POSTED: November 12, 2015 by Delane Cleveland
Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn Park, hundreds gathered to honor Hmong veterans who risked their lives during the Vietnam War.
One such veteran is Za Chor Lee, who spent nearly a decade as a prisoner of war.
"From 1976, February, until 1984," Lee said.
But unlike many veterans living in the United States, Lee and the others being honored here have a much different story of their post–war experience.
"We fought with American CIA. Why aren't they recognizing who we are? We're pretty much like under the table," Lee said through an interpreter, referring to his fellow Hmong soldiers who fought in what's known as the "Secret War."
"Not much people know about the secret war," he said.
During the Vietnam War, the CIA trained thousands of Hmong soldiers to aid – and fight alongside — the American military in Laos.
Yet, he says the U.S. government does not recognize them for their service.
"We want the Americans to know that we supported them with our lives, we want them to support us and recognize us as American soldiers," Lee said.
So on Veteran's Day, the Hmong soldiers honored themselves for the work they did decades ago. Shoua Ger Yang is another veteran of the Secret War.
"All of our organizations and people that helped sponsor us are helping us make this dream come true, where we finally get to recognize our veterans," Yang said of Sunday's ceremony.
Whether that recognition will ever come from the U.S. is the big question. For now, Hmong veterans will settle with recognition from their peers.
"This is the most important thing in my life, that I have ever done," Lee said.