Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US ambassador at the fall of Phnom Penh dies at 93

US ambassador at the fall of Phnom Penh dies at 93

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
US ambassador John Gunther Dean clutches the American flag that had flown over the US Embassy in Phnom Penh as he is evacuated in April 1975. The associated press

US ambassador at the fall of Phnom Penh dies at 93

John Gunther Dean, the US ambassador who famously carried the American flag to a helicopter leaving Phnom Penh as the capital fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, has died at the age of 93.

His wife and children announced his passing on Thursday in an obituary posted online.

His granddaughter Laura Dean said the exact cause of his death was not immediately known, the Washington Post reported.

Years after his departure from Cambodia, Dean spoke of his sorrow at failing to rescue more Cambodians from the horrors of the ultra-Maoist regime.

“I failed. I tried so hard. I took as many people as I could, hundreds of them, I took them out, but I couldn’t take the whole nation out,” Dean told the Associated Press (AP) in an interview in 2015 from Paris, where he mainly lived after retiring.

He also spoke of his shame at the US “walking out” on Cambodia without keeping its promises to the Kingdom in the interview commemorating the 40th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

A photograph of him carrying the embassy’s flag in a plastic bag to a departing helicopter became one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War period.

“We’d accepted responsibility for Cambodia and then walked out without fulfilling our promise. That’s the worst thing a country can do. And I cried because I knew what was going to happen,” Dean said in the AP interview.

Dean oversaw the evacuation of the US embassy, frantically trying organise flight from the encircling Khmer Rouge.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Dean (left) steps off an HMH-462 CH-53 at U-Tapao in Thailand on the afternoon of April 12, 1975. PUBLIC DOMAIN

One Cambodian official, Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, wrote to Dean to refuse his offer of escape.

“I thank you very sincerely . . . for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.

“As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it.

“I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans,” Sirik Matak wrote.

The former deputy prime minister was likely executed by the Khmer Rouge a week after the fall of Phnom Penh.

Dean described the letter to AP as the “greatest accusation ever made by foreigners. It is wrenching, no? And put yourself in the role of the American representative”.

Dean was later ambassador to Denmark, Lebanon and Thailand. His final posting was in India from 1985-89. He served under four US presidents.

“He was a skilled diplomat that championed strong US-India relations. Rest in peace and you will be forever missed,” the US embassy in India tweeted.

Born in Germany in 1926, his Jewish family moved to the US in 1938 to escape Nazism.

Dean, who spoke English, French, German, and Danish, is survived by his French-born wife Martine and three children.

MOST VIEWED

  • LPG gas explosion injures 13 people, including foreigners, in Siem Reap

    An explosion on Wednesday at a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) car and tuk-tuk refuelling station in Siem Reap city has left 13 people, including an American and a Briton, suffering burns. The seven most severely burned, including a provincial police officer, were sent to a Thai

  • Over 100 Chinese nationals to be deported for online scam

    The Ministry of Interior is planning to deport 128 Chinese nationals after they were arrested in Preah Sihanouk province on Wednesday for their alleged involvement in an online money extortion scam. Y Sokhy, the head of the Department of Counter-terrorism and Transnational Crime, told The Post

  • More than 800 people test positive for HIV in 2018

    The National Aids Authority (NAA) said more than 800 people tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) last year, joining over 76,000 others aged between 15 and 49 in the Kingdom already infected with the virus. The spread of HIV/AIDS in the Kingdom is showing few signs of

  • Rainsy vow to return on Nov 9 dismissed as ‘political warfare’

    An announcement from the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that its “acting president” Sam Rainsy would return to the Kingdom on November 9 was dismissed on Sunday as “political warfare”. The CNRP made the announcement on Friday after a permanent committee meeting chaired by