Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

Remembering our secret veterans

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May 30, 2011

This Memorial Day weekend we recognize the service of our veterans in America. I was adopted from Laos by a family of military men and women, and have a deep appreciation for this day. I was raised with family stories about the Army, Navy and Air Force and many of my friends were Marines.

Growing up, I learned from my parents about the secret war in Laos that took place while America was involved in Vietnam. The full details weren’t spoken of much except in brief snippets and hints and the occasional newspaper article.

In the 1990s that began to change when more Americans who’d covertly participated in the conflict broke silence. I also found many veterans of the Royal Lao Army in my travels who nearly died for helping the US.  It saddens me how many of those stories are lost every year.

Of the 400,000 Laotians resettled in the US, many were American allies even when the US was not officially supposed to be in Laos.  Because of their efforts, countless American lives were saved because so many of the enemy never made it past Laos.

They played a pivotal role working alongside men such as the pilots of Air America and the Ravens Forward Air Controllers to slow down the flow of men, weapons and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam into South Vietnam.

In this war, a Hmong pilot named Lee Lue made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for most combat missions flown. He used a modified T-28 airplane normally meant for training, not actual combat. A former school teacher, he was going to be part of a new generation of educators before the war cut his life short.

The politics and legality were incredibly convoluted but the final result is that Laos became the most heavily bombed nation of the 20th century. More US bombs fell on Laos than all of Europe during World War 2.  Thousands were lost and displaced by this conflict. But this is not a chapter that’s included in most history books. America is built on many forgotten stories like this, but we must expect better of ourselves.

This was an issue that became acutely clear with the murder of Thung Phetakhoune in July, 2001 in New Hampshire. A ranting drunkard named Richard Labbe pushed Phetakhoune, a frail, 62-year old, 120-pound veteran of the Royal Lao Army onto the concrete, cracking his skull open. When asked why he did it, Labbe told the police, “Call it payback. If you’re not going to do anything about these Asians in my country, then I will!”  This was not considered a hate crime.

Would it have made a difference if Labbe had known who Phetakhoune was? Perhaps not, but history is filled with questions like this.

There are at least five major communities from Laos in the US today, from the Lao, Hmong, Khmu, Tai Dam and Mien and others whose histories are permanently intertwined with the American legacy.

While May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I’ve found it often a bittersweet month to celebrate because some Asian American activists I knew don’t feel non-citizens should be included in the lists of who helped build America.

“This is a month to celebrate Americans,” I was informed a few years back when I put forward the names of several Lao and Hmong veterans to be considered for a list of influential Asian Americans. That rankled as I look at the veterans from my homeland who gave so much to protect both Americans and Laos.

Several accounts suggest that Laos often sacrificed as many as 10 lives for every 1 American airman rescued from behind enemy lines. President Obama recently gave a posthumous Medal of Honor to a veteran who died in 1968 trying to rescue trapped undercover Americans operating a secret radar station installed on Mount Phou Pha Thi in Laos. But there are no medals or recognition for the Laotian veterans who died to defend that same installation or other Americans throughout the war.

Although they fought American enemies using American weapons and air support with American paramilitary advisors,  operating from American-designed airbases to support secret American policies, Laotian veterans aren’t eligible for burial in Arlington Cemetery or veterans benefits allowing them employment, housing or education opportunities here in the US. Formally, this is within the letter of the law, but surely not the spirit of what makes America great.

The late Minnesota congressman Representative Bruce Vento once told me in a 1998 interview that there were many paths to citizenship, to becoming American. “Some are born into it. Some pass a test. And others earn it through service.”  Those words stuck with me.

I celebrate Memorial Day, but I also know there is so much more we can do for those who fought in Americas secret wars as well, even starting with something as simple as listening to their stories.

Thaoworra's picture

Bryan Thao Worra

Bryan Thao Worra is a Lao American writer and NEA Fellow in Literature based in North Minneapolis.

