Many know the Vietnam War as one of the bloodiest and most unpopular wars in U.S.  history. Some even label it a mistake. During the 1960s, the spread of communism brought fear to the American people. For the U.S. government, communism posed a political threat as the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and other countries started emerging as “red” states. They were afraid more dominoes would fall, so they placed themselves between them. American representatives were sent to Vietnam and neighboring countries to prevent the spread. This is where the story of my people begins.

In the country of Laos, luscious, green forests engulfed the land. In the rolling hills lived my people. Land locked to their agricultural lifestyles, my people led free and peaceful lives. They were free from all the troubles of the world around them. Their dry, dirt stained hands showed their determination, but they would be tested soon enough.

The year of 1954 was when they arrived. The notorious Ho Chi Minh trail provided the arms and resources necessary to give the communist Viet Cong an upper hand. The trail flowed through the jungles and forests of Laos near the border and provided enough coverage for safe travels between North and South Vietnam.  The Viet Cong and Pathet Lao, the communist rebellion of Laos, started pressuring the Royal Lao Government into relinquishing power. That’s when the CIA came to secure the Ho Chi Minh trail; to weaken the communist threat within the war. In those jungles and forests is where they found my people.

The Americans needed someone to lead the fight, someone who could lead my people. General Vang Pao of the Royal Army in Laos was chosen. He and the CIA trained my people. Men and boys traded their shovels for guns and their dry, dirt stained hands became moist with blood. Every able-bodied male would fight in the Secret War, which become known as the highest honor. Sadly, honor could not save all the lives that we lost. April 30th, 1975. The end of the Vietnam War came when Saigon fell.

The communist Viet Cong had successfully captured the city and so the great America fled. They only took those they could fit and the rest were left. Soon after, food rations diminished, guns shot only air, and my people became defenseless. They would not be forgiven for their opposition in this war. The Pathet Lao came storming in and thundered the land with bombs. They shot lightning from their guns. If those methods did not work, eventually the rain would come. It was then, the sting of the bee could be felt. Some people fled for their lives. Some lives fled from their people. Those that could escape traveled to the darkest corners of the jungles, where only the worst of nightmares would haunt their dreams. The land my people once called home was now a grave. The only hope of living was the rushing sound of water. The Mekong River was the gate between the current life and the afterlife, stained red to represent its risk. Only few survived, but if they did, they had another shot at living the peaceful lives they once had.

In Thailand, my people were compacted into refugee camps. The conditions of these camps were worse than the lands they fled. In the early stages they had no water to stay clean, no land to grow food, not even a toilet to pee in. They survived on the rations they were given. Though their hearts, hopes, and spirits were broken, they fought on through the practice of their culture and the power of the community. They did not forget who they were even when all hope seemed to be lost.

December 1975 was when my people fled to the U.S. Although many of them immigrated to America, countries like France, Australia, Canada, and South America also became their homes. We are now spread all across the world. We don’t have our own country. We don’t have our own government. We have our history, our culture, and our families. I grew-up in Colorado.

To this day, I question why I did not learn about my history in the textbooks of America. Why were my people left out of the story, left out of history as if none of us existed. All those who lost their lives, all those who lost their loved ones, and all those who still live today with nightmares of those dark days. The story of my people are not written in the textbooks of history, but it is written within me. That is why I have shared this story with you today, so that I could reclaim my piece of history. So the next time you think of the Fall of Saigon, remember those who have fallen, but recognize those who still stand.

Remember the Hmong people.

36 comments

  1. Most of the young people who grew up in this country and those who were born here forget these stories already. They don’t know who they are and why they were here. Well said. God bless you.

