Hmong: Finishing Touch on Memorial at Deland Park
Nearly four years after the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial was opened at Deland Park in Sheboygan, the centerpiece of the $140,000 project was dedicated during an emotional Memorial Day ceremony Monday.
The centerpiece, called a pang dao, honors the Hmong women and children of the many thousands of Special Guerrilla Unit soldiers who fought alongside Americans during the Vietnam War era.
The pang dao was painted in the center of the 44-foot in diameter memorial, a green circle featuring a white needlepoint design; the finishing touches of sandblasting and coating to make it permanent done last week.
"I was pleased that we finished the complete memorial with the centerpiece done," said Vue X. Yang, co-chairman of the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial Committee, following the ceremony. "This is a piece of needlework that we dedicated to Hmong women and children, who emotionally suffered during the U.S. Secret War."
The memorial was opened and dedicated on July 15, 2006, with the names of many hundreds of soldiers who gave their lives during the Secret War etched on granite panels.
From 1960 to 1975, in what is now called the Secret War, Special Guerrilla Unit soldiers helped American soldiers and intelligence officials disrupt Communist supply lines, obtain intelligence and were instrumental in the rescues of American pilots, among their many duties.
During the ceremony, Yang said the women and children were the ones who kept the farms running, producing rice and other foods for the soldiers, while never knowing when or if they would return from the battlefields.
"Many didn't come back," Yang said in his remarks. "We didn't know how much they (the women and children) suffered."
Steve Schofield of Newton, a retired Army Reserve major who helped and worked with the Special Guerrilla Units in the 1960s and '70s and was a key supporter in getting the memorial built, said Monday that he was thrilled to see its completion.
"It was a lot of years getting it done," said Schofield, 65. "In fact, I never thought I'd see this day. But it's here and we're very grateful to the City of Sheboygan and the people of Sheboygan that made it all possible."
About 250 people attended the ceremony, which included honoring four area Hmong soldiers who recently served tours in Iraq. Some of the people who came burned sticks of incense in front of the names of people they knew who died in the Secret War, as a way of remembrance, a practice that has been done for years.
"They burn it, and they work in the name of the person," Yang said. "(They say), 'We think of you, we miss you … as a family we still remember you.'"
The event included the placing of a wreath honoring the Secret War veterans, a 21-gun salute, music and two cultural shows featuring traditional Hmong dances. The four soldiers were humbled by the special recognition during the ceremony.
"Today's ceremony was pretty good," said Spc. Tria Lee, 21, of Sheboygan, an Army National Guard soldier who returned in January from Camp Bucca in Iraq. It made me feel that we do something important for this country and the recognition they give to us means a lot to me."
The other three honored were Marine Sgt. Jerry Yang, Spc. Lee Pao Yang, 25, of Sheboygan and his brother, Spc. Kong Meng Yang, 21, of Sheboygan.
"It's a great day," said Lee Pao Yang, who attended the first dedication in 2006. "The centerpiece is very special. It explains a lot about Hmong people and recognizes Hmong people too."
The memorial was designed by Ray Hernandez, a former art professor and dean of the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, who lived to see the first dedication in 2006, but died at the age of 59 in October 2007 after a four-year fight against cancer. Yang noted Hernandez's large contribution to the project on Monday.
State Rep. Terry Van Akkeren, who served on the Common Council during the time the city was trying to find a location for the memorial, said, "It seems just like yesterday when we were planning this memorial … Here it is, the fourth year we've been celebrating Memorial Day here and we've added this beautiful centerpiece to this memorial. What a great day."
Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan, a Marine, said the Secret War veterans whose names are on the memorial were very important in helping fight the enemy during the Vietnam War, and they deserve the permanent recognition at Deland Park.
Ryan was surprised to learn Monday from event organizers that the Lao and Hmong soldiers are not part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and are only recognized at the Sheboygan memorial.
"We all fought for the same cause, we all fought for the right to be free. And because of all the veterans here, we are free," Ryan said.