Archive for April 17th, 2010

April 17, 2010

In Memory of Legions Lost and the Soldiers of the Secret War in Laos.

1961 – 1973

Cached: Laos Memorial: Arlington National Cemetery

The story of this Memorial is a story of sacrifice and patriotic valor by American Advisors and Hmong and Lao combat soldiers in the jungles of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Hmong General Vang Pao’s army, once considered among the best of U.S. allies, helped the Administrations of U.S. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in the “secret” Lao Theater. The United States in its effort to combat communist insurgency in Laos, recruited, armed, and trained ethnic minorities. Advised by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), General Vang Pao’s army of Hmong, Kmhmu, and Lao, gathered military intelligence, rescued downed U.S. air crews, protected U.S. Air Force navigational sites in Laos, and fought North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap’s ever increasing forces to a standstill in Laos for a decade.

When, after the fall of Laos, the communists took control, they launched a genocidal campaign to punish or eliminate those who allied with the United States, particularly those who had served in the U.S. Secret Army. Tens of thousands of Hmong escaped across the Mekong River to Thailand and refugee camps. From there, former soldiers and their families eventually were resettled in the United States. Once here, the Hmong adjustment proved difficult, but few Americans knew of their historical alliance with the U.S. adding to their resettlement problems.

Because the campaigns waged by General Vang Pao and General Giap were secret, most Americans knew little, if anything, of the secret war in Laos. Not until almost 20 years after falling to the communists did U.S. Government officials publicly admit the existence and role of the “U.S. Secret Army” in the “secret” Lao Theater of Operation of the Vietnam War. Appearing before Congress, in 1994, the Honorable William E. Colby, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, talked of the “heroism and effectiveness of the Hmong struggle” and the critical role and sacrifice of the Secret Army.

In part, Colby said:

“For 10 years, Vang Pao’s soldiers held the growing North Vietnamese forces to approximately the same battlelines they held in 1962. And significantly for Americans, the 70,000 North Vietnamese engaged in Laos were not available to add to the forces fighting Americans and South Vietnamese in South Vietnam.”

After Ambassador Colby’s acknowledgment, a handful of Americans who knew well the Hmong alliance with the U.S. felt it timely to seek official U.S. recognition for the soldiers of the Secret Army and their American Advisors who died in Laos. Mr.Grant McClure, a former U.S. Army Advisor to the Montagnards, became the moving force behind the idea of a permanent Memorial at Arlington to nationally and publicly honor the uncommon sacrifices of the Secret Army. Mr. McClure’s efforts brought together in common cause former CIA Station Chiefs, Vietnam Veterans, Members of Congress, and others who served in civilian and military roles, as well as Lieutenant Colonel Wangyee Vang, founder of Lao Veterans of America, Inc.

Finally, after discussions with officials of the U.S. Government and the Lao Veterans of America, whose members number some 55,000 former soldiers and their families of the Secret Army, agreement on a Living Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery was reached.

On May 15, 1997, some 3,000 veterans of General Vang Pao’s army – Hmong and Lao – dressed in jungle camouflage fatigues, flight suits, nurses uniforms stood at attention on the Mall in Washington, D.C. near the Vietnam Wall. Facing them were current Members of Congress, former U.S. Ambassadors, and the CIA Station Chiefs under whom they had served during the time of the “secret war” in Laos. A Congressional citation was read. CIA Station Chiefs paid tribute to the extraordinary contributions of General Vang Pao and his brave forces in the fight for freedom in Southeast Asia and assisted in handing out the Vietnam Veterans National Medal.

The next day, General Vang Pao and the remnants of his army, again wearing camouflage fatigues, assembled at Arlington National Cemetery. Six deep, they stood at attention for the dedication of the Memorial Monument – a small stone topped with a copper plaque, acknowledging the “secret war” in Laos – and the Hmong, Lao, and American Advisors who valiantly served freedom’s cause in the jungles of Southeast Asia and, in so doing, died in the Lao Theater in the Vietnam War. They will now be forever known and remembered.

Contributed in Loving Respect, September 1999 by Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt,
Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Author of Tragic Mountains: The Hmong,
The Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos 1942 – 1992.

In Memory of Legions Lost and the
Soldiers of the Secret War in Laos.

We stand in tribute of forgotten men…for their sacrifice, courage
valor and honor. We honor them by this living memorial…starkly
beautiful in its simplicity, for it stands defiantly alone, as did those
soldiers in their seasons of death. It will serve as a poignant reminder
of our battlefield allies, and is a tribute long overdue to proud Human
endeavor…courage and valor in a long war lost in the unfulfilled hopes
for Southeast Asia.

