|January 5, 2012
Yearning to Breathe Free
The following was presented to our group during our January 5th
meeting by Dr. & Chandra Gooch. It was inspiring,
sad, informative and we thank them for sharing their story with
(The regular type was read by Dr
Paul Gooch. and the italic by Chandra, his wife)
It is December 31, 1966. I am born in Salt Lake City, the
first of 10 children. I enter a world of freedom and
opportunity. My father is a computer systems analyst who
left the family farm to pursue a vocation in technology; my
mother, homemaker and daughter of an accountant.
We are rising middle class.
It is April 24, 1971. I am 4 years old. The
world is a safe place. My neighborhood is my
kingdom. the Soviet spacecraft SOYUZ 10 returns to earth.
It is April 24, 1971. I am born in
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, the second of three
children. I enter a world of privilege and royalty.
My father, a fighter pilot in the Royal
Cambodian Air Force--was fortunate to be born into upper-caste
society; my mother also from an upper-caste family marries
my father at age 15. Their marriage was pre-arranged when
she was 5 and he was 15. Maids take care of all mundane
tasks. We are happy, but all is not well. The Viet
Nam war just ended. The United States recently
deposed our king and installed an interim government.
The United States is secretly bombing the growing
communist forces that hide in our jungles. My father helps
with the bombing each day when he flies.
It is April 14, 1975, we live in Santequin, Utah while we wait
for our home in Mona to be finished. My father is running
the room-size computer that does all of Nephi Rubber Plant's
accounting. My world is a safe place, except for an
occasional school bully. Today President Richard
Nixon ends the blockade against the People's Republic of China.
It is April 14, 1975. Cambodian New Year is just a couple
of days away. Nervous tension
covers the land like a suffocating blanket. Rumors have it
that the Khmer Rouge are getting closer. My father
pre-flights a plane and starts the engines. While the
engines are warming, he runs home and tries to get my mother to
pack one small suitcase for the family--it is time to
escape......He wants to defect to the United States. My
mother encourages him to stay and fight for our country.
We delay until it is everlastingly too late....the Khmer Rouge
take the airport a few hours later.
It is April 17, 1975. The Pittsburgh Penguins take a 3-0
lead over the New York Islanders in the Quarterfinals --- I am
an American. My world is a safe place....I am completely
unaware that today's events on the other side of the world will
change my life forever.
It is April 17, 1975. Cambodian New
Year. The Khmer rouge declare victory. Many people
are excited that the war is over. No one realized that
this is the eve of one of the world's bloodiest genocides.
My family, along with everyone else in Phnom Penh, is forced
from our home.
Immediately, the soldiers take our car, but don't know how to
drive it. The soldiers want to know what my father did for
a living. We realize that many people are starting
to die. My father claims to be a taxi driver--momentarily
saving his life. We are but flotsam in a sea of one
million people marching to an unknown destination.
We walk until darkness falls then sleep in the open with the
It is October 10, 1975. We live in Mona now. For
the rest of my life, I will say I am from Mona when asked.
It is one of Utah' quintessential small Mormon towns.
Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from hunger--- I
am 9 years old and boundless opportunity exists for me to hunt,
roam, play, work and learn. In school I learn (somewhat
reluctantly) to read, write and do math. Elizabeth Taylor
marries for the sixth time.
It is October 10, 1975. We are in a forced labor camp.
Most of the educated people have already been killed.
Sickness and death surround us. Many are showing the
effects of malnutrition. There is never enough to
eat. Mother and Father work under the threat of
death from sun-up to sun-down. We are told how to
think--the "organization" is now our parent--they will provide
everything. If we get caught crying or laughing over past
memories they will kill us. Everything from our past life
is gone - money, books, hospitals, libraries, schools, religion
The leaders tell us it is the year "Zero." Yes, for us
today became "year Zero." Someone told the leaders was my
father was a fighter pilot. Two soldiers armed with
machine guns came and took my father away. We
watched in agony--as our father shuffled out of sight, resigned
to his fate. We would never see my father again.
It is mid July 1976. American celebrates 200 years of
freedom. This year's Ute Stampede Rodeo is the most
colorful and patriotic ever. I am proud to be an American.
Sweet freedom's song did swell the breeze:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America, America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm they soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.....
It is mid July, 1976. Conditions grow worse.
Grandfather died of starvation several months ago. We are
giving one cup of cooked water with a few grains of rice once a
day. Bugs, frogs and snakes are getting harder to
find--but we eat them in secret. To get caught could
mean death. Mother occasionally saves us by trading a
small gold link from a chain that I wear
hidden in my skirt for a cup of rice that someone is brave
enough to steal from "the organization." We cook it and
devour it under cover of darkness--knowing we are dead if we get
caught. Mother encourages us to pray---someday, maybe God
will take us to America!
It is 1977. Apple Computer Inc., Radio shack and
Commodore all introduce mass-market computers. I can't
begin to comprehend how the personal computer will bring untold
opportunity and wealth to our nation.
