Peter C. Vang

Born in Laos, escaped to Thailand. First “backseater” (Robin) flying along with Raven pilots during the Secret War in Laos.

Video Timeline

Note: To listen to a specific clip, move the slider on the video to the designated clip time listed below.

00:00 – Introduction

00:45 – Clip 1
Peter Vang begins with background on French colonization. As an elementary student, in 1946, he studied in both Laotian and French. By the 1960s, some of their teachers were actually Vietnamese and also fluent in French. Colonization is “a long, long, long story.” English was also taught.

02:10 – Clip 2
Discusses his involvement with king’s Royal Lao Army, which he entered at age 23, in 1957. Royal Lao Army had only 35,000 soldiers.

02:54 – Clip 3
Explains that in 1957, there was not a conflict between Laos and Vietnam. The conflict began in the 60’s when the CIA became involved.

03:16 – Clip 4
In 1961, he began flying for the CIA. He was know as “General Direction,” as he was able to guide rescue helicopters to safe areas.

04:15 – Clip 5
By 1964, he was a “backseater” for the “Ravens.” Peter trained other “backseaters.” He recovered 104 American bodies (so they could be returned to the United States). In 1968 he was shot by Vietnamese anti-aircraft.

06:25 – Clip 6
Describes conversation with Sam (his Raven pilot) after being shot by anti-aircraft. Told Sam to get rid of their remaining rockets so the plane could climb faster, out of danger. Describes when a pilot is shot down, “Charlie Green” (Marine Helicopters) would vertically descent so fast the enemy would not detect them. By dropping smoke bombs, Peter saved over 10 downed pilots. Mentions that during the Secret War, Air America pilots were actually working for the CIA. Recalls that often there was no radar or light on the airstrip. General Vang Pao used light from a jeep to help them land. Explains special – and dangerous – missions, which left him crippled. “Crazy War!”

11:46 – Clip 7
Recalls emotional conversation with a Green Beret (American), Burt Smith, who begins to talk about the impending consequences of an American withdrawal from Laos. March of 1975, Americans began leaving Vietnam following fall of Saigon. Recognizes need to leave Laos with his family. He had access to a plane in Long Cheng – but without a pilot.

18:03 – Clip 8
Describes last days in Laos. May of 1975, CIA pulled out. With no supplies or support or army, they had no choice but to escape. Shares proverb: “Die today or die tomorrow? It’s better to die tomorrow.” Staying without succumbing to communism meant sure death. One of his uncles, who did not escape Laos, died in a concentration camp.

21:08 – Clip 9
Communist government put captured Hmong in concentration camps, where they were either brainwashed or died slowly. Compares treatment to Holocaust.

22:06 – Clip 10
Stresses government plan to wipe out Hmong.

22:37 – Clip 11
Communists vowed to “Pull at the root and burn all over.”

22:51 – Clip 12
Without the Americans, Hmong had no backbone (support). Ronald Rosenblatt, U.N. Representative visits a Thai refugee camp and presents case to U.S. to increase sponsorship of Secret War refugees. First quota = 11,000 to settle in America. Door opened wider.

25:22 – Clip 13
Describes dangers of refugees trying to escape by crossing the Mekong River.

26:26 – Clip 14
Explains that thanks to a request from General Vang Pao, he was able to pilot a small plane to escape to Thailand.

27:58 – Clip 15
Recalls story of getting the plane to work for his escape on May 13, 1975.

29:50 – Clip 16
Talks about his three passengers that he helped escaped by plane.

31:02 – Clip 17
Describes flight, emergency landing in Udon due to no fuel, brother being scared of Vietnamese soldiers and meeting up with Americans and his family after he parked the plane and took second flight on the C46 to the refugee camp.

33:55 – Clip 18
Talks about Jerry Daniels and refugee interview questions and getting a T (Thailand) number.

35:36 – Clip 19
Explains interaction with Jerry Daniels and his mother Louise. Talks about Louise teaching him and his wife how to eat a good American hamburger. Describes performing Jerry Daniel’s funeral ceremony in Missoula, Montana.

37:48 – Credits

In Memoriam

It was an honor to work with SECC’s Doug Niva to create the below memorial video in honor of Peter C. Vang’s passing on May 4, 2016.

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