Veterans To Honor, Help The Hmong -- U.S. Allies In `Secret War' Of '60S, '70S Still Reeling From Summer's Hailstorm

A hailstorm that swept through last August might have been just another setback for the Hmong farmers who work fields in the Sammamish Valley east of Seattle.

They've weathered worse than that.

But when a group of war veterans found out about the latest struggle among the mountain people who fought fiercely alongside Americans in Laos 25 years ago, they wanted to help. So members of the A-1 Skyraiders Association began a nationwide relief fund by e-mail to help the families whose crops were destroyed or damaged by jawbreaker-size hail Aug. 30.

Members of the Hmong community and veterans will meet Thursday at Pike Place Market in Seattle, where the veterans will give the Hmong farmers a check for about $7,000, partial payment for their losses, estimated at up to $60,000.

The meeting and the gift couldn't come at a more significant time for both groups. Thursday is Veterans Day, when men and women who have fought in the country's service remember and are remembered. And a few days ago, the Hmong celebrated their New Year.

"It is a time when we share together our pain, our sadness and our happiness," said Joua Pao Yang, board director of the Hmong Association of Washington and one of 10 farmers whose crops were flattened by the hailstorm.

"It is a time when we think about our place in life and our goals for the future."

At 49, Yang remembers well the war that's now referred to as the "secret war" in Laos. So does Roger Daisley, 65, of Gig Harbor,

an Air Force pilot who once commanded the forces there.

Daisley, who also will participate in the Veterans Day ceremony at the Market, served in the area in 1970 and 1971. He was an Air Force major in charge of a volunteer force which called themselves Ravens and fought alongside the Hmong.

The Hmong were one of the tribes who had farmed for generations in the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia. Originally from Mongolia, they fled to Laos 600 years ago to escape political oppression.

During the struggle in Laos, Hmong guerrilla soldiers were the "hands and feet" of a clandestine Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) campaign against communist forces, according to Gayle Morrison, author of "Sky Is Falling," an oral history of Hmong refugees in the United States. Morrison also will attend the Veterans Day event.

The clandestine campaign in Laos, which lasted from about 1960 to 1972, had two goals: to maintain the perception of U.S. neutrality in Laos and to divert North Vietnamese forces so they couldn't be sent to South Vietnam to fight.

The Ravens arrived in bluejeans, T-shirts and sometimes cowboy hats - they were not part of the established military presence and were furnished with cover stories to explain their presence in Laos.

"The Ravens had to be single because we had very high casualty rates," said Daisley, who retired from the military in 1975.

"We supported the Hmong's indigenous air force and flew their planes. The Hmong were trained to spot the enemy, but they weren't pilots. So they'd go up in the back seats and watch for enemy troops. They were fighting their own war, to save their own homelands."

The Hmong were "often the radio voices for the CIA or Green Beret advisers who `weren't there,' " one Raven veteran said in an e-mail message to veterans who contributed to the farmers' fund.

In 1975, when the contested lands of Southeast Asia fell to the communists, the Hmong lost everything. Thousands of Hmong officers, soldiers and their families were evacuated to Thailand, France, Canada and the U.S. About 350, including Yang, now of the Hmong Association of Washington, made their way to the Seattle area.

About 2,500 Hmong live in the Seattle area today, he said. Most have been farmers because that was their life in Laos.

Yang estimates his 43-acre farm near Woodinville sustained about $8,000 damage in the August hailstorm. He and the others probably are not eligible for any state or federal disaster assistance because the hail was limited to such a small geographic area, said Mark Musick, Market farm specialist.

"It came in 15 minutes only," Yang said during a lull Saturday at a Hmong New Year celebration at Seattle Center. "It came so much and so fast, the field was totally white, like it had been snowing all night."

Under the layer of hailstones were broken lilies, asters and dahlias. It was the bitter cap to a nightmare summer. The season started late because of cold weather, and growers had only a month of flower blooms instead of the usual four. The crops were supposed to sustain the families through the fall and winter.

"My wife still cries a lot," Yang said.

ally Macdonald's message number is 206-464-2248. Her e-mail address is ------------------------------- Ceremony for Hmong

The Hmong-American Veterans Day ceremony will be at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Pike Place Market Heritage Center, a pavilion just south of Victor Steinbrueck Park in downtown Seattle.

The Farmer Relief Fund may become an emergency fund for all farmers who sell at the Market. Donations may be made to the Market Foundation, 85 Pike St., Room 500, Seattle, WA 98101.