This is a really cool story. Michael Misiewicz, born in Cambodia as Vannak Khem and now commander of the destroyer USS Mustin, is returning to the country for the first time since he was whisked away in 1973 as a young boy to escape civil war. Just two years before the country fell to the communist Khmer Rouge and dictator Pol Pot, Vannak's father arranged for him to be adopted by an U.S. embassy employee who was preparing to leave. From AFP:
But his mother's tearful goodbye is engraved in his memory. "My mom was so, so upset. I promised her I'd buy her a big house one day."
The young Cambodian built a new life for himself in his adoptive country, enlisting in the navy after graduating from high school in Lanark, Illinois.
It was while he was attending the US naval academy that he began to learn about the atrocities that had taken place in his homeland. Misiewicz had received no news from his family and assumed the worst.
"I felt a lot of guilt. Why was I the lucky one?," he said. "I really doubted that my family had survived the whole Khmer Rouge era. I tried not to think about it."
It turned out that his mother and three siblings survived and also relocated to the U.S., but his father and a sister were victims of the Khmer Rouge. The Mustin visits the Cambodian coast for training exercises over four days this weekend, where Misiewicz also plans to connect with family he's not seen since he left. And he did buy his birth mother that big house -- in Texas.