Our relatives have rented a van for their month-plus-long stay here. Graciously, they have taken us to a few places of interest in the last few days. We ended up going north of the city to a temple that has picnic grounds around its base. The place is in Kandal province and is called Phnom Reap.

My brother-in-law, Heng, was unaware of exactly where we were until we had gotten out at our destination and walked over to the restroom. There, in the clearing, we could see a large hill sticking out of the landscape in front of us. He looked at it for awhile and then began to share with me some memories.

He said that he had spent two years around that hill, while in the Lon Nol army, fighting to wrest control of it from the Khmer Rouge. This would have been around 1974 or 75. He chuckled as he spoke about his experiences, undoubtedly because it was the best way to avoid becoming emotional about it.

He talked about the many times that he and his “men” would be told to get to the base of the mountain only to be told after they got there to turn back around. He talked about the airdrops of American military rations that they couldn’t figure out how to eat. He recalled the horrific artillery pounding that came down on the hill from their support bases. And how they were often in more danger of these onslaughts than their enemy was.

He said he cried more times than he could remember.

Then there was the story about the “brave” Khmer Rouge soldier perched atop the coconut tree firing a powerful machine gun at them. How that guy was able to sustain fire for most of the day was beyond anyone’s guess. Eventually, the good guys blasted away everything but the trunk of the tree before the firing finally ceased. And who was going to climb up to see if the guy was really dead? Sure, logic would tell you he was gone, but who would go first?

They got up there and found a large basket of mostly-spent ammunition. The victim was found shackled to the tree. This was to prevent the brave guy from shimmying back down the tree. The poor guy’s relentless fire was purely an act of self-defense. Anybody trying to come after him was gonna get it.

There were other stories, but I’m tired. Heng was a brave guy, that’s for sure.