Veterans of the 'Secret War' to gather in Conn.
The Hartford Courant
Maj. Sar Phouthasack remembers a mission in 1968 along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
Watching from above the North Vietnam Army's infamous supply route, Phouthasack and his team had spotted an enemy truck convoy. He called for help and soon his radio crackled with a question from a U.S. Air Force pilot: "You got a job for me?"
The pilot marked the area with smoke and two F-105 Thunderchiefs followed with bombs — "Boom, boom, boom," Phouthasack said.
"We kill 25 trucks!" he said, his voice rising with the memory. Phouthasack said he did not know how many enemy soldiers were killed, but "we hope we got a lot."
The Windsor man was among thousands of Laotian soldiers who fought with the Americans during the Vietnam War. Coming from as far away as Alaska, these veterans of the so-called "Secret War" are scheduled to gather in New Britain on March 30 for a daylong commemoration of their service.
About 200 Laotian veterans of the Special Guerilla Unit along with American veterans of the war are set to attend the event at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 511.
Also slated to attend are Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney and John Larson and former congressman, CIA officer and Vietnam veteran Rob Simmons, organizers said.
The U.S. government did not acknowledge the CIA-led fighting in Laos because the country, which neighbors Vietnam to the west, was supposed to be neutral.
But the North Vietnamese were not honoring Laotian neutrality, and the U.S. government, animated by the domino theory, was committed to dousing the communist threat in Southeast Asia.
With guidance from the CIA, the Special Guerilla Unit was formed in 1960, gathering Laotian men from various ethnic groups, including the Hmong, a regional mountain people.
The SGU's prime mission was to thwart North Vietnamese advances from Laos into the Republic of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Laotian soldiers, who also rescued downed American pilots, were trained in all aspects of guerilla fighting, with an emphasis on communications and coordination with U.S. forces.
The CIA recruited Phouthasack in 1961, and he was trained by U.S. Special Forces in technical and radio operations and parachute jumps behind enemy lines. He said he had many close calls, but came away unscathed.
"I almost got killed. I almost got captured," he said. "I'm lucky. I don't know how I survived the war."
For Phouthasack, 68, the SGU was a natural evolution of his national and familial history. His father, a soldier who fought with the French against the Viet Minh, continued battling communist enemies until he went missing in action in 1964.
About 35,000 SGU soldiers died during the Vietnam War. When American forces withdrew, some of the veterans fled to refugee camps in Thailand. Others were captured and tortured by the communists who took over Laos in 1975. Phouthasack escaped and worked for the U.S. consulate in Thailand from 1975-83, when he emigrated to the U.S. with his wife and eight children.
Others slated to attend the March 30 event include SGU veterans who endured years of imprisonment, along with 13 widows of fallen SGU soldiers, organizers said. The event will also include a display of Vietnam/SGU memorabilia, including photographs, letters and medals.
Asked about his feelings after the U.S. withdrawl from Vietnam, Phouthasack said he is not bitter.
"You know, the Vietnam War, nobody won, nobody lost," he said.