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  2. Thank you for writing this. As I read this memories of my childhood came back…memories that I have locked away. I remembered being scared, hiding, cold, starving, fleeing for my life. I am a survivor of this cruel and inhuman war. People need to know the story of our people.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like it but remember its not just the hmong
    There was alot of diffrent montain tribes
    That was there my father is not hmong nor was my grandfather
    It will be better said remember the montain tribes of loas

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  4. Great article but you failed to mentioned along with the Hmong were the Mien people and I can almost guarantee that other hill tribes were part of the fight as well. When I was reading it, I thought it was written by a Mien person. The Mien people like the Hmong were from China went through a similar history if not the same and now most of are in the US with this forgotten past.

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    1. I was convinced it was written by a Mien person! Can’t blame the author for failing to recognize our people but glad you followed up w linking our similarities!

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      1. I don’t believe the author of this is mien. So I wouldn’t say it’s failure to mention the mien. This author was focusing only on the hmong people. Not trying to sound too harsh, but if the mien want a story or blog, I say someone who knows more about them should write it. Again not trying to sound rude or harsh

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  5. Very well written.

    While growing up, I always had a thing for learning about our history. Whether it was Vietnam or just in general… That being stated, I’m 25 years old and during the Middle School and High School years of my life, I always wondered why we were never mentioned in the History Books or why no one made an effort to put us in. Sure you can say Whites and Blacks and other types of Asians participated but it’s different from our perspective, when we’re the outsiders being asked to help.

    Short story here:

    Anyway, I’m originally from California but moved to Maryland about 3 or so years ago. My dad was recently visiting in February, my brother and I thought it would be fun to take him to the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

    Upon arrival and looking around, we wandered into the “War” part of the American History and what happened here was pretty depressing to me yet not surprised. I noticed that my dad was moving a bit faster around this area than he had been all day. My brother and I were taking our time but before we knew it, my dad had disappeared and moved on ahead. About a good 10-15 minutes later, we finally reach the Vietnam War part and my dad was standing looking at all the photos they had on the walls, all the old newspaper articles they had there and the brief descriptions of what the War was like and etc.

    And as I walked up to him, he said to me ” Wow, not one thing about us my son. Not one thing. ” He said it with a smile but I could tell that it hurt him and the pride of being a Hmong. Personally, it hurt me too but I’ve been used to it since Middle School and not seeing anything about us in the History Books. I have never seen my dad put up a fake smile in my entire life before and I think that’s what probably hurt me the most. Fast forward>>> he enjoyed it.

    Sucks that we aren’t ever mentioned and very little people know about us. I think there would be a bit more respect for the Hmong Communities if people knew of our assistance in the Vietnam War. That being said, it sucks but I’m not surprised this all happened the way it did. It is called the “Secret War” for a reason I guess.

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    1. Here is an opportunity and a challenge. Finding the people of the different villages that fought in “The secret war”. Bringing them together. So that each village can be heard and all stories can be told. I believe it would be of great interest and importance to many. Most likely; and giving the benefit of the doubt, the person’s who designed the war room had limited knowledge. I myself would love to read such interesting history from the brave people who endured this war. Also while obtaining the backgrounds and gathering the information. Filming the process that you make would be an excellent documentary . Sincerely, Polly Freeman.

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  6. Thank you very much for bringing this out. I flew out of northern Thailand (Udorn RTAFB) and we were much in debt to our Hmong allies for helping us disrupt North Vietnam’s efforts and for helping my comrades who had to bail out over Laos survive and get back to safety.

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  7. I don’t know how you came to this perspective. In the history that I learned, the Hmong are remarkable both in the value their participation and in the manner of their being betrayed.

    You’ve also got some errors in the timeline. US concern with Communism dates from WWI when Russia abandoned the Easter Front, but it became a priority in the immediate aftermath of WWII. US financial support for and direct participation in the war in Vietnam predates the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The Geneva Accords of 1954 partitioned Vietnam, but were eschewed by US-backed Ngo Dinh Diem in 1956, which resulted in US duplicity being more and more exposed. The Ho Chi Minh trail dates from 1959.

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  8. First of all, very well written, Tkava.

