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To Whom It May Concern (Jan Wagner)

I am writing to you with a request.  It may seem like a strange request.  Therefore, first I will provide a little background information.

I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1970.  I was 20 years old at that time.  I had a military draft deferment due to childhood health problems which is why I was not drafted into the US military and sent to Viet Nam like the rest of my out-of-school male friends at that time.

Consequently, I took advantage of my situation and went on a “backpacking” trip around the world.  After traveling in Europe and North Africa for a few months I ended up in SE Asia.  While traveling in Thailand I met a Thai school teacher who suggested I also visit Cambodia.  She had friends in Cambodia, Vanny and Kanya, who were teaching english to children at a school in Phnom Penh.  They were sharing a living space there too.

To keep this short, I will just say that I ended up in Phnom Penh living with Vanny and Kanya for awhile in 1970.  We became close friends.  There were many strange and intense but also interesting things going on in and around Phnom Penh that year.  I went with Vanny when she was teaching her classes.  I loved the people there.  I met many of her friends.  I went to a beautiful wedding.  Vanny taught me about Cambodian history and current politics.  We walked everywhere and talked all of the time.  That spring Prince Sihanouk had been removed from power and Prime Minister Lon Nol had invoked emergency powers becoming the effective head of state.  Occasionally a body could be seen floating down the Mekong River.  The word on the street was that the Khmer were advancing into some areas closer to the city.  Consequently, people were often nervous and there was a feel of some underlying fear and anxiety.

I often went to the daily military briefings that were being held in an upstairs room at a local hotel in order to determine if it was safe to continue staying in Phnom Penh.  Generally those who attended the meetings were government officials and military people.   There were also a handful of international journalists who attended those meetings.  One day when the fighting between Lon Nol’s troops and the Khmer intensified unexpectedly close to the city the military issued a warning: “either leave Cambodia immediately or stay and potentially not be able to leave”.  Sadly, I left Phnom Penh.  For the next few months I tried to stay in touch with Vanny.  Miraculously, some of our letters managed to get through.  I received two of her letters.

Now, almost 50 years later and after much searching, I was able to find Vanny’s letters.  I have attached them below so that you can read them.

These letters are personal.  It is emotional and very sad for me to read them now.   However, I’m not overly shy about sharing them.  I hope that by sharing them with you, especially so that you can see the original contact information, eventually a new pathway of understanding into what happened to them might occur.  The news I received back home in the US about Cambodia during the mid-1970s was mostly about the large amount of bloodshed and chaos.  With that news my hope for their survival diminished.  However, my strong desire to know what happened to Vanny and Kanya still persists.

Is there any way your organization can help me either locate her or at least find out her status?  If not, do you know of an organization in Cambodia doing this kind of work who could help me with this search?  I will be traveling to Phnom Penh on November 5th.

Thank you!
Jan Wagner