Nao Tou Lor was born in 1953 in the province of Xieng Khouang, Laos. His father worked with the French, and Nao Tou Lor remembers visiting the French fort near his home at an early age. Circa 1962, the Vietnamese arrested his father and took him. Nao Tou Lor and his brothers fled to the jungles to enlist and obtain arms from the Americans. Nao Tou Lor attended school for a short while before he also became a soldier around 1964.
After the cease-fire in 1975, Nao Tou Lor and many of his fellow soldiers were forced to continue fighting due to the advances of the North Vietnamese. He escaped to Thailand in 1979, and he and his two small children arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1980, after losing his wife to illness earlier that year. In 1984, Nao Tou Lor moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin, trained and found work. And in 1994, he was appointed President of the Lao Veterans Association, a position he held until 2013. Nao Tou Lor's experience as a soldier afforded him a love of flying and airplanes; today, he owns his own Cessna 150 and crafts model airplanes.
He brought with him the memories of the Secret War in Laos, where he fought as a soldier in the Special Guerilla Unit (SGU) against the North Vietnamese as an ally of the United States. And though he was not a pilot during the war, he carried to Wisconsin the vivid memories of his experience from the Secret War in Laos. Nao Tou Lor reflects on his experience with aircraft during that war, “In Laos, when I was a soldier, airplanes would drop us off in the jungle and when the airplanes were still there, we felt like our life is still good and we felt that we weren't in any danger, but when the planes left and we were left in the jungle by ourselves at night, we felt as if our life line is so thin, life could perish any time."
Today, we share behind-the-scenes photos during the Wisconsin Veterans Museum oral history interview with Nao Tou Lor in La Crosse. There, he shared with us what he observed in the skies over Laos and on the ground. Here are some of his models. Please note the timestamps in brackets [00:00:00] that contain the relevant context in the oral history interview.
This is a plaster relief that Nao Tou Lor created of Long Cheng Air Base, Laos. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Royal Lao Air Force worked out of this base until the Vietnamese overran it. [01:47:00].
Next, Nao Tor Lor appears to have built a rough approximation of a T-28 ground-attack aircraft used by the Hmong allies during the Vietnam War. Note the bombs and rockets for ground attack. [01:47:00].
Tellingly, standing beside this T-28 is a figure, renowned Hmong pilot Lee Lue, who flew T-28s in Long Cheng, Laos, for the Royal Lao Air Force. Lee Lue may indicate the aircraft that Nao Tou Lor was trying to recreate with his model was the T-28. Note the name on the helmet and at the statue's base, "Lee Lue." [00:15:00].
One of the helicopters provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the Vietnam War to the Hmong allies. [01:49:00].
Here is a photograph of Nao Tou Lor and his Cessna 150 in the United States. He finished aviation school in 1991 and bought the Cessna in 2004. [01:43:00].