As the fallen leaves of Autumn
in unregimented ranks,
Countless unrembered soldiers
Let us now praise forgotten men…
and some there be,
Which have no memorial;

Who have perished, as though
They had never been.
But they served, they died;
for cause and by happenstance…
Expended in the hopes for Southeast Asia,
and will forever be remembered,
Mourned for their sacrifice. If by weeping I could change
the course of events,
My tears would pour down ceaselessly
for a thousand Autumns. Thursday, May 15, 1997
Salute to Lao/Hmong Patriots
& their American Advisors
Arlington National Cemetery

Photo Courtesy of Charles F. Printz

Dedicated To
The U.S. Secret Army
In The Kingdom Of Laos
1961 – 1973

In Memory Of the Hmong And Lao Combat
Veterans And Their American Advisors
Who Served Freedom’s Cause In
Southeast Asia.  Their Patriotic Valor
And Loyalty In The Defense Of Liberty And
Democracy Will Never Be Forgotten


May 15, 1997 

April 17, 2010

Vivé Vientiane – Once ruled by France, the capital of Laos remains bilingual because it wants to be



A capital with a conundrum at its heart, slow-paced Vientiane charms and baffles: Communist state, Buddhist nation, or both? If the mysterious East still exists, this is it.

Resting seems an activity for which Vientiane, 450 years old this year, is ideally suited. The mood at our hotel, The Settha Palace, is dreamily colonial, after a $3-million restoration by Billy Theodas, whose dad was general manager in the 1950s. Within these walls, it seems the French never left the Laos People’s Democratic Republic; the Vietnam War never spilled into its borders.

We walk on smooth teak floors, sleep in four-poster beds, loll by a garden-fringed pool, wander halls adorned with Lao art and artifacts. Once, a smiling servant class waited on the lucky few. Today, that would be us.

Built as a French villa in 1932, the palace hosted the Pathet Lao in the victorious year of 1975. Now, guests enjoy buffet breakfasts à la française. As for us, we spend a few hundred thousand Kip ($40) on new outfits at the morning market that resembles a mall.

Strolling Lan Xong, Vientiane’s Champs Elysees, we look left to the Presidential Palace and right to Patuxai, modelled on the Arc de Triomphe. Oddly, for a country that overthrew the French, Vientiane boasts bilingual (French-Lao) street signs, feathery croissants, baguettes — and this arch.

Our guide book claims it resembles the Paris original from afar, but in fact has Lao motifs. So we’re stunned to read this official description: “a monstrosity in concrete.” Who would write such a thing? A French critic, perhaps? True, there’s a lot of concrete — from the Americans, who donated it for a new airport runway.

Locals, especially the young, hang out at the adjacent gardens when the day ends. A girl poses on her spiffy two-wheeler; teens wearing the saffron robes of monks stroll and chat with friends dressed in T-shirts and jeans.

After flagging down a tuk-tuk, the East’s ubiquitous motorized rickshaw, we head to the country’s crown jewel: That Luang (Sacred Stupa) a 25-metre golden Buddhist tower, emblem of national pride. Dating from the Indic 3rd century, rebuilt by Hindu Khmers a thousand years later, That Luang glows above the cityscape. Invaders (Thais, Burmese, Chinese) have destroyed, but never obliterated it. This version was rebuilt by the French in the 1930s. In the car-free main square, kids kick a soccer ball; an ice cream vendor does brisk business; a woman prays before a statue of 17th-century ruler, King Setthathirat. The scene is bathed in golden light.

Climbing aboard our tuk-tuk, we head downtown. At JoMa, an air-conditioned coffeehouse that feels icy, we encounter hip Vientiane: backpackers and laptops. JoMa serves excellent mango shakes, refillable coffees, Michelin star-worthy muffins — and, unbelievably, Nanaimo bars.

Well caffeinated, we zip past massage parlours and Salons de The, down to the Mekong River; Thailand lies on the opposite bank. Travellers arrive for sunset, many having consumed more Lao Beer than necessary. Stall after stall tempts diners with grilled river fish and stir-fried vegetables.

