Posts tagged ‘Vang Pao’

February 5, 2011

Laos Hmong leader Vang Pao denied Arlington burial


4 February 2011 Last updated at 21:13 ET

The US Army has rejected a request for ethnic Hmong leader Vang Pao to be buried with full military honours in Arlington National Cemetery.

Gen Pao led a 15-year CIA-sponsored secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War and, when it was lost, led tens of thousands of his people into exile.

He died last month. The army’s decision came as mourners attended the first day of a six-day funeral in California.

Thousands of Hmong and military veterans have attended the funeral

Gen Pao’s friends said they would appeal to the White House.

“Obviously to everyone who is here today to honour Gen Vang Pao, this is very disappointing,” said Congressman Jim Costa, who led a group of lawmakers to lobby for the general to be buried alongside US soldiers in Arlington.

“He is not just a hero to the Hmong people. He is a hero to those American men and women who served with him in Vietnam.”

A spokesman for the Pentagon, Gary Tallman, said the request had been thoroughly reviewed but that the board had unanimously decided he did not meet the criteria for burial in the cemetery.

‘Hmong father’

Military veteran Charlie Waters, a friend of Gen Pao’s, said he had been given “a lame excuse that it would take the place away from an American serviceman”.

Continue reading the main story

The Hmong

Hmong mourners at the funeral of Vang Pao in Fresno, CA (4 Feb 2011)
  • Ethnic group that complains of marginalisation and persecution in Lao society
  • Backed the US in 1960s as conflict spread from Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia
  • Many fled abroad in 1975 when the communists took power in Laos
  • Big Hmong communities in California, Minnesota, Thailand and Australia

“So we’re appealing to the White House,” Mr Waters told AFP news agency, adding that he had offered to give up his own plot.

It was not immediately clear where Gen Pao would now be interred.

Vang Pao died at the age of 81 in January in Fresno, California, a centre of the Hmong community in the US.

Tens of thousands of military and Hmong mourners have gathered in the city for his traditional funeral.

“We would not be here in this country without him,” said Shoua Vang, 52, who had travelled from Illinois.

Vang Pao commanded thousands of guerillas in an American-backed force during the 1960s and 70s.

As a young man, he had fought against the Japanese during World War II, and with the French against the North Vietnamese in the 1950s.

But he was a controversial figure, deeply loved by many Hmong – an ethnic minority in Lao that complains of persecution – for his insistence on freedom from foreign domination.

Critics say that by allying himself with the US, Gen Pao caused his people untold suffering – something that he himself recognised.

In his later years, he was accused of supporting a new rebellion in Laos.

Former Central Intelligence Agency chief William Colby once called Gen Pao “the biggest hero of the Vietnam War”.

More on This Story

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February 5, 2011

Rites for Gen. Vang Pao a crossroads of Hmong tradition and modern U.S. – US denies Vang Pao burial at Arlington cemetery


Hmong who immigrated to the Central Valley give leader a somber funeral that recalls his days heading forces that gave clandestine aid to the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

By Diana Marcum, Los Angeles TimesFebruary 5, 2011

Reporting from Fresno —They promised a funeral fit for a king.

There were to be dignitaries; a long red carpet; thousands of pigs, cows, chickens and ducks to be sacrificed for feasting.

It had to be a funeral that crossed cultures and time, peace and war. For this was both goodbye to one man and to the founding era of a people.

So thousands of mourners — including the exiled prince of Laos, widows of Hmong soldiers who died in a “secret” war and families who battled an East Coast blizzard to make it in time — lined the streets Friday for a procession marking the start of an elaborate six-day funeral for Gen. Vang Pao, leader of the Hmong people and a key ally of the United States during the Vietnam War

Women in traditional Hmong clothing stood shoulder to shoulder for three blocks, forming a wall of black that was accented with bright pink, green, blue and orange — their different sashes and exotic headpieces symbolizing different provinces in Laos.

Men wore suits with crisp, white shirts —- the color of peace. Inside the convention center were hundreds of wreaths of white carnations, burning white candles, and white bunting.

