‘True leader’ of Hmong enshrined: Touby Lyfoung fought for education, civil rights

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The panel honoring Touby Lyfoung is uncovered Monday during the Memorial Day program at the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial in Sheboygan.

Hundreds of people turned out on Sheboygan’s chilly lakefront at Deland Park Monday to celebrate the newest addition to the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial — a dedication to a man who championed civil rights and education for the Hmong people.

During the two-hour ceremony, a triangular granite panel was unveiled to celebrate the life of Touby Lyfoung, with four of his children joining the ceremony, which featured traditional dances and music and a flyover of a U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter in the foggy sky above.

“I’m happy to be a part of this, to come here today,” said Tou Xoua Lyfoung, one of Touby’s surviving sons, following the ceremony. He traveled from Draveil, France, a suburb of Paris, to attend the celebration.

Also attending from the family were sons Touxa Lyfoung and Laurent Lenggao Lyfoung, and a daughter, Kouayao Lochungvu.

Touby Lyfoung was born in Laos in 1917, attended school at a time when few Hmong people were able to receive an education, and continued throughout his life to fight for equal rights and to better peoples’ lives through schooling. Lyfoung also received many honors in France and in the Lao Nation, but in his final years following the end of the Vietnam War, he was tortured and then assassinated by Lao Communists in 1979. He was 62 years old.

“He was a great leader, a leader of people,” Tou Xoua Lyfoung said in an interview, with Vue X. Yang, chairman of the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial, serving as interpreter. “He chose to stay on his own will to stay with the people, and that’s why he died, for his legacy, and that’s a great leader.”

Vue Yang said that Touby Lyfoung was selected for the memorial after careful consideration, and his enshrinement in Sheboygan is well deserved.

“Ninety percent of Hmong that came from Laos knew about him,” Yang said.

Touby Lyfoung is the second person to receive a panel in the circular memorial, which is 44 feet in diameter and was dedicated in 2006. The names of hundreds of solders that gave their lives during the Secret War are etched on other panels. Another complete panel is dedicated to Lee Lue, a T-28 pilot who died in 1969.

“He (Lyfoung) was the first Hmong diplomat, so to speak,” said Mayor Bob Ryan, who spoke during the ceremony. “He was well educated … and was actually like the political leader of the Hmong.”

The memorial honors those who fought in the Secret War from 1960 to 1975, during which Special Guerrilla Unit soldiers helped American soldiers and intelligence officials disrupt Communist supply lines, obtain intelligence and were instrumental in the rescues of American pilots.

Steve Schofield of Newton, a retired Army Reserve major who helped and worked with the Special Guerrilla Units in the 1960s and ’70s, said Monday that he met Touby Lyfoung in 1969 in Laos, and called him “a true Hmong leader.”

“There are others, like (the late) Gen. Vang Pao that were military leaders, but he (Lyfoung) was a leader of all the Hmong,” Schofield said.

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