As she stared at her uncle's engraved name, tears slowly began to stream down her face. The
gentleman next to her offered her his arm to keep her from toppling over. A reporter asked the
woman why she was crying. In between gasps of air, she said because she loved her uncle so
much and to finally see him being acknowledged for his bravery and courage during the Secret
War in Laos is moving, but at the same time she missed him so much.
On the other side of the memorial, a middle-aged man was on his knees with his hands over
his face sobbing uncontrollably. In front of him was a bowl filled with rice grains and lighted
incense. He, too, was remembering and honoring his loved ones who had sacrificed so much
during the Secret War.
Like these two individuals, over 1,500 people arrived in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on July 15 for
the unveiling of the Lao, Hmong, and American Veterans Memorial. Each person came with his
own story of loss, painn and bravery. Many remembered the aftermath of the war and yet for some,
they had only heard stories. Whatever the reason for coming to this memorial, people all came to
honor Laotian, Hmong, and American veterans who fought in Laos' Secret War.
During the Secret War in Laos, the United States CIA recruited and trained indigenous groups
in Laos to fight the North Vietnamese. These thousands of secret soldiers consisted of Laotians
and Hmong Special Guerilla Units (SGUs). Special Guerilla Units disrupted communist supply
lines, guarded top-secret U.S. bases, and rescued downed American pilots.
Unfortunately, when the U.S. withdrew from Laos, the secrecy of the war remained. The
sacrifices made by the men and women who fought in the Secret War were never acknowledged
until their stories were finally told.
For 30 years, Secret War Veterans told their stories. However, it was only four years ago that the
discussion of a Secret War Memorial in Wisconsin, which is home to the third largest Hmong
population in the U.S., was finally brought up by Sheboygan Council members. Even then, the
memorial didn't seem to have a chance as funding and a location became problematic.
Fortunately, some members fought hard to keep the memorial alive. After years of ups and downs,
$140,000 was raised through private donations and eventually, Deland Park in Sheboygan was
selected as the place for the memorial.
Representative Terry Van Akkeren said that plans for the memorial may have changed but the
dedication of the people involved did not and through their vision and perseverance, this day was
made possible. Along with Van Akkeren and other Wisconsin representatives took part in the
historic day, including Governor Jim Doyle and Congressman Mark Green. Everyone echoed the
importance of this day and the need for this memorial.
Congressman Mark Green said, "This beautiful memorial is a modest step to paying our debt."
Also present were Sheboygan's past and present Mayors, James Schram and Juan Perez,
who drew loud applauses as Mayor Perez said, "Today is a very special day. It is a long overdue
day." Secret War Veterans also expressed their gratitude for the memorial and for their fellow
soldiers. Colonel James William (Bill) Lair, who was part of the U.S. CIA who trained SGUs, said,
"If there is anybody in the United States that came from another country who earned the right to be
here, they did. They did not beg for a chance. They earned the right with their lives and suffering to
After what seemed like a very long morning of speeches, ethnic dance and music, with
temperatures that peaked at 101 degrees that day, the inconveniences were all forgotten as T-28
planes flew over Lake Michigan and Laotian, Hmong, and American Veterans dressed in their
uniforms proudly marched together.
The eager crowd, a mixture of people from the elderly to the young, Hmong to Caucasian, and
bikers to dentists, gathered around the covered monument and waited for its unveiling. After a
moment of silence, rifle squads, military salutes, and a wreath presentation, the red, white and
blue covering slowly revealed engravings on black granite. The circular, four panel, black granite
monument is the first of its kind. It not only honors veterans of one ethnicity of the Secret War but
all Laotian, Hmong, and American Veterans together.
The 44-foot monument designed by Ray Hernandez, former dean of the University of
Wisconsin-Sheboygan, explained that this memorial is meant to clarify what happened during the
Secret War. It is meant to memorialize the sacrifices of those who fought in the war, to preserve
history and to educate young people about Lao and Hmong people. Within the panels, the story of
the Secret War is told along with Hmong and Laotian cultural history and the names of the
veterans of the Secret War.
Indeed, it was a historical day, but to insure that this memorial not be forgotten, Xia Vue Vang,
the day's emcee, said that a parade will be held during Memorial Day, giving spectators a chance
to come to the site to offer incense and plant flowers for the veterans. Vang also said that plans
are already underway for luncheons with SGUs and local and state schools are already planning
to bring students to the site to learn about the Secret War.
Governor Jim Doyle has higher hopes than a memorial. He said, "I look forward to the day that
we not only have a memorial to the Lao, Hmong, and American Veterans but that we have a
Hmong Cultural Center here in Wisconsin."
|Lao, Hmong, American Veterans
by Ka Bao Lee