“I look at all this — the different colors and costumes and ages and all the people and I think ‘It is all Hmong.’ Gen. Vang Pao made us one people,” said Victor Xiong, 15, of Fresno.

Vang Pao was the first in 500 years to unite about 18 different Hmong clans. He led the Hmong, a remote, rural ethnic minority who lived in the mountains of Laos, into war, siding with the Americans against the communists in a secret front of the Vietnam War. When the United States lost the war, the Hmong were left hunted and on the run.

Many of those who survived and escaped came to the United States as refugees, and about 30,000 live in California’s Central Valley. Vang Pao was a father figure to the community as it grappled with moving from an ancient, agrarian lifestyle, without a written language, to modern American life.

Such great sweeps of history played out in personal conversations at Vang Pao’s funeral.

Retired Air Force Brigadier Gen. Art Cornelius, once one of the pilots who flew secret missions into Laos during the Vietnam era, talked with Peter C. Vang.

“He has five children. They all went to college,” Cornelius said. “He was gravely wounded in Laos. I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it. He is very important to me.”

Cornelius laughed when asked what made him so close to Vang, now a Portland, Ore., city worker.

“Fly 100 missions with a guy with gunshots everywhere. You get to like him,” Cornelius said.

Hundreds of members of the Special Guerrilla Unit, the CIA-backed Hmong army, wearing camouflage uniforms, were seated at the front section and followed the casket in the procession outside the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center. The widows of Hmong soldiers stood together along the route.

“The general led us into war and into this American world. We worry that the American people will not love us without the general here with us,” said Neng Vue, 65, whose husband, Chong Nyia Vang, was a soldier killed during the war. “He was our leader and our father.”

While the funeral was in progress, it was announced that a request to bury Vang Pao in Arlington National Cemetery had been denied because Vang Pao and the soldiers who fought under him to help the U.S. did not directly serve in the American military.

For the Hmong, the days since Vang Pao died Dec. 6 in Clovis, Calif., at the age of 81 have been a mix of ancient traditions and the modern world.

A cameraman filming for an Internet broadcast of the funeral wore a red arm band to ward off evil spirits. Elderly Hmong women arranged a spokeswoman’s sash so it would be full in back, like a “proper Hmong woman,” while her sister told her she needed more lip gloss.

In much of Fresno County there’s nary a cow, chicken, duck or pig left unsold. Animal sacrifices, and big barbecues feeding friends and family during funerals, are part of the Hmong’s tradition. But there will be no animal sacrifice during the funeral because it’s at the convention center.

There will be songs and poetry, and Hmong flute and funeral drums, which are believed to communicate with the spirit world.

A key part of a Hmong funeral is qhuab ke, or “showing the way.” A guide takes the spirit of the deceased back through each place and time it has lived, giving thanks and honor to each, before sending it on its own into the future.

As the body of Vang Pao arrived, the conversations between friends, some of whom had not seen one another in 30 years, quieted. Old Hmong soldiers in uniform, young Hmong beauty queens in tiaras, families holding hands, all filled the street and followed the horse-drawn carriage carrying Vang Pao’s casket.

They had come to give thanks and honor before going forward alone.

Marcum is a special correspondentCopyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Hmong general denied Arlington burial

Decision announced at start of six-day funeral service



Hmong war veterans and community members form an honor guard beside the casket containing Hmong Gen. Vang Pao in Fresno, Calif., on Friday.

FRESNO, Calif. — Thousands of sobbing mourners in military uniform and traditional Hmong dress paid their final respects Friday to the late Gen. Vang Pao, a U.S. ally in the Vietnam War whose proposed burial at Arlington National Cemetery was denied by the Army.

A stately procession marked the opening of an elaborate, six-day funeral service in Fresno, a city with a large Hmong population.

Vang Pao’s extended family — including his 25 surviving children — a member of the Royal Lao family in exile, and the former CIA officials who recruited him to lead a covert guerrilla army during the Vietnam War followed his flag-draped casket through packed city streets.

Once the casket was lowered, a rifle team fired volleys into the air, a color guard presented Laotian, American and California flags, and bagpipes sounded as a flight team flew over the mourners who clutched cameras, tissues and sticks of incense.

