Vang Pao dies; Hmong leader led secret war in Laos
Vang Pao, who led a secret CIA sponsored insurgency in Laos during the Vietnam war, has died age 81 in California.
Gen. Pao was a longtime resident of the Fresno area of California, where he was considered the de facto leader of the Hmong people who lived there.
As a teenager, Gen. Pao served as a translator for French troops in Laos during World War II, and later became an officer in the Royal Lao Army, rising to the rank of general.
In the early 1960s, Gen. Pao was recruited by the CIA to command a guerilla army in clandestine combat operations against communist forces in Southeast Asia.
At one time, Gen. Pao had more than 30,000 troops under his command, many of them were ethnic Hmongs who had lived in the Laotian mountains.
Gen. Pao was a skilled soldier whose reputation on the battlefield became well known at the CIA's offices in McLean.
CIA chief William Colby once called Gen. Pao "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War."
Gen. Pao said he lost 17,000 of his men in battle, most of them Hmong. He would often visit Hmong hamlets to give money to the wives and children of his fellow soldiers who had died in combat.
"The Hmong sacrificed the most in the war and were the ones who suffered the most," Gen. Pao once said.
To read more about Gen. Pao, check out his obituary at the Los Angeles Times.
T. Rees Shapiro
| January 7, 2011; 10:47 AM ET
Categories: T. Rees Shapiro | Tags: Laos, Vang Pao, Vietnam War
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