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Special Guerrilla Unit veterans, who fought a 'secret war' during Vietnam, honored in CT

Vietnam War veteran Henry Thayorath raises the Laotian flag during a service today at the Greater Middletown Military Museum. The ceremony announced legislation by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal to honor the sacrifice and contributions of the Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU) during the Vietnam War by designating a national memorial in Middletown. In referring to the service of the SGU, whose losses and casualties remain uncertain due to the secrecy of their mission, Blumenthal said, "This national memorial will show them the honor they deserve. Will recognize the pride that they should have and will educate Americans about what they did. And, perhaps, lead to recognition of other similar allies as in Afghanistan."(Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Vietnam War veteran Henry Thayorath raises the Laotian flag during a service today at the Greater Middletown Military Museum. The ceremony announced legislation by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal to honor the sacrifice and contributions of the Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU) during the Vietnam War by designating a national memorial in Middletown. In referring to the service of the SGU, whose losses and casualties remain uncertain due to the secrecy of their mission, Blumenthal said, "This national memorial will show them the honor they deserve. Will recognize the pride that they should have and will educate Americans about what they did. And, perhaps, lead to recognition of other similar allies as in Afghanistan."

Special Guerrilla Unit veterans, who served under the direction of U.S. intelligence agencies during the Vietnam War, were recently honored for their service at an event in Middletown. The gathering also marked a new effort to make a monument in Middletown honoring the service of these Hmong and Laotian veterans a national memorial.

During the Vietnam War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited, trained and paid Hmong and Laotian soldiers as Special Guerrilla Units (SGU). They embarked on missions to rescue downed American pilots and fought for U.S. interests in Southeast Asia, in what became known as the secret war inside Laos.

Sar Phouthasack, a former SGU member, led the ceremony, which honored the service of the SGU and over 600 armed forces service members from Connecticut who did not return from Vietnam.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was at the event Tuesday, introduced legislation in Congress last week that would designate the existing Special Guerrilla Unit memorial at the Greater Middletown Military Museum as a national memorial.

“It will cost nothing,” Blumenthal said. “It could also help us get the medical care and other benefits that are needed by these men.”

Kongsy Khonesombat, a 78-year-old Vietnam Veteran originally from Savannakhet, Laos, said the sacrifices were worth it.

“We came to the United States because it's a good country and there are good people,” Khonesombat said. “We came here to live a good life.”

Sonexay Sanaohol, 77, proudly served as a SGU during the Vietnam War. Originally hailing from Savannakhet, Laos, he expressed joy in the recognition of the sacrifice.

“I feel great to see all of my friends and other American veterans,” Sanaohol said. “I’m so happy they came. I’m a proud veteran.”

Pheng Yang, a member of Connecticut's Hmong community, understands firsthand the profound sacrifices endured by his family and fellow community members during the Vietnam War.

Combat veterans of the Vietnam War, and members of the U.S. Army’s Special Guerrilla Unit, line up under flags during a service today at the Greater Middletown Military Museum.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Combat veterans of the Vietnam War, and members of the U.S. Army’s Special Guerrilla Unit, line up under flags during a service at the Greater Middletown Military Museum.

Many Hmong came to America in the late '70s Yang said. “My parents and grandparents and uncles, a lot of the older Hmong people came here as refugees, there's lots of sorrow and tragedy fleeing war to come to a new country,” Yang said.

Born in the United States to refugee parents, Yang’s family, like many other Hmong, answered the call to assist U.S. forces.

“The majority of the Hmong elders in Connecticut participated in that war in one way or another, whether they live in that region or they were recruited to participate by the CIA,” Yang said.

Many refugees were separated, with some family members ending up on the West Coast of the United States and others on the East Coast, according to Yang. Despite these hardships, they found strength in their new community and began to rebuild their lives.

"Just being here is a much bigger opportunity to try for ourselves,” he said.

The largest concentration of Hmong people is around Enfield, according to the Connecticut Museum. But that community of roughly 300 has been shrinking as a growing number move to larger communities in Fresno and Minneapolis.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.