Heroism and military service run deep in the Qixing Lee family tree. Their grandfather was a soldier for the CIA Secret Army in Laos. Their father strapped a gun around his shoulders at the age of 13 to fight against communist rule. Now the five remaining siblings of the Lee family bond together as they bid farewell to their oldest brother, Qixing Hwjhuam Lee, a specialist in the U.S. Army, who paid the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed in action in Iraq on August 27.
Known to be the second Hmong to die in Iraq (Thai Vue of California died in June of 2004), Qixing’s death carries great significance to the Lee family as younger brother Liang Qing, 19, is himself scheduled to be deployed to Iraq in the upcoming months. Currently stationed in California, Liang Qing is serving in the Marines.
Concerned they may lose another son, Lee’s parents have placed a special request for the U.S. Military to reconsider deploying Liang Qing after his brother’s death. “We feel unsafe about the possibility of losing another son,” explained their mother, Jaineu Yanlecheuyin. “But if he is sent, we will support him all the way.”
Older sister Xiao Ying, 21, is a military police officer for the U.S. Army and has been stationed in Korea for the last three years. Married now and looking for other options in life, Xiao Ying had previously decided to leave the military after her term expires next year.
Saddened by her brother’s death, Xiao Ying is resolute about keeping her morale up. “There’s not a lot you can do but mourn and grieve for a while, and then move on.”
Described as the eternal optimist, Qixing would have wanted to see his family in high spirits during times like these. In one of his recent letters to the family, Qixing had written a heartfelt message to let them know that he was happy to be fighting to preserve the freedom and happiness that they all enjoyed.
“He wanted for us to know that if he died, his sacrifice would be worthwhile if we continued living life to the fullest ,” Qixing’s mom revealed, fighting back tears. “We never would have wanted to see his thoughts come true, though.”
Always a giver of himself, Qixing’s ambitions have, as long as anybody could remember, been to serve in the armed forces. “He had always been patriotic and a fighter,” proclaimed his father, Chedrua. “A little man with a big heart.”
Stationed in Taji, Iraq, Qixing was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, a front-line unit that regularly saw enemy exchanges. In recent correspondence with family members, Qixing spoke of escaping death and injury on several occasions. In one instance, the other crew members in his armored vehicle had suffered significant injuries during one attack, while he was able to make it out with only a few scratches.
Qixing’s being in the military especially scared his fiancé, Kaonou Moua, a student at Merced City College in California. They played together as children when the Lee family lived briefly in Merced but lost contact until reuniting many years later, blossoming into a romantic relationship.
After three years as a couple, they had planned to get married this December after Qixing’s return from Iraq. With this sudden tragedy, however, Kaonou “can’t see how the future will look.”
With a deep breath, she continued, “It’s difficult.”
Saddened that their son finally met his fate, Chedrua and Jaineu are forever proud of the sacrifice that Qixing made. Chedrua still believes that America needs to finish the job in Iraq and that each and every American citizen has an obligation to support the troops who are fighting for peace and liberty.
By fighting for what he believed in, Qinxing has once again set a good example for his siblings to follow, his parents agree. “He’s a true hero. And even though we’re in deep mourning, we’re proud to have him as a son.”
Qixing laid to rest
On the fifth-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, the entire nation stood together to somberly remember those tragic events that have forever altered life in America.
In line with this special day of remembrance, the tribute paid to fallen soldier Spc. Qixing Hwjhuam Lee was spectacular and befitting of the hero that he will forever be remembered as.
A cold, grey morning with a light mist falling, the weather seemingly symbolized the solemn mood felt throughout the grounds at Fort Snelling National Cemetery where Qixing was laid to rest.
Contrasted against the grey skies were hundreds of red, white and blue American flags that were proudly displayed to signify the patriotic spirit in which the young man’s life was taken while in service to his nation.
Those in attendance included his family, friends, fellow soldiers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who officially ordered all U.S. and state flags at the State Capitol to be flown at half-staff the entire day in honor of Qixing.
In his official proclamation, Pawlenty declared Qixing a “hero while protecting his country and fighting for freedom” and went on to add that the fallen soldier would be given awards posthumously, including “the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat, and the Bronze Star with V Device for his conspicuous actions in the line of duty.”
A large show of support came from over a hundred members of the MN Patriot Guard Riders, part of a national organization of individuals who, on the most part, share an enthusiasm in motorcycles and in supporting fallen troops. Riders came from all over the Midwest, some even as far as Kansas to show their support for Qixing and his family.
Minnesota Guard members began arriving early that morning. By 9 a.m. over 100 members in their leather chaps and leather jackets decorated with flags, many with patches indicating service as veterans of the Vietnam War, were ready to roll. The motorcycles were lined up in rows of twos, most with large American flags flying from the back of their bikes.
At 10 a.m. lone riders were sent to each intersection along the route from Ikea to Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Their purpose was to prevent traffic from interrupting the long, impressive and continuous line of some nearly 150 motorcycles and six cars in the procession to Fort Snelling. One could see the look of respect and wonderment on the faces of drivers as they passed the motorcycle entourage.
Upon arrival at Fort Snelling, the Minnesota Patriot Guard Riders dismounted from their motorcycles and lined up along the route Qixing’s family and friends would take to the grave site. The US Army Honor Guard and Rifle Squad were already there and going through their final practice for the service.
Despite the early autumn chill and the light rain, the Patriot Guard members waited patiently and honorably throughout the service, each with American flags held high. Except for the occasional distraction of a plane taking off from the nearby airport, or the sound of a 21-gun salute at other funerals being held that day, the scene at Qixing’s funeral was truly patriotic, serene and picturesque.
Many of the riders were there not only to honor Qixing for his sacrifice and his family for their loss. The riders who were Vietnam Vets were there to honor the people they considered their “Comrades in Arms”, the Hmong veterans who had served and sacrificed for America during the Vietnam War, in the “secret war” in Laos. These men were saluting not only Qixing but also his father and the other Hmong men who fought so hard against the communist North Vietnamese in Laos.
Perhaps the most moving moments came at the end of the service. One of Qixing’s sisters came over to the men and women of the Minnesota Patriot Guard Riders and thanked many of them personally. Tears were in the eyes of both the sister and the Guard members. Thanks were expressed by both through those tears and a firm but warm handshake.
Finally, when the family members were headed back to their cars, Jeff Seeber, a disabled Vietnam Vet, a former Navy Corpsman, saluted Qixing’s brother Liang Qing who currently serves in the Marines. Qixing’s brother crisply returned the salute. The scene was repeated between Seeber and Qixing’s father, Chedrua. Again, Seeber’s salute was crisply returned and he and Chedrua spoke momentarily. Jeff thanked Qixing’s father for his service in Laos. Jeff also gave his regrets for the loss of Chedrua’s son. Chedrua’s response spoke of freedom, duty and country. That he had lost one son, but had two other children also serving their country – America – yet. They parted shaking hands.
For Jeff Seeber, this was an opportunity to not only honor a fallen hero and his family, it was an opportunity to do for someone today what was not done for his comrades who served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War. For Seeber, it was part of the long healing process.
Spc. Qixing Lee – in death – continued to serve his country by bringing together two old veterans that had fought on the same side for freedom, duty and country.
Specialist Qixing Hwjhuam Lee died on August 27, 2006 with three others while on patrol in Taji, Iraq. Spc. Lee will be awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat and the Bronze Star for his actions in the line of duty. Qixing is notably the second Hmong to die in Iraq and the only soldier thus far from the city of Minneapolis (according to the website www.icasualties.org).