Bipartisan legislation would honor Hmong veterans with Congressional Gold Medal

Veterans of the United States' secret Lao Theater salute during a memorial and wreath-laying ceremony at the plaque dedicated to the U.S. Secret Army in the Kingdom of Laos in Arlington National Cemetery May 10, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. Supported by the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency from 1961 to 1973, the secret army of Hmong and Lao combat soldiers fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress to honor them with a Congressional Gold Medal. Photo credit Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would honor the Hmong veterans who served alongside American troops in the Vietnam War by awarding them a Congressional Gold Medal.

“The Hmong bravely risked their lives to help our service members during the Vietnam War,” said Sen. Thomas Tillis (R-NC) in a statement. “Today, more than 10,000 Hmong people call North Carolina home, and we are beyond grateful for their patriotic service and cultural contributions to our state. It is my honor to work to pass this bipartisan legislation to recognize Hmong veterans for their heroic actions.”

As the Vietnam War spread south and west into Laos, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency recruited and trained Hmong soldiers to help American troops fight back against the communist North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao. At great risk to the safety of themselves and their families, Hmong soldiers fought the ground war, flew combat missions, gathered intelligence on North Vietnamese troop movements, interrupted the Ho-Chi-Min Supply Trail, and rescued American pilots downed behind enemy lines.

“More than 30,000 Hmong soldiers courageously stood with the American people during the Vietnam War, many of whom lost their lives in the fight against communism,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) in a statement. “This bill seeks to provide long-overdue recognition to Hmong veterans for their incredible sacrifices and distinguished service.”

The Hmong people suffered heavy casualties, and their soldiers died at a rate 10 times as high as that of American service members in Vietnam. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, many Hmong were displaced from their villages as they were either bombed or burned down by the North Vietnamese, and over 150,000 Hmong fled Laos when the nation fell to communist forces in 1975.

Due to their ties with the American military, many Hmong came to the United States as refugees to start a new life. Over the ensuing decades, Hmong populations and their traditions have become engrained in communities across the United States.

Currently, over 327,000 Hmong are living in the United States.

Similar legislation has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the United States, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images