    The war was certainly a tragedy for our people. The Royal Lao Government and those loyal to Royal Lao, including our people, were stuck between a rock and a hard place … either sit around and do nothing, watch communism take over; or side with the Americans, help the Americans to fight the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao, in hopes that the Americans would win the war, thus, freeing Laos from communism, and perhaps become a more prosperous country, where the Hmong would have more political influence in the Royal Lao Government. And so it was .. we (along with other tribes, such as the Mien/Yao) assisted the Americans in their mission to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We all know about the outcome of the war.

    I’m going to go off track a little bit and talk about one man, and that is General Vang Pao. I know some of you out there have negative thoughts about GVP, thinking he did it for the wrong reasons, did it as a rogue General … but I can assure you … he performed his duties under the orders of the Royal Lao Government, the in-office government at the time, which gave him his commission as an officer/general. Even after the war, GVP still had hopes of freeing Laos from communism. He and his loyal commanders, whom remained loyal to him from the war to their arrival in the United States, remained hopeful that they would be able to save Laos and our people from communism. It is a Soldier’s mentality. I know because I served 21 years, 6 months, and 22 days in the United States Army. I know what it means to be a Soldier, a military leader, to complete an assigned mission. GVP, to me, was not only a great General … he had our people (and the other tribes, who fought for him) in mind, calculated and assessed everything the best he could. I don’t know the man personally, but having been a Soldier, a military leader … especially when you’re responsible for an entire people, it’s a great burden for him to shoulder. Even though you do not know the man personally … like me, if you survived the war … when you think of him, especially when you walk by GVP’s resting place, if you do not feel thankful, perhaps become emotional, then there is something wrong with you as a person.

    In regards to what the author pointed out, that our people is not talked about in official school textbooks, there is a reason why that, perhaps, will never happen. Maybe years down the road, once everything is fully declassified, but until then, you won’t be reading anything official about the Secret War or the Hmong’s involvement in assisting the Americans during the war.

    But here’s why …. for the US to officially acknowledge the Secret War and our involvement would be to admit that the US violated the agreement between the “fourteen nations” in Geneva in July 1962, which says that all nations agree that Laos would be a neutral country and that no “foreign military personnel,” to include military advisers, soldiers, experts, instructors, consultants, technicians would be allowed into Laos; and no weapons would be introduced in Laos. But the world knows that, that is exactly what happened. The Americans introduced plenty of military advisers, experts, soldiers into Laos, to include the CIA, and plenty of weapons/equipment were handed to the Royal Lao Government, particularly GVP and his Soldiers, to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

    Thanks for your time and have a great day!

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  9. as a child till now i remember cause my father is one of those soldiers in that war..it doesn’t matter if we are a American citizen we don’t forget where our parents from!

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  10. The Montagnards, aka “Yards”’ name is derived from the French word for mountaineers They were the hardiest people I ever met. Example: one day driving a jeep down Qui Nhon Mountain we came across an old woman who was caring a two bundles of wood on a single pole over one shoulder. We stopped and offered her a ride down the mountain. She accepted and got into the jeep and I jumped out to lift up the bundles and I froze, they were so heavy that a young man like me could not lift them. Two other guys came over to help me place the bundles into the jeep. When we got most of the way down the mountain she stopped us got of the jeep and squatted down and proceeded to lift the bundles by herself and wandered off into the distance. We just looked at each other with wonderment on our faces.

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  11. in the end….the American Government deserted everybody that had been loyal, knowing their fate and caring no more about them, than the 58,000 plus Americans who had already sacrificed their lives for a lie. No american serviceman who died in Vietnam, or died because of Vietnam or will will die in the future, will ever have to worry running into Johnson, McNamara, Nixon or the rest of the bastards in Heaven……they’re all rotting in hell and rightfully so!

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  12. Well written and true, with only one correction to a common misconception that has been cultivated by a hostile press and media, even to the point of it showing up in some “history” books. That being the comment about the US fleeing Vietnam in April of 1975 with the fall of Saigon.

