Saturday, 22 March 2008

Ex-general made new U.S. life

OBITUARY: Former Cambodian chief of staff Chhong Ea went to trade school, put six kids through college.

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

Chhong Ea went from being a brigadier general and the chief of staff for the Khmer Air Force during the Cambodian civil war to running a grocery store and later attending trade school in the United States to be an electrical technician. But the Cambodian emigrant never complained about his plight.

Ea died March 12 several months after suffering a stroke. He was 78.

Despite his high ranking in the deposed Khmer Republic, Ea lived a quiet and modest life in the United States.

"When we left we didn't have anything but our clothes," said Saraboth Ea, the youngest son of Chhong Ea. "Even his wedding pictures were left behind."

According to Saraboth Ea and his mother, Theng Van, after evacuating his family to safety, Chhong Ea stayed in Cambodia until the last possible moment on April 17, 1975, the day Cambodia fell, before leaving the country.

Although Chhong Ea had been encouraged to flee sooner, according to Saraboth Ea, "my dad told my mom the administration would be in chaos. There would be no one left to help the people."
Once he left Cambodia, however, the family said Chhong Ea never looked back.

"In my experience of my dad, it seemed like he lived a normal life," Saraboth Ea said.

After running the family grocery store, Chhong Ea enrolled in trade school and landed a job with NCR Corp., with which he worked for 20 years until his retirement.

"It was amazing, he raised six kids and put us through college," Saraboth Ea said.
After his fighting days, Chhong Ea neither talked about the war nor did he seem to harbor bitterness.
He also avoided postwar politics and even turned down an invitation to return to Cambodia when the government was being rebuilt.

Chhong Ea began his career as an aviator in 1954 and after being trained by France rose to the rank of captain by 1964.

With the formation of the Khmer Republic in 1970, following the removal of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Chhong Ea rose quickly to the rank of brigadier general and would later be recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross by U.S. military peers. The medal can be awarded to members of friendly foreign countries during times of war.

Saraboth Ea said his father was appreciated by those who served under him because of his honesty and incorruptibility.

"He was never involved in corruption," Saraboth Ea said. "They all saw that and that's what they respected about him."

Chhong Ea is survived by his wife; six children, Ken, Peter, Saraboth, Sadeth, Sarina and Sariny; and 10 grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held today at 3 p.m. at the Memorial Chapel at Rose Hills Memorial Park, 3888 S. Workman Mill Road, Whittier.

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