May 31, 2011

Ha Noi builds school of politics for Laos




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VIENTIANE — Ha Noi presented a School of Politics and Public Administration to the Lao province of Luang Prabang on Saturday.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Khampheng Saysompheng, Governor and Secretary of the Party Committee of Luang Prabang, and Ha Noi People’s Committee vice chairman Nguyen Van Khoi described the project as a symbol of the special friendship between the two countries and the co-operation between the two localities.
The school includes a three-storey office building, a dormitory, and other facilities. It was constructed with a budget of US$2 million in non-refundable aid from Ha Noi. — VNS

May 30, 2011

“Soldier’s Memorial Day,”





Soldier’s Memorial Day,”
Words by Mary B. C. Slade and music by W. O. Perkins, 1870.
Historic American Sheet Music,1850-1920

John Logan
Maj. Gen. John A. Logan,
Brady National Photographic Art Gallery, between 1860 and 1865.
Selected Civil War Photographs

In 1868, Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order Number 11 designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

The first national celebration of the holiday took place May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were buried. Originally known as Decoration Day, at the turn of the century it was designated as Memorial Day. In many American towns, the day is celebrated with a parade.

Southern women decorated the graves of soldiers even before the Civil War’s end. Records show that by 1865, Mississippi, Virginia, and South Carolina all had precedents for Memorial Day. Songs in the Duke University collection Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 include hymns published in the South such as these two from 1867: “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping,” dedicated to “The Ladies of the South Who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead ” and “Memorial Flowers,” dedicated “To the Memory of Our Dead Heroes.”

Decoration Day parade
Decoration Day Parade (detail), Brownsville, Texas,
Robert Runyon, photographer, 1916.
The South Texas Border, 1900-1920

When a women’s memorial association in Columbus, Mississippi, decorated the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers on April 25, 1866, this act of generosity and reconciliation prompted an editorial piece, published by Horace Greeley‘s New York Tribune, and a poem by Francis Miles Finch, “The Blue and the Grey,” published in the Atlantic Monthly. The practice of strewing flowers on soldiers’ graves soon became popular throughout the reunited nation.

President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Waterloo, New York, as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day,” because it began a formal observance on May 5, 1866. However, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, also claims to have held the first observance, based on an observance dating back to October 1864. Indeed, many other towns also lay claim to being the first to hold an observance.

In 1971, federal law changed the observance of the holiday to the last Monday in May and extended the honor to all soldiers who died in American wars. A few states continue to celebrate Memorial Day on May 30.

Today, national observance of the holiday still takes place at Arlington National Cemetery with the placing of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the decoration of each grave with a small American flag. Protocol for flying the American flag on Memorial Day includes raising it quickly to the top of the pole at sunrise, immediately lowering it to half-staff until noon, and displaying it at full staff from noon until sunset. For other guidelines see the Flag Code.

Many veterans of the Vietnam War, and relatives and friends of those who fought in that conflict, make a pilgrimage over Memorial Day weekend to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., where they pay their respects to another generation of fallen soldiers.

Gerard St. George Walker's gravestone
Gravestone of Gerard St. George Walker, Lieutenant U.S.N.R.,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer, circa 1920-1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

Figures at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Sailor and Girl at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia,
John Collier, photographer, May 1943.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945

When flow’ry Summer is at hand,
And Spring has gemm’d the earth with bloom,
We hither bring, with loving hand,
Bright flow’rs to deck our soldier’s tomb.

Gentle birds above are sweetly singing
O’er the graves of heroes brave and true;
While the sweetest flow’rs we are bringing,
Wreath’d in garlands of red, white and blue.

With snowy hawthorn, clusters white,
Fair violets of heav’nly blue,
And early roses, fresh and bright,
We wreathe the red, and white, and blue.”Soldier’s Memorial Day,”
words by Mary B. C. Slade and music by W. O. Perkins, 1870.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920


Dedicated to:
The U.S. Secret Army In the Kingdom of Laos 1961 – 1973

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.

May 30, 2011

Opinion: Memorial Day 2011

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By Ross A. Muscato | Email the author | 11:30am

Let This Year Be The Year That The “Protected” Resolve To Do More For Veterans And Active Duty Men And Women.

Only yesterday I learned that it wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day – formerly called Decoration Day (as it is still in some quarters) – was officially declared a national holiday.

It is a sacred day.

Here is an excerpt, from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website, that provides background information on the origins of Memorial Day:

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country

Decoration Day became Memorial Day, a day of commemoration for those who throughout U.S. history gave their lives in defense of this nation.  It is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May.

Reflection, showing and feeling gratitude, and thinking about the preservation of the eternal human rights of freedom and liberty for which these blessed people gave their lives, is all good.  But I believe we can take the occasion of this Memorial Day to say thanks and honor the sacrifice of those who fell, were wounded – and anyone who wore the uniform of our armed forces – with a commitment to a more engaged and active form of thinking about and saying thanks.

