MARYSVILLE, Calif. — A local museum is preparing a display to honor forgotten Hmong warriors — many of whom were never acknowledged in the first place.
The Hmong who fought the Viet Cong aside the United States in their Laotian homeland during the Vietnam war risked death.
An estimated 30,000 were killed during the 1960s and '70s in what came to be known as the Secret War, which was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Those who survived fled to nearby Thailand and the United States.
And many Hmong have made the Yuba-Sutter area their home.
The aptly-named Museum of the Forgotten Warriors set aside a display for the Hmong community to build a fitting tribute to those warriors, with an event for that display set for May 23.
"We wanted a to find a home for the Hmong warriors and a place to tell their stories," said John Thao.
Thao, 30, of Linda, has numerous relatives who survived the war — and many who didn't.
He said the killing of the Hmong in Laos still continues.
"We go home, we get killed," Thao said.
He and a growing number of Hmong are becoming involved in the project.
Thao said bringing the display to life has raised awareness within his family and the Hmong community.
"It's the greatest feeling I've ever had, and it brings me to tears," he said of seeing his descendants and the Hmong community be acknowledged.
Thao credits Yuba County Supervisor Andy Vasquez for getting things moving.
"It's about freedom and recognition," said Vasquez, who helped make Hmong History Month official in Yuba County in an August proclamation.
An Assembly Resolution for Hmong History Month authored by Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica, followed shortly thereafter.
Since then, many more Hmong community members have come forward with their stories and artifacts to be included in the museum project.
"Now it's time to let people know we are allies," said Vasquez, a Vietnam veteran who spent 19 months in the country.
Dann Spear, who founded and curates the museum, noted a real pride while working on the display with the Hmong community.
"There's an order to how the display is set up, culturally speaking," Spear said.
He said Maj. Gen. Vang Pao, a revered figure in the Hmong community, is at the top center of the display.
There are numerous images of other prominent Hmong figures as well as a military clothing, cultural artifacts and flags.
The event will feature local and out-of-town speakers, some coming from as far away as Minnesota.
Thao said the guest speakers have some very powerful stories.
"It feels great to see it come to life, because we've hidden it for too many years," he said.
According to the 2010 census, California has the largest Hmong population at 91,000 followed by Minnesota at 66,000.