Written by Luke D. Sprague, Oral Historian
Hmong veterans of Wisconsin sacrificed their lives, homes, and livelihoods due to their alliance with the United States during the Secret War in Laos from 1961 to 1975.
These Hmong, armed, trained, and organized by the United States and its allies, fought in support of the United States during the Vietnam War. The 1973 Paris Peace Accords ended United States involvement in Vietnam and Laos. Soon after, the Pathet Lao communist government sought out these allied Hmong veterans for retribution.
As a result, thousands of Hmong died in fighting, executions, starvation, and imprisonment as they and their families fled Laos for Thailand. May 14, 1975, saw the last airlift out of Laos for Thailand refugee camps. Following many years in those UN refugee camps in Thailand, many of these Hmong immigrated to Wisconsin.
Today, in honor of Asian American Heritage Month and Hmong service to the United States, we present four online oral histories from the Recognizing the Hmong: SGU Veterans Project. The oral histories form part of the Recognizing the Hmong: The Secret War in Laos exhibit in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum gallery. Below are four short audio clips followed by the complete audio interview, Hmong transcripts, and English transcripts. These are their stories.
These narratives contain graphic accounts of war, violence, killing, starvation, torture, poisoning, genocide, and other crimes against humanity.
BOUA FUE YANG: So we crossed over to Thailand and stayed in Nong Khai refugee camp. We stayed in Nong Khai for two years and in '78 we obtained authorization to come to this country. It was May 22nd when we left, May 22nd of '78, we left Nong Khai to come to America. At that time it was May, when we left Nong Khai, right? We left in May, not sure what the date was, but it seemed like the 7th or the 8th when we got Bangkok Thailand. More than a week later we got to Chicago. It was May 23rd.
NPUAG FWM YAJ: Ces peb dhau rau Thaib Teb thiaj li tuaj mus nyob rau hauv lub Xum Noom Qhais na. Xum Noom Qhais ntawd tau ob xyoos. Ces xyoo '78 ntawd wb thiaj xam phaj tau tawm tuaj rau teb chaws no. Tsib hlis ntuj vas thib 22 ntawd wb tawm, Tsib hlis ntuj 22, xyoo '78 ntawd wb tawm Xum Noom Qhais tuaj mus rau Asmeskas Teb. Sij hawm ntawd yog tawm 5 hlis ntuj vas thib, hauv Xum Noom Qhais yom? Wb tawm 5 hlis ntuj vas thib xyov yog vas thib 7 los vas thib 8 ntawd xwb es tuaj mus nyob rau Npas Koj Thailand ntawd na. Tau ib lis tiam ntau ces wb poob kiag rau Chicago yog 5 hlis ntuj vas thib 23.
YONG NENG VUE: Yes, let's say this, when it comes to war, nobody likes it, right? When I served, I didn't know it was serving the Americans, right? So I just did what I had to do, but now I know that it was to help the Americans, the American government, I am proud of that. Even if I didn't serve for very long, I am still proud that I had help the Americans.
TXOON NEEB VWJ: Aws, qhov no uas mas hais li no mas tub nav, koj hais rau nkawd hais tias uas qhov uas ua tsov rog no leej twg tsis nyiam yom? Tab sis uas, thaum kuv ua mas kuv kuj tsis paub hais tias niam no ua rau uas niam no tsoom hwv Meskas yom? Ces kuv cia li lam tau lam ua tab sis mas ziag no kuv paub hais tias niam no uas ua li ntawd txoj kev pab rau Meskas, nom tswv Meskas, kuv zoo siab. Kuv txawm uas niam no tsis tau ua ntev los kuv yeej zoo siab hais tias kuv pab Ameskas lawm. Ws.
PAO XIONG: Okay. There was one (time) when we went to the South. We were brought by aircrafts. It was super lai, right? The soldiers were sent into Vietnam, but the aircrafts didn't even land. The aircraft hovered in the air and they told us to jump, right? So we jumped out, and jumped out, but they didn't know that we were surrounded by the Vietnamese. They were at our front and in our rear. They sent us to protect route 9 in Vietnam, right? We were the ones to protect that route, to cut off that route. So we were surrounded by the Vietnamese and were waiting to die. They shot us and (we) shot back at them, and there were all kinds of injuries.
POV XYOOJ: Okay. As, muaj ib qho ces peb mus puag nram qab teb, peb mus ua thab ham ces rau qhov hais tias nyob hoom xa peb. Ib yam xub-pawj-lais, puas yog? Cov thab ham xa mus puag nram Nyab Laj kiag mus ces lawv nyob hoom twb tsis nqis hauv av na. Lub nyob hoom tseem tsaws saum no ces kom peb sawv daws dhia, puas yog? Dhia tawm, dhia tawm nyob hoom ya lawm no na, ces thaum ntawd mas, lawv twb tsis paub Nyab Laj twb puav tag lawm na, es tom ntej tom qab Nyaj Laj nyob tas. Vim qhov hais tias lawv xa peb mus thaiv txoj kev 9 mus nram qab teb nram Nyab Laj teb na, puas yog? Peb cov yog cov thaiv txoj kev ntawd na, txiav txoj kev ntawd na. Ces Nyab Laj zov puv tas roob tas ces tos tua no ov, uas lawv tua yus, yus tua lawv ces raug mob li cas los muaj li no ov.
NAO TOU LOR: And if we happened to be on a base that's very dangerous, where the Vietnamese were close by, we couldn't build a fire, right? (We) couldn't cook, but the Americans had also dropped off some kind of fried rice, in bags about this size. They dropped these off for us, sometimes with beef, or just rice for us. Sometimes they also dropped off water. We kept these in our bags. Sometimes we'd just pour water over the rice, to make it soft, right? Then we'd just eat that up to four or five days at a time because you were close to the Vietnamese, you couldn't build a fire, and nobody could come and rescue you. If you build a fire then they'd shoot at you.
NOM TUB LAUJ: Ces tej zaum yog peb mus nyob rau tej lub khaib es "kas das" (plhom sij) heev na, Nyab Laj nyob ze ze, peb rauv tsis tau taws lawm, puas yog? Ua tsis tau mov noj, ces Ameskas kuj coj ib co mov kib na, lawv ntim tej hnab tej hnab luaj li no, ces lawv coj tuaj pov nrog nqaij nyug lau, mov qhuav rau koj ces, tej zaum lawv pov dej tuaj thiab ces, yus tso hauv yus lub hnab ces tej zaum koj cia li muab cov mov, nchuav dej rau ces cov mov ntawv muag muag tuaj, puas yog? Ces cia li noj zoo li ntawd, yeej tau noj li ntawd tau tsheej plaub tsib hnub los noj li rau qhov hais tias koj nyob ze ze ntawm cov Nyab Laj, koj rauv tsis tau taws, lawv tuaj pab tsis tau koj li, puas yog? Koj rauv taws ncho ces lawv tua koj lawm xwb.