Sunday, January 16, 2011
Area Hmong residents plan to hold a candlelight vigil this evening in Wheaton to honor Vang Pao, a charismatic Hmong general who led his mountain people in fighting Communist insurgents and assisted the United States during the Vietnam War.
ao, who was in exile in the United States after the Communists took over Laos in 1975, died Jan. 6 at age 81 in Clovis, Calif.
A New York Times obituary said Pao achieved "almost kinglike status" among the Hmong, a tribe in the mountains of northern Laos, bordering China.
During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited by the United States to fight Communists, and Pao, a general in the official Laotian Army, was their military leader.
"Gen. Pao is like a father to all Hmong people," said Cheng Leng Vang of Fairview, comparing the general to George Washington.
"We believe he's a savior for everyone," said Vang, noting area families hang Pao's portrait at their homes.
Vang said Pao helped bring civilization to the Hmong living in the jungles, and the general wanted to bring freedom and democracy to the country.
Vang's father was a soldier under Pao and later served as a mayor in Laos, Vang said.
When the Communists prevailed, the Hmong faced persecution, torture and death, and many followed Pao to the United States.
Once in the U.S., Pao remained the leader of the Hmong, motivating his people to "work hard and study hard," Vang said.
He has raised the profile of the Hmong, Vang said, and "a lot of people know about Hmong because of Gen. Pao."
In southwest Missouri, there are about 180 Hmong families, Vang said. They have moved to the Ozarks for its warmer weather and farming opportunities. Many Hmong families raise chicken for poultry processors such as Tyson, George's and Simmons.