MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He was called a general, king, and father of the American Hmong community. Vang Pao died on Thursday and many Minnesotans continue to mourn his death.
Pao led thousands of Hmong guerrillas in a CIA-backed secret army during the Vietnam war.
Refugees in Minnesota, Wisconsin and California credit Pao with helping them rebuild their lives here.
His life, his service and his sacrifice was on the minds of all who gathered inside the Lao Family Community of Minnesota building in St. Paul.
In front of a memorial lined with candles and white flowers, hundreds paid their respect to Pao.
“We always say that without General Pao, the Hmong people would not be here. And without Gen. Vang Pao, more than 50,000 American lives would have been lost in South Vietnam,” said Lee Pao Xiong.
Lee Pao Xiong says the general was the closest things Hmong people had to a president.
Gen. Pao fought as a teenager to keep the Japanese out of Laos during World War II. He then joined French forces in the war against communist north Vietnam. He later served as a general in the Laotian Military backed by the U.S.
“I have friends who served in the military that are alive today because of what he did,” said Roseville native Bob Murray, who added he felt compelled to pay tribute to the General, and so did many others who fought in combat with the General.
Chue Chou Tchang served with the General for 15 years on the front line.
“One of the things that he remembers, the words of wisdom from Gen. Pao, is that as you pursue your enemy and you’re in conflict with the enemy, continue pursuit and don’t give up and continue to do it until you accomplish your goal,” said Xiong, who translated for Tchang.
Tchang said the General translated that military strategy to life for his people who he helped lead to a new home in the U.S. after the war.
Set a goal for yourself and continue to pursue it and don’t give up.
Xiong says his last conversation with the general was about not giving up the goal of unifying the Hmong community.
“We have two dialects within the Hmong community — we have green Hmong and white Hmong. And he said create a writing system that could accommodate both and unite both instead of divide the community,” said Xiong.
Pao’s funeral will be held in California from Feb. 11-18th. Afterward, his body will be flowed to Minnesota and Wisconsin for a public viewing.
His family has spoken with officials in hopes that the general can be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
WCCO-TV’s Reg Chapman Reports