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There Are Places You Cannot Go - The Atavist Magazine

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article tells the story of Cindy Coleman, a social worker who helped a group of Cambodian military servicemen who wanted to return to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. It follows the experiences of one of the servicemen, Nhek Veng Huor, and the eventual fate of the group after they were allowed to repatriate to Cambodia.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Cindy Coleman's Involvement

1. What was Cindy Coleman's role in helping the Cambodian servicemen?

  • Cindy Coleman was tasked by the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia to oversee a group of 114 Cambodian refugees, most of whom were military servicemen, who wanted to return to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975.
  • She helped coordinate the group's repatriation efforts, which involved navigating the lack of diplomatic relations between the US and the new Khmer Rouge regime.
  • Coleman developed a close friendship with one of the servicemen, Nhek Veng Huor, and tried to convince him not to return to Cambodia, fearing for his safety.

2. How did Coleman feel about the fate of the Cambodian servicemen?

  • Coleman was deeply affected by the eventual fate of the servicemen, many of whom were later executed by the Khmer Rouge regime. She felt guilt and grief over not being able to prevent their return.
  • Years later, Coleman was able to obtain the confessions of some of the servicemen, including Nhek, which detailed their torture and execution at the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison. Reading these confessions was an emotionally difficult process for Coleman.

[02] Nhek Veng Huor's Story

1. What was Nhek Veng Huor's background?

  • Nhek Veng Huor was a young Cambodian navy serviceman who had been selected for military training in the US when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975.
  • He came from a poor farming family in Prey Veng province, but was recognized as a smart student and prepared by his family for an education beyond the rice fields.
  • Nhek was close friends with a boy named Peng, and the two went to high school together in Phnom Penh before the war.

2. What happened to Nhek after he returned to Cambodia?

  • Despite warnings from his friend Peng, Nhek insisted on returning to Cambodia, believing his skills as a navy man would be valuable to the new Khmer Rouge regime.
  • After being held at a reeducation camp, Nhek and another serviceman attempted to escape Cambodia by swimming down the Mekong River, but were captured and sent to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison.
  • Nhek was tortured and executed at Tuol Sleng, with his final confession detailing false confessions he was forced to make about CIA and communist conspiracies.

3. How did Nhek's story impact those who knew him?

  • Nhek's friend Peng, who had resettled in the US, was haunted by recurring dreams of Nhek alive and well.
  • Other servicemen who knew Nhek, like Um Sihourn, remembered him as a patriotic warrior who would have done anything for his country.
  • Cindy Coleman was deeply affected by Nhek's fate, keeping his passport photo for years and feeling guilt over not being able to prevent his return to Cambodia.
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