The request is a fitting honor for Vang Pao. The U.S. military granted 196 of 340 such special requests on a case-by-case basis, according to a Government Accountability Office report which looked at the 1967-1997 period. Vang Pao's record shows that he, too, has earned this honor.
Vang Pao led thousands of Hmong guerillas in the covert, CIA-backed campaign against communists in Laos between 1961 and 1975. After Laos fell to communist forces in 1975, he settled in the United States and spent the rest of his life trying to resettle Hmong refugees and help those left behind in Laos.
He set up nonprofits to aid refugees and lobbied hard to get U.S. veterans benefits for the Hmong who fought for the United States. He continued to strongly oppose the communist regime in Laos.
It was significant in 2003 when he called for reconciliation with old enemies – a major shift. In issuing his "Doctrine on Laos and Southeast Asia" he called for cooperation from communist Lao leaders: "Let us put aside our differences from the past and build a brighter future for the people of Laos."
This helped open the way for a slow warming of U.S.-Laos relations, including normal trade relations.
So it came as a shock in 2007 when federal prosecutors in California charged Vang Pao and 12 others with allegedly conspiring for a violent coup in Laos – a sorry episode in U.S. justice system history.
The wiretap transcripts showed the group talking in the beginning about bringing democracy and free elections to communist Laos. Then an undercover agent of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives entered the picture, posing as an arms dealer, recommending weapons and mercenaries. Still, the government's own brief admits that Vang Pao "ultimately opposed the plan."
Prosecutors finally dropped the charges against Vang Pao in 2009 and – days after his death – the charges against the other 12.
None of this government blundering can take away from Vang Pao's larger contributions. As the Costa and Cardoza letter states, he "served in support of the United States with passion, dedication and honor." Burial at Arlington National Cemetery would acknowledge that – and help make right the pitiful events of the last 3 1/2 years.