Luke Frazza /AFP/Getty Images
Former Hmong Gen. Vang Pao (right) in May 2000 during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
He was known to some of his countryman as the George Washington of the Hmong. Vang fought against the Japanese in World War II, the French in the 1950s and the North Vietnamese in the 1960s and '70s.
Listen to a profile of Vang Pao by former KPCC reporter Doualy Xaykaothao, Vang Pao's great niece: Download
"Gen. Vang Pao, an iconic figure in the Hmong community and a key U.S. ally during the Vietnam War, died Thursday afternoon in Clovis [Calif.] after spending days in the hospital with pneumonia and a heart problem," The Fresno Bee writes this morning. He was 81.
As the Bee adds: "Over 100 people crowded into the outpatient care center at Clovis Community Medical Center to grieve the loss of a beloved leader, who some saw as the George Washington of the Hmong."
The BBC reminds us that:
"As a young man, he had fought against the Japanese during World War II, and with the French against the North Vietnamese in the 1950s.
He led a CIA-sponsored secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War and, when it was lost, led many of his people into exile.
Former Central Intelligence Agency chief William Colby once called [Vang] 'the biggest hero of the Vietnam War'."
Time notes that the general's "relationship with the U.S. — as with his homeland -- was always complicated":
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"In 2007, after a lengthy investigation known as Operation Tarnished Eagle, the ex-CIA operative was arrested for plotting to overthrow the Laotian government. He was charged under the U.S. Neutrality Act, a security clause that prohibits actions on domestic soil against foreign governments with whom Washington is at peace. Federal prosecutors alleged [that Vang], then 77, and several colleagues were funding guerilla fighters still living in Laos. Vang ... didn't deny the charge, but countered that the CIA was well aware of his plans to send American weapons to his former comrades in arms. The case, ... which drew outrage, was later dropped."