Lao-Hmong Recognition Day

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

A bitterly cold wind blew across icy Washington D.C. on 27 February 2002, but inside the Capitol Hill Club’s Conference room camaraderie, fraternity, patriotism, awe, and respect glowed red hot. Over 100 came to see Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado sign a Congressional Proclamation to Recognize July 25th of each year as Lao-Hmong Recognition Day. The packed room included some of us who had served with the Hmong in Laos; but our presence was over- whelmed by the attendance of Hmong tribesman, many with their wives and “new generation” older children. They had excitedly come from all over the country: California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Colorado, and other places.
Congressional Bill, H. Res. 88, had recently passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives by unanimous vote. The Proclamation waited in the Office of Commander in Chief George Bush for parallel action. Food and drink abounded. Several Congressmen besides Congressman Tancredo appeared for the event along with any number of political staff members, especially from Tancredo’s office – making double sure the event flowed along in a way worthy of the affair.
A beautiful female member of the Hmong, Bo Thao, shared the MC responsibilities with Lao- Hmong American Coalition President Yang Chee. The attendees were deeply moved when a lovely “this generation” Hmong high school student sang the National Anthem. As her soft and sincere voice filled the room and the hearts of those gathered, my own thoughts ran back to Laos in 1966 when I then, with deep emotions, heard the same qualities in the Hmong voices as they urged each other along in the harsh life of a bitter war, or lamented in sad voices the passing of a Hmong warrior. President Yang Chee oversaw Congressman Tancredo as he officially signed copies of the Proclamation to be officially handed to the Hmong Association.
One of the prominent Hmong officials present, Lee Pao Xiong, gave a memorable speech reminding of what the ceremony was all about. Xiong is well known in Washington, having served on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Affairs. Brigadier General (USAF Retired) Sal Villano impressed the gathering as he told of how in the beginning he was very instrumental in working with President Chee to gather facts and to inform Congressman Tancredo of the importance of the action. He assured that once the Congressman became aware of the facts of the contributions, sacrifices, and loyalty of the Hmongs to the United States effort in the War in Laos, the Congressman “took the bull by the horns,” and did not rest until the Proclamation was passed by both Houses of Congress. We Forward Air Controllers were made immensely proud when we were represented in the ceremony by the inimitable Raven FAC Craig Duehring. Craig spoke of his own experiences as a Raven FAC in Laos, and his deep respect for the Hmong resonated in his remarks as it did in the hearts of us who had served with the Hmong in Laos.
Near the end of the ceremony, an exasperated Raven/Nail FAC, Darrel Whitcomb, proudly joined the group, with well-controlled comments on the Washington blockaded streets and the terrible traffic. In the small group discussions immediately following the affair, Darrel caused a hush to fall on the group as he told of his last flight in Laos, when the United States had decided to “throw in the towel.” Darrel brought chills when he told of the fading voices of Hmongs radioed from the ground as he helplessly flew away under orders, hearing the begging, urgent cry “Raven, come Raven, we need Raven!”
In the event’s “After Action Report,” as Yang Chee called it, at the hotel following the ceremony, I spoke of the forgiving spirit of the Hmongs as they seem not to demonstrate any bitterness toward the United States, even though we effectively abandoned them to a terrible fate as we simply walked off and left these brave people to fend for themselves. We are proud to have served with them! In my remarks I stated my sincere views that in the Hmongs’ departure from Laos, that Nation sustained a great loss, and in the Hmongs coming to this Country, the United States benefited and gained beyond words! May God Bless these brave warriors, and may we be thankful for the actions taken by the Congress of the United States in at least partially recognizing their magnificent loyalty and bravery!