America’s Secret War
Airs Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV
Thursday, October 5, 2017
Credit: By Air America Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While the United States was publicly engaged in the Vietnam War, a secret conflict was raging just next door in the country of Laos. Under the command of the CIA, a full-blown military operation engulfed Laos, with a select few of the U.S. Armed Forces participating.
At Long Tieng, a secret airbase in the heart of Laos, the CIA trained an army of allied guerilla fighters including a large number of the Hmong people (an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand), to assist in destroying enemy supply lines.
The hour-long documentary “America's Secret War” uncovers the history of this covert war through the stories of Hmong elders and a rich collection of never-been-seen archival images, maps, and documents, including recently declassified CIA intelligence.
Highly personal testimonials from world-renowned diplomat Dr. Yang Dao; Hmong scholars Lee Pao Xiong and Dr. Mai Na M Lee; Special Guerilla Unit soldiers; nurses; and second generation family members paint a vivid portrait of life in Laos during the war.
Their stories also detail the harrowing run for their lives after the fall of Saigon and Cambodia, as members of the enemy organization Pathet Lao hunted them down.
Many narrowly escaped to Thai refugee camps by hiding in the jungles, sometimes for months, without food, and crossing the two-mile wide Mekong River in the dead of night on anything that would float.
Their journey continued in and out of multiple refugee camps and then to the United States, where a new and unfamiliar life was waiting for them in places like St. Paul, Minnesota and Fresno, California.
The film underscores that the Secret War — unacknowledged by the CIA until 1994 — was and is an integral part of the Vietnam War’s history, a history that is still only partly (and only very recently) recognized.
Although they are now U.S. citizens, Hmong veterans of the Secret War do not qualify for veterans' medical benefits and are not allowed to be buried in U.S. veterans' cemeteries.
Like a brilliantly colored Hmong story cloth tapestry, this documentary illustrates the journey to a new life.
It's an invitation to walk in another man’s shoes and to remember, honor and understand the Hmong experience.
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