    Recall that the US negotiated a “peace” agreement with North Vietnam at the Paris Peace Accords and withdrew all our troops, including our POWs held in Hanoi (Operation Homecoming) in 1973, two full years before the North Vietnamese broke the truce and invaded the South. The only US Military personnel on South Vietnamese soil in April, 1975 were US Embassy guards and a few other clerical and diplomatic types.

    That said, it was a damned disgrace how the US government turned its back on South Vietnam and refused to provide the logistic, armament and other material supports as was promised. I am a Purple Heart combat veteran of the US Army and was “brothered” by the Dega (Montagnards), Rhade tribe in 1968 while stationed in the Central Highlands. I still proudly wear the brass bracelet put on me by a village Chief and will go to my grave with it.

    I’ll also go to my grave feeling shame for my country’s logistical abandonment of South Vietnam, and especially for all the broken promises to my ‘Yard brothers. But until that end, I’ll always speak with pride at knowing the most honorable race of people on God’s green earth. And that goes for all indigenous people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

    Please just know that the actions of our government did not, and still does not, speak for all Americans. There are MANY of us who will forever remember and honor you. Please accept this crisp hand salute and undying gratitude, admiration and respect from this one old soldier.

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  13. WE SHOULD ALL REMEMBER THOSE WHO SERVED.THE HMONGS THE CAMBODES THE MONTINARDS THE NUNGS THE MEO AND ALL THAT I HAVE NOT MENTIONED.WE LEFT YOU TO FIGHT ON YOUR OWN,A BIG DISGRACE.I,AM VERY SORRY FOR AMERICA DESERTING YOU.

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  14. Tu siab kawg qhov uas Hmoob muab txoj sia los tiv thaiv lub teb chaws, los pab luag lwm haiv neeg yam tsis muaj nuj nqis. Ntau xyoo dhau los txog tav no los Hmoob thiaj li tsis nrog luag muaj suab muaj npe. Txog twg los Hmoob thiaj zoo li me nyuam ntsuag. Tsis muaj neeg paub txog Hmoob txoj kev chim kev tu siab. Lwm tiam thov kom Hmoob nrog luag muaj teb chaws.

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  15. I think that this article really made up get in touch with our Hmong( and more) selves. As we read through this our minds turned with memories, whether primary or secondary sourced. It made me realize how hard my parents and grandparents worked do get us here. Each day my parents sought for a better opportunity, and as kids, I don’t think we realized that.

    Coming to America, our people had split path- religion, language, culture, history, etc. It seems that we are forgetting those keen things as life goes on. I want my child to know their culture, and beliefs.

    Kids at school tease me, and bully me, making fun of our eyes, and Ching Chong, but that’s only because they don’t know how hard we’ve worked to come here.

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  16. Very well written. Like many, my families and I are not Hmong. Yes my families have survived the tragic war. As I was growing up my parents always talked about it so that their land and people are never forgotten. So that I know the history and that I’ll be able to tell the tales to my kids, as well as to those that would like to hear their side of the story. I won’t get into depths but do know that there’s more to this. The part of the land that was my parents came from was not touched, thanks to the bees that my grandfather called upon. It was a spiritual thing as far as what I know. I won’t get into full blown details but I’m happy that no one from my parents village were harm. When I was a child I did see parts of our history at the Museum in Fresno, California. It isn’t much but there’s a little section of it there. In the photo I did see my father. I’m thankful with the fact that they did honor our military and those that fought the war at that Museum. Having to see that shortly after my father passed made me looked at life from a different angle ever since. Some things are better left untold for many reasons. Maybe one day I’ll look into publishing a book. I would encourage for the younger generations to ask their parents about it. So that they can learn and get a better understanding about our history. Some parents may not wanna speak of it due to the trumatic experiences they’ve been through. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. I have to admit, I truly miss my father and his bedtime war stories.

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