Friday, July 30, 2010
A military funeral honors those who served this country. But right now, Hmong veterans can not be buried at National Cemeteries. If a proposed bill becomes law, thousands who put their life at risk to help American soldiers would finally be honored.
By Norma Yuriar
Fresno, Calif. (KMPH News) — Two friends in combat lay next to each other at Fresno's Mountain View Cemetery, one American and one Hmong. A burial like this is only possible at private cemeteries, at National Cemeteries it's out of the question.
"We have no right to go there," Hmong Veteran Wangyee Vang said.
But, that could soon change. Valley Congressman Jim Costa introduced a bill Tuesday that would recognize Hmong soldiers as American servicemen and provide them the same burial benefits in National Cemeteries.
"They lost their country fighting for us," Vietnam veteran Keith Rudolf said. "What are we supposed to do, turn our backs?"
Vang and about 6,900 other Hmong soldiers who served in support of U.S. forces in the Vietnam War – are still alive today. At the age of 63, Vang is now head of Fresno's Lao Veterans of America. Vang says it's urgent the bill become law. Many of the Hmong soldiers that survived the war are now elderly.
"Here in the central valley, Fresno alone, sometimes 2 or 3 people at the same time pass away," Vang said.
"It's a sad issue that has to be brought up" Rudolf said. "I mean it's not a huge number. We are not going to crowd anybody else out of our cemeteries, so why don't we honor the people that fought for us."
The military color guard and burial squad from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8900 honors Hmong veterans.
"Yes, that's as far as we can go to honor our comrades," Rudolf said. "I call them comrades because I feel like they fought on the field of war with us, they helped us. I call them comrades."
Vang says it took ten years to pass a law that now recognizes Hmong veterans as U.S. citizens. He hopes this time things will move a lot faster. According to Lao Veterans of American, about 500 Hmong veterans live in Fresno. Vang says many of them are sixty years old and older.
The closest national cemetery is the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella. It's nearly ninety miles outside Fresno.