A School Destroyed by US Planes during the Vietnam War Bombing of Cambodia.
Above Photo: A view of one of the Lumphat school classrooms from inside a bomb crater.
I recently went on a trip into the far north-eastern corner of Cambodia, to Ratanakiri Province, where the borders of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia all intersect. This is where I set my Vietnam War/modern-day backpacker novel, BACK, and on this research trip, I wanted to visit the site of the former town of Lumphat, which had been obliterated by US bombing during the Secret War in Cambodia.
During the Vietnam War the US had carpet-bombed the jungle and towns of this remote part of Cambodia because it lay along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and jungle hideouts of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. Back then they were being helped in their fight against the US by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
That’s why very little remains of Lumphat today.
While I was in Lumphat, my guide took me to the grounds of the old Prince Sihanouk School, some of which had escaped the bombing. He told me to be careful, as a lot of unexploded ordnance remained at the site, including an unexploded aeroplane bomb, still lying inside the school house. There was also a tunnel the Khmer Rouge had used to shelter from US air strikes, which I could also see, as well as the gutted remains of the old school buildings.
To my surprise and his dismay, when we arrived at the school, we discovered a Chinese road building company had established their equipment stores there, and it was packed with pieces of enormous earth-moving machinery, mountains of empty cement bags and wires, steel and other road-building paraphernalia.
The old school building had now been turned into a doss house for the workers, which meant the old bomb that used to be inside would have been removed, and the Khmer Rouge escape tunnel had also been completely covered with equipment, so we couldn’t see that either.
But far, far worse for Cambodians, the statue of their revered Prince Sihanouk that had rested in a stupa on the site had also vanished. It was there a year ago before the Chinese had arrived, and the guide was furious. (See link below to this story).
We then crossed the construction site and walked into some of the destroyed school buildings.
The atmosphere inside the buildings in the heat of midday, with cicadas deafening me and exotic birdsong piercing their cacophony, reminded me of the atmosphere when walking through the ruined temples of Angkor Wat.
I explored the roofless school rooms overgrown with trees and vines, finding original school tiles, scorched and burned on the floor and very little else in these bombed out shells.
I was able to count seven bomb craters inside the buildings, attesting to the pasting and accuracy of US air strikes during the attack.
Of course, as everywhere else in Eastern Cambodia, there is nothing to record what happened here. In this region, local history is still handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. But it’s a shame that so much Vietnam war history and Khmer Rouge history is being lost in Eastern Cambodia as the older generation that actually survived both horrors (as well as the covert US bombing of the region) begins to die off.
As I walked in the bomb-blasted school rooms in Lumphat that day, I just hoped the children had got out of there in time. But unfortunately we’ll never know.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see: