On Memorial Day, the United States honors millions of men and women who have served in our country’s Armed Forces, including around 1.7 million older Americans alive today who served during World War II, and over 7 million who served during the Vietnam War. For the Southeast Asian American community, Memorial Day brings both pride and pain to Southeast Asian veterans of the wars in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia – especially those who fought alongside American soldiers and the CIA to aid the American war effort. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. pursued a “Secret War” in Laos, unauthorized by and mostly unknown to Congress at the time. Relying largely on members the Royal Lao Armed Forces and Special Guerrilla Units of ethnic-majority Lao and Hmong, Mien, and other ethnic minorities of Laos, the U.S. secretly fought communist forces in Laos for over a decade.
Today, over 2.5 million Southeast Asian Americans call the United States their home, the majority of whom came to the U.S. as refugees after the wars ended in 1975 or are children of refugees. The state of Minnesota is home to around 85,000 Lao and Hmong Americans, and most have an immediate relative who served during the Secret War in Laos between 1961 and 1975. Lao and Hmong veterans in Minnesota and across the country have been advocating for many years for official recognition of their sacrifices for the U.S. during the war, forming organizations such as Lao Veterans of America and Royal Lao Veterans of America.
The governor of Minnesota recently broke ground on a memorial located on the Minnesota State Capitol lawn to honor Hmong and Lao veterans who served with the Americans during the war. But these Minnesota veterans continue to push for the honor and dignity of being buried in national or state veteran cemeteries, which are reserved for American service members and honorably discharged U.S. military veterans and their families. This Memorial Day, we pause to honor ALL veterans who gave their service and their lives fighting for our country, including many of our Southeast Asian American elders.
Read Lao-American poet Bryan Thao Worra’s piece “The Last War Poem” on DEC member organization SEARAC‘s 40 & Forward blog, illustrating the horror of war and the sacrifices of many Lao and Hmong soldiers.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.