Sydney H. Schanberg, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, passed away on Saturday.
Mr. Schanberg was a correspondent for the NYT who covered the fall of Cambodia.
In the spring of 1975, as Pol Pot’s Communist guerrillas closed in on the capital, Phnom Penh, after five years of civil war in Cambodia, Mr. Schanberg and his assistant, Dith Pran, refused to heed directives from Times editors in New York to evacuate the city and remained behind as nearly all Western reporters, diplomats and senior officials of Cambodia’s American-backed Lon Nol government fled for their lives.
“Our decision to stay,” Mr. Schanberg wrote later, “was founded on our belief — perhaps, looking back, it was more a devout wish or hope — that when the Khmer Rouge won their victory, they would have what they wanted and would end the terrorism and brutal behavior we had written so often about.”
That didn’t quite work out the way Mr. Schanberg hoped. He was eventually thrown out of Cambodia and returned to the United States, but he never forgot Mr. Dith.
Overwhelmed with guilt over having to leave Mr. Dith behind, he asked for time off to write about his experiences, to help Mr. Dith’s refugee wife and four children establish a new life in San Francisco and to begin the seemingly hopeless task of finding his friend.
Dith Pran escaped Cambodia in 1979 and made his way to the United States. He and Mr. Schanberg got back together, Mr. Schanberg got him a job as a photographer with the NYT, and wrote an article for the NYT magazine, “The Death and Life of Dith Pran”. That became a book, and eventually the movie “The Killing Fields”.
“I’m a very lucky man to have had Pran as my reporting partner and even luckier that we came to call each other brother,” Mr. Schanberg said after Mr. Dith died in 2008. “His mission with me in Cambodia was to tell the world what suffering his people were going through in a war that was never necessary. It became my mission too. My reporting could not have been done without him.”