The grandeur of the ceremony, however, was dampened by news that the Army had denied the Arlington burial request.

California Democratic Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza had submitted the request on behalf of Vang Pao’s family shortly after his Jan. 6 death, saying the general had earned the honor of being buried alongside American soldiers.

A board comprised of senior military and civilian officials reviewed the request and unanimously recommended that officials decline the burial waiver, Army spokesman Gary Tallman said.

Army Secretary John McHugh carefully reviewed the matter and accepted the board recommendation, said Tallman, who declined to discuss the reason for the decision.

“Obviously to everyone who is here today to honor Gen. Vang Pao, this is very disappointing,” said Costa, adding that he planned to seek a review of the decision-making process with McHugh. “He is not just a hero to the Hmong people. He is a hero to those American men and women who served with him in Vietnam.”

Family members could not immediately be reached for comment on the Army decision.

It was not immediately clear where the remains would go following the funeral, given the Army decision. Family members had discussed a possible burial in a Santa Ana cemetery near one of the general’s homes.

Vang Pao, who commanded CIA-funded guerrillas in the jungles of Laos, is revered as a leader and father figure by the Hmong and Lao people he helped to resettle across the globe after Saigon fell. He died at age 81 near Fresno after battling pneumonia.

“There will not be anyone like Father anymore because he was truly a godsend,” said Chai Vang, one of the general’s 32 children. “All we can do is unite the community and form partnerships around the world to carry out the work he began.”

Fresno, a city of about half a million people in the state’s agricultural heartland, has pulled out all the stops for the ceremony. Businesses are gearing up to supply travelers with food and help them take part in the historic gathering of the clans.

Hmong spiritual guides and funeral specialists burned incense, chanted songs, and played bamboo wind instruments to lead Vang Pao’s soul back to his childhood home in Longhay, Laos, where his spirit can don the placental jacket to be worn on its journey toward reincarnation.

On Saturday morning, his family will present chicken, rice, drinks and paper money for the general’s voyage into the afterlife. His relatives will then cook and serve food to funeral guests, making hot meals of the animals sacrificed in his honor in tents outside the convention center, where the ceremonies were being held.

Thong Chai, who manages a Hmong grocery store on Fresno’s gritty east side, said his family has donated a pig to the general’s family.

“The general is like a hero for us, and we’ve got to help his family because it’s hard to provide all this food for everyone who’s coming,” he said, looking over the pallets of coconut juice and white gourd beverage he was preparing.

Vang Pao’s death left many issues unresolved for those who fought alongside him in the Vietnam War then came to America because of his advocacy.

Shoua Vang was among those who traveled across the country to take in the Hmong and English-language speeches and ceremonies.

“We would not be here in this country without him,” said Shoua Vang, 52, of Rockford, Ill.. “He is the Hmong leader and the Hmong father. I don’t know who will lead our people in the future.”

Once Saigon fell, thousands of his soldiers languished in refugee camps in Thailand until they were granted refugee status in the U.S., including about 30,000 Laotians, Cambodians and Hmong who moved to Fresno.

In 2007, Vang Pao and 11 others were accused of plotting to violently overthrow the communist government of Laos, sparking a 3½ year legal battle. Vang Pao was dropped from the case in 2009, and federal prosecutors said suddenly last month they were dismissing all remaining charges in the interests of justice, only days after the general’s passing.

“When we were over there, our blood ran with theirs, and we became friends,” said Dean Murphy, a brigadier general with the Joint Service Honors Command, a volunteer group of military retirees and former service members that presided over the military funeral rites. “When the Hmong came here, our tears flowed with theirs and today, we mourn our friend together.”

Earlier this week, a phalanx of the general’s former recruits lined up in their fatigues to lay a wreath of yellow daisies before Vang Pao’s portrait, which lay against a solemn monument to Laotian veterans on the lawn of the county courthouse.

Most were well into their 60s, but the aging secret army still snapped to attention as their former commanders cried out in Hmong for them to salute in unison.

