Widener alum's new book shares story of survival from Cambodia killing fields to Secret Service

Leth Oun has carved out his American Dream from surviving the Killing Fields in Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service.

Christie Ileto Image
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Widener alum's new book details story of survival, inspiration
Widener University graduate Leth Oun's new book details surviving the killing fields in Cambodia to protecting presidents in the Secret Service.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- If you're looking for a bit of inspiration, look no further than Widener University graduate Leth Oun.

He's carved out his American Dream from surviving the Killing Fields in Cambodia to protecting Presidents of the United States in the Secret Service.

The U.S Secret Service officer's story is now on paper, in a new book titled: "A Refugee's American Dream."

He recently held readings at the Free Library of Philadelphia and on Wednesday at Temple University, where he detailed his harrowing story of survival.

"Killing Field is like every field you go. It's bodies, it's not just one, two - it's a hundreds, probably thousands of bodies there," said Oun. "My escape was with my mom. We couldn't do anything but walk during the night, bare feet with very minimal food to eat. Many times we had to scoop water from the elephant foot prints. The water looks clean, but it's not clean. Sanitized, but it's not sanitized."

Oun was nine years old when the Khmer Rouge killed his father, forcing him, his mother and sister to flee the only home they ever knew.

"We didn't know who was shooting at us. We - my mom and I - were literally in the middle of dead bodies, so when a commie walked by and we had to stay there until dark, that's when we get up and start walking," he said.

He says he had to pretend he was among the dead.

Oun and what was left of his family eventually made their way to a handful of U.S refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, before making their way to America in 1983.

Not knowing any English, Oun went to high school in Silver Spring, Maryland before making his way to the Delaware Valley.

In a chapter titled "Finding my future in Philadelphia", Oun spent eight years in the city, attending Philadelphia Community College and then Widener University. He eventually got a job as a city corrections officer.

In 2002, he started with the U.S Secret Service and has been protecting presidents and Vice Presidents for the last 21 years.

It wasn't until a trip with President Obama that he set foot in Cambodia for the first time since fleeing for his life.

He visited his old school, where his father was once held as a prisoner by the Khmer Rouge.

"I could see my dad sitting there, with little or no shirt, with the green uniform. A little handkerchief tied to his head, and just look at me and smile," said Oun. "He would probably pat me on the back and say 'Good job, son'."

Proceeds of the sales from "A Refugee's American Dream" will go to helping kids back in Cambodia.

Leth Oun's full story will air in a special AAPI episode of Visions on 6abc in May.

For more information on Oun's book, visit: https://tupress.temple.edu/books/a-refugee-s-american-dream