Commentary: Hmong General Vang Pao deserves Arlington burial

General Vang Pao was considered a father figure to Hmong immigrants in the United States. Devoted to fighting tyranny in his home country of Laos, he died last Thursday, 12 days after his 81st birthday.

Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, have asked U.S. officials to allow Vang to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where former members of the U.S. armed forces are buried, for his contributions that benefitted the U.S. military and the nation during the Vietnam era and beyond.

The request is a fitting honor for Vang. The U.S. military granted 196 of 340 such special requests on a case-by-case basis, according to a Government Accountability Office report that looked at the 1967-1997 period. The general's record shows that he, too, has earned this honor.

Vang led thousands of Hmong guerillas in the covert, CIA-backed campaign against communists in Laos between 1961 and 1975. After Laos fell to communist forces in 1975, he settled in the United States and spent the rest of his life trying to resettle Hmong refugees -- and help those left behind in Laos.

He set up nonprofits to aid refugees and lobbied to get U.S. veterans benefits for the Hmong who fought for the United States. He continued to strongly oppose the communist regime in Laos.

It was significant in 2003 when he called for reconciliation with old enemies -- a major shift. In issuing his "Doctrine on Laos and Southeast Asia," he called for cooperation from communist Lao leaders: "Let us put aside our differences from the past and build a brighter future for the people of Laos."

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