“We fought in the American war, and if we didn’t join that war there might be thousands more Americans dead,” said Col. Wangyee Vang, president of the nonprofit Lao Veterans of America.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Anger as Hmong general refused US honor burial


By Mark Ralston (AFP) – 2 hours ago

The casket containing Hmong war hero and community leader General Vang Pao

FRESNO, California — Thousands of ethnic Hmong paid their last respects Friday to Laotian general Vang Pao, who led a CIA-backed “secret army” in the Vietnam war, at the start of a six-day funeral service.

But the gathering was clouded with anger when it was announced that US authorities have refused a request for the 81-year-old Hmong veteran to be buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Military veterans who fought alongside him joined family and community mourners at the traditional funeral service in Fresno, California, where he died last month.

Shortly after the initial two-hour funeral ceremony, however, a confidant of Vang Pao said US authorities had told him they were refusing a burial at Arlington, where top US military brass are laid to rest.

Hmong war veterans form an honor guard

“They called a little while ago… and they told me the committee turned the general down,” said Charlie Waters, an American military veteran and confidant of Vang Pao told AFP, adding: “So we’re appealing to the White House.”

“They gave me this lame excuse that it would take it the place away from an American serviceman. That’s crap,” he said adding that he would offer to surrender his own place at Arlington.

Vang Pao led the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed force that assisted the United States in Vietnam, during its ill-fated war with communist forces in the north of southeast Asian nation.

He died of pneumonia on January 6 in the central California city of Fresno, one of the major hubs of the United States’ 250,000-strong Hmong community, some 30-40,000 of whom live in the western US state.

Draped in the Stars and Stripes flag, Vang Pao’s coffin was borne into Fresno’s convention center where tens of thousands of Hmong from the United States and abroad were expected to gather over the weekend.

Members of the Hmong community

Rows of black-clad mourners joined ranks of soldiers in uniforms and khakis, as well as bagpipers in kilts who had accompanied the casket into the hall, to the strains of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.

“Today our Laotian nation has lost… one of its outstanding sons,” said Khamphay Abbay, a former Royal Lao official and Laotian currently living in Australia, who was an advisor to Vang Pao during the war.

California US congressman Jim Costa has led a group of lawmakers in Washington lobbying for Vang Pao to be buried at Arlington, outside Washington DC.

William Dietzel, another US friend of the Hmong general, also paid tribute to Vang Pao’s support for the United States in one of its darkest hours.

“General Vang Pao will forever be remembered for his extraordinary service in the defense of freedom,” he told the ceremony.

Waters, who spoke during the two-hour ceremony, lashed the Arlington decision.

“How many times can these bureaucrats hurt these people?” he said, adding: “The timing sucks .. How dare they? These people are hurting. These jerks, they could have told us a long time ago.”

There was no immediate word from the Pentagon in Washington.

The central California city of Fresno is one of the major hubs of the United States’ 250,000-strong Hmong community, some 30-40,000 of whom live in the western US state.

Vang Pao, a fierce opponent of the communist government in Vientiane, was also a controversial figure.

In 2007, he was arrested in California on charges of plotting to overthrow a foreign government after an undercover agent tried to sell him weapons at a Thai restaurant.

Prosecutors dropped their charges in 2009. On Monday, a judge ended the case for the remaining 11 Hmong Americans accused in the case amid persistent questions over the government’s evidence.

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February 3, 2011

The Hmong and Others Mourn Vang Pao


Country of Laos trained an ethnic group of people called the Hmong to fight, the group launched into a series of military engagements against both North Vietnam during the Vietnam War and communist leader Pathet Lao’s military. Tasked with the duty to help guard the primary military supply route called the Ho Chi Minh Trail and fight against the Communists in their own country (later to be known as the “Secret War”), the Hmong people did what they could with the help of the CIA during this period in the Cold War.

Things took a turn for the worse for the Hmong people after U.S. forces abandoned the Vietnam War, leaving countless South Vietnamese and Hmongs behind. Once Pathet Lao took power in Laos, government reprisals against the Hmong and other ’anti-communists’ raged without check. Often those who escaped bullets ran into “re-education” camps and the horrors of slave labor. Those who were fortunate enough to escape went into hiding in the mountains of Laos or neighboring Thailand. Later, some found their way to the United States or went to other countries through controversial repatriation.

