Many Americans were against the Vietnam War from the start. It was not their fight and they did not support it. Despite their protests though, American got involved in the war anyway, sending—drafting thousands of young men to fight in the war. But while this war was happening, another kind of war was going on. This war was known as "The Secret War" and it was a secret war because years later, after the Vietnam War ended, many Vietnam Veterans would admit that they had no idea another war was happening. This secret war would eventually lead to a new wave of immigrants into the United States: the Hmong. Many people do not know the important role that the Hmong played in the Vietnam War and the reason why the Hmong came to America. The Hmong fought with the Americans to stop the spread of communism, and when they came to America, after the war, in hopes of finding a better life they were, instead, face with many problems, including bias and discrimination.
The Hmong were a small group of people scattered among the highlands of Laos. After years of wandering, searching for a place to call home, they finally settled in Laos, mainly because no one had any use for the highlands of Laos. However, the Hmong built small villages on top of these highlands and each village came with its own chief of the village. They live quietly and happily, and valued their peace and tranquility. Their typical day may seem like a lot of work, but it seemed no different from American ancestors who spent their time farming. A day would start before the sunrise and end after the sunset. Once the sunrises, the father—the man of the house—would go out and farm. They would have to travel far since the fields are located in an entirely different area than where the house is. The wife could either go with her husband, or stay home and clean the house and cook. If they have any kids at all, the oldest, if it were a son, would attend school every morning. But if the oldest was a daughter, the daughter would have no choice but to stay home and help the mother, or do the mother's work if the mother decides to go with the father to the garden. After the sun set, it would be time to head back home, eat a light dinner, and then get read for bed. This would begin all over again the next day. It was a hard life for the Hmong, yet they enjoy it because they were free. No one told them what to do, what custom/belief to believe in, and what not to believe in. Hmong value their freedom, even more than money—than gold. This probably explains why "Hmong" means "freedom."
The daily, peaceful, life of the Hmong came to an end after the French army came. They helped fight with the French earlier, but eventually, the French deserted them, and so they remained in the highlands never getting involved in anything, in anyone else's problem, until 1959. The Hmong became involved in the war that was not theirs to start with. They became involved in the Vietnam War.(1) CIA agents "Pat" Lloyd Landry, John "Jack" Shirley, and James "Bill" Lair recruited the Hmong. They were among the very first officers sent to recruit Hmong soldiers, and they promised two things to the Hmong if they were to help them fight North Vietnamese. The promises were never actually written down, but many Hmong soldier were an eyewitness to this event, and many would say so years later after the Vietnam War. "We came not because we wanted America's money or its wealth. We came because America had promised to take care of us if we lose the war, and we lost the war. We have no home, no land, and we came to America because we wanted a place to call home, to start over, a better and safer place for our kids."(2) They were promised that one, if the Hmong help them fight in the war, they (America) would supply all the weapons, medicines, and food for the Hmong. Two, if they help fight the war and America won, they would help Laos rebuild itself, but if they help fight, and America lost the war, America would take care of them and find them a place to live.
