General Vang Pao, arguably the most famous of all Laotians in exile, passed away in Clovis, Calif. last Thursday, reports Calitoday. He was 81 years old and died from complications due to pneumonia. Pao,
who allied with the American forces and led a covert guerrilla war against the communist governments in Vietnam and Laos in the ‘60s, went into exile at the end of the Vietnam war. In California, he was known as the leader of the Hmong community in the United States. Pao guided the Laotian community in the United States in the early decades after the war. Kao Ly Ilean Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans in St. Paul, which has one of the
largest populations of Hmong in the U.S., called him a "father figure." Others, including the former CIA director William Colby, have called him a great national hero. In 2007, as a result of a sting operation, Pao was arrested with nine others for allegedly trying to obtain rockets, explosives and guns to overthrow the Laotian government. The Hmong community rallied and put intense pressure on the government to release Pao, and raised a $1.5 million bail for him. In 2009, the charges were dropped.

General Vang Pao’s funeral, scheduled in early February at the Fresno Convention Center, is expected to last several days and draw 40,000 people from across the country.  

Andrew Lam is author of East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.