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Hastings Veterans Monument to include names of 'Secret War' soldiers

The memorial that bears both Hmong and American names side-by-side is reportedly the first in the nation.

HASTINGS, Minn. — Remembrance on Memorial Day came with conditions for some.

"The United States government should have done this for us a long time ago, to educate the public but they did not do it," Yang Chee said. Yang is a community organizer who represents the Special Guerilla Unit soldiers who fought in the "Secret War" in Laos. 

Bound by military secrecy, the U.S. did not officially acknowledge its role in the Secret War until 1997.

"It was called the Secret War because the whole world should not know that the U.S., the CIA established a secret war within the country of Laos," Yang explained. "We did that for two purposes. No. 1, to protect the sovereignty of Laos. Simultaneously, the SGUs were defending the United States' interest in Southeast Asia, primarily South Vietnam. And the war in Laos [was] kept as a secret, no one should know about it."

So for the fallen 35,000 Hmong Special Guerilla Unit soldiers, their names remained silent for years.

Until now nearly 50 years later, people like Yang are seeing those names, side by side. American, and Hmong in Hastings.

"It is to my knowledge -- it is the only memorial in the country to honor and to integrate the Hmong names, the SGUs with the Americans," Yang said. "This symbolizes our friendships, our profound connections during the secret war in Laos."

While the memorial won't fully restore the years of honor stolen from those names, Yang said it's a start.

"It's not too late; I hope it will be more and more, there will be more SGU names coming to this memorial," he said.

Remembrance is now timeless there, with names etched in brick, under one flag.

"We're like brothers in arms again," Yang said. "During the war, during peace time and also in heaven."

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