The Hmong agreed, but reluctantly. Many were still a little cautious because they had been in the same position with the French, as mentioned earlier, and the French abandoned them. The Hmong knew that they should remain neutral, but if they do, the North Vietnamese would eventually take over and they would be under communim's control. They agreed to fight, even though they didn't want to. "We were just living. The Americans came and told us we had to fight in the war because we were free and the others were Communist. We wouldn't, but then they said if we didn't, the Communist would come into our country so we had to fight for our country."(3) "I went into the war because the Vietnamese invaded Laos and tried to take over, so we had to defend Laos..."(4)
CIA agents recruited Lieutenant Colonel Vang Pao--the only Hmong to achieve a commission in the Royal Laotian Army. Vang Pao gained his military experience by fighting with the French in Touby Lyfisung's militia, and he would act as the Commander of Military Region II, an area surrounding the Plains of Jars. He went from village to village recruiting and earning support from many villagers. He knew how important village loyalty was to the Hmong, and so he used that to his advantage, knowing that if one village went, the others would follow out of loyalty.(5)
The Hmong were responsible for watchinig the Ho Chi Minh Trial and to keep an eye on enemy activities after the second Geneva Accord was signed, which prevented foreign troops in Laos. This trail was used to gather intelligence for U.S bombing. Field telephones were used to contact the American pilots to decide which plane to bomb. Sometimes, traps would be set and booby traps made. Many were trained to use radios, weapons, and still and movie cameras to monitor the enemy and their movements. This would hamper, but not stop the steady flow of troops and materials to the South. (6)
The most important role, though, that the Hmong had were in rescuing American pilots who were often shot down. Many Hmong would risk their lives just for one pilot. Air American pilots transported troops and supplies to hundreds of crude airships located throughout northeastern Laos. they would use STOC (short take off and landing) aircraft, for example, the Helio Courier, and the PC-6 Pilatus Porter, that could move easily through the rugged mountain peaks and land on tiny airstrips. "Air strips known as the "Lima Sites" became an important component of the Hmong "trip-wire," used both to gather information and ambush soldiers. Hmong soldiers frequently depended on air support, and reciprocated risking their own lives to save downed pilots." (7) Often when Vietnamese soldiers were captured, they would trade two Vietnamese for one American pilot. "Later when there was fighting and we were losing the war we could trade two Vietnamese for one of the Americans that had been captured...trade two Vietnamese that we capatured to release one of the pilots." (8)
The Hmong believed American would help them, but when the Americans pulled out their troops in 1975, the Hmong were shocked. They would no longer receive any more supplies, no longer receive any more help from the CIA and from America. Many of them were not aware of this act until supplies no longer came, troops no longer appeared. "...We thought that America would come to help us, they were going to help us win.... When the Americans wanted to go back home, they didn't tell us that they were leaving our country. When we finally...They were already gone." (9) Many felt betrayed; many were angry, but that did not prevent them from fighting back with what they had left. Even after they were abandon, they used whatever weapon they had left, and even weapons they had buried, they dug up and continued to resist the North Vietnamese. But without the equipment and the help, their resistance fell, and many were captured and killed. Those that managed to escape fled to either the Thai refugee camps, or into the jungles of Laos, fearing for their lives. "...I hid in the forest and caves."(10)
Eventually, America finally allowed the wave of immigrants to enter the United States. America had kept its promises to the Hmong and found a place the Hmong could call home, but first they must get over the new war that they now face in America: racism, discrimination, and no understanding at all of the English language. It was not the kind of life they were expecting. Many Hmong thought that all the Americans would embrace them. They had fought in the Vietnam War and so they have a share d bond, but it did not go the way they planned. They knew it was going to be hard, but they could not believe how those who had no idea about the Hmong's involvment in the war would treat them. But this did not prevent them from making a home in this foreign land and raising their kids here. In fact, this made them even more determine to call this land "Home." They couldn't go back, they could never return to Laos because they might be captured and killed, and so many stayed.
