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 reporters after the 90-minute ceremony at the Lao Veterans of America monument in the cemetery.
The 81-year-old general died on Jan. 6 in California and was buried near Los Angeles on Feb. 9 after efforts failed to persuade US authorities to allow his burial at Arlington.
US intelligence agents had tapped Vang Pao when they sought a force in Laos to fight off North Vietnamese communists, who along with the US 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 US.
However, 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 said.
Colonel Wangyee Vang of the Lao Veterans of America Institute was to pay tribute to Vang Pao at the ceremony.
“During the Vietnam conflict, we fought side-by-side [with] 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 Jan, 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 ... they were allies with the United States during the war. The United States must not forget the loyalty of their allies,” he said.