US ambassador at the fall of Phnom Penh dies at 93

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) - 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.

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. He was 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
era.

“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
interview.

Dean oversaw the evacuation of the US embassy, frantically trying to
help Cambodian officials and others who had fought against them flee the
encircling Khmer Rouge.

One, 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.

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