Hmong military officer who aided US forces in CIA's 'Secret War' laid to rest
By RICK BARRETT | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 19, 2017
A Hmong military officer who aided U.S. forces in the CIA's “Secret War” in Laos was honored Saturday as part of his three-day funeral in Milwaukee.
Hundreds of people from across the country converged on the Hmong community center, on N. 76th St., to pay their respects and celebrate the life of Lt. Col. Youa Kao Vang who died in February at the age of 98.
The decorated war veteran served under Gen. Vang Pao, who, with the backing of the United States, fought Vietnamese and Laotian communists during the Vietnam War.
Part of a special guerrilla forces unit, Youa Kao Vang was a legendary figure known for his personal courage and hand-to-hand combat battles that left many foes dead.
He was also credited with rescuing American fighter pilots who crash landed after making bombing raids on North Vietnam. He was shot at least three times, but always returned for another battle, his friends and family said.
“People respected him highly for his courage,” said Tou Fu Vang, who served with the lieutenant colonel in Laos.
Before the war, Vang was a village chief, but he joined the militia, becoming a leader, to protect his village from communist soldiers.
Laos was neutral during the Vietnam war, but the CIA recruited Hmong soldiers there to carry on a covert campaign between 1961 and 1975. After the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, tens of thousands of Hmong fled and lived in refugee camps in Thailand. Many, including Lt. Col. Vang, eventually settled in the United States.
After the war, Vang lived in Thailand for 12 years with the hope that he would someday return to Laos and fight the communist government that had taken over his country.
He never got that chance, though, and instead moved to the United States. His family settled in Chicago for a few years before moving to Milwaukee in 2002.
Chicago was too big of a city. He liked Milwaukee better, Tou Fu Vang said.
Gen. Vang Pao also came to the United States and settled in California. In 2009 he was quoted as saying that Col. Vang was fearless when it came to fighting the forces of North Vietnam.
"He knew communism was bad for the country, and he gave his life, as a soldier, to defend the U.S. objectives and our country at all cost. He is one of my most trusted soldiers," Pao said.
The Hmong involvement in the Vietnam war saved the lives of many American troops. Lao-Hmong soldiers attacked the North Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh trail, protected forward staging bases, and guided U.S. fighter planes over North Vietnam for bombing operations.
State Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) was at Saturday’s event to present a citation to Vang’s family, honoring his service in the war.
"That ought to be emphasized," Kessler said of Vang's service. "These people helped us."
Vang is survived by two sons, five daughters, and more than 30 grandchildren.
“We want people to remember him as a father, a grandfather, a hero, a great man, an honorable leader,” said Gen. Douglas Vuechue Doua Vue, one of Vang’s son-in-laws.
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