This article is from the June 12, 1997 edition of the Whitehouse, Texas,
TRI COUNTY LEADER
A secret army no more.
A local resident, Captain D.L. "Pappy" Hicks, US Army, Retired, from Troup was a deep covert operator in clandestine operations from 1959 until 1982. Hicks operated in all of the countries in and around Southeast Asia and many other countries throughout the world. He made his first trip to the small country of Laos in 1960. US soldiers in Vietnam called Laos "across the fence," because no one was supposed to be operating inside Laos or Cambodia. But there was a war going on in Laos. A secret war.
On 14 and 15 May 1997, a formation was held in Washington, DC where the Secret Army of the Secret War in Laos was recognized and honored by the Unitied States Congress. Most of the Secret Army was made up of the Hmong, a hill tribe from the mountains of Laos. Other tribes and the Laos people also were involved.
Pappy Hicks, a friend to the Hmong, and a personal friend of their leader, General Vang Pao, and a close friend of General Thonglith Chokbengboune, Royal Lao Army, was asked to participate in the ceremonies.
There were two ambassadors to Lao during the war, US CIA station chiefs, US Air Force Ravens, and US Special Forces, and an old clandestine operator at the formation. A numerber of US Senators and Representatives flowed in and out, making speeches and in turn being given plaques of appreciation by General Vang Pao.
A bill was read in which the US Congress, after 22 long years, recognized that there had indeed been a secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War. Also it was resolved to honor and recognize the Hmong hill tribesmen, Lao soldiers, US paramilitary and US military advisors, and the few American clandestine operators of that war. After the ceremonies, Pappy reminded his friends that they were "secret" soldiers no longer.
As one of the honored men and main speakers, Pappy started of his speech before the formation of 4,000 men in jungle fatigues and over 300 women in traditional dress with, "I am not a politician nor a diplomat. I speak to you, soldier to soldier." This brought a response from the old warriors standing in front of him. He told those present, "Ever so often, years after the fact and we become old men, we who worked in the dark are let out in the light for a moment of glory. For me, this is the day."
Referring to the war, he admitted to his old friends, "I was so small, you were so huge. I did so little, you did so much." Hicks also looked US Military generals and US Government officials in the eyes and told them, "General Vang Pao is the best field general I have ever met."
The Hmong was urged to join the fight against the thousands of North Vietnamese Army soldiers invading the small country of 3 million people. Neither the US nor the Royal Lao had the ability to stop this well trained army from North Vietnam, supplied by the Soviets and with many Soviet military advisors. The Soviet advisors killed many Hmong and Americans in the war. The Hmong and Americans returned the favor to many Soviets.
In December 1960, "Colonel Billy" Lair, US CIA, representing the United States, flew from Udon, Thailand to gain support of the Hmong in the war effort. Colonel Billy assured the nountainmen that the US would not run out on them as did the French, leaving them to rot in Vietnamese prisons. Colonel Billy asked the Hmong tribal leaders to form an army that would be equipped by the US. The clan leaders agreed. Vang Pao, then a major in the Royal Lao Army, would be the military leader.
The Secret Army had three main objectives: 1. Fight against the North Vietnamese forces in Laos. 2. Imede the movement of the enemy down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. 3. Rescue any US flyers shot down over Laos.
Ambassadors to Laos, CIA Station Chiefs and American Advisors said on 14 May that the Hmong warriors did an excellent job and saved many Americans in accomplishing their mission. The American "leaders" did not admit that they too ran out on the Hmong.
Pappy Hicks and the other Americans who were down on the ground and fought and died with the Hmong, other minorities and Lao soldiers, will assure you quickly that many American livers were saved by their involvement in the war. During the final days of the war, the Hmong, short men of fighting age, were arming boys age 13 and 14 to fight. These young guys were so small that they were about rifle tall and were called "Carbine Soldiers." Armed with the old World War II and Korean War era U. S. Carbine rifles, they held their own against a well trained, well equipped and Soviet advised army of North Vietnam.
Hicks has made trips to Southeast Asia with General Vang Pao in the past few years and visited Hmong who had escaped across the Mekong River into Thailand. Their reports were of butchery and prisons that would make Hitler and his hinchmen proud. The Hmong and other tribesmen are slowly being exterminated by the Hanoi backed government of Laos.
The late Bill Colby, US CIA Station Chief in Saigon during the war and former head of the CIA, reported before the US Congress that the Hmong Secret Army had saved thousands of American lives by keeping the North Vietnamese Army bottled up in Laos and not allowing them into South Vietnam. They also gave many of their own lives rescuing downed American Flyers, who would either have been killed or been made a prisoner by the Communist.
Many American mothers of pilots should be grateful to the Secret Army of Laos. Many American mothers of men in South Vietnam should also be grateful to the Secret Army in Laos because of the thousands of North Vietnamese Army men who were kept busy in Laos and could not come to South Vietnam to fight.
On 15 May, the leaders and men went to Arlington National Mermorial Cemetery. A monument was placed on the grounds to honor the Hmong, Lao, other ethnic groups and Americans who died in the mountains of Laos during that terrible, yet secret, war.
Pappy reported that standing with General Vang Pao, General Thonglith Chokbengboune, Royal Lao Army, Royal Lao family member and friend, Choa Pot, and Hmong warriors and family members to receive decorations from the US Congress was one of the prouded moments of his life.
His next project? To see the Hmong and Lao fighters in the Secret Army of Laos are given citizenship as the Philippine Scouts were after World War II. To see that the South Vietnam Central Highland Montagnard tribesmen he fought with is also recognized by the US Congress.
Pappy will assure everyone who will listen that he is alive only because of these men and women in the Mountain Tribes from the countries of Laos and Vietnam. They phisically carried him many times and gave their own lives to protect his own. Many other Americans can say the same thing.
Hicks said the war in Vietnam and Laos wasn't any worse than the one he fought as a rifleman in Korea, 1951-52. It was just another war where men, women, and children paid the ultimate price.
Would he do it again? Any time he is called upon, if his health would only allow.
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