Bipartisan Bill Would Allow Hmong Vets to be Buried in National Cemeteries
As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and a steadfast advocate for veterans issues, U.S. Senator Mark Begich welcomed the introduction of the Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act, a bill he co-sponsored to give Hmong veterans the right to be buried in America’s national cemeteries.
“I work to make sure all veterans get the services and recognition they deserve,” said Begich. “I co-sponsored an earlier version of this bill last year and am pleased that Senator Lisa Murkowski and I could work with a bipartisan group of our colleagues in the Senate and the House to make sure these brave war heroes get the respect and benefits they deserve.”
Sen. Begich welcomed members of the Hmong community today to his Senate offices in Washington D.C. to mark the historic occasion of the introduction of the Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act. Begich is pictured here with Alaskan Hmong veterans, Pastert Lee, President of Hmong Alaska Community, Inc., and Hmong veterans from around the country.
The bill will authorize internment in national cemeteries to Hmong veterans and includes burial rights for Hmong veterans who are naturalized citizens and who reside in the U.S. at the time of their death. The Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act of 2000 already recognizes, in public law, the importance of the contributions of Hmong veterans during the Vietnam War. It also established a formal, documented pathway for Hmong veterans to become U.S. citizens as a result of their service.
Thousands of Hmong-Americans were killed or wounded in Laos during the Vietnam War. Hmong forces helped Americans forces in combat and flight operations, intelligence gathering, and the in the rescue of downed American pilots.
“With no fanfare, these Hmong troops had many unheralded accomplishments fighting for the United States in the most difficult conditions,” said Begich. “Many a downed U.S. pilot returned to his family only through their efforts. But for their interdiction on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, many more U.S. service members would have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this great nation.”
As a rattle-brained boy I had only one ambition when the Minnesota State Fair rolled around in late August, and that was to see the infamous “Popeye” on the Midway. His gaudy banner, done up in a crude imitation of a Grandma Moses landscape, told it all; amidst a scene of clapboard houses, racing Pontiacs and gawking people stood the inimitable Popeye, with his eyes bugging out as if they were on stalks. Forbidden by my mother to see such a thing, I was all the more determined to catch his act. I finally succeeded when I was twelve, gladly paying my quarter to view this nonpareil. His eyes did actually bug out as promised. The thrill lasted all of five seconds, and then I was left wondering, as in the Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” In my prepubescent mind I had built up this moment as a watershed in my emancipation from my mother’s apron strings; but the reality was far less exciting or liberating. After that, the Dairy Barn milkshakes and foot-long hotdogs lost their savor. Even the fried cheese curds, granola-crunchy on the outside and butter-soft on the inside, failed to energize my flagging interest in the other Midway attractions at the Fair. I felt completely jaded, and did not attend the State Fair again until I had my own children in tow.
At sixteen I briefly dated a girl who enjoyed coffee houses and film societies. Having seen it all when I saw Popeye, I was just world-weary and sullen enough to be attractive to her. We went to see Tod Browning’s movie, “Freaks”, one cold and sterile autumn evening. In case you are unfamiliar with this bizarre cinema gem, it takes place in a carnival freak show, and the cast includes a dozen or more authentic ‘curioddities’, as Robert Ripley used to call them, including the bearded lady and several pinheads. No need to go into plot details; suffice it to say that when a couple of ‘townies’ try to muscle in on them the sideshow folks wreak a sickening vengeance. An early talkie, I saw the film as creaky and contrived, and my date hardly saw it at all; she kept her beret in front of her face for most of it. Afterwards we fumbled around on a park bench until frostbite threatened to disable our romantic abilities permanently and she broke up with me, citing the inconvenience of bus rides and hiking, since I did not have access to a car. I was not too heartsick at the demise of our relationship; she doted on wheat grass smoothies while I preferred the pleasures of a Ding Dong. Gastronomically speaking, there was no place for our love to go.
With a Draft Lottery number of 334 I didn’t have to worry about the Vietnam War, and so after high school I let my fancy take me far away from my Minnesota roots to the quiet shores of Venice, Florida, and the Ringling Brothers Clown College. I became one of thirty-six clowns on the Greatest Show on Earth, arriving just in time to miss the last sideshow Ringling ever had. The new owner of the circus, Irvin Feld, did not think exhibiting human anomalies or promoting the ring toss should be part of the circus experience. He retired the entire Midway; freaks, games, and all.
In all the years I spent under canvas there would be only one season when I associated with a freak display. That was with the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus, out of Hugo, Oklahoma. I worked as the publicity director. My duties required me to familiarize myself with each of the performers, the better to ballyhoo their spectacular talents to the media. Having started out in the business in clown alley, I had a pardonable soft spot for the show’s single, solitary zany, Pickles. I spent a lot of time in his trailer, sipping herbal tea while he chewed on brown bread buttered with Marmite. He was from the Emerald Isle, and had the peat-smoked tongue to prove it. Like most European clowns, his makeup was minimal and his clown gags were gentle; there were no brickbats or explosions in his act. He was also quite accomplished with cherry pie. Cherry pie, in circus lingo, means a second paying job in the circus. In Pickles’ case he had wanted to set up a Punch & Judy show, but the owner did not think American kids would sit still or pay admission for a puppet show, especially one with an Irish accent. So instead Pickles presented a version of “What is It?” and charged fifty cents admission.
P.T. Barnum is the first showman on record to present a “What is It?” display to the public. In his case he used a man from Liberty Corner, New Jersey, dressed up in furry leotards. Pickles’ exhibit, on the other hand, was dead and stuffed, and displayed in a glass case. I examined his “What is It?” up close on a dozen occasions, while Pickles was putting up the canvas sidewall and assembling his rostrum. The creature was about a yard tall. The bottom half appeared to be the rear end of a large carp, with crab legs on each side. The upper half looked to be human, and female, with withered bare breasts and a savage shrunken head that glared out in glassy-eyed hatred, frozen in the middle of a piranha-toothed snarl. Black hair snaked from the top of its head down its back; close inspection showed the hair to be infested with some kind of tiny aphid. Circus etiquette forbade me to ask Pickles directly where he had got this monstrosity, but there were several letters, also under glass, from professors of anatomy and exobiology, attesting to the fact that they had examined the specimen and found it authentic, an organically whole organism. The letterhead on these testaments featured universities in Dublin and Florida that I had never heard of.
At fifty-cents a head, Pickles did good business before and after each show. His spiel was simple and direct. As the milling crowd swept up and down the miniature midway, stopping at the pony ride or face painting stand, Pickles invited them to come view an amazing wonder of nature. What it actually was, he could not tell, and neither could the scientific community decide exactly what it was. Perhaps a chupacabra, or an extraterrestrial. It was perfectly safe; a corpse hermetically sealed in glass. Small children would have to be accompanied by an adult. Please do not reveal to your friends and family what you see – let them see and decide for themselves. Thank you very much and step through here.
Old people never went in; they did not care to see a well-preserved corpse, since they might become one themselves someday soon. Teenage boys took their dates in by the carload, and came out smirking like Jack the Ripper, having obviously taken advantage of their girl’s fright to get a little action. Pickles kept the lighting inside very low key. And there were the rattle-brained boys, distinctly told by their mothers not to waste their money on such nonsense, who only waited until their mothers had gone ahead to buy cotton candy, and then thrust their fifty cents into Pickles’ hand so they could plunge into the unknown, perhaps for the first time in their lives. When they came out I knew exactly how they felt. “Is That All There Is?”
That’s all there is, boy. Now go find your mother.