Globalization and Mlitary Honor: The Dedication of a Statue of the Hmong General Vang Pao in California

I stopped by the dedication of the new statue of the Hmong General Vang Pao at the Chico City Hall near my university on Saturday. General Vang Pao led the Hmong forces which were allied with the United States during the “Secret War” that the CIA conducted in the country of Laos between about 1960 and 1975. Several hundred thousand Lao Hmong were brought to the United States between 1975 and about 1995 in acknowledgment of their status of as American allies during the Secret War.” During this war, the Hmong army, which was formally allied with the Royal Lao Government, sustained extraordinarily high death rates in battle, and established itself as a respected fighting force. (Note: The war is called “secret” because the presence of US forces in Laos was a secret from the American people—the war of course was hardly “secret” to the people in Laos itself).

General Vang Pao died in the United States in 2011, and the Hmong people of the United States, many of whom live in California’s Central Valley between Chico and Fresno, have sought ways to highlight how important he was for the Hmong people in the United States. A statue of General Vang Pao was first erected in Chico in 2012, but last year it was vandalized. The memorial committee has erected the new statue which was dedicated today. The new statue of General Vang Pao in Chico stands in front of the American flag—his role as a supporter of the United States is valued very highly in the Hmong community. The ceremony was conducted in three languages off and on, Hmong, English, and Lao. There was a five man honor guard of US Army veterans from the local Veterans of Foreign War chapter, and a second honor guard of the now-aging veterans of General Vang Pao’s army. A Hmong shaman also performed a dedication ceremony.

Their commanders led them through military commands in Lao. Different clans brought wreaths to the ceremony—with a special one brought by General Vang Pao’s family from Fresno. There were also the local elected officials there to participate and speak—the mayor of Chico, a local county supervisor, and a state Senator.

The occasion was of course solemn, and I was again reminded of how powerfully military units are tied to each other, particularly those who have fought so desperately, and lost so many comrades. The veterans I saw today all stopped fighting in the late 1970s. In the 35 or 40 years since then, they have passed through much, including refugee camps in Thailand, resettlement in the United States, establishment of families, and so forth. But in the end the military unit still pulls them together after all these years.

Watching the Hmong and American veterans today, I again was reminded of how tightly war ties comrades to each other, and how long the ties persist.

September 12, 2015