Several hundred Hmong and Laotian Americans and their former CIA advisers - along with U.S. veterans and diplomats - went to Arlington National Cemetery Friday morning to honor Gen. Vang Pao. Many Vietnam-era veterans sought to have Vang - who led the CIA-funded guerrilla army against the Lao and Vietnamese communists - buried at Arlington.
Vang, who died Jan. 6 at 81, was denied burial there because he wasn't a citizen during the Vietnam War, though he became a U.S. citizen and settled in Orange County, said Philip Smith, executive director for the Center For Public Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C.
But at 10:30 a.m. Friday, the U.S. Army Honor Guard in dress uniforms, "The Old Guard of the 3rd Division," presented arms and colors in honor of Vang and the Hmong and Lao veterans, Smith said. U.S. flags were raised and an Army bugler played "Taps" for the Hmong and Lao veterans who died during the war.
The ceremony took place at the Lao Veterans of America Monument and Atlas Cedar tree at Arlington a few hundred yards from the eternal flame at President John F. Kennedy's grave. "We were very honored to have that location," Smith said.
The U.S. Army, which had initially rejected the request to bury Gen. Vang at the cemetery, "not only approved the official ceremony but approved official support with an honor guard, bugler and wreath bearer with white lilies and carnations honoring the death of the general and others who served with him," Smith said.