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Published: Friday, March 14, 2014
Updated: Friday, March 14, 2014 02:03
The atmosphere of Konover Hall in the Dodd Centre on Thursday night was a solemn one during the Vietnamese Student Association’s presentation, “The Vietnam War and the Secret War in Laos.”
The evening began with an introduction by Kimberly Thai, the VSA’s President, and Garret Grothe, who honored U.S. troops with a moment of silence, as well as a playing of the national anthem.
Once the anthem concluded, the opening ceremony began with two cultural acts: one Vietnamese, and the other Laotian. The first act featured five female members of the Vietnamese Student Association who performed a traditional Vietnamese dance representing the cultural view of the Vietnamese people as having descended from dragons. The second performance was also a dance, featuring Mina Phomphakdy, who performed a traditional Laotian dance used to grant good luck to the audience. Following the ceremonies, the keynote speaker was introduced: Major Sar Phouthasack of the Royal Lao Army and Special Guerilla Unit attached to the U.S. Special Forces.
He began his talk with a request for everyone in the audience: “Defend your nation. Support your troops and protect your fellow citizens. I have seen no greater country in my life than the United States.”
Phouthasack is a veteran of the Vietnam War but he identifies as a veteran of what many refer to as the “Secret War” in Laos. This war, which is not typically taught in school, refers to the CIA’s recruitment operation in the Hmong villages of Laos. The CIA recruited Hmong soldiers from these villages, and it was said that over the course of the war, many Hmong lost their lives in order to save even greater amounts of American troops.
Phouthasack was described as one of the greatest assets that the American army had. During the presentation, it was estimated that he had saved potentially upwards of thousands of American lives during his time on the front. He was trained by various groups, including the Green Berets and the CIA, and performed various covert intelligence operations.
Unfortunately, when the Americans left Vietnam, Phouthasack and his fellow troops were abandoned, leaving them to face the wrath of the Communist survivors who enacted ethnic cleanses all across Laos, raping and killing entire Hmong villages suspected of having supported the Americans. Though many were not so lucky, Phouthasack used his skills to successfully find refuge in Thailand before finally making his way to the United States.
At times, the stories were difficult to listen to. Phouthasack spoke of the friends he lost and the atrocities he witnessed, and as Grothe stated towards the beginning of the night, “This is part of all our history. Tonight isn’t about whether you identify as Laotian or American. Tonight is about remembering what happened to our fellow human beings, and doing what we can to see that it does not happen again.”
Following the speech, Phouthasack hosted a brief question and answer session before moving to the Asian American Cultural Center for a reception. The show was coordinated by the Vietnamese Students Association, hosted by the Asian American Cultural Center, and co-sponsored by the Cambodian Student Association, the Laotian and Thai Student Association and the CT Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission.