A Change of Guard

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Thursday 12 November 2009

Castle Hills man has lived a full life after ‘the killing fields’

Sichan Siv as U.S Ambassador to UN.

By Michele Gwynn -
Contributing Writer
North Central News

Creating something from nothing is perhaps the most difficult thing an individual can do, especially when one has had to fight just to survive. Castle Hills resident and former ambassador to the United Nations Sichan Siv knows this well.

Siv grew up in Cambodia. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot, Siv and his family were captured and put into slave labor camps.

“The regime turned Cambodia upside down and soaked the land with blood and tears. They killed anyone who disagreed with them,” Siv recalled.

Siv said he knew that if he and his family continued to be enslaved, they would all surely perish. It was with that thought in mind that the Siv family made a bold escape through the jungle.

Of 16 family members who ran, including his mother and siblings, only Sichan made it to the Thai border alive, and that, too, almost did not happen.

Running through the jungle, Siv fell into a pungi pit – one of many used in jungle warfare. Itcontained sharpened bamboo stakes meant to impale whatever and whoever fell in and deliver certain death.

Due to his unusual height for a Cambodian, Siv was not impaled through the torso, but, instead, badly injured his legs. He managed to pull himself out of the pit, remembering the words of his mother to “never give up hope.”

He trekked three days through the jungle injured, thirsty and hungry before arriving at the Thai border.

Siv was brought to the United States and settled in Wallingford, Conn., where he began his journey towards higher education that led him into service for the American government and the world.

He began his life on U.S. soil with nothing. He worked many jobs in his young life, from a flight attendant for Cambodian Airlines to an apple picker in Connecticut, to a taxi driver. He earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University.

In 1982, Siv met his bride to be, Martha Pattillo, who lived in Pampa, Texas. He said he “became a naturalized Texan before becoming a U.S. citizen a few months later.” They decided to make Texas their home.

“We looked at other cities like Dallas and Houston before deciding on San Antonio. It was the San Antonio International Airport and the fact that the city has diverse cultures from all the military bases that helped us decide,” he said.

Siv is a pilot and a volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol, founded in 1941: “It’s been in existence longer than the U.S. Air Force, he said. “I was born in an airport in Cambodia so I guess flying has always been in my blood.”

In his time as an U.N. ambassador, Siv negotiated on behalf of the United States with almost every government in the world.
“That’s nearly 200 governments,” he said. He explained that because each “has its own unique and beautiful culture” that he couldn’t pick a favorite.

He worked for George H.W. Bush’s administration as a deputy assistant to the president – the first American of Asian decent to be so appointed. He was confirmed a U.S. ambassador under George W. Bush’s administration.

Now, Siv travels the world sharing his story through motivational speeches. He also provides global strategic advice to various corporations, one of many positions he’s held in the private sector.

Discovering this treasure residing in San Antonio is nothing short of amazing. Currently, Siv and his wife are visiting Cambodia on a speaking engagement sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute.

“I’m very excited because it will be the first time I’ve traveled on a teak boat,” he said, explaining that they would cruise down the Mekong River and would spend one month in his native country.

Sichan Siv is also a published author. His book “Golden Bones” chronicles his life in Cambodia, and his time in the slave labor camps. He recently learned that his book is being translated into Chinese. He is working on a second book.

“It is fiction based on fact and will have a lot of international intrigue,” he added.

For more information on Siv and his works, visit www.sichansiv.com.

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