Author Note: I republished this chapter from my book due to the historical aspects surrounding this chapter. Many people do not understand the history of Cambodia, but should. Their one-time leader: Pol Pot was one of the leading murderers of history. The 1984 movie, The Killing Fields recounts the first year of Pol Pot's takeover. The 2013 documentary Cambodia: Pol Pot And The Khmer Rouge also covers these events in detail.


Chapter 7

The Cambodian Intervention

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men. (Proverbs 22:29 NKJV)

Patrol with the Vietnam Khmer Platoon Leader

Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit. (Job 10:12)

On an extended two-day inspection of the far eastern section of our District, we stayed at a platoon size outpost (about 44 men). These Popular Forces (PF) were all of Khmer ethnic origin. They were good soldiers and fought well. Their leader had served in the French Foreign Legion in the North African desert against the famous German General (and later Field Marshall) Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox." He had spent more years in the military and in combat then I had lived. This was during the harvest of watermelons. This district was known as the "watermelon capital of Vietnam." Each outpost treated me with a watermelon, and by 11:00 a.m. I had eaten most of 15 watermelons. My belly was so full it hurt.

That evening, it was decided our Team: Hychuck, Staff Sergeant Owenby, and myself (pictured to the right) would stay at the Platoon leader's compound. A night ambush patrol was organized and I gave Staff Sergeant Owenby and Hychuck the option to stay behind in the compound. They readily agreed. So, against Military Advisory Command Vietnam (MACV) policy, I went alone with the patrol. The leader could speak Khmer, Vietnamese and French. I could speak English and Vietnamese, but the leader's facial expressions and body language was identical to my father's. He could tell me something in Khmer and I was able to understand what he was talking about. We set off on the ambush patrol in the night fog. We were headed to the outskirts of an enemy village.

As we drew near following a rice paddy dike, we came on the enemy's early warning sentinels. These were cages of geese. The geese made a loud racket, alerting the enemy of our exact location and from where we were coming. We took off rapidly down another direction. Thanks to these geese, our ambush patrol was now in danger of being ambushed. We spent the rest of the night maneuvering on rice paddy dikes, taking paths that led in many directions, to throw the enemy off our trail. In the early gray dawn, we finally came back onto the main road. Just at this moment we also crossed some telephone wires laid on the ground. The leader pointed to the wires and spoke in Khmer. I knew he was telling me these were command detonation wires for an enemy roadside mine (bomb). We arrived safely at the compound, and our inspection team left to visit additional outposts on the way back to district headquarters at Cau Ngang.

At noon, we stopped and the villagers prepared a light soup for our lunch. As they were boiling the vegetables, we observed an enemy force headed our way across an open area of rice paddies. They were about 1,500 meters away. The villagers quickly served us the partially-cooked soup. A few days later, I came down with Amoebic Dysentery. This resulted in my becoming so dehydrated that I lost consciousness and was hospitalized. While at the hospital the MARS radio operators patched a phone call from my bedside, through an amateur radio operator, to my wife in Lansing, Michigan. The call was free! What a joy! Thank You Lord for taking care of so many details in my life! I was not aware of all this technology in communication and was in awe that my wife and I could be talking with me in a hospital bed in Can Toe, Vietnam and her in Michigan. But think of the Lord's ability to instantly hear and answer everyone at the same time even before we speak!

A Divine Appointment: Contacted for a Coup in Cambodia

Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34)

It also applies to each of us individually, "That righteousness causes us to be exalted or lifted up by the Lord." This is the only explanation I have for the following unusual incident that until now has been a secret of history, held only by me. In fact, to my knowledge, other than the participants which included my friend and his Cambodian interpreter, there are no other living individuals privy to this event.

In my second district of Cau Ngang, I met the regional Cambodian Taravada Buddhist Ecclesiastical Chief, Mr. Houng. His house was located along the alley between my military compound and the Cau Ngang District Military Headquarters. He enlisted me to teach him English in exchange for him teaching me Cambodian. (85% of the Cau Ngang District population was of Cambodian ethnic origin from the old Khmer Empire, which existed from A.D. 802 to A.D. 1431) He learned English quite well, while I was very slow in picking up Cambodian.

One day, while walking from Headquarters back to my compound I was passing right next to Mr. Houng's house in the narrow alley. Since it was noon time and everyone rested from noon to 4:00 p.m., I was intending to pass on by. If someone desired visitors they would leave their door open, otherwise it would be closed. Mr. Houng's door was slightly ajar about four inches, but it was dark inside. As I came next to the door, a strong dark arm shot out the door, grabbed me and pulled me into the darkened room. I was instantly alarmed. Only two weeks earlier, an American advisor, a Captain like myself, had been lured into a friend's home and killed by the Viet Cong. I was expecting the same fate. My fears became heightened as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. There were six or seven men in uniform sitting around the kitchen table. I did not recognize the uniforms as any in our theater of operations. My fear must have clearly shown on my face which I'm sure was white as a ghost by that time.

