Chap Kung’s diplomatic career ended 42 years ago this week with a U.S. Marine airlift out of Cambodia as the Lon Nol regime fell to the Khmer Rouge.
Starting from scratch in a new land, Kung’s family began their life as refugees along with their fellow officials from the defeated U.S.-backed administration.
“We were all trained to do basic things, cleaning toilets and washing dishes,” recalled Kung in an interview with VOA Khmer. “There was no diplomats or generals. We were all refugees in a new country.”
But more than four decades later Kung’s eldest son, Chap Sokunthea has been promoted to the rank of commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in Hawaii, bringing pride to the family, says Kung.
“The whole family is very excited,” said Kung. “I’ve never imagined that my son would rise up this high.”
Kung was a diplomat in charge of cultural affairs at the Cambodian Embassy in India from 1973 until the Khmer Rouge takeover in April 1975.
When the family was resettled in the U.S., Sokunthea was only 12 years old. He joined the navy in 1984 and completed his training in 1985. He was assigned to a helicopter squadron in San Diego, California, where he served as an anti-submarine warfare operator.
Sokunthea graduated from the National University with a Master’s of Science in 1997 and served on numerous assignments.
“I came here as a young boy but I knew I’m still Khmer, therefore, I had to try my best to promote our Khmer reputation,” he said. “This made me happy, that’s why I tried my best. Here there are more Vietnamese than Khmer and the Vietnamese hold high positions. I have to compete to make sure that Khmers become better, too.”
Sokunthea said that support from the family and workplace was crucial to his success.
“We have to work hard in this country,” he said. “Secondly, like in any country, we have to have someone whom we can turn to for support. After you work hard and then you have someone to back you up, you have the opportunity to go higher.”
Sokunthea currently lives in San Diego and has two children of his own, a daughter, Vanessa, who is 23 years old, and a son, Beau, 15 years old.
Sokunthea’s decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and various unit commendation awards.