Lawmakers want Hmong vets to get Gold Medal for fighting in Vietnam’s ‘secret war’

Many Americans know little about secretive US campaign in Laos during Vietnam War

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 06 December 2023 00:32 GMT
Lao-Hmong Memorial to honor Vietnam Vets

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is pushing for Hmong-American veterans of the “secret war” in Vietnam to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

During the Vietnam War, the Hmong people, who lived in the mountainous areas of Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, were recruited by the CIA to take part in the US war on communist powers in southeast Asia in Laos and North Vietnam.

“At great risk to the safety of themselves and their families, Hmong soldiers fought the ground war, flew combat missions, gathered intelligence on North Vietnamese troop movements, interrupted the Ho-Chi-Min Supply Trail, and rescued American pilots downed behind enemy lines,” Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who introduced the Hmong Congressional Gold Medal Act last month, said in a statement. “The Hmong people suffered heavy casualties, and their soldiers died at a rate ten times as high as that of American soldiers in Vietnam.”

After the US withdrew from Vietnam, the Hmong were targeted for their service.

“After the war in 1973, the Hmong were singled out by the victorious communist governments of Laos and Vietnam,” according to the Hmong American Center website. “The Hmong were hunted down, taken to concentration camps, put into hard labor and persecuted. Their villages were sprayed with chemical weapons and bombed with napalm.”

More than 10 per cent of the Hmong people in Laos died amid the war and its immediate aftermath, according to the center.

An estimated 327,000 Hmong now live in the US, with large populations in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“Many of our Hmong veterans actually don’t know if the United States government actually loves them, or recognizes them or will claim them as their own,” Yee Leng Xiong, executive director of the Hmong American Center, told News from the States.

The often under-acknowledged Hmong role in the Vietnam conflict is part of the larger lack of awareness surrounding the wider Vietnam War and its impact on neighbouring countries.

During the Vietnam war, the Lyndon B Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations both conducted military operations in Laos, technically a neutral country, without fully informing Congress, dropping millions of tons of ordinance that continue to harm civilians to this day.

During this period of the Vietnam War, officials like the recently deceased Henry Kissinger pushed to expand US operations in Vietnam into other officially neutral countries like Cambodia and Laos.

In the former country alone, an estimated 150,000 people may have been killed during the effort.

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