Of course, those who actually served in our armed forces are the best and bravest and noblest of our populace  Our veterans and those presently serving are walking the walk and talking the talk – and I don’t presume to be worthy of offering any one of them a suggestion on service and sacrifice.

Yet there are those like myself – civilians and the protected who have never worn the uniform – who can do so much more than they are presently doing to help our military.  I do a tiny bit of volunteering in this area, but it is tiny, and I need to do more.

There are many wonderful people out there who give selflessly and with tremendous love and passion to improve the lives of our service men and women.

I want to follow their lead.   More and more of us should follow their lead.

If you are a writer, cannot you give your time to a returning vet looking for work through helping him or her write a cover letter, or a resume, or helping the vet to tell his or her story for a journal or article, or even a book?

How about you accountants?  Think you could donate tax preparation or tax advice services to a vet who needs help in this area?

For sure, there are many doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who donate considerable amount of time to our armed forces.  But how about you in the healthcare profession who aren’t donating time – could you find the time to give in this area, at least a little?

You haven’t participated in a “troops care package” event yet?   Well, now is the time.

Get yourself a pen pal – someone serving right now – and write to him or her, on snail mail or email, or both.

Attorneys?  Vets need help with contracts and other legal advice.

Contact the volunteer department of the VA Boston Healthcare System – which includes the Brockton VA Campus –to volunteer.  Here is a link to a web page that has info on volunteering with the VA Boston Healthcare System:

The Wounded Warrior Project is doing God’s work  – serving U.S. injured service men and women.  Here is a link to the Wounded Warrior Project website.

On the subject of God’s work  – Homes For Our Troops ( “builds specially adapted homes four our severely injured veterans” who served since September 11, 2001 – “at no cost to the veterans we serve.”  Homes Four Our Troops (HFOT), based next door in Taunton, and founded by local construction professional, John Gonsalves, has built more than 100 homes across the nation for veterans.

HFOT could use donations and volunteer help.

Fisher House Foundation ( – a national treasure – donates “‘comfort homes,’ built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times – during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury.”

This is just a sampling of suggestions of ways to help – and a listing highly reputable charity groups helping our veterans.

Limitless are the opportunities to give and support our veterans and active duty military personnel.

On this Memorial Day let us resolve to do give more for those who have given – some who have given all – to defend our liberties and preserve our republic.

God Bless America.

The true meaning of Memorial Day

It’s not just about parades, picnics and barbecues

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Updated: Monday, 30 May 2011, 10:39 AM EDT
Published : Friday, 27 May 2011, 5:07 PM EDT

(WPRI) – This Monday, many Americans will spend a day off from work or school going to parades, attending barbecues or taking advantage of Memorial Day sales. But, how many will actually stop to remember the true meaning of the holiday?

Ask any military family who has lost a family member to war or a person who has a loved one deployed overseas and they will likely tell you Memorial Day is not a celebration. It’s not a happy day. It was never intended as the unofficial start to summer or a big day for race fans. It’s a somber occasion meant to honor the men and women who have died in service of the country.

“Many people look at it as a time to relax, have a hamburger and enjoy a parade,” said retired Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, Rhode Island National Guard . “We’ve basically forgotten the main reason for Memorial Day; and that’s to really remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”

The holiday, originally called Decoration Day, started in the Civil War era; when the graves of those killed in action were adorned with wreaths. In 1971, Congress declared it a national holiday to be observed the last Monday in May. Since then, many veterans groups have lobbied for a return to the traditional observance of May 30, saying the creation of the national holiday further eroded the day’s meaning.

“Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day,” the VFW said in a 2002 Memorial Day address.

In order to remind Americans about the true meaning of Memorial Day, President Bill Clinton in 2000 issued the National Moment of Remembrance resolution. It asked all Americans to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.'”

So, while it’s okay to enjoy a day off from work or school to go to a parade, attend a barbecue, or take advantage of those sales; why not take a quiet moment to remember those who sacrificed it all for all of us. It’s the least we can do.

May 29, 2011

Dams over troubled waters

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Last update 28/05/2011 06:16:04 PM (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Much has been said about the impacts of dams on freshwater fish stocks in the Mekong River. However, the effects on marine fishery output also deserve thorough consideration.

The Mekong River.

The Mekong Delta boasts Vietnam’s biggest marine fishery output although its coastline is only some 736km long, less than a quarter of Vietnam’s.

