Weather doesn't ground Vang mourners

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mourners of Gen. Vang Pao said Sunday that bad weather, flight delays and international travel could not prevent them from flocking to Fresno to pay their final respects to their revered leader.

Some said they traveled from the Midwest, others said they came from half-way around the world to attend Vang's funeral, in its third day Sunday at the Fresno Convention Center's New Exhibit Hall.

"He was our father, our leader," Chongkai Vang, 67, who came to Fresno from his home in France, said through an interpreter. "He led us out of the jungle."

Some travelers to the six-day funeral in downtown Fresno had trouble getting out of airports in Chicago and Dallas because of the recent snowstorm that has blanketed much of the country, said Tou Vang of St. Paul, Minn.

Vang's flight schedule went smoothly, but he said he has spoken to many people whose journey to Fresno took longer than expected.

"Even if they had to stay two or three days in
Chicago or Dallas, they were willing to wait for the next flight out to get here," Vang said.

Mourners continued to pack the Convention Center on Sunday, for the funeral for Gen. Vang, a longtime U.S. ally during the Vietnam War. He died in a Clovis hospital on Jan 6 at age 81.

Chongkai Vang said he knew he had to come to Fresno for Gen. Vang's funeral. The day after learning of the general's death, Vang obtained his visa and made flight arrangements.

"I would not be satisfied unless I came to see him personally," he said.

Nhiacha Vang, 60, of Superior, Wis., who said he began fighting at 14 as a soldier in the Vietnam War, said he never thought twice about traveling to Fresno to honor the general.

Despite suffering nearly 30 war wounds, he said the fight for the Hmong community -- and for Gen. Vang -- was worth the sacrifice.

"He led us to this country," he said through an interpreter.

Yer and Maiker L. Yang, former Fresno residents, returned to the Valley for the funeral from their home in Des Moines, Iowa.

Yer Yang's father, Pao Yang, was a chef for the general in Laos in the late '60s and early '70s, he said.

Yang, 50, would see Vang occasionally over the years during his various appearances at Hmong events.

"He would still remember my name, who I was and everything," Yang said.

Maiker Yang, 49, said she would dedicate her life to Vang as her leader, king and savior.

"That's why I'm here today," she said. "He took us away from torture."


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