Hundreds of people marked Veterans Day in Brooklyn Park on Sunday by holding what was believed to be the first formal event to honor Hmong men who worked for the CIA during the Vietnam War.
More than a dozen Hmong veterans at the event said the CIA recruited and trained them when they were as young as 11. Many worked as radio operators or helped parachute food into the jungle for soldiers.
Speaking through translator Cassandra Lo, former Special Guerilla Unit Commander Lincoln Tao said he said spent years in prison after Americans left Vietnam in 1975.
Tao later came to the United States, but he said he does not receive veterans benefits.
"After they left I was sent to prison and was in prison for so long that I'm happy I'm alive," Tao said. "But before I die, or if I die, I want to be able to get recognition or equal rights, just like Americans here."
The organizers of the event said they wanted to draw attention to the many Hmong veterans who are struggling with poverty.
Another Hmong soldier who worked for the CIA, 75-year-old Zachor Lee, was a radio operator in the 1960s and '70s.
He said that after Americans left Vietnam, communists imprisoned him for years. In the 1980s Lee came to the United States.
"We worked hard our whole entire life," Lee said as translated by Lo, "and we're not getting enough health care benefits. You know we want to be recognized; we want to be buried as American soldiers and get help from the United States."
Lee says Hmong veterans deserve recognition from Congress so they can be buried in U.S. military cemeteries and have access to veterans hospitals.
An estimated 30,000 Hmong soldiers died while working for the CIA in Vietnam.
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