(Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at The Huffington Post.)

It was rather warm for mid-November in Central Laos as I buzzed the pasture to clear the cows and allow my fragile O-1F to land.  The Royal Lao outpost, called “Elephant” was halfway between the Marine Corps base at Khe Sanh and the Ho Chi Mihn Trail strategic junction at Tchepone.  The commander, also called “Elephant” provided a useful safe haven and asset if fuel got too low or weather got too bad.  On that day we spoke in French of the growing activity of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in the area.

Elephant helped the U.S. effort against the NVA supply lines by our Forward Air Controller (FAC) unit of O-1 aircraft and Khe Sanh and the Special Forces detachment at Lang Vei, a few miles below Khe Sanh.  The problem was that the South Vietnamese government insisted he was an enemy.  And so it was that several weeks later, when Elephant was over-run and his surviving soldiers and their families fled to the protection of Lang Vei, the South Vietnamese government refused to let them be evacuated via  Khe Sanh.

The attack on Elephant was the beginning of the Khe Sanh offensive.  Lang Vei was soon over run.  I never learned the fate of Elephant and his people.  I cursed the betrayal of those who sided with us.  I did not know it was to be repeated on a grand scale.

Some seven years later, the U.S. abandoned a far larger and more important indigenous ally, Gen. Vang Pao and his CIA funded “secret army” of Hmong tribesmen fighting the North Vietnamese in the cloud shrouded mountains further north.  Established in 1960 with 7000 fighters, it numbered some 40,000 troops at its peak.  It is estimated that some 35,000 Hmong died in the 15-year struggle.

Gen. Vang Pao and his people saved dozens of downed American airmen, including a large number of “Raven” FAC in the employ of the CIA.  They aided U.S. Special Forces operations and fought with great valor and ferocity.  William Colby, the former CIA Director called Vang Pao the biggest hero of the Vietnam War.

And yet at the end of the war, the Hmong were abandoned.  Thousands fled to the CIA base at Long Tien seeking rescue flights.  Few were evacuated.  Many were killed or imprisoned by the Communist regime in Laos or the NVA.  Thousands fled to refugee camps in Thailand. There are continuing reports of scattered Hmong still surviving in the Laotian jungles.  Some eventually made it to the United States, including Vang Pao.  There are some 200,000 Hmong in the United States today, mostly in Minnesota and California.

But the sad fact is that the United States of America did not take care of a faithful and brave ally.  We betrayed the Hmong.  The only acknowledgement of their service is a plaque honoring the Hmong placed in Arlington National Cemetery in 1997.

America has a chance to make amends.  Gen. Vang Pao died on January 6th.  His family has requested that he be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  The request is under consideration by the Army, but must be made by early February if the Hmong burial traditions are to be followed.

There are those who believe that American “exceptionalism” means that no matter what disaster ensues we should never apologize because our purposes are noble and our motives honorable.  They are wrong in the case of General Vang Pao and the Hmong.  America owes them an apology.  The only acceptable apology is to grant permission for Gen. Vang Pao to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  To fail to do so would be a final insult to a brave man and a valiant people.


Colonel Richard L. (Dick) Klass is a retired USAF colonel.  He is a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy and the National War College and has two graduate degrees from Oxford University, where he attended as a Rhodes Scholar.  He served as a White House Fellow in the Nixon Administration and in the Pentagon in the Carter Administration.  He is a veteran of over 200 combat missions as a Forward Air Controller in Vietnam. His decorations include the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit and Purple Heart. He currently sits on the Board of the Council for a Livable World.  He is also president of the Veterans Alliance for Security and Democracy Political Action Committee (VETPAC).

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Published on Feb. 4, 2011

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5 Comments

  1. Pat Byrne February 20, 2011 at 6:58 am

    The many years; of the coming home to people that showed
    hatred, to most all Vietnam Veterans, when and where is
    the apology? “Homelessness; suicide; spit on; most have died and will never have an apology.
    Now comes PTSD!!! A bit late? Ones that have had years of
    all symptoms’, and families have endured the many punishments
    of not having a clue that this person is very abusive, an
    alcoholic! drugged! But never known where all came from until
    GULF vets came home from inhaling sand and getting full
    benefits. These vets, at least has given some thought to you
    folks at the Va dept! Key word! “thought”!
    Now lol reaching out to Tribal!!!
    Let’s not forget the APPOLOGY TO ALL “AFRICIAN AMERICANS”
    close to over many years ago were working without pay, treated as Key Work! SLAVES!! Have National Black AFARICAN AMERICAN DAY!
    LIKE MOVIE “RAMBO” I JUST WANT WHAT EVERY OTHER AMERICAN
    THAT CAME OVERHERE AND SPILLED THERE GUTTS, FOR LOVE OF AMERICA,
    TO LOVE US AS MUCH AS WE DO THEM”
    WHEN AND WHERE IS PARADE! WHEN AND WHERE IS APPOLOGY??

    • Dennis Rick February 21, 2011 at 7:05 pm

      Sorry my friend that appology will never come. Its water under the bridge for them now. Not for us, but for them. They can NEVER make up the wrong done to us, its unforgiveable as far as I’m concern. I still to this day, put my head down when I say I was a Vietnam Vet. The VA says now “Thanks for your service” But they didn’t back then. Many a young man died at the hands of the VA after coming back from the dance…Take a look at what the Cleveland, Ohio VA did back then and only within the last few years have they gotten their act together other wise I’m sure they would still be doing the same thing as Vietnam vets when they returned. My own state (Ohio) even cheated me out of my Vietnam bonus and tried to Draft me in 1969 (Vietnam Feb 1966-thru Sept 1967) ets in Aug of 1968, no bonus, but sure got a draft notice in 69.
      I have this big hollow feeling inside of me that will never go away, its way to late for that. But, I did go back in and made CWO and retired. So some good came out of it. But, my soul is still empty…

  2. Pat Byrne February 20, 2011 at 6:57 am

    The many years; of the coming home to people that showed
    hatred, to most all Vietnam Veterans, when and where is
    the apology? “Homelessness; suicide; spit on; most have died and will never have an apology.
    Now comes PTSD!!! A bit late? Ones that have had years of
    all symptoms’, and families have endured the many punishments
    of not having a clue that this person is very abusive, an
    alcoholic! drugged! But never known where all came from until
    GULF vets came back and getting full
    benefits. These vets, at least has given some thought to you
    folks at the Va dept! Key word! “thought”!
    Now lol reaching out to Tribal!!!
    Let’s not forget the APPOLOGY TO ALL “AFRICIAN AMERICANS”
    close to over many years ago were working without pay, treated as Key Work! SLAVES!! Have National Black AFARICAN AMERICAN DAY!
    LIKE MOVIE “RAMBO” I JUST WANT WHAT EVERY OTHER AMERICAN
    THAT CAME OVERHERE AND SPILLED THERE GUTTS, FOR LOVE OF AMERICA,
    TO LOVE US AS MUCH AS WE DO THEM”
    WHEN AND WHERE IS PARADE! WHEN AND WHERE IS APPOLOGY??

  3. Littau February 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Veterans, regardless of service or country, share this deep appreciation of what this sacrifice meant.
    This deserves consideration.

    • Mrs. Pat Byrne February 20, 2011 at 7:05 am

      Thank you! I am a 30yrs + wife of a Vietnam Vet! Where do
      we go to get help for our PDST! Mine was clasified as
      “menopause mental breakdown”They wouldn’t believe me
      when I tried to tell, If this is my disability, It should have started within the first year of marriage. 1981.

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