Throughout the years, one man became the symbol of resistance, justice and nobleness for the oppressed and scattered Hmong and that man’s name was Vang Pao, a Hmong himself.

Vang Pao had become cruelly introduced to war at the tender age of 15 when he fought against invading Japanese soldiers in World War II.

Then a Major General of the Royal Lao Army, Vang Pao led Hmong guerillas in countless military and rescue operations that undoubtedly saved hundreds of American and Vietnamese lives. Many who fought with Pao described him as a charismatic military leader who could turn the tides of battle simply by being present. Vang Pao was declared by many as a true war hero and even former CIA Chief William Colby called him the “biggest hero” of the Vietnam War.

Hmong fighters training to use grenades.

Vang Pao (left)

To most of the world, Vang Pao and the Secret War are unfortunately not well-known, buried by the bigger picture of the Cold War, other pressing current events and in recent years, certain governments.

However, Vang Pao is venerated by most Hmong communities as the people’s hero, a “father” or “grandfather”. Yet, tragically for the Hmong people, Vang Pao died of pneumonia on the 6th of January, 2011.

Although Vang Pao was surrounded by allegations of a conspiracy to overthrow the Laos government and other things near his end, countless Hmong upheld him as both an innocent and courageous man who fought for Hmong and the world.

Vang Pao inspired thousands of Hmong in different generations in the United States by closely working with people to help the Hmong adapt to the American life. He encouraged education in all communities and told the people to “never forget” their dreams and rights.

Vang Pao helped many Hmong communities including one of the largest Hmong populations in present-day Fresno, California by assisting them learn English and by lowering down crime rates in the younger Hmong population.

As a people and those who still remember Vang Pao mourn him, efforts are being made to bury Vang Pao in the Arlington National Cemetery. U.S. veterans who remember Vang Pao or at least have heard of him and his deeds are backing up Pao’s family’s wishes to have him laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery. As of this time it is unknown whether or not Vang Pao will be buried in the cemetery but mourning still continues as traditional Hmong funeral rites draw near this week. More than 1,000 are expected to attend his funeral lasting from February 4th to February 9th in Fresno.


January 24, 2011

Hmong community awaits U.S. decision on leader’s burial

As they seek a federal waiver allowing Gen. Vang Pao to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the issue brings up flashbacks of aiding the U.S.’s ‘secret war’ and a simmering sense of betrayal.

Hmong men pray during a nightly vigil for Gen. Vang Pao in Fresno. After commanding Hmong forces aiding in the U.S.'s 'secret war' in the jungles of Laos , Vang Pao became a revered leader of the expatriate community in California's Central Valley. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / January 24, 2011)


By Diana Marcum, Los Angeles TimesJanuary 24, 2011 

Reporting from Fresno —

The evening shadows have to fall just right. And the grave shouldn’t be on a slope.

In traditional Hmong culture, the burial site matters for eternity, to the living and the dead and the spirit world that connects them.

So the old Hmong men — once young soldiers in a CIA-backed “secret” war in the jungles of Laos — light candles for Gen. Vang Pao, their leader in that war, and hope that he will be allowed to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.They fought a war on behalf of the Americans and lost everything: their land, their way of life, their country and the lives of tens of thousands of their people. This is what is left to them: hoping for a grave site on hallowed American military ground.

The question of Vang Pao’s final resting place has become a reckoning of one of the most shadowy chapters of the Vietnam era and a coda to a strange legal case. Because Vang Pao did not directly serve in the U.S. military, it will take a waiver from the federal government for the man former CIA Director William Colby once called “the biggest hero of the Vietnam War” to be buried at Arlington — the same government that three and a half years ago arrested Vang Pao as a terrorist.

Several lawmakers, led by Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), have asked for the waiver to be granted. An answer is expected this week.

Until Vang Pao’s arrest, many former Hmong soldiers were invisible. In Fresno, home to one of the largest Hmong communities, they stayed within their own enclaves, depending on their children and grandchildren — and on the man they called General — to navigate the outside world for them.

