Archive for May 14th, 2011

May 14, 2011

Vietnam vet honored after US burial snub


Captain D.L. Pappy Hicks (AFP, Paul J. Richards)

ARLINGTON, Virginia — A legendary Hmong general who led a CIA-backed “secret army” in the Vietnam war was honored at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, three months after US authorities refused his burial there.

In a move hailed by his family, the US Army sent an honor guard and wreath-bearer for the ceremony for General Vang Pao and other veterans at Arlington, the traditional resting place of US veterans.

“It is good that the US government, and the US Army sent an honor guard to participate in this ceremony,” his 59-year-old son Chong Vang told AFP after the 90-minute ceremony at the Lao Veterans of America monument in the cemetery.

The 81-year-old general died on January 6 in California, and was buried near Los Angeles on February 9 after efforts failed to persuade US authorities to allow his burial at Arlington.

US intelligence agents tapped Vang Pao when they sought a force in Laos to fight off North Vietnamese communists, who along with the United States had turned the neighboring country into a battleground.

Vang Pao became legendary for his organizational skills from his mountain post, guiding everything from US air strikes to medical supplies and managing a motley army of Hmong, lowland Lao and Thai mercenaries.

North Vietnam triumphed in 1975 by seizing Saigon, and communists afterward took over Laos. Vang Pao was sentenced to death in absentia and became the leader for some 250,000 Hmong who moved to the United States.

Chong Vang, son of Major General Vang Pao (AFP, Paul J. Richards)

But Vang Pao remained a controversial figure. In 2007, he was arrested in California on charges of plotting to overthrow a foreign government, although prosecutors dropped their charges in 2009.

Speaking after Friday’s ceremony, Vang Pao’s son said he still believed his father should be buried in Arlington, rather than in California where he died in January.

“He’s almost like the US army, but he’s not a US citizen, so that’s why… they didn’t allow my father to be buried in Arlington…. For myself I think he deserves to be buried in Arlington,” he added.

Colonel Wangyee Vang of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI) was to pay tribute to Vang Pao at the ceremony.

“During the Vietnam conflict, we fought side-by-side the United States in Southeast Asia against the advancement of the communists? expansion,” he was due to say, according to the text of his address.

“From the period of 1961 to 1975, we lost over 35,000 young brave men and women. And on January 6, 2011, we also lost our leader.”

He added that, 36 years after the end of the war, “those veterans and their families who we left behind, in the jungle of the Kingdom of Laos, still struggle for freedom in that part of the world.

“They are being chased and killed by the current government of Laos because of they were allies with the United States during the war. The United States must not forget the loyalty of their allies,” he added.

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May 14, 2011

Arlington ceremony honors Gen. Vang Pao

By Steve Magagnini
Published: Friday, May. 13, 2011 – 12:40 pm

MARK RALSTON / AFP/ Getty Images / General Vang Pao on the second day of his five day funeral in Fresno, Central California on February 5, 2011

Several hundred Hmong and Laotian Americans and their former CIA advisers – along with U.S. veterans and diplomats – went to Arlington National Cemetery Friday morning to honor Gen. Vang Pao.

Many Vietnam-era veterans sought to have Vang – who led the CIA-funded guerrilla army against the Lao and Vietnamese communists – buried at Arlington.

Vang, who died Jan. 6 at 81, was denied burial there because he wasn’t a citizen during the Vietnam War, though he became a U.S. citizen and settled in Orange County, said Philip Smith, executive director for the Center For Public Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C.

But at 10:30 a.m. Friday, the U.S. Army Honor Guard in dress uniforms, “The Old Guard of the 3rd Division,” presented arms and colors in honor of Vang and the Hmong and Lao veterans, Smith said. U.S. flags were raised and an Army bugler played “Taps” for the Hmong and Lao veterans who died during the war.

The ceremony took place at the Lao Veterans of America Monument and Atlas Cedar tree at Arlington a few hundred yards from the eternal flame at President John F. Kennedy’s grave. “We were very honored to have that location,” Smith said.

The U.S. Army, which had initially rejected the request to bury Gen. Vang at the cemetery, “not only approved the official ceremony but approved official support with an honor guard, bugler and wreath bearer with white lilies and carnations honoring the death of the general and others who served with him,” Smith said.

The ceremony “was very solemn, very sacred and showed the general the level of respect he should have been afforded earlier,” Smith said. More than 400 Hmong – including several dozen from Sacramento, Fresno and Redding – were in attendance, along with the U.S. Special Forces Association and Counterparts Veterans Association, the clandestine advisers to the Hmong and Iu Mien jungle forces under Vang.

Vang Pao and his secret army are credited with saving the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers, and the Vietnam War would have gone on much longer without their bravery and combat skills fighting off North Vietnamese divisions so they could not advance south down the Ho Chi Minh trail to kill Americans, said historian Jane Hamilton-Merritt.

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