Ceremony salutes Hmong veterans. They are honored for service in Vietnam War
More than 30 years after the war ended, area Hmong veterans of the Vietnam War were recognized for their service for the first time.
About 50 Hmong veterans were honored Thursday at N.E.W. Curative's Cloud Family Care Center, 1538 Western Ave., in Green Bay. The ceremony was hosted by N.E.W. Curative and Heartland Hospice LLC of De Pere.
"I believe most Americans have no idea the debt of gratitude we owe the Hmong people," said Barb Faust, assistant administrator of Heartland Hospice. "We talk about honoring the veterans. We also need to honor the Hmong veterans. They have not been honored like this before."
Both men and women, many who were dressed in uniform, accepted certificates and U.S. flag pins for their service.
"We are true Hmong Vietnam veterans," said retired Maj. Roger Vang, who spoke during the ceremony. "We have proof. I have proof on my arms, on my back, from bullets." Maykaying Lor, program coordinator for N.E.W. Curative, translated his comments.
Among tears and laughter, about 25 women, dressed in traditional Hmong clothing, accepted pins on behalf of their husbands who have died since the war, including one woman whose husband died Thursday.
"Some of us couldn't wait for this day. They got sick and passed away," said retired Capt. Bouachao Lor, who spoke during the ceremony. His comments were translated by Ger Lor. "Now we are here and we ask you to look out for us."
The veterans who were honored Thursday had served in Special Guerrilla Units during the war. They allied with the United States and worked directly with the CIA to guard U.S. radar and radio sites, and to help block enemy forces on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, said Lt. Mee Moua, president of the Wisconsin SGU Veterans. More than 35,000 Hmong service members died in the Vietnam War, he said.
Hmong service members also rescued nearly 300 downed U.S. pilots, "sometimes losing dozens of SGU fighters to save one American pilot," Moua said.
There are between 8,000 and 10,000 SGU veterans in the United States, Moua said.
"I've been living in Green Bay for 30 years, and this is the first time I've been recognized," Bouachao Lor said, translated by Maykaying Lor. "It feels great."
Maykaying Lor said the ceremony was something she has always wanted to do for Hmong elders.
"I look at our elders, and they don't have anything," she said. "They have anxiety, depression from the war."
Through a grant from the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, N.E.W. Curative hosts meetings every Thursday for Hmong elders and veterans.
"The Hmong population is just not served in that way," said Denise Misovec, program director for N.E.W. Curative's adult day programs. "The elders, that social isolation can happen to them, too."
Young members of the Hmong community also attend to teach elders English and to learn about Hmong culture from the elders.
"The intergenerational aspect happens" at every meeting, Misovec said. "It's already a part of the culture, but having the meetings here allows us to learn from one another."