Army denies request to bury Asian military leader in Arlington

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The U.S. Army has denied a request that Major General Vang Pao, an ethnic Hmong military leader who supported the American effort in the Vietnam War, be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The decision came despite the support of four Democrats who asked military leaders to allow Pao to be buried in the Virginia cemetery, in recognition of his work with the U.S. military. Pao, 81, died on Jan. 6 from complications stemming from pneumonia.

In a letter sent last month to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, the lawmakers said Pao's support of American troops during the Vietnam War merited his inclusion in Arlington. Reps. Jim Costa (Calif.), Tim Holden (Pa.) and Dennis Cardoza (Calif.) signed on to the letter, and were joined by Madeleine Bordallo, Congress's delegate from Guam.

Pao led thousands of Hmong soldiers during a 15-year secret war sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency, supporting U.S. efforts to combat the People's Army of Vietnam, the lawmakers said.

Once communist forces seized control of Laos, Pao immigrated to the United States along with thousands of other Hmong, and became a visible leader of Hmongs living in America.

Since he served as a member of foreign military, Pao did not meet the normal criteria for an Arlington burial. His family had requested an exemption from that rule, in recognition of Pao's support of U.S. military efforts.

The Army said in a statement Friday that it had reviewed the Pao family request that he be buried at Arlington, and unanimously decided to not grant the exemption.

Family and friends reportedly plan to appeal the decision to the White House.


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