In Laos, they were clan and village leaders of the Hmong, an ethnic minority who lived high up in cloud-shrouded mountains. They were Vang Pao’s loyal, ferocious soldiers who attacked the Ho Chi Minh trail, the main artery between North and South Vietnam. They directed American planes where to bomb and rescued pilots downed in Laos.

“But in America, they feel like nothing. They are poor refugees” said Paula Vang, a spokeswoman for a Hmong veterans group. “Still, they are the General’s soldiers and they fought for America. This gives them identity.”

In 2007, Vang Pao and 11 others were accused of trying to buy $10 million worth of AK-47s and Stinger missiles from an undercover federal agent in an alleged plan to overthrow the communist government of Laos. Courtroom sketches showed a 78-year-old Vang Pao, obviously ill, his ankles shackled together.

Shock waves moved through the Hmong community. In the Cold War years, Vang Pao had openly called on the U.S. to liberate Laos but now he was an elder statesmen, speaking at New Year’s celebrations across the country, pleading with the U.N. to help Hmong still hiding and starving in Laotian jungles 35 years after the war. Had he really turned to plotting a violent coup?

Supporters gathered in Fresno and Sacramento. Old soldiers who had never cried in front of their families now wept openly. They rolled up their pant legs and pulled up their shirts to show bullet wounds and missing limbs. If the American government had arrested Vang Pao, did that mean their service to the country held no value?

Past and present collided. Many Hmong had flashbacks, dwelling on those they had seen die. America had betrayed the Hmong before, they said, when Saigon fell in 1975 and tens of thousands of Hmong rushed to Long Tien, the CIA headquarters in Laos, looking for American planes that never came to evacuate their allies. The Hmong were executed by communist troops, drowned crossing the Mekong River and killed by disease in squalid refugee camps.

Cha Vang, 61, a former soldier, found himself dwelling on the past and exploding over small things in the present. Before, he said, he was “never this kind of man.”

“Before 2008 I was happy. I think there is no country on Earth like the United States. I always listened to the General. He led me from war to the middle class,” said Cha Vang, who runs a janitorial business with his wife in Clovis. “After 2008 I have been confused and angry.”

Lately, he has been reliving the same day over and over in his mind. It was July 1971 and he was 20 years old, the guy on the radio telling American pilots where to bomb. He only spoke “Army English”: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie; Incoming. His orders were to rescue any downed American pilot, no matter how many Hmong casualties it took.

In the Plain of Jars region, Cha Vang called for planes to bomb enemy snipers. Two F-4 fighter planes came in. One was shot down. Cha Vang could see the pilot’s parachute and enemy troops rushing toward him. He led his men to the pilot.

“It was the hardest, most dangerous 10 minutes of my life. So many bullets flying around you every minute, but we got the pilot out and to a helicopter. No one died. Sometimes 10 or 20 Hmong would die to save a pilot.”

Cha Vang wants to find that one pilot from that one day. He said he needs to know that something from the war still matters.

In 2009, prosecutors dropped charges against Vang Pao. On Jan. 10, four days after Vang Pao’s death, they dropped charges against the others.

Critics complain that the case dubbed Tarnished Eagle was a bizarre sting operation. It included a federal agent posing as a gun dealer, pushing for a plan to overthrow Laos — a plan provided by an unemployed Fresno screenwriter that featured mercenaries overtaking Vientiane, the capitol of Laos. No money or guns ever changed hands.

U.S Atty. Ben Wagner released a statement defending the handling of the case.

“While some defense attorneys have raised claims of misconduct, I believe the case was investigated and prosecuted properly and professionally.… The agents and attorneys who worked on this case have done so with honor and good faith,” Wagner wrote. His office declined further comment.

Seng Vue, 72, was facing life in prison if convicted. In his Fresno apartment, he rests his hands on a walker. He suffered two strokes during his month and a half in jail.

He said he spent the time in his cell rethinking his past and the Hmong decision to help the U.S. Maybe thousands of Hmong soldiers should never have died to save American pilots. Maybe America was never their friend, he said. He remembers a French priest in his village begging them not to take up arms.

