Hundreds gathered on a very warm Saturday at the state Capitol for the dedication of a memorial to U.S. and Alliance Special Forces in Laos.
The 10-foot tall bronze monument was inspired by survivors of the "Secret War" in the southeast Asian country, from 1961 and 1975.
Laos was neutral during the Vietnam war, but the CIA recruited Hmong soldiers to carry on a covert campaign.
The Hmong fighters became known as the Special Guerilla Unit. After the U.S. pulled out of Laos and Vietnam, tens of thousands fled and lived in refugee camps in Thailand, eventually re-settling in the U.S. An estimated 66,000 Hmong live in Minnesota.
Lt. Governor Tina Smith praised the many veterans present for the dedication of the memorial, which resembles a sprouting bamboo shoot. The leaves bear images of daily life, war and relocation.
"More than four decades ago, Hmong, Lao and southeast Asian soldiers served during the Secret War, saved American lives and helped to advance the cause of freedom and democracy," she said. "Your service embodies the ideal of sacrifice."
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Several elected officials — including St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar — as well as veterans spoke at the ceremony, which included Hmong music, a gun salute and taps.
The Americans recruited Gen. Vang Pao to encourage many in his country to fight. Pao, who died in 2011, was represented by his son, Wang Chong Vang.
Vang said it was a "special day for all of us to honor the Lao Hmong soldiers who served as the U.S. secret army in Laos."
"Especially those who fought bravely and sacrificed their lives to protect the freedom of Laos and the interests of the U.S," Vang said.