American Odyssey

They fled terror in Laos after secretly aiding American forces in the Vietnam War. Now 200,000 Hmong prosper-and struggle-in the United States

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After a banquet of steak, shrimp and baby bok choy, the guests gathered near a wall that holds a gallery of prosperous-looking men associated with the mansion going back to its robber baron days. In the position of greatest honor, though, is a large color photograph of an elderly Hmong man and woman, Moua’s maternal grandparents, who had been orphaned in Laos. Her grandfather died in the States in 2000; her grandmother still lives at Cedarhurst. Xoua Thao surveys the wall with pride. “My father didn’t live to see this place,” he says softly, “but I’m sure his spirit is here and is very pleased tonight.”



In a mountaintop guardpost near the village of Ban Va in central Laos, Hmong soldiers watched the American pilot eject from his burning plane. It was December 1964, early in the Vietnam War, and the pilot was on a bombing run. The Hmong, part of a secret army backed by the CIA, hoped to reach him before North Vietnamese troops in the area did.


The leader of this cadre of ragtag Hmong soldiers, Nou Yee Yang, recalls that he and his men walked for hours before reaching a field where they spotted a parachute. They found the pilot hiding in some bushes. “He was sweating and very scared because he didn’t know who we were,” Yang says.


Phoumi, the Hmong soldiers said to the pilot, referring to a Laotian leader supported by the United States. The Hmong, who spoke no English, hoped the pilot would recognize the name and understand they were on the American side.



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