Hmong soldier Long Lee (circa 1969)
Hmong–Americans who fought for the United States during the Vietnam War are not allowed to be buried in national cemeteries. But there’s a push to change that. And one local Hmong vet says it’s about time.
Long Lee was 17-years-old and living in his native Laos when he was recruited and trained by the CIA to help fight a covert war in Southeast Asia 40-years ago.
“He says ‘to this day I still think about it and I still get very scared when I think about my time in the war.’”
Lee’s translator is Nancy Ly…his daughter.
“’So, during the war I remember we were always watching our backs. Our guns were never on the safety lock because you never knew when you would be attacked.’”
Lee was a soldier from 1968 to 1975. After the war, Laos fell into communist hands. Ly and his family spent several harsh years in a Thai refugee camp and finally made their way to the U.S. in 1978.
“I don’t feel that the Americans did abandon us 100%. I mean I am here with my family after all. But they could’ve done more to help us.”
Nancy Ly says it’s only been recently that her father has opened up to her and her siblings about his wartime experiences. Growing up in south Sacramento, she didn’t know much about it…other than seeing a black and white photo of her dad in his uniform taken in the late ‘60s.
“You know, the picture’s always been there but none of us has just asked about it. I think like many war veterans, this is something that’s very hard to talk about. A lot of times there are certain issues that come up and you don’t understand why your father acts a certain way and then you think about all the terrible things that he’s seen in his lifetime. I think it makes you just understand your parents a little bit more.”
The Lee family is among an estimated 250,000 Hmong who live in California with the largest concentrations in Sacramento, Stockton and Fresno. Lee says he’s lived in America for many years now and wishes the U.S would give him benefits like other veterans for military service.
“We fought with American guns, we died for Americans, we died saving Americans. So in a lot of ways we are American veterans and we deserve every single right that every American veteran has, including to be buried in a veteran’s cemetery.”
And a group of federal lawmakers is working on making that happen. Central Valley legislators are drafting a bill that would allow Lee and other Hmong veterans to be buried in U.S. national cemeteries.