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On March 18, 1969, American B-52s began the first of many bombing raids into Cambodia, an action for which the American Left would never forgive the military and the government of Richard Nixon. On April 17, 1975, the American military having been withdrawn from Southeast Asia, Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, its citizens disappearing into Pol Pot's Killing Fields. For this the American Right will always blame the Left. It seems we've all got something to ashamed of in how the U.S. treated Cambodia. But largely forgotten between these infamous dates, and amid the bickering over which Americans treated the Cambodians worse, are the courageous and selfless efforts of the Flying Tigers, noncombatant flyers who airlifted tons of supplies into the besieged Cambodian capital in the weeks before it fell. Larry Partridge was one of those pilots, a volunteer. In March 1975, he flew 52 missions in operation "Ricelift" and he tells the story here.
He's reconstructed his tale from a diary he kept at the time, so it's understandably prosaic at times. And it doesn't have the usual shape of a war story, because the planes he flew--including a DC-8 named Phnom Penh Phnancy--weren't dealing death, but bringing life. But it is this unique aspect of his peaceful mission set against the wartime background, and his friendship with crewmates and comrades, like Jim Winterberg, and with locals, like a young newspaper girl named Maria, and even with a cockroach they called Hiram, that makes this an exceedingly human and humane story, all the more remarkable because that war zone has produced so few.
Larry Partridge has given us a heroic and heartwarming vision of a different side of America's generally tragic engagement with Southeast Asia. We thank him for his service and for sharing his experiences.
-REVIEW : of Flying Tigers Over Cambodia (Sody Lay, Khmer Institute)
CAMBODIA BOMBING :