Lieutenant May Um is no ordinary officer - and you can tell that at first sight, for May Um is also a Buddhist monk.
Lieutenant May Um is no ordinary officer - and you can tell that at first sight, for May Um is also a Buddhist monk. He still wears his religious robes as he leads his men into battle along Highway 4, in the Khmer Republic's fight to free that strategic highway from communist control.
May Um became a soldier in 1970 when the communists entered his village near Kompong Speu and killed several of his fellow monks. At 51, he is a lieutenant, commanding the 120 men of Territorial Company 2023.
The troops, equipped only with rifles, are hard pressed to hold their own against the better-armed communist forces. Although it should have ended a long time ago, the monsoon season lasted an extraordinarily long time this year, and the paddy fields are still badly waterlogged. May Um's company has been hard-pressed to hold its position in the watery fields when under attack by communist mortars.
Fighting has been going on around the company for a week, but May Um hopes to consolidates his position near the highway now that he has added a mortar to the company's inventory.
Lieutenant May Um knows his men well - they were all brought up around the village where May was a monk for 30 years.