Thousands of Minnesotans attending Vang Pao funeral
FRESNO, Calif. -- Gen. Vang Pao's widow and children appealed to President Obama on Tuesday to overturn the Army's decision denying the revered Hmong leader and U.S. military ally full burial honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Laotian general's wife, May Song Vang, said she had hoped her husband's role leading a covert guerrilla army that saved hundreds of American lives during the Vietnam War would be recognized. Army Secretary John McHugh's decision Friday denying the general a final resting place in Virginia was unjust, she said.
"I am deeply hurt and insulted by the decision," she said. "The planes my husband was flying in crashed at least eight times in their attempts to save American soldiers. If that is not sacrifice, what is?"
Vang Pao died on Jan. 6 at age 81 in Central California after battling pneumonia.
Thousands of mourners have traveled to Fresno over the last five days to pay their respects to their late leader during an elaborate, six-day memorial service including Christian, Buddhist and traditional Hmong ceremonies to guide Vang Pao's soul back to his childhood home in Longhay, Laos.
California Democratic Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza submitted the original request to McHugh on behalf of Vang Pao's family shortly after his death, saying the general had earned the honor of being buried alongside American soldiers. Tuesday, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers wrote the president again, asking him to reverse the decision and allow the fabled general to be interred at Arlington.
Hundreds of mourners also have signed an urgent petition requesting the reversal. If the request is denied, the general will be buried in a cemetery in the Southern California city of Glendale.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)