Upon arriving in American, many Hmong immigrants faced many problems. For one, they did not seem to realize that most Americans did not know about their involvement in the "Secret War." In fact, Americans knew nothing of the war except the government and military officials. So when they were greeted with contempt and met with discrimination, they were hurt. Even now some people do not know the true reason why the Hmong are here, but efforts are being made, and there has been less racism and discrimination. "People do not stare at me all the time now, like they did when I first arrived. It was like they have never seen a Hmong before, and I was not the first to come to America"(11) Another problem that they face was not being able to learn English and speak it. Many of the Hmong soldiers are too old to learn, and they depend on welfare, and their future kids to make a better life. "When I go somewhere, i ususally take my daughter with me to translate for me." (12)
Even though the war is over, many Hmong still have nightmares about the war. They still see the dead bodies, they still dream about being in Laos and shooting the Vietnamese. "There is no war right here, but when I sleep, I still dream of the time that I was fighting back then." (13) This is no different than the American soldiers who came back from the Vietnam War. The soldiers that went to war and the Hmong that helped them alongside the war share a common bond, a common nightmare. "I still have nightmare. I still cry. I see me in the nightmare...I ask him to pull the trigger...I wake up. Every time." (14)
Racism and discrimination is now the least of the Hmong problems. What they now face is the extinction of their culture, and the knowledge that their kids (not all) are growing up to gangsters instead of being in school. There is a lack of respect for older generations in the Hmong culture, and many parents feel that their kids do not appreciate them and the things they have gone and went through in order to come to this new country. Thie most critical problem that the Hmong now face is the gap between the Hmong parents and their kids. The lack of communication in some families brings about a problem. Most Hmong kids do not understand what their parents have gone through just to get them here, and so they think they can run free and wild. The Hmong parents want to be respected by their kids and the parents want their children to go to school and have a happier, more wealthier life than them, but when they try to tell their kids, some listen, and others don't. Instead, they go out and smoke, hang around friends that do bad things, and join gangs.
Hmongs have come a long way, and now view America as their new homeland. Many are now applying for American citizenship, with the help of a translator during the taking of the test. Though many people have not heard of the Hmong, people are slowly accepting them and learning about their ways of life. Many of the Hmong still have relatives back home, and many are burden by the memories of the Vietnam War, but there is hope in the future ahead: hope in the future generation, and in years to come. The Hmong has a lot of catching up to do, but they are content to go slowly and gain as much knowledge as they can about the ever-changing world. "We got involved in a war that was not ours to start with, but we are here now, and that is what matters." (15)
(1). Jagodzinski, Anne & Kegel, James. The Hmong and their stories (DC Everest Area Schools) 2001 Ed.
(2). Chong Neng Khang (Hmong Vietnam War Veteran).
(3). Nao Por Lor (Hmong Vietnam War Veteran).
(4). Thom Xai Lor (Hmong Vietnam Veteran).
(5). Pfaff Tim. Hmong in America: Journey from a Secret War . (UW Eau Claire: Eau Claire: 1991). p. 39.
(6). Pfaff, Tim, p. 43.
(7). Pfaff, Tim, p. 43.
(8). Cha Lee Lor (Hmong Vietnam Veteran) p. 63.
(9). Yang Pao Moua (Hmong Vietnam Veteran) p. 72.
(10). Boua Xiong Lee (Hmong Vietnam Veteran) p. 54.
(11). Chong Neng Khang (Hmong Vietnam Veteran).
(12). Kor Xiong (Hmong immigrant).
(13). Chao Xiong (Hmong Vietnam Veteran) p. 105.
(14). Woodley, "Gene" Jr. in Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War By Black Veterans by Wallace Terry (New York: First Ballantine Books Edition: Aug. 1985) p. 257.
(15). Chong Neng Kang (Hmong Vietnam Veteran).
Jagodzinski, Anne and Kegel, James. The Hmong and their stories . Wausau: D.C. Everest School Publications, 2001.
Khang, Chong Neng. (Hmong Vietnam Veteran). May 31, 2003.
LoBaido, Anthony. . 05/28/03.
Parker, James E. Jr. Covert OPS: The CIA's Secret War In Laos . New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Pfaff, Tim. Hmong in America: Journey from a Secret War . U. of Wisconsin Eau Claire: Eau Claire, 1991.
Terry, Wallace. Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War By Black Vietnam Veterans. New York: First Ballantine Books Edition: 1995.
Xion, Kor. (Wife of a Hmong Vietnam Veteran) June 1, 2003.
If you want to learn more about any of these, check out my sources, or you can go search them up on the Internet. If you have any questions or comments, you can e-mail me at
Thanks again, I hope you enjoy reading this essay as much as I enjoyed writing about my culture and all...