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Rockoff, Al

Rockoff was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

He reportedly enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was underage.

Later, Rockoff became a U.S. Army photographer in South Vietnam from 1967 to 1971 during the Vietnam War.

In 1971, Rockoff had an encounter with a young Al Gore at Long Binh, near Bien Hoa airbase, which he revealed in a December 2000 article in the The Laissez Faire City Times. Rockoff states that Gore asked to see the photographers work and several pictures were "loaned" to Gore with the promise of them being returned. According to Rockoff, "Some of them were my personal property and were not army photos." Gore never returned the pictures.

Nearly 30 years later, as a resident of Florida's infamous Broward County, Rockoff was unable to bring himself vote for Al Gore in the hotly contested 2000 Presidential election, saying: "...I did not vote for Albert Gore. I voted for my governor's brother. I take it more than just a personal animosity towards Al Gore not returning photographs. I also see differences in their possible foreign policies. I'll give him credit, he's not a stupid person. He is probably the smarter of the two candidates. But when it comes to ethics, I consider him lacking in that, and I take it very seriously. But my vote is official, and that's payback."

Following his release from active duty in the Army, Rockoff traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the spring of 1973 to cover the fighting between the US-backed government of Lon Nol and the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge insurgents. The U.S. had recently ended Air Force bombing of Viet Cong bases and supply routes inside Cambodia that summer, and journalist flocked to the country in anticipation of the fall of Phnom Penh and the Lon Nol Government.

Known for taking extreme risks to get his pictures, Rockoff understood that falling into the hands of the Khmer Rouge meant any foreign journalist, especially an American, would face execution.

Rockoff was badly wounded by shrapnel in fighting near the city of Kompong Chnang, in October 1974. He was technically 'dead' for several minutes, but his heart was revived by a Red Cross team from Sweden.

When the US embassy launched a helicopter evacuation of its staff from Phnom Penh in April 1975, Rockoff was one of only five American reporters who stayed behind in the besieged capitol.

The morning Phnom Penh fell, Rockoff was visiting the Preah Keth Melea hospital with New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and Jon Swain of The Sunday Times when they were captured by a company of angry teenage Khmer Rouge soldiers. Only with the intervention of Schanberg's assistant Dith Pran were the three able to survive. Following the fall of Phnom Penh, westerners were forced to take refuge within the French embassy. Two weeks later, they would be taken by truck to Thailand .

All Cambodian citizens seeking shelter there from the ravages of the Khmer Rouge were ordered out. Exceptions were not allowed, though some Cambodian women married to westerners could remain if they had proof and proper credentials.

Most would not survive their forced exodus to the countryside where they were expected to work in the fields as part of their re-education.

At the embassy, Rockoff attempted to forge a passport for Dith Pran using Jon Swain's old passport. He has long protested his portrayal by John Malkovich in the 1984 film 'Killing Fields.' In particular, the scenes which appear to show him incompetently fixing up a dark room and chemical solution as a photo of Pran fades away. Later Rockoff and fellow journalist Denis Cameron publicly disassociated themselves from the movie. Dith Pran actually left the embassy of his own volition. Pran hid the fact that he was educated or that he knew Americans and pretended to be a taxi driver during the genocide. When Cambodians were forced to work in labor camps, Pran had to endure four years of starvation and torture before Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in December 1978. Pran coined the phrase "killing fields" to refer to the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered during his 40-mile escape.

Some of Rockoff's images have reportedly been exhibited in The Foreign Correspondent's Club in Phnom Penh.

His current work includes a book of photos chronicling Cambodian history since 1970.

Rockoff divides his time between Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Fort Lauderdale, FL where he still works as a photographer.


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