One of the last surviving Hmong war heroes has died
By DAVE ORRICK | Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. | Published: April 13, 2019
Youa True Joseph Vang, one of the last surviving Hmong heroes from the Vietnam War era and a prominent St. Paul leader, pastor and businessman, died Wednesday. He was 83.
Youa True Vang, also known as Lt. Col. Ntsuab Rwg Vaj of the Royal Army of Laos, served under the late revered Gen. Vang Pao, fighting for the American side and leading a guerrilla army in what became known as the CIA's "Secret War," in which the United States coordinated with Hmong soldiers fighting communist forces in Laos.
During the war, Youa True Vang led missions to rescue downed American pilots, according to his family.
In 1975, he led his family out of Laos with other Hmong refugees and settled in Green Bay, opening a Hmong grocery store and founding the Hmong International New Year Foundation before eventually moving to St. Paul.
He instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in his children, several of whom established some of the early Hmong businesses in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood. He served the church as a minister and led the Vang clan.
FEW SENIOR SOLDIERS SURVIVE
On Friday, the Minnesota House observed a moment of silence in his honor and a contingent of his family watched from the gallery.
State Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, a descendant of Youa True Vang who eulogized him on the chamber floor, said the loss is larger than family. Within the American Hmong community, the generation of war heroes who also shepherded their families to America from persecution are profoundly respected. She said their passing is a generational milestone, similar to the passing of the "greatest generation" of World War II veterans.
"We're losing so many of our military leaders now," Kaohly Her said. "I think there's only maybe five or so colonels left, and I want everyone to understand: These men fought for this country. They're American war heroes."
FROM LAOS TO ST. PAUL
What follows is the text of Kaohly Her's remarks on the House floor Friday.
Madame Speaker and members,
On Wednesday night, our community lost an important figure. Youa True Joseph Vang, also known as Lieutenant Colonel Ntsuab Rwg Vaaj, left this world leaving not just the Vang clan and the Hmong Community heartbroken but also the veteran's community who either knew about, fought alongside or trained Hmong soldiers to fight in the Secret War in Laos.
To honor Lieutenant Colonel Ntsuab Rwg, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you his life and contributions. Like other Hmong people, Ntsuab Rwg lived in the Mountains of Laos. A place they ended up in after centuries of persecution and oppression from the Chinese.
Though millions of ethnic Hmong still live in China today, those who refused to give up their identity, their culture, and their unique practices made their way South and established lives in the Mountains of Laos along with Thailand and Vietnam.
Ntsuab Rwg was studying to serve in the church when he was called to join the military. With the very threat of what forced Hmong people to leave China, he enlisted in the CIA's Secret Army.
For those who are not aware, the fighting in Laos was called the secret war because it violated the Geneva Accords. The sole purpose of the Secret War was to stop the flow of military supply of communist forces on the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and to rescue American soldiers.
The Vietnam War was fought by many Southeast Asians including but not limited to the Lao, Vietnamese and Cambodians but the Secret War was different in that the United States
recruited ethnic minority groups in Laos to fight as surrogates for the US. These ethnic minorities did not have their own country they were defending. They fought directly for the United States and to defend American democracy.
- Ntsuab Rwg's service earned him the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
- During his military service he led many missions to rescue downed American pilots and American service members.
- He also led an infantry to defend the Ho Chi Minh Trail against the communist soldiers.
- In 1975, after the fall of Vietnam, he led his family out of Laos into Thailand and eventually relocating to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1976.
In the U.S., Ntsuab Rwg continued his pursuit to serve the church and ministered thousands of people in his life time. In addition to this work, in every state that he lived it, he contribute to his community.
- He founded the first Hmong grocery store in Appleton, Wisconsin.
- He is the founder of the Hmong International New Year Foundation, Inc., hosting the largest Hmong New Year celebration in the country. This celebration brings tens of thousands of people from across the globe together.
- He rallied the Hmong community to raise $70,000 to aid the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attack. Just to name a few.
- He empowered all those around him to aspire to more. His legacy lives on through contributions of his children.
- His daughter and son-in-law founded one of the early Hmong owned grocery stores in St. Paul – Midwestern Asian Food; located in Frogtown. This entrepreneurial endeavor contributed the economic growth of the University Avenue Corridor that you see today.
- The businesses expanded to other areas including the Mount Airy housing development (low income housing), East St. Paul and Rice Street.
- His son is also a small business owner, owning many Asian grocery stores around the City of St. Paul.
- He has another daughter who owns a construction company, Genesis Construction, one of the few minority women owned construction companies in the Twin Cities.
He remained a leader in the Vang Clan and Hmong community until the very end. He has touched many lives in many different ways and will be greatly missed.
Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge that many family, friends, and community members who joined us today in the gallery. This is not only a testament to the legacy Ntsuab Rwg left behind but the respect the Hmong community has for democracy and the trust they have in all of us in our work. Ntsuab Rwg was a true American hero and respected community leader. Madame Speaker, I request a moment of silence to honor him today.
MEMORIAL LIKELY IN MAY
In 2007, Youa True Vang was among 11 people charged, along with Vang Pao, in an alleged plot to overthrow the government in Laos. The charges were later dropped.
No memorial service has been scheduled, but family members said they expect to hold one in May.
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