Salutes & Awards

May 2, 2014

Days of Remembrance ceremony honors victims, survivors of genocides

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Gustavo Bahena
Public Affairs Office NTC and Fort Irwin

Major Nalorn Sengamphan, deputy commander and general dentist with United States Army Dental Clinic Command at Fort Irwin, speaks April 9 at Fort Irwin during a ceremony honoring victims of the Holocaust and other genocides of the 20th century. Sengamphan spoke about her experiences as a child with her family escaping the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia in 1975.

The National Training Center and Fort Irwin paid tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust and other genocide crimes with a ceremony, April 9.

The Days of Remembrance ceremony, hosted by the Equal Opportunity/Equal Employment Opportunity and U.S. Army Dental Clinic Command, here, honored victims of genocide from World War II and Cambodia (1974-1979). Days of Remembrance week this year takes place from April 27 to May 4 with a theme of “Confronting the Holocaust: American Responses.”

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., the theme relates to the anniversaries of two events in Holocaust history that raise questions about the responses of the U.S. to the widespread persecution and mass murder of Jews in Europe. Those questions include: What can we learn today from American action and inaction in the face of the refugee crisis in the spring of 1939 and the deportation of Hungarian Jews five years later? And, what are the warning signs we should look for to help prevent future genocides?

At the ceremony, a video from the museum was shown that explained events involving the refugee ship St. Louis carrying 937 Jews from Germany fleeing Nazi persecution in May 1939, before the start of World War II. The refugees sailed from Cuba to the U.S. and back to Europe, where they were allowed to remain in Great Britain, France, Holland and Belgium. Many of the passengers were eventually trapped in the German invasion, resulting in 254 being killed in the Holocaust. The video also summarized what happened to Hungarian Jews in 1944 when Germany ultimately invaded the only European country that still had an intact Jewish population of about 800,000. Despite warnings from the U.S. administration, Hungary deported approximately 440,000 Jews to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. News of the ongoing genocide prompted U.S. Treasury Department lawyer John Pehle to write a report criticizing the inaction of the U.S. government. President Franklin Roosevelt made Pehle head of the War Refugee Board, which eventually saved the lives of some 200,000 Jews, including tens of thousands in Budapest.

According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, these examples of the Holocaust encourage reflection on more recent cases of genocide, including the mass killings in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. From 1975 to 1979, the regime led by Pol Pot killed 1.5 to 1.7 million people through starvation, torture and execution, said Staff Sgt. Christopher Harris, ceremony narrator and practice manager at DENTAC, here. A survivor of the Khmer Rouge is Maj. Nalorn Sengamphan, deputy commander and general dentist with DENTAC, here. She spoke emotionally about her experiences as a 6-year-old escaping the regime with her family. When the Khmer Rouge came to power, her father spoke to people in their town about going to Thailand, said Sengamphan.

“For those of you who want to have white heads, come to Thailand with me; for those of you who want to have white eyes, you can stay in Cambodia,” Sengamphan remembered her father saying in reference to living a longer life.

Sengamphan said her family crossed a river to reach Thailand ahead of Khmer Rouge soldiers, who were at the river’s edge with AK-47 rifles. Her family lived in Thailand for five years, including inside a refugee camp, and was eventually sponsored by Westminster Presbyterian Church in Akron, Ohio, to live in the U.S. In 1997, Sengamphan graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry in Cleveland.

“In 2009 I went back to Cambodia on a medical dental mission with the U.S. Army Pacific Medical Command,” Sengamphan recalled. “I was horrified to see the mass grave sites of the victims and the S-21 prisons, where innocent people were tortured and executed.”
Sengamphan credits her parents for having led the family out of harm’s way and for making a life in the U.S. Her father passed away two years ago at the age of 90.

“Without people like him I would not be who I am today,” Sengamphan said. “I’m honored to serve.”

At the ceremony’s conclusion, DENTAC commander Col. Todd Kimura thanked servicemembers for responding to the nation’s call.

“I want to thank all of you who have fought in combat or taken up the profession of arms to prevent those who would otherwise conduct senseless genocide,” Kimura said. “It is by our Army values that we live and remember to fight the good fight.”




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