Proposed memorial in Elgin to mark Lao military veterans’ place in history

 

Proposed memorial in Elgin to mark Lao military veterans’ place in history

 

By Melanie Kalmar For Sun-Times Media May 19, 2014 1:10PM

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Members of the Lao-American Veterans Organization, who fought alongside the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, hope a memorial marking their place in history reminds future generations to live peacefully. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Forgotten heroes will be remembered on July 19 when, for the first time, Lao-American Veterans Day will be observed in Illinois.

On that day, thousands of soldiers and airmen from Laos, a country bordering Vietnam, will be remembered for fighting alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to stop the spread of communism.

The date itself is significant because, on July 19, 1949, the Lao government received its independence from France and formed its own army.

The Lao soldiers, secretly recruited and trained by U.S. armed forces, rescued downed pilots, protected U.S. outposts and engaged in guerrilla warfare. In the fight for freedom, they were injured, tortured and killed. For some, their alliance with the United States resulted in them becoming prisoners of war, starved and forced into hard labor.

When the allied forces left Vietnam, the Lao soldiers, after 15 years of aiding the U.S. military, escaped with their families to refugee camps in Thailand.

“We were given rotten fish, chicken bones,” said Lao veteran Em Ramangkoun. “There were thousands of people and not enough food.”

The lucky ones gained entrance into America through sponsors from not-for-profit organizations.

Once here, they formed the Lao-American Veterans Organization to help one another become acclimated to their new homeland. They learned English at the YMCA and took job skills training courses at nearby community colleges.

To make the first Lao-American Veterans Day even more meaningful, the organization is raising money for a memorial garden and plaque to be placed in Elgin’s Veterans Memorial Park, behind Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove Ave.

“We want to make sure the next generation to come knows why we are here,” said Souvanthong Thanadabouth, wife of Lao veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth. “We stood by the U.S. Army to fight communists. We want people to remember that.”

Thanadabouth took a breath, to prevent her words from coming out as sobs, before recounting her young family’s daring escape from Laos across the Mekong River into Thailand.

“We lost everything in Laos,” she said. “When we came to the U.S., my kids only had two pairs of clothes each.” She gave birth to her fifth child, a daughter, in America. Adults now, they all earned college degrees.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people who come to this country, it’s the same story, more or less,” said one Lao-American veteran who chose to remain anonymous.

“The lesson future generations can learn from it is, they shouldn’t be fighting,” he said. “There should be no war. Live peacefully, and everybody will be happy, no matter where you live.”

The proposed memorial would be inscribed with the logo of the Royal Lao Army between the U.S. and Lao Flags, and the words, “In Memory of the Lao Veterans who fought side by side with the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War 1961-1975.”

With $4,000 more needed to make the memorial a reality, the organization is reaching out to the community for contributions. To donate, people can make checks payable to the Elgin Community Network, P.O. Box 6520, Elgin, IL 60121, or give online at elginveteransmemorial.org.

Members of the Lao-American Veterans Organization, who fought alongside the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, hope a memorial marking their place in history reminds future generations to live peacefully. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Members Lao-American Veterans Organizatiwho fought alongside U.S. Military during Vietnam War hope memorial marking their place history reminds future generationsMembers Lao-American Veterans Organizatiwho fought alongside U.S. Military during Vietnam War hope memorial marking their place history reminds future generations

Souvanthong Thanadabouth her husbLao-American Veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth stbefore proposed site Lao-American Veterans Memorial. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Souvanthong Thanadabouth and her husband, Lao-American Veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth, stand before the proposed site of the Lao-American Veterans Memorial. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

 

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