January 7, 2011 by staff
Vang Pao, (AP) – Vang Pao fought the Japanese as a teenager. He then led the Hmong in their guerrilla struggle supported by the CIA against the communists during the Vietnam War. More recently, he was a father figure to the Hmong refugees who fled Laos for the United States.
After immigrating to the United States after the communists took power in Laos in 1975, Vang Pao was revered as a leader by his fellow transplant that settled mainly in the central valley of California and cities in Minneapolis Wisconsin.
Xang Vang, chief translator of the general who fought alongside him, said Vang Pao died Thursday night after a battle with pneumonia which he contracted during a trip to Central California to chair the Hmong New Year celebrations two.
“I touched his hand, I called his name on his ear, and he opened his eyes briefly,” said Xang Vang. “He was getting better for days, but last night it just got worse and now he has left us.”
The general had been hospitalized for 10 days, Clovis Community Medical Center Michelle Von Tersch spokesman.
Xiong was in the hospital with a crowd of more and more people in mourning. He said he spoke briefly with members of the family, who were planning a memorial service but had no details on what caused the death Vang Pao.
During World War II, Vang Pao fought to keep the Japanese to take control of Laos.
In the 1950s, he joined the French in the war against the North Vietnamese who were dominant in Laos and later as a general in the Royal Army of Laos, has worked with the CIA to conduct a secret war there.
Former CIA chief William Colby once called Pao “the greatest hero of the Vietnam War,” for the 15 years he has been leading a guerrilla army funded by the CIA to fight against a communist takeover Peninsula South-East Asia.
After finally lost his guerrilla forces communists, Vang Pao came to the United States, where he was credited with brokering the resettlement of tens of thousands of Hmong, ethnic minority hills of Laos.
“It is the last of its kind, the last of which is the direction that the statement that everyone holds dear,” said Blong Xiong, Fresno, a city councilor and the first Hmong-American in California to win a council seat City. “Whether young or old, they hear his name, there’s the respect that goes with it.”
Regarded by Hmong immigrants as an exiled head of state, Vang Pao made frequent appearances in the Hmong cultural and religious festivals, and often was asked to mediate disputes or solve problems.
In 2007, however, he was arrested and accused leaders of other Hmong in federal court with conspiracy in a plot to kill communist officials in his homeland. Federal prosecutors alleged the Lao liberation movement known as Neo Hom raised millions of dollars to recruit a mercenary force and conspired to obtain weapons.
Even after his indictment, he appeared as the guest of honor at the Hmong New Year celebrations in St. Paul and Fresno, where the crowd of his supporters gathered to catch a glimpse of the highly decorated general as arrived in a limousine.
The charges against Vang Pao were abandoned in 2009, “after investigators completed the process of time to translate more than 30,000 pages of pages of documents,” then the U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown said in a written statement. The government arrested the defendants before understanding all the evidence because they felt a threat was imminent, he said.
In November, a federal judge in Sacramento threw pieces of the case against 12 other defendants. They include retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel youa True Vang and 11 members of the Hmong community in California, many of whom fought for the United States during the Vietnam War. All 12 have pleaded not guilty since their arrest in 2007.
“Vang Pao was a great man and a true American hero. He served his country for many years in his homeland, and he continued to serve in America,” said attorney William Portanova, who represents one Hmong remaining defendants. “To say that these older men would be in a position to try to overthrow a country is, on its face, almost laughable.”
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the office of U.S. Attorney in Sacramento, said she had no immediate comment.
Vang Pao has been a source of controversy for several years before the case was filed.
In 2002, the city of Madison, Wis., dropped a plan to name a park in his honor after a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor cites published sources alleging that Vang Pao had ordered executions of his own advocates, prisoners of war and enemies of his political enemies.
Five years later, the Madison school board has withdrawn his name a new elementary school named after him after he told dissidents should not bear the name of a character with a violent history.
But these criticisms were not material to the Hmong families who turn to Vang Pao orientation, struggling to establish farms and businesses in the United States and assume a new American identity. General non-profit formed by using several refugee communities and to establish a council to mediate conflicts between Hmong clans 18, whose president, he handpicked for decades.
“It has always been kind of the glue that held everyone together,” said Yang Lar Fresno, which featured an interview with Vang Pao last month in the business directory Hmong, it publishes each year.
“He is one who always solved everything … I do not think it can be filled by one person at this point. There will probably be a quest for identity. There will be lots of chaos for a while, until things settle down. ”
Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.
(This version corrects corrects spelling of Laos in the first paragraph)
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