Mr. Houng said, "Please sit down. It's OK. It's OK!" while he motioned with his hands for me to take my seat.

Momentarily, I remained standing ready to flee if possible, thinking, "It's alright for you to say, but it's my life on the line here." Finally, after further encouragement from Mr. Houng, I sat down thinking to myself, Oh well, if I die, I die.

It turned out these were general officers from the Cambodian Army. They had ex-filtrated their lines and infiltrated ours just to see me! How my reputation as a reliable and trustworthy person reached them, I'll never know on this side of heaven. They would only speak to me and Mr. Houng. They were part of an Army element intent on pulling off a coup d'etat against Prince Sihanouk, a vicious communist who had declared himself the "King of Cambodia."

They asked me to contact the President of the United States for assistance. They needed planes, bombs, artillery pieces and shells, tanks, and weapons of all sizes. They were so afraid of discovery that they would not allow me to take notes. Instead, they drilled me with the list of needs, and answered my questions when I was not sure what they were asking. At first they said they only needed airplanes and bombs. I then questioned them whether they needed 155mm artillery and shells. This they discussed among themselves and answered,

"Yes, we need 155mm artillery and shells."

I asked,

"How much?"

There reply was,

"Enough to overcome the regime of Prince Sihanouk. Ten maybe... and ten airplanes."

I knew these numbers would not be sufficient, but our language differences couldn't get beyond this level. Mr. Houng's grasp of English and my grasp of Vietnamese and Cambodian were so limited we could not accurately communicate the real needs for a coup. The absence of the availability of military tables of organization at my level helped to give me a real frustration that drove me to contact my friend assigned up at provincial headquarters. I could only guess at what real numbers were needed, basically from the memory of what I had learned ten years prior in my ROTC classes and observed in training using an infantry division size element as my reference.

They also did not seem to realize, and I could not convince them, I was only a common soldier out of a million and a half men in the U. S. Army. They kept insisting I personally contact the President, and not to go through the U. S. Embassy. The U. S. Embassy was viewed by them as totally unreliable, full of spies, and not to be trusted. Knowing the extent of communist sympathizers located in the Embassy System, I easily understood the validity of their mistrust. I had a friend located at my higher headquarters in Tra Vinh Province who also spoke Cambodian. After much reasoning, they were finally willing to meet with him, but only if I was present. Their security concerns kept me sworn to secrecy.

I was finally able to contact my friend directly. He accompanied me with his Cambodian interpreter on my next meeting within a week from the first contact. Over the course of the next three weeks we met four more times. By that time, they began to trust my friend. He continued to meet with them. At that very time, I was reassigned to Tra Vinh headquarters as the Operations Officer (S3). Two weeks later I met my friend alone as we walked in an open area at Tra Vinh headquarters. I asked him if they had settled on the size of assistance needed. He said,

"We are getting closer to realistic numbers, but they keep wanting to rely on my expertise."

I acknowledged that this was my same experience with them. I joked,

"How much does one need to conduct a successful coup d'etat?"

Both of us looked knowingly at each other and sighed. I stated the obvious,

"We sure do not have that kind of experience!"

At that point we were interrupted by someone approaching us, and so we changed our conversation. That was the last time I had contact with him.

Then, three weeks after my last meeting, Prince Sihanouk decided to fly to China for "some conferences." Instantly, this group took over, and they had a bloodless coup that began in the spring of 1969. Hisatory says they replaced Prince Sihanouk on March 18, 1970. So, all their preparations were "overcome by events." What a strange adventure and Divine Appointment the Lord gave me! It is true as it says,

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men. (Proverbs 22:29 NKJV)

In this case, I stood as the President's representative and against a king. Even though I had no direct knowledge in that area, the Lord used His integrity He had placed within me to accomplish His purpose. This whole experience bordered on the surreal and the supernatural.

This is the first time, other than sharing it with my family that I have spoken officially of these historic events. And now you know the strange story of secret meetings that resulted in a bloodless coup by the Hand of God. It felt strange to me to be actively fighting in one war in Vietnam, and being a part of another secret war in Cambodia, but of such things is history made especially when the Lord is involved. These meetings were in 1969. The Khmer Republic ruled from 1970 to 1975. They lost power when the tragic Khmer Rouge Regime led by the murderous Saloth Sar under the nom de guerre (war name) Pol Pot took over the country on April 17, 1975.

The Khmer Rouge government under the rule of "Pol Pot" would commit a genocide of over two million people between 1975 to 1979. He also warred with Vietnam, trying in vain to re-establish the old Khmer Empire. Finally, in 1995, depending upon what story you want to believe, "Pol Pot" either died of a stroke while waiting to be transported to the United States to face war crime charges or he committed suicide. The truth will never be known this side of heaven.

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