Our best — our only — authentic Lao meal (no MSG) is the work of Settha Palace Chef Ralf Haupts. This Dusseldorf native radiates love for everything Lao. Over delicate banana leaf-wrapped river fish, salads light with pomelo, mint and watercress, homemade sausage (“no oil”) and steamed sticky rice, ebullient Ralf entertains the table with tales of finding the secrets of Lao cuisine from country-dwelling elders. Last New Year’s Eve he slyly added crickets to the hotel menu. “People loved them, a bit crunchy, they said, like nuts.”

For real fascination there’s the Laos National Museum (Revolutionary Museum). At first, this 1925 French Governor’s House seems dusty, underfunded; its treasures haphazardly assembled. A cache of gold and silver Buddhas (14th to 17th centuries) was discovered in 1996, then stolen. Recovered, secured behind bars, they’re barely visible, yet oddly powerful.

The best rooms depict the Revolutionary War. After the “Fascist Japanese” surrendered, the French were defeated. Photographs show French soldiers captured by Lao soldiers. Then the horrors in Vietnam spread here. “American aggressors” dropped more bombs in Laos than on Germany during WWII; unexploded bombs still plague the country.

Today, Vientiane is crowded with shiny new SUVs and shiny new hotels. Yet, at sunrise, hundreds of monks flood the streets; a devout populace waits to offer food and receive blessings.

Nancy Wigston is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

Just the facts

For more information:

Vientiane, Laos:

The Setta Palace:

That Luang (Sacred Stupa):


Laos National Museum:

April 17, 2010

Laos Church Leader Jailed Without Trial, Group Says

By BosNewsLife Asia Service

VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– An influential house church leader is jailed in Laos for
more than half a year and he may be killed as authorities fear the spread of Christianity in
the region where he has been working, an advocacy group said Friday, April 16.

U.S.-based International Christian Concern (ICC) said the 29 year-old leader, who was identified as Viengkham, is being held in Luang Namtha District Prison, in northern Laos, “without formal charges” brought against him.

He has been imprisoned since September 2009, but no trial is expected, ICC said. “We do fear for Viengkham’s life since he is seen as an influential leader among the Laen Taen people group, one the government fears, will convert to Christianity in large numbers,” ICC quoted an unnamed local Christian leader as saying.

Viengkham was reportedly detained while travelling with two young men from his village to the city of Luang Pabang, about 425 kilometers (265 miles) north of the capital Vientiane. “Police boarded the bus and  arrested all three, accusing Viengkham of human trafficking. The two young men were later allowed to return to their village, while Viengkham was taken to prison,” ICC explained.

Two weeks before his arrest police reportedly came to Viengkham’s house church meeting and recorded names of worshipers, but Viengkham was heard saying he was prepared to go to jail. “I want to be ready to suffer … If I run away all the others will fear and stop believing,” he reportedly said.


Viengkham — a father of three children ages 3, 8 and 10 — is a house church leader among the Lanten people, who are known for drug addiction and spiritualism, according to Christian investigators.

“The government employs intimidation tactics and violates their own justice system to shut down Christian growth,” said ICC’s Regional Manager, Logan Maurer. “Viengkha’s case is representative of a system that has led to many unheard victims and martyrs.”

Christians comprise just over three percent of the roughly six million strong population of Laos, a Communist-run nation where members of the Christian minority are viewed by officials as “unpatriotic agents of Western political ideology”, said Open Doors, an advocacy and aid group supporting “persecuted Christians”.

“From time to time believers are arrested, and many of them experience extreme physical and emotional pressure (torture) to renounce their (new) faith,” the well-informed group said. Since last year, “at least two Christians were killed; two Christians were in jail while at least another 21 were arrested and held without trial,” Open Doors added.

Open Doors placed Laos on place nine of its recent World Watch List of 50 nations with “severe persecution” and said there has been no improvement in religious liberty in the country since 2009. Christians, it added, have also “been physically harassed” while “a small number of churches were destroyed or damaged.”


There have been “few restrictions in legislation” and the government’s attitude “is very negative and restrictive towards Christians” Open Doors said, because authorities apparently fear Christianity as a threat to their power base.

“All believers are under strict surveillance because they are regarded as agents for the USA to bring political change in Laos towards ‘democracy’. The church cannot operate freely and its activities in society are limited.”

Additionally, Christians are also restricted in their roles in the family in especially villages where converts “who renounce evil spirit worship” come “under great societal pressure,” Open Doors explained.

The government of Laos, where Buddhism is the dominant religion, has denied involvement in human rights abuses against minorities.

Despite reports of persecuted, churches are growing in the Asian nation, especially among ethnic minorities, according to Christian rights investigators.

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