About General Vang Pao
General Vang Pao is considered a great leader and historic figure among the Hmong people as his extraordinary journey in life changed the destiny of the Hmong people and led them to a new frontier. He is well known as a legendary Hmong General and a loyal American Secret War hero during the Vietnam War. Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Colby, once acknowledged General Vang Pao as the biggest hero of the Vietnam War. General Vang Pao passed away on January 6, 2011 in Clovis, California due to illness; and with his death, the Hmong people lost their hero and inspiring leader.
General Vang Pao launched his military career in his early teens; but it was not until he played a vital role in assisting the French in their efforts to occupy Laos that he became well known as a prominent military figure. Because of the bravery and brilliant skill he showed in helping the French, he was contacted by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assist in the CIA covert operations in Laos after the French withdrew from the country. The many accomplishments of Vang Pao and his troops resulted in his achievement of becoming and serving as the military commander for the Royal Lao Army for Military Region II and commander for CIA covert operations from 1961 to 1975.
As commander for the United States CIA operations during the Vietnam War, the General rallied the Hmong and other ethnic groups to support the United States as guerilla soldiers because of their experience with the terrain in Laos. His assignments in these operations were to (1) protect the United States Air Force Navigation Radar in Phou Pha Thi, (2) collect intelligence information along the border of North Vietnam and Laos, (3) direct air strikes and rescue American pilots who were shot down along the Lao-Vietnamese border, and (4) stop the flow of the North Vietnamese troops and supplies through the Ho Chi Minh Trail into Laos. General Vang Pao committed to his assignments and in his efforts saved many American lives. After the United States pulled out of Laos in 1975, the CIA evacuated General Vang Pao and thousands of his military leaders and families to Thailand. Consequently, they resettled in other countries including the United States, France, Canada, and Australia.
General Vang Pao's Contributions
General Vang Pao’s leadership changed the life of the Hmong people. Prior to General Vang Pao’s leadership, the Hmong people lived on the highlands of Laos, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture to survive with limited educational opportunities. Under his leadership, the life of the Hmong people changed drastically as he encouraged and introduced the Hmong to military, economic, and educational opportunities. Many Hmong people became pilots, military leaders, civil leaders, educators, and economically prosperous as a result of General Vang Pao’s guidance. He was responsible for the construction of roads to Hmong villages, the building of schools for Hmong children, and the teaching of Hmong people to engage and participate in society. He created opportunities for the Hmong people to learn, grow, and develop.
While General Vang Pao’s military career ended after he resettled in America, the compassion and love he had for the Hmong people drove him to a new career of civil service. He found a new calling to help the Hmong people make a successful transition into American society. He started a new era of community service and through his leadership worked to establish community building efforts that would result in a strong and prosperous Hmong community.
In 1978, with the support of other Hmong leaders, he founded the first Laotian non-profit organization, Lao Family Community, in Orange County, California, which reached out to many Hmong, Lao, and Mien communities to help them adjust to their new life in the United States. With a clear mission statement, Lao Family Community quickly expanded, opening numerous branches across the nation.
In the early 1980s, General Vang Pao worked with other Hmong leaders to create the Lao Human Rights Council and the United Hmong International Council. The Lao Human Rights Council was created to advocate and educate the United Nations, elected officials, the media, and the general public about the Laotian refugee issues in Thailand and the humanitarian crises in Laos. The United Hmong International Council was created to keep the Hmong culture, traditions, and values alive and to provide alternative ways to settle Hmong disputes in a traditional manner.
In the 1990s, with the support of many Hmong leaders, General Vang Pao formed the Lao Veterans of America and the Special Guerrilla Unit Veterans and Families of the USA to advocate for Laotian veterans and their families who fought bravely during the United States Secret War in Laos to defend against the aggression of Communism in Indo-China. Through his efforts and with the support of many others, the United States Congress passed several House Resolutions to recognize the Laotian veterans and their service.
Besides founding these organizations, General Vang Pao traveled throughout the United States to meet with Hmong families and communities and encourage them to embrace the American ideals of freedom and democracy. He inspired with a vision of hope, offered his unwavering support, and always emphasized the importance of education. He always encouraged the Hmong people to pursue the American dream and to become productive American citizens. His legendary deeds will continue to inspire the Hmong people for generations to come.
The information under “About General Vang Pao” and under “General Vang Pao’s Contributions” are cited from the General Vang Pao’s Memorial Program by the General Vang Pao’s Memorial Planning Committees, Stockton Community Memorial Service Program by Ger Vang, and personal observations made by Cheuyengther Xiong, President of Lao Family Community Empowerment, Inc