hmong leader vang pao dies at 81

Vang Pao, a venerated, influential leader and father figure in the Hmong American community, died this week in Clovis, California, following a battle with pneumonia. He was 81: Gen. Vang Pao, Laotian Who Aided U.S., Dies at 81.

Vang Pao was a former general in the Royal Army of Laos who led thousands of Hmong guerillas in the CIA-backed "Secret army" during the Vietnam War. After immigrating to the United States in 1975, he was a revered leader among the large Hmong refugee populations who resettled in California's Central Valley, Minneapolis and cities throughout Wisconsin.
Vang Pao, who was 81, is best known for his role in America's "secret war," a covert, CIA-backed campaign against Laos' Viet Cong–aligned leaders during the Vietnam War. In the lead-up to war, North Vietnamese forces cut tracks through the Laotian jungle, creating the supply route now known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Laos was also at war, split between the communist Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao forces. The Americans teamed up with the latter, working with Vang Pao and a band of guerrilla fighters to disrupt the North's network of trails. For Vang Pao's 15-year fight against Southeast Asia's communists, former CIA chief William Colby once called him "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War."
The CIA once called "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War." However, Vang Pao later developed a more contentious, complicated relationship with the U.S. government. In 2007, he was arrested and charged with other Hmong leaders in federal court with conspiracy in a plot to kill communist officials in Laos. The charges against him were dropped in 2009.

More here: Hmong Leader Vang Pao Dead at 81. Severals vigils throughout Hmong communities in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin were held this week in honor Vang Pao's passing. According to his family, the general's funeral will be held in Fresno. More here: Amid Vang Pao vigils, funeral set in Fresno.

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