US Navy Commander Michael Misiewicz docked the USS Mustin in Cambodia Friday. He last saw his homeland, and many of his relatives, as a boy fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge.
US Navy Cmdr. Michael Misiewicz watched Dec. 3 as relatives prepared to board his destroyer, which was anchored a few miles off the shores of Cambodia. He had not seen any of them since he left the Southeast Asian nation as a boy 37 years ago, escaping civil war and the murderous Khmer Rouge.
The commander's face was impassive at first, but it softened as more and more extended family members were helped onto the barge below him. Then he saw his aunt, now 72, who had helped him leave for the United States so many years ago. Misiewicz walked slowly down the metal stairs and they embraced, weeping.
"When I saw her this morning," he later told reporters on the ship, "I just couldn't hold back the tears. I was so happy that she was here. It's been a very long time."
The USS Mustin was on a four-day goodwill mission that included meetings with the Cambodian Navy and community service projects. Misiewicz made it clear that he placed his duties as captain first, but also said that he had been "overwhelmed" by emotions upon his return.
Escaping the Khmer Rouge
Misiewicz was born Vannak Khem in the rice fields outside Phnom Penh. Some days he tagged along with his aunt, who worked as a maid for Maryna Lee Misiewicz, a US Army administrative assistant with the defense attaché's office at the US Embassy. Maryna showed movies on Sunday afternoons for him and his siblings, and she also paid the hospital bill once when his aunt became sick, further building trust with the family.
"I think they saw compassion in me," recalls Maryna, speaking by phone from her home in Freeport, Ill.