It is 1977. We are weary of seeing death. We live
in the "killing fields." Each day we wonder if we
will see sunset. Soldiers commit unspeakable horrors in
front of our very eyes. Babies are tossed and caught on
bayonets. Men are shot in front of us. Whole
families are buried alive to save bullets. Mother is
devastated when she witnesses the bodies of our very good
friends floating down the river, tied together, and bloated
It is sometime in March, 1979. The
Supreme Court rules 8-1 that police cannot randomly stops cars.
It is sometime in March, 1979.
Soldiers come and take my 9-year old sister away. They
force her into the jungle with several other children for
intensive re-education. They teach them that there
are no longer families, no love, no parents, no children.
The organization is the only parent. the
organization is to be obeyed over all else. If your
family is breaking the rules, you must tell the organization so
they can correct them. My sister sees other children
die of starvation. Some children are killed for
disobedience. She wants to cry out, but doesn't dare.
One night, she escapes with 4 other girls. A
miracle---she finds her way back to us. Some unseen hand
helped her along, she tells us. Good thing!....two
days later our family is forced to move to our fourth and final
camp. We would have never seen her again.
It is early April 1979. I am 12. I know
of death. My grandfather recently passed away from old
age. A neighbor boy died in a motorcycle accident.
The cold are is full force and I fear a nuclear holocaust with
its grisly aftermath. The carp are spawning and I
spend nearly all day spear fishing in the Mona Reservoir with
It is early April 1979. We are now in the worst
of hells. We will only spend a few weeks in this
place. We are asked to work, but we aren't fed.
There is no reason to feed the dead. Our purpose here is
to die. Our execution date is set for mid April.
Each day, the families on that day's list are marched off and
killed. My mother finally gives up hope. We are
numb. For four years now, the leaders have blared a
chilling slogan over camp loudspeakers, "To destroy you is no
loss, to keep you is no benefit." We are human
refuse. Three days before our execution, our sector
is liberated in invading North Vietnamese. We are
released to the Chaos of fleeing refugees. Two
million of my countrymen were not so fortunate--they were
murdered by "the organization." Within a couple of weeks
we are in Thailand's refugee camps.
It is October 2, 1981. I am
a teenager with all the attitude I can muster. Boy, I
can't wait to leave this small town. I fear nothing.
I know nothing of hunger or even want. I live in the land
of opportunity. 2,500 miles away, Lady Liberty beckons
from New York Harbor:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
It is October 2, 1981. President Reagan has opened
doors to America. The world is searching for places to
assimilate countless refugees from southeast Asia. My
mother's prayers are answered. A group of Catholic
Nuns in Jefferson City, Missouri has sponsored my family and we
have stepped off an airplane into the brisk Missouri fall cold.
Tired, penniless, huddled, wretched, discarded
humanity---yearning to breathe free--I am an American now!
It is July 22, 1987. I
finally got out of that little town. My church sent me on
a mission to Boston of all places. I've been out here for
16 months now and have spent most of my mission working with
refugees from Cambodia in the town of Lowell. I am
learning their language by the seat of my pants-Cambodian won't
be taught in the mission-training center for another 4 or 5
years. I am stunned to learn of the genocide that
brought so many homeless, wretched masses to our shores.
Their stories cut me to the quick....I feel such reverence for
the boisterous sea of liberty enjoyed by all
Americans---freedoms given us by the great creator and codified
in the US Constitution....Someone called today and gave us the
name of another refugee family that wants to know about our
It is July 22, 1987. We live in Lowell,
Massachusetts. After 5 years in Missouri, mother
decided to move us to a place where there are many other
refugees. She goes to night school for English and
works two jobs. My brother, sister and I go to school.
Learning English is the most difficult subject of all....Tonight
two missionaries are coming to our house---Mother wants to know
about their church.
It is July 22, 1989. I have been off my mission for about
a year and a half. The past two summers I have been back
in Boston building swimming pools with my brother.
Today I married Chantra---the most divine and noble creature I
have ever met. Our courtship took unusual twists and
turns as we missed a culture of arranged marriages and no dating
with a culture of playing the field for all you are worth before
deciding on a mate.
It is July 22, 1989. Today I left my family at
the tender age of 18 to marry another American. I'm not
sure I like these American wedding receptions. In my
native land, weddings last well day. Pomp, ceremony,
dancing and seven course meals finish the evening. Instead
I had to stand in line while well-wishers filed in, then out of
our reception with only a mint, cake and small cup of wedding
It is today. I have 5
children. I live the American dream. I own a
business and a home. I was born an American--free from
fear, free from hunger, free from want. I live in
the land of liberty and opportunity, America The Beautiful.
It is today. I have 5 children. I live the American
dream. I own a business and a home. I was born into
tyranny and despotism, once rejected as human debris.
I am now an American Citizen----free from fear, free from
hunger, free from want. I live in the land of liberty and
opportunity - America the Beautiful!
(Dr. Paul Gooch and Chandra spoke to our group on January