General Vang Pao Wake/Funeral
General Vang Pao
Dec 8, 1929 to Jan 6, 2011
I attended the wake of General Vang Pao, the Lao Hmong that died 6 Jan 2011, on 4 & 5 Feb 2011in Fresno California where he lay in state at the Fresno Convention Center. I questioned why such a long wait to bury the general and here is the Lao explanation of why;
Traditional Hmong are animists who believe in an active spirit world, multiple souls and reincarnation. Hmong funerals respond to these beliefs through a well-structured process that can take many days to complete. The primary purpose of the funeral ceremony is to separate the spirit-soul (plig) of the deceased from the physical world, and give it instructions and tools so it can safely journal back to the land of ancestors. Within Hmong culture, the funeral rituals are the most important rituals of all. This was an explanation in a short pamphlet that was provided at the funeral.
Fresno, California is a farming town of about 500,000 people and there are over 25,000 Hmong living in the city.
General Vang Paos funeral was fit for a king. It was a full military parade in downtown Fresno on 4 Feb. It included a a horse drawn carriage, US Navy flyby from jets from a local Navy base, two twenty one gun salutes and multiple Hmong soldiers in uniform of the old Lao military and current Hmong who are serving in the US military. The old Lao military wore multiple uniforms from full military dress to Special Guerilla Units (SGU) uniforms. There are many Hmong I met who currently serve in the US military including a young lady serving in the US Army and an Army LtCol who is with the Defense Attaché in Conakry, Guinea, Africa. Visitors came from distant lands to include Laos, Thailand, Australia and others. The local funeral director told me that there were between 10,000 to 20,000 people attending the funeral on Friday and he said they expected the same or more on Saturday. He also said that the temperature in the Convention Center was maintained at 55 degrees for General Vang Pao wake. On 5 Feb there was a viewing of the casket and the lines were so long that I simply didnt get in line.
There were many eulogies on Friday made by multiple agencies in the Convention Center. There were Hmong, local politicians, the CIA, Air America, authors who wrote books on the Hmong and various military groups. The best Eulogy which summed up Vang Pao was made by the Chief of Police of Fresno. He said that VP spoke with passion, from the head and from the heart. With the Hmong he advocated that they should have hope for the future, that they should get an education and should assimilate. The Hmong have lived up to VPs advice as they have adapted to their new country very well. In the last Air America reunion in Portland, OR in 2007 a Hmong PHD stated that the Hmong now earned 1000 PHDs and 7000 Bachelor degrees. Today those numbers of Hmong degrees have increased. The Hmong have had several in the military academies and numerous have won very lucrative college scholarships and in some cases had to turn them down because of their culture of caring for their parents. They have assimilated in American society very well. They are local politicians, teachers, military men, new reporters and have gained many positions in our society. What amazed me of their assimilation was the young Hmong who were Americanized but still maintain their culture. I seen them tweeting and acting like teenagers and the young women I saw and meet were beautiful, very fashionable dressed, articulate, with good jobs and spoke English like a Native American. I observed Hmong young men were bigger and very Americanized and living the American dream. We had trouble getting Hmong men in the 60s for pilot training in Thailand because we couldnt find many that had at least an eighth grade education so that aviation math could be taught to them. The Hmong have come a long way since I saw them in 1969 in their native mountain habitats fighting a waran American war. Almost all of the eulogies were supporting VPs burial in Arlington Cemetery, denied by the Army, for his efforts in supporting the Americans in the secret war in Laos, and saving many of our aircrew after they were shot down. It should be noted that there are numerous foreigners buried in Arlington National Cemetery to include a German POW and an Iraqi killed in an aircraft training crash with other Americans and their remains were nothing but ashes. The Americans and the Iraqi killed in the aircraft were buried in a common grave in Arlington with the permission of the Iraqi Government. Furthermore there are a number of non-military buried in this hallowed cemetery.
General Vang Pao lived a warrior life. He was a soldier at 13 or 14 years of age and fought the Japanese, Pathet Lao and the Vietnamese almost all his life before the fall in 1975. He had 6 wives and 25 children. The pamphlet said he had 68 grandchildren but talking to one of his grandson he said that VP children each had at least 7 to 11 kids so that the number were probably around 200 grandchildren. Take your pick as he was a prolific man. He had 6 wives at one time in Long Tieng and the funeral pamphlets said he is survived by two living ex wives. He will be buried on 9 Feb 2011.
Air America Association Bob Noble and wife plus a number of other Air America members attended the wake. A number of Ravens attended to include BG Cornelius (ret) and Craig Duehring. Fred Platt wasnt there since he was snowbound in Texas. A number of old CIA women and men attended. I think it was one of the biggest funerals that I have attended.
Anyone believing General Vang Pao should be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery please write asking that he be permitted to be buried there.
Eugene D. Rossel