General Vang Pao, hero

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When I saw the headlines blinking from my computer screen, I had to do a double-take. And then a triple-take. And then I had to check three other news sites to make sure I was reading it correctly: Yes, General Vang Pao was indeed locked up!

Opinion: General Vang Pao, hero


My initial feeling, after the utter shock, was that if he and the others truly did conspire to blow Laos up, well, perhaps he should face-up to the charges like any other normal citizen.

But upon deeper analysis of the situation, it hit me. Gen. Vang Pao is no normal citizen. This is a man who, above and beyond everything we may know about him, is so devoted to his people that he has sacrificed his own happiness all this time to remain true to those who need him the most – those Hmong who have been suffering in Laos all these years.

It’s no secret. Every Hmong New Year for the last 30 plus years, this guy gets on stage and huffs and puffs about how he will lead us all back to Laos. Those of us too young to care about Laos really never gave it much thought, dismissing the speech as yet another empty promise among the list of other disappointments we’ve seen from Hmong leadership.

And yet our parents still honored the man as though he just opened the sky and handed civilization to the Hmong people.

To them, the General represented everything a George Washington or a Martin Luther King was to their respective constituents: Through bravery and innovation, he delivered a higher standard of living and a taste of the promised land.

To us, the General was this old guy in an ill-fitting suit who was at the end of his tenure as leader of the Hmong people. We learned to despise his pandering, his pleas for support. We called him a liar and a cheat and cheered when the attorney general dismantled the foundation named after him.

But all along, we were blinded by our youth. We took our cake lives in America for granted, never appreciating the blood that was spilled so that we could enjoy life in the greatest, most free nation in the world.

All along, this mountain of a man was still fighting against the enemies of the Hmong. He was still loyal, especially to those who were hidden away in the jungles of Laos too weak to fight. Even now after heart bypass surgery and a number of other health ailments, General Vang Pao remains the hero of the Hmong.

It saddens me so much to realize that I hadn’t seen this man’s love until now. It sometimes takes sacrifice for a leader to speak loudest and this is the height of sacrifice. When others would have enjoyed an endless life of retirement and tranquility that a man in his position could have taken advantage of, General Vang Pao never quit. He never let go of the dream, the promise. He is truly a man of integrity and fortitude.

He is my hero. He is the Hmong hero. His legacy is forever intact.