POSTED: 11/09/2012 12:01:00 AM CST
Like a lot of old soldiers, Zachor Lee has many memories of service and hardship: Getting trained as a radio operator and learning how to parachute out of an airplane. All-day marches and losing comrades in combat. Years in a prisoner-of-war camp.
But unlike other veterans who fought for the United States, the Brooklyn Park resident can't get medical treatment at a Veterans Affairs hospital, and he won't be buried in a military cemetery when he dies.
That's because Lee was in a secret army, one made up of thousands of Hmong soldiers recruited and trained by the United States during the Vietnam War to aid the American military, fighting communist forces in the Hmong homeland in Laos and rescuing downed U.S. pilots.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, Lee and fellow Hmong veterans in the Twin Cities will be holding a special Veterans Day ceremony to honor their service on behalf of the United States, and to advocate for recognition from Congress for their service and for access to veterans' benefits such as medical care and military burials.
"We're making an effort to better share our story and to help people understand what it means for us to be Americans," said Shou Ger Yang, chairman of the event being planned by the St. Paul-based Special Guerrilla Units Veterans and Families Development of USA.
"They also want to remember all of the people we have lost in the war," said Cassandra Lo, the daughter of a Hmong veteran and an organizer for the group.
"This was like our World War II," said Lee of what now is known as the "Secret War," which involved an estimated 60,000 Hmong soldiers and 35,000 Hmong deaths.
"Even though we're older, we still want Americans to recognize who we are and what we fought for," said Lee, 76.
"As we fought with Americans, we want to be recognized as American soldiers," said Joeh Yang, another member of the organization.
After the Secret War ended in chaos in 1975, thousands of Hmong fled from Laos to refugee camps in Thailand. From there, many resettled in Minnesota. More than 60,000 Hmong live in the state.
Lo estimated that there are about 6,000 Hmong veterans of the Secret War in the United States. She said she expects about 200 to 300 veterans, widows or children of veterans will attend Sunday's ceremony in Brooklyn Park.
Lo said the event also will honor four Hmong-Americans who died while fighting for the U.S. military during the war in Iraq.
The ceremony will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Buasavanh Banquet Hall, 7324 Lakeland Ave. N., Brooklyn Park.
Richard Chin can be reached at 651-228-5560. Follow him at twitter.com/RRChin.