Local Hmong leaders celebrate new legislation honoring Hmong soldiers during Vietnam War


FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – It has been over a decade since Vang Pao passed away. The Hmong leader was once called the greatest hero of the Vietnam War by the CIA for his leadership during the war. And yet, the US military rejected a request to bury him with full military honors in a national cemetery at the time of his death.

Under new legislation now heading to President Biden’s office, Vietnam War veterans Hmong will get the military honor they’ve been waiting for.

“During the war, [the Special Guerrilla Unit] was not well known to the outside world, ”said Cher Vang, vice president of the veterans section of the special guerrilla unit (SGU) in Fresno.

Led by General Vang Pao, they were a group of secret Hmong soldiers during the Vietnam War who were trained and recruited by the CIA to support US forces. Pao later drove tens of thousands of his people into exile.

Since they set foot on American soil, none of them have received veteran benefits for their service. When Vang Pao died in Clovis in 2011, the military rejected a request to bury him in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Now, more than a decade later, the legislation of Valley Congressman Jim Costa aims to change the way these fallen soldiers are honored.

“It is estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 are still living,” said the representative of the 16th district.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 (NDAA) extends eligibility for interment in national cemeteries to all members of special guerrilla units who fought to support the United States during the Vietnam War .

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Costa.

The NDAA only applies to National Veterans Cemeteries, which means Arlington is not included.

However, local Hmong leaders are celebrating this milestone.

“[SGU Veterans] have a sense of pride, ”Vang said. “They feel that what they fought for in the war was not in vain.”

Vang estimates that there are a few hundred veterinarians living in the valley, including his older brothers. He said his late father was also with SGU.

“When they left home for the front lines, they didn’t know if they could come back.”

Vang adds that there is still not enough visibility on the role of Hmong soldiers in the Vietnam War, but said he was happy that the heroes in his community are receiving long-awaited recognition.

The legislation also includes provisions to tackle sexual assault in the service, authorizes salary increases for those who serve, takes measures to ensure diversity, among other changes.


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