Hmong vets join Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event

By JENNY ESPINO | Redding Record Searchlight, Calif. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 26, 2017

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans, the program that honors and remembers Shasta County soldiers who were killed in the war, had a few extra guests to recognize Saturday.

They were about 20 Hmong soldiers who fought next to American troops as a "secret" Central Intelligence Agency Special Guerrilla Unit from Laos communities.

These veterans, some who were trained, armed and fought while still children, gather for Hmong festivities in their communities. Dressed in old military uniforms, they made an appearance at the Shasta County Veterans Memorial Hall. This was their first time being invited to the welcome home ceremony.

"It's pretty amazing," said Brig. Gen. John Thao of the Hmong veterans organization, United States National Defense Force Support Command Civil Military. "There is community diversity and a lot of community relationships here. I can see it."

Thao, 34, coordinated with community organizer Eddie McAllister so the Hmong veterans could participate in the Redding gathering. They traveled from Sacramento, Butte and Yuba counties and Salem, Oregon. Two of them were prisoners of war.

Chang Ger Thao, 58, served in the war as a teenager until 1975. His older brother, Cher Chou Thao, 64, also was a secret soldier.

Thao reflected how he was recruited into the army to fight communism and the constant moving he had to do after the war ended.

"We moved through the mountains. We were still fighting ... to protect ourselves and our families until 1979. All of my friends, they all got killed," Chang Ger Thao said.

He was among the few in his immediate circle to survive. Thousands of Hmong from Laos feared their government for having helped American forces and sought asylum in Thailand.

"We had a chance to move out to the borders in Thailand," said Thao, who lived in refugee camps there throughout the 1980s.

Tong Vang, 55, of Yuba City fought in the war from 1970 to 1975. He vividly remembered his 20 years moving from refugee camp to the next.

The Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans ceremony started and ended at the Veterans Hall and included a visit to the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo.

A partnership between the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter 357 in Redding and the Missing in America Project, the event marks its eight year. At least 10 veterans were interred at the cemetery. They are:

  • James E. Allen, who served in the Army and fought in Vietnam
  • Ricky Bennett, Navy, Persian Gulf War
  • James L. Buis, Marine Corps, World War II
  • Emerson E. Drake, Navy, World War II
  • Michael S. Drake, Army, Vietnam
  • Coy D. Froedge, Navy, Vietnam
  • Eric F. Gentry, Army, Vietnam
  • James G. Hoover, Navy, Cold War era
  • Colleen D. McNulty, Army, Vietnam
  • Michael O. Riley, Air Force, Vietnam

©2017 the Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, Calif.)
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