But then, Seng Vue’s face darkens and his body quakes with sobs. The Hmong love America, the Hmong died for America, he said. Vang Pao is the leader of the Hmong. He should be buried in Arlington National Cemetery so the world can see that he is an American hero, he says.

“It is a small gesture if they do, but if they don’t, it is forever true they don’t care about the many Hmong who fought and died,” said Vue, almost spitting with scorn.

Sombat Vue, 34, an Iraq war veteran who is translating for his father, is shaken by his father’s outrage.

“The past is always there. But this anger is new,” he said. “When I was growing up it was always ‘Woo-hoo America.’ I hope if they do bury General Vang Pao at Arlington, it also buries some of my father’s hurt.”

Marcum is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

January 21, 2011

Vang Pao legacy is the future of Hmong in U.S., Laos and world


By Richard Kagan, Asian American Press
January 17, 2011

Richard C. Kagan, Ph.D.

General Vang Pao, commander of the Hmong resistance to the Laotian and Vietnamese Communists, community leader in exile in the United States, and charismatic leader, died in California at the age of 81.

Writing in the Minneapolis Tribune, Stephen B. Young, friend and associate of General Vang, gave a personal eulogy.  In addition to his emotional and loving reminiscences, Stephen declared but did not fully explain that Vang Pao was an historical hero:  “He was a warrior chieftain, a throwback to ancient societies. He had the special charisma of a great founder of a dynasty. He was a Sitting Bull, a Cochise.”

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Sadly, both Sitting Bull and Cochise were tragic figures:  they were heroic fighters against American settlers but eventually surrendered and were abused by the American government.

Sitting Bull(1831-1890)  had fled to Canada after the slaughter of General Custer and his men.  Upon his return, he made peace with Washington D.C., but was shot to death by the Indian Agency Police.  Cochise (1805-74) fought heroically yet unsuccessfully at Apache Pass.  His relatives were taken hostage by the Army, and subsequently executed.  He fled to Mexico and from there engaged in raids into New Mexico which resulted in the slaughter of thousands of settlers and Indians.  He, too, surrendered and lived on a reservation where he died-possibly of stomach cancer.

I would have chosen a comparison with Quanah Parker, a Comanche chief and warrior who engaged in guerrilla warfare resulting in great slaughter of Indians and settlers for many years and finally surrendered to his arch enemy General Mackenzie.  Surprisingly, the two became fast friends and the General gave support to the Comanche’s career.  Quanah went into the cattle business and became very wealthy.  He built a mansion and opened up his farm and residence to all guests – including poor and homeless Indians.  He became active in the community:  he was the Director of an Indian school, and later had a county named after him.

Vang Pao’s fate was created by the fact that the Laotian communist party would not tolerate Hmong autonomy in Laos.  The futile battles that raged in Laos resulted in “killing fields” of one third of the Hmong population and the flight of another third. The rest suffered under the oppressive policies of the regime.

On the other hand, the U.S. government was initially opportunistic in arming the Hmong against the communists.  This was not unlike their use of Indian tribes to fight each other.  At the end of the war, Washington D.C. was reluctant to recognize its obligations to and the rights of the refugees. It treated the Hmong like it had treated many native American tribes. Vang Pao did not have support from a man like Quanah’s Mackenzie.  Nor was he able to secure a broad constituency outside of the Hmong community.

Quanah was fortunate.  The Indian wars subsided.  The settlers could work in relative peace with the Indians.  For Vang Pao, the Cold War intensified the conflict. Loyalty to anti-communism became the political test for his support from both the U.S. government and his Hmong constituency.  Although he tried, as Young relates, to compromise with Laos and perhaps Vietnam, this was stymied by both the U.S. and China.  Near the end of his life, the U.S. government even brought charges against him for supporting the rebels in Laos.  The result was that Vang Pao was even further alienated from important support in the broader American community.

Vang Pao’s legacy will be fulfilled if there is a way for the Hmong in Laos and those abroad to live in peace and be able to attain a rich quality of life.  For the historian, his is another example of the treacherous politics of colonialism, whether communist or “western,” and the struggles for independence and survival in the modern world.  The love of his followers should not prevent or hinder them from looking both admiringly and critically at his life and times.