Figures from the General Statistics Office show that marine fishery output in the Mekong Delta hit 606,500 tons in 2009, almost equal to that of Vietnam’s southeastern region, central and northern central regions and the Red River Delta combined, and nearly eight times that of the Red River Delta (77,900 tons). The Mekong Delta had 25,000 fishing boats in 2008, including 6,000 off-shore vessels, and saw its fishery export jump from US$1.2 billion in 2003 to US$4.2 billion in 2009. In fact, its export destinations number more than 130 countries at present.

The fishing industry also fuels the growth of some other sectors such as processing, transport, commerce and material supply. It is thus no surprise why Kien Giang’s fishing ports are the biggest in Vietnam. The south’s abundant seafood output is ascribable mainly to nutrients supplied by the Mekong River.

The plume

The Mekong River basin extends far beyond its estuary to include a plume, whose seafood output depends on nutrients from the river. On average, the Mekong River discharges some 475 billion cubic meters of water per annum into the sea. The volumes discharged peak in October and hit their trough in May.

Together with climate change, pollution, overfishing and the decline of mangrove forests, hydropower dams have posed a threat to the Mekong Delta’s fishery output. The strategic environmental assessment (SEA) report compiled by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) contends that the primary biological productivity of nearby coastal areas will fall due to a nutrient supply crunch. Consequently, the fishing industry and supporting sectors will suffer.

The report states that the delta’s marine fishery hinges on approximately 16,000 tons of attached nutrients deposited by the Mekong plume in the shallow, near-coastal shelf of the region. The issue is to what extent marine fish stocks will be affected by current and upcoming hydropower dams.

Experience from the world

The detrimental effects of dams on marine fishery have been evident in many countries for a long time. A report by A.A. ALEEM published in Marine Biology and presented at a conference in September 1970 in Tokyo indicated that the construction of Aswan dam in Egypt and disruptions in the flow of the Nile River into the Mediterranean River since 1965 (35 billion cubic meters per annum) were deleterious to coastal areas in the region. Brackish-water fish stocks also dropped.

The nutrient content slid sharply, plankton virtually vanished and sardine catches plunged from 15,000 tons in 1964 to 4,600 tons in 1965 and 554 tons in 1966. As nutrients, organic substances and silt deposits shrank, biodiversity was adversely affected. Coastal erosion also accelerated, inflicting damage on reservoirs and leading to an urgent need for remedies.

Meanwhile, statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that Australia’s freshwater and marine fishery outputs in 2005-2007 reached about 140,000 tons per annum on average. According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the country’s marine fishery output dipped below 250,000 tons in 1997-2004.

These figures trail far behind the Mekong Delta’s although Australia has a coastline of 35,000km (only the continent is considered), nearly 50 times as long as that of the delta. In fact, Australia’s marine fishery output is approximately the same as Kien Giang Province’s (239,000 tons in 2000). This is ascribable to Australia’s vast deserts and low rainfall, which cause limited surface runoff and nutrients. As a result, Australian waters are not conducive to marine life.

Once hydropower dams along the Mekong River have all been inaugurated, the Mekong Delta risks facing the same problem, triggering a domino effect that leaves many sectors in tatters. Farmers, in particular, will be hit the hardest.

Research is vital

A growing consensus among scientists is that the dams are among factors that will reduce nutrient supply and fish catches in the Mekong River. The SEA report also forecasts that silt and nutrient supply to nearby coastal areas will fall by some 50-75% by 2030 and exert pernicious impacts on marine fishery output, as well as Vietnam’s fishing industry and related sectors, which have clocked up blistering growth over the past decade.

The report admits that scientists have only a tenuous grasp of the Mekong River’s marine fishery potential even though its seafood catches have surpassed 500,000 tons per annum. It is added that when the impacts have been clearer, estimated losses are likely to be enormous.

Unlike in the case of other important rivers such as the Amazon, the Yangtze or the Mississippi, the plume of the Mekong River has not been the subject of extensive and intensive research. Socio-economic and environmental impacts on the Mekong Delta remain murky, making it hard to assess the transnational effects of hydropower dams on the Mekong River.

It is clear, however, that the Mekong Delta is prone to a growing array of disasters with grave environmental, economic and social implications. The damage that hydropower dams inflict upon the Mekong River’s marine fishery output and productivity will probably be irreparable and permanent. Research on the magnitude of such damage is therefore crucial, as is that on natural processes in coastal areas and at estuaries. This task entails efforts, time and money, and must be implemented as soon as possible.

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