RIP: Revered Hmong Leader Gen. Vang Pao
Gen. Vang Pao, 81, has died of pneumonia in California. Exiled to America, the revered Hmong leader, regarded as the George Washington of the Hmong, was born on a farm in a mountain village in Laos. He began his career as a teenage translator for the French who were fighting the Japanese in Laos. He then went to French officer candidate school and became a commissioned officer in the French army. During the Vietnam War, he led a secret CIA-sponsored army fighting the North Vietnamese.[More...]
Former CIA Chief William Colby once called Pao "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War," for the 15 years he spent heading a CIA-sponsored guerrilla army fighting against a communist takeover of the Southeast Asian peninsula.
After his guerrillas ultimately lost to communist forces, Vang Pao came to the U.S., where he was credited with brokering the resettlement of tens of thousands of Hmong, an ethnic minority from the hillsides of Laos.
Yet the arrest galvanized Hmong Americans who saw him as a symbol in the fight for public acknowledgment of the Hmong role in the war, and for liberation of those still living in Laotian jungle.
Many Hmong soldiers were forced to fight alongside U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Thousands died. More than 100,000 Hmong resettled in America. Here's why:
In 1969, at the time when Congress first learned of our secret war in Laos, about 18,000 Hmong soldiers had already been killed in battle died, and many women and children had died as well. The Hmong were taking a great risk in boldly fighting for the United States, trusting that we would stand by them. But in 1973, the U.S. began to pull out of Laos, leaving the Hmong on their own to fight thousands of North Vietnamese troops in Laos.
By 1975, Laos had fallen completely into Communist hands, and the lives of all Hmong people who helped fight the Communists were in jeopardy. More than 100,000 Hmong fled to Thai refugee camps. Many would be killed along the way, especially when crossing the Mekong River to get to Thailand. An estimated 30,000 Hmong would be killed by Communist forces while trying to reach Thailand. Over 100,000 Hmong people died as a result of the war, and today nearly every Hmong family in the US has terrible tales of loss and tragedy relating to the war.
The U.S. left the Hmong high and dry when it pulled out of Southeast Asia, leaving them to fight both the North Vietnamese and the Laotians.
A great many Hmongs were slaughtered in their villages. Many were slaughtered at airfields where they waited for evacuation planes that never came. A few were able to fight every foot of the way across Laos and cross the Mekong River into refugee camps in Thailand where they were further mistreated by rather corrupt UN and Thai officials. Out of a estimated 3,000,000 prewar Hmong population less than 200,000 made it to safety.
The Pathet Lao Communists that took over the country in 1975 stated their intention to kill all the Hmongs -- genocide.
The United States, recognizing the sacrifice made by Hmong soldiers to fight for the U.S., began accepting Hmong refugees into the United States in December of 1975. By 1990, about 100,000 refugees had entered the United States. Today approximately 250,000 Hmong are in the U.S., and a similar number still live in Laos. Over 5 million Hmong people are in Southern China, also under Communist rule.
....The Hmongs gave up literally everything for us: their country, their homes, their peaceful way of life, most of their families, everything that we would cherish. We promised them our continued support and then we bugged out.
The author of the linked article concludes with:
I cannot understand the ignorance of many Americans, who have not bothered to learn who these people are and why they deserved to be brought to the United States. They bled and died for us. They saved hundreds of American lives at great loss to them and their families. We used the Hmong people and their freedom-loving courage, and suddenly abandoned them to genocidal tyrants, keeping their sacrifices largely secret from the American people. Ours is a debt of gratitude that remains incompletely expressed. And for today's Hmong-Americans, yours is a legacy of courage and valor that I hope will inspire you to stand for the highest of human values and bring further honor to your people and your ancestors.
Human Rights Watch has several articles on the plight of the Hmong, which continues today in Thai refugee camps. Here's a brief timeline of the history of the Hmong. Also recommended: Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Fresno, CA and Milwaukee, WI are home to the greatest number of Hmong who have resettled in the U.S.
Gen. Vang Pao's friend says he had two dreams -- "to get his people out of the jungle and to have his warriors buried at Arlington."
In 1977, Congress passed a law allowing Southeast Asian refugees to become permanent residents upon request. In 1995, Congress made July 22 a day of recognition to remember and pay homage to the Lao-Hmong people in America.
One of Gen. Vang Po's causes was to get Congress to allow the Hmong who fought for the U.S. in Southeast Asia to be buried in Arlington. This past July, 23 members of Congress introduced a bill, H.R. 5879, that:
-Makes eligible for interment in a national cemetery any individual who:
(1) the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) determines served in combat support of the Armed Forces in Laos during the period beginning on February 28, 1961, and ending on May 15, 1975; and (2) at the time of death was a U.S. citizen or lawfully admitted alien.
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.
R.I.P. Gen. Vang Pao. Congress should allow him to be buried at Arlington.
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