During the Vietnam War, thousands of Hmong people fought as allies of the United States against the Communist government of Laos. An estimated 10% of the Hmong population of Laos–about 30,000 people–was killed during the war, and over 100,000 were displaced. Now, Military.com reports that Hmong veterans who have resettled as refugees in the United States are seeking burial in U.S. military cemeteries. Hmong leader Chue Chou Tchang testified at the Minnesota State House:
We were American soldiers fighting alongside American soldiers…. We fought like brothers. We died together. Coming to this country, we’d like to rest with the American soldiers that fought with us.
Because of a United Nations agreement not to commit American troops to Laos in the early 1960s, the CIA launched a covert operation of training and funding Hmong soldiers, first to retrieve the bodies of pilots whose planes had crashed and then to block supplies and attack North Vietnamese and Communist troops. The Hmong soldiers fought bravely and won the respect of their American comrades.
The main arguments against burying the Hmong fighters in U.S. military cemeteries are that the cemeteries are exclusively for people who served in the United States Armed Forces (as opposed to allied forces) and that there is limited space. Based on a quick review of the comments on Military.com, it seems many veterans who served during the war believe the Hmong should be granted burial in military cemeteries.
Last year, after Vang Pao, an important Hmong general died, he was refused burial at Arlington National Cemetery. However, a few months after his death, a U.S. Army Honor Guard participated in a memorial service for the General and other Hmong veterans at Arlington (though the Hmong veterans were not buried there).
It seems unlikely that the policy on burial will change any time soon, so holding ceremonies like the one for General Vang Pao seems like a respectful way to honor our foreign allies who fought–and sometimes died–with us.
Given the number of foreigners who served (and continue to serve) with the U.S. military, my guess is that we will see this issue raised again and again in the future. I have represented a number of people who worked with the U.S. military and who then had to flee their homelands–from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Laos. The military should develop a consistent policy to deal with such people when it comes to burial and other veterans’ benefits. The model used in the case of General Vang Pao seems like a reasonable way to handle the issue of burial, but it needs to be consistently applied to all our foreign allies. Like our own veterans, we owe our foreign allies a great debt, and we need to do right for them all.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.