Richard C. Kagan, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus and former director of the East Asian Studies Program at Hamline University.


© 2011 Asian American Press


Appleton-based Hmong Wisconsin Radio, to broadcast funeral worldwide of Laotian Army Gen. Vang Pao

By Steve Wideman • Post-Crescent staff writer • January 19, 2011 

APPLETON — Hmong refugees scattered around the world can tune in to the funeral of revered Laotian Army Gen. Vang Pao thanks to the efforts of an Appleton communications entrepreneur. 

Kor Xiong, president of Appleton-based Hmong Wisconsin Radio, is helping to organize a memorial for Vang Pao, best known to the non-Hmong community as the leader of a secret war against communist forces in Laos during the Vietnam War. (Post-Crescent photo by Wm. Glasheen)

Kor Xiong, president of Appleton-based Hmong Wisconsin Radio, is playing a role in organizing national and local memorials to Vang Pao, best known to the non-Hmong community as the leader of a CIA-sponsored secret war against communist forces in Laos during the Vietnam War.

Vang Pao, 81, died Jan. 6 in Fresno, Calif., of complications from pneumonia. Hmong guerillas led by Vang Pao were credited with diverting the attention of significant numbers of communist troops away from U.S. forces during the war. 

Thousands of Hmong from across Wisconsin are expected to travel to Appleton over the course of nine days beginning Jan. 29 to mourn and honor the general, known not only for his military leadership, but also for his devotion to the education of Hmong children. Reverence for him is so strong that his name is still written and spoken in the traditional Hmong fashion — with last name before first name — instead of the English-language fashion of first name before surname that most Hmong in America have adopted.

“When Gen. Vang Pao was still in Laos it didn’t matter if it involved traveling to the bottom of the biggest hill or the top of the highest mountain. If a school needed a teacher he would find a helicopter if necessary to get a teacher to that school,” Xiong said.

Xiong is attempting to emulate Vang Pao’s desire to reach all Hmong by establishing the first Hmong satellite television station, currently known as Hmong Satellite TV, which will offer Hmong-oriented broadcast 24 hours a day.

The station was due to inaugurate service in mid-April, but Vang Pao’s death pushed the unveiling, at least temporarily, to Feb. 4.

Xiong will coordinate live, around-the-clock video coverage of Vang Pao’s memorial and funeral set for Feb. 9. An estimated 40,000 people are expected to view Vang Pao’s body in California.

People wishing to view the memorial and funeral in Wisconsin can watch via a satellite feed or on the Web at http://www.hmongsatellite

Additional information
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Photos: 2004: Appleton welcomes Gen. Vang Pao
Photos: Hmong leader Vang Pao dies

Xiong said Vang Pao’s spirit and vision for the Hmong “remain very much alive.” The memorial is expected to attract about 3,000 mourners to Richmond Hall, 2531 N. Richmond St., including Hmong military veterans from all corners of Wisconsin. 

As many as 700 Hmong veterans of the Vietnam War could travel to Appleton for the memorial service said Za Blong Vang of Appleton, chief councilor of the Hmong 18 Clan Council of Wisconsin and a local Hmong leader who fought alongside Vang Pao during the Vietnam War from 1961 through 1975.

“Gen. Vang was a good guy, a good man and a good leader of soldiers,” Blong Vang said.

Blong Vang said planning for the Jan. 29 military salute to Vang Pao is not complete.

“It will not only be groups, but we will have a memorial within Richmond Hall to allow individuals to honor the general,” Xiong said.

The Appleton memorial begins Jan. 29 with participation from Hmong military veterans and presentations by Hmong leaders.

“The first thing that will happen is Hmong veterans will salute the general,” Xiong said.

On Jan. 30, Hmong youth are encouraged to attend the memorial service.

From Jan. 31 through Feb. 4, Richmond Hall will be open each day to mourners from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m.

A community dinner is set for Feb. 5 at Richmond Hall.

“We expect many people to come to the dinner so they can have a last meal with the general,” Xiong said.

Steve Wideman: 920-993-1000, ext. 302, or

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