Hmong-Lao Veterans Memorial Unveiled

WAUSAU – Hundreds gathered Saturday morning at the Wausau Courthouse for the unveiling and dedication of a memorial to the Hmong and Lao Veterans who fought alongside American Forces during the Vietnam War era.

As nontraditional soldiers of an off-the-record war, known as the Secret War, Hmong veterans haven’t goteen the recognition they deserve, said Hmong and Lao veterans at the event.

“This is a very important day,” said Sher Lor, 55, a Hmong combat veteran. He spoke in halting English, often at a loss for the words to convey his emotion.

Lor was 11 years old when he began fighting in Laos to help Americans. He fought from 1972 to 1975 and immigrated to Wausau in 1992.

“Maybe this will help (people understand) what we did,” Lor said.

It wasn’t unusual for boys as young as 10 years old to join the effort, veterans said.

The United States pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, and many of the Hmong soldiers who fought for the Americans in the Secret War have since resettled across the U.S. and become legalized citizens. But their war-time contributions are often a footnote in history books.

In the early 1960s, the Vietnam War raged and the threat of communism spread across southeast Asia. A 1962 peace conference in Geneva had declared the Kingdom of Laos – a neighboring country of Vietnam – neutral, but communist North Vietnam’s continued presence in the country prompted the U.S. to become more involved.

The U.S. increased its military aid to the area and the CIA became engaged in the Secret War.

The CIA began recruiting ethnic peoples in Laos, and the Hmong were among the new recruits. Thousands of Hmong men and boys were armed and trained to form a special guerrilla unit that was tasked with rescuing fallen U.S. pilots and blocking the dangerous Ho Chi Minh Trail – North Vietnam’s supply route to their allies, the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.

USA TODAY NETWORK – Wisconsin previously reported the memorial was postponed because of a conflict in determining whose names should be on the monument. The memorial planning committee consulted with local Hmong community leaders and decided no names will appear on the monument.

The slate that originally was meant to display names of veterans living in Marathon County now tells a detailed story of the Hmong people and their history.

A bronze life-size sculpture of three soldiers rests on top of a 6-foot-tall black granite base. The sculpture depicts two Hmong soldiers, one dressed in traditional Hmong attire and the other in military uniform, helping an American pilot to safety.

The front of the monument describes that it is dedicated to all Hmong and Lao soldiers who served in the Secret War and it honors their courage, bravery and loyalty in defense of liberty and democracy. The back of the memorial describes the work of the veterans to aid the Americans.

It is estimated that more than 30,000 of the 300,000 Hmong living in Laos died as a result of their involvement in the war.

“This memorial is about us; it tells everyone what we did,” said Capt. Wang Sao Yang, 77. He served from 1960 to 1975 in a communications unit using radios to dispatch artillery coordinates to bombing missions. In 1976 he immigrated to the U.S. eventually settling in Wausau.

While the memorial honors veterans, it also educates the Hmong youth and the greater community about the Hmong people’s sacrifice during the Secret War, the veterans said.

While the memorial honors veterans, it also educates the Hmong youth and the greater community about the Hmong people’s sacrifice during the Secret War, the veterans said.

“Today, it is a very, very good day,” Yang said.

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Liz Welter: 715-898-7008, or; on Twitter @welter_liz