IT WAS APRIL of 1975, a time of warm days and the Khmer New Year. I wondered if the Songkran goddess had descended to earth; I did not prepare any gifts to offer. The festive mood of people celebrating the three-day Chaul Chnam feasts resounded through the neighborhood. They shouted for King Sihanouk. I heard blasts that I thought were part of the revelry, but they sounded a lot like gunfire. I ran to the front gate and spotted an ice cream vendor on a bicycle with a cooler on the back. My grandfather snoozed in the hammock.
"May I buy an ice cream on a stick, Grandfather?" I called out to him.
It almost looked like he was nodding. I took that as a "yes," and stepped out to flag down the ice cream man. That is when Khmer Rouge soldiers caught my attention, as they passed by at the end of the street. They rode in the back of big trucks, flashing bright red scarves hanging from their necks, worn as a belt or wrapped around their heads. I stopped and stared, forgetting all about ice cream. The soldiers looked young, like pure Khmers with dark skin. They carried guns, M-16 rifles and AK47’s, but they were smiling and celebrating victory. People lined up along the avenue and cheered as they passed by. Our neighbors were hanging white bed sheets from their windows. A man ran by waving a white flag and hollering.
"The Battambang army has surrendered to the Khmer Rouge!"
Who could have ever guessed the atrocities that would follow that fateful day. In the next four-and-a-half years, an estimated two million Cambodians died at the hands of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime.