For the more than 66,000 Hmong living in Minnesota, May 14 is a day of remembrance, reflection, mourning and celebration.
On May 14, 1975, Laotian military base Long Tieng fell to the North Vietnamese, leaving the Hmong and Lao people, who had called that area their home, as refugees in their own land and subject to communist forces. The last of the officers and their families who helped American forces in the Vietnam War fled their land that day, airlifted to Thailand. The North Vietnamese killed some who remained.
The Minnesota Historical Society reports the Vietnam War took the lives of 30,000 to 40,000 Hmong men and boys – recruited by the CIA as allies to U.S. military in the South Vietnamese pursuit of democracy. They call it the “Secret War.”
But unlike the soldiers, sailors and pilots who came back from the war to their home country – some recognized as heroes, others painted as villains – the Hmong-Lao people who fought in the war weren’t familiar to America, even though they are credited for saving American lives. The government still doesn’t consider them official veterans.
Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls), a descendant of Hmong refugees, wants to etch their efforts into state history.
HF2206, as amended, would establish “Southeast Asian Allies Day” on May 14, honoring people like the Hmong and Lao who “served, suffered, sacrificed, or died” from 1961 to 1975 assisting U.S. armed forces. The House Veterans Affairs Division laid the bill over Friday. Its companion, SF1710, sponsored by Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action on the Senate Floor.
The division gave a standing ovation Friday to a group of these veterans.
“Many of these individuals were responsible for saving the lives of many American soldiers and pilots,” Lee said, adding later, “This designation will help Minnesotans recognize the contributions of our Southeast Asian allies, veterans, during the Secret War in Laos.”
Lt. Col. Tou-Fu Vang, who also goes by Ernie, served in the Special Guerilla Unit in Laos from 1969 to 1975. He said the May 14 recognition would “celebrate and remember their war colleagues – both the dead and the surviving.”
“Many perished in the jungle by communist abuses, ambushes, hunger and many would drown in the Mekong River trying to flee to Thailand,” he said. “This is why May 14 means so much for the Lao-Hmong veterans. Your compassion to officially recognize this day for the Lao-Hmong veterans will greatly be appreciated by all Lao-Hmong-Americans in Minnesota.”
In recent years, Gov. Mark Dayton issued proclamations recognizing May 14 as Hmong American Day or Hmong Lao Recognition Day. Last year a Hmong-Lao Veterans Memorial was unveiled on the Capitol grounds.