In the 1960s and 70s, the CIA recruited Vang Pao to organize a Hmong fighting force to join America's "secret war" against the North Vietnamese in Laos.
When the war ended, 35,000 Hmong soldiers died, according to Rep. Jim Costa, (D-Fresno). The survivors were given refugee status in the U.S. and became naturalized citizens. But none have ever been given veteran status, and some -- including Pao, the group's general, who died in 2011 -- have been refused burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Rep. Costa -- whose constituents include some 40,000 Hmong -- is now pushing legislation to give full military burial rights to those granted citizenship under the 2000 Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act, an estimated 6,200 to 8,200 fighters.
But the future of the bill is in jeopardy. Legislation has moved slowly, and Costa -- the bill's major backer -- is still fighting for his seat in a midterm race that's too close to call.
California's Hmong survivors -- like Charlie Moua, 65 -- say burial rights would mean getting the respect the dignity he and his fellow fighters feel they've earned.
Moua was 12 when he was recruited to fight and first held an M-14. Acknowledgement of his service, he says, would memorialize it for future generations.
“Our bloodshed and sacrifice brought the Hmong 100 years into the future by coming to this country—that’s what we gave our children,” Moua told the Sacramento Bee. “American children respect their parents, but Hmong children don’t even bother to find out where their parents are coming from.”