RIPON - With memories of horror ingrained in his mind as a child, Dr. Ky Kuy – a Stockton dentist – told Ripon Rotary Club members how his family escaped the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia in the late 1970s.
Kuy said he remembers every minute of the five years he and his family lived through the Pol Pot reign. Speaking at Ripon’s Barnwood Restaurant, the speaker said that his father had been singled out for death, adding that if they hadn’t fled the country the entire family would have been part of the two million people who were being eliminated.
If you were a community leader, a teacher, a professional of any kind or a person who just wore glasses and was seen as being educated, you would be killed during the Pol Pot control from 1975 to 1979. In addition to that political cleansing, people were moved about the country so they wouldn’t know anyone or have any friends they could rely upon as a resource.
Kuy said it would be like the government today forcing the movement of people living in Ripon to New York or Stockton moving to LA, where citizens don’t know their way around the new community – let alone having the ability to contact friends or relatives. They obviously became drones controlled by the state.
He remembered the Khmer Rouge leader limited everything. His parents had their tractors, trucks and cars taken away from them as did the remainder of the Cambodian public. Even bicycles were confiscated giving the government total control of the movement of its citizenry. He remembered people being eliminated by face-to-face assignation or by guerillas placing targeted victims on wood frames and killing them – or just by simple starvation.
It was all an effort by the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot to form a communist peasant farming population that could be controlled by his government.
“In May of 1979 we went across the jungle to Thailand,” he said of his family in their effort to flee despite its land mines and bamboo sticks loaded with poisoned tips. He added that if anyone were to fall on the trail, they would likely be pierced by lethal bamboo spikes pointing skyward.
He said halfway through the underbrush the guide abandoned them saying they were on their own, leaving them to fend for themselves. It was a rainy season and they couldn’t use the stars for navigation. A 15-year-old brother climbed a tall tree in an effort to search out the lights of the distant country.
The Rotary speaker said his memory dates back to when he was just 6 years old and Cambodia even then was a corrupt country. He said the king – Prince Sihanouk – was ousted. It was not by Pol Pot, but due to a U.S. backed right wing military coup. Pol Pot later took advantage of the situation and was to soon control the country by 1975.
The United States had pulled its military from Vietnam and Cambodia also lost its U.S. military support. That’s when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Army of teen peasant guerrillas marched into Phnom Penh in mid-April of that year and took control of Cambodia.
He said the family’s immigration from Thailand to the United States saw them land in San Francisco on their way to their new home in Houston, TX, being hosted by Catholic Charities. His memory is haunted with the mosquitoes of the jungle of Thailand that swarmed around his family members preventing them from sleeping at night.
The Kuy family then moved to Stockton where the children attended local schools and graduated from high school. Kuy said his father was keen on the importance of education and work. In fact he moved his family from a nicer neighborhood to one that had families who were mostly on welfare and children who were seen as threats.
Kuy said he missed the friends he had made and questioned his dad about the move. He was told that if he were surrounded by children who enjoyed recreation and free time, he would not be working or studying as hard. Being surrounded by children who were more of a threat and less than friendly would force them to pay more attention to their education, he added.
Kuy said he was very lucky and very blessed to be able to come to the United States with the help of Catholic Charities.