option was left: flying. It was always my dream to become a pilot, when I grew up. I like flying very much. My great uncle took me with him. But, we could not know when we got the chance to fly to Phnom Penh. He was an inspector, working for the provincial department of education, a high ranking government’s official. We did need to prepare everything and stood by for boarding the helicopter anytime when there was chance and some places free for us. The helicopters, the US made one, were sent from Phnom Penh to Takeo to pick up the seriously wounded soldiers to Phnom Penh for further treatment. Since there was fighting every day, there were plenty of wounded soldiers to be brought to Phnom Penh. The helicopters could not even land in the town center because of the mortar’s shell. They used to land on the dike north of the city.

 One afternoon, we got the urgent call that there were places free for us two. We were very happy. My great uncle was sitting inside the cabin and I was seating outside, next to the soldier who is responsible for firing the rifle machine gun. We have a small seat but shared with two. It was my first mix feeling and at the same time amazing trip. I could not remember if we ever had a seat belt fasten or a seat belt at all. We were flying high enough that AK 47 could not fire at us. I saw a lot of holes caused by the B 52 bombers. Really, destruction picture from an iron bird view. It took us around 30 minutes to reach Phnom Penh. Our helicopter landed in the football field at the Olympic stadium. We were greeted by many young children who were playing football there and offered their help to bring our suitcases to the street outside where we could find other transport means to reach our destination. I firstly thought that these kids were very kind and helpful, but later on they asked for money. Then, I started to understand why they did help us. By the way, we reached Phnom Penh safely.

 I was living with my uncle and aunt in Boeung Tumpun area, a suburb in the southwest of the city. I was sent to school in Sansam Kosal pagoda at the grade 7. My new life begun, living away from my parent and other siblings. For the first time of my life, we lived separately from each other. Though the distance of Phnom Penh and Takeo is just 75 km, but my feeling was too far for us, because we could not travel to see each other often due to fighting.  The only mean to visit my parent was to fly with cargo plane, which I did once, thank to my uncle who worked at Pochentong airport at that time. He knew the pilots very well and just asked them to bring me to Takeo and picked me back later on.

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