Smokey Stover Theater, onboard the retired USS Yorktown in Charleston Harbor, filled up quickly last night with aging veterans, their spouses, and civilians curious to know more about secret weapons, specifically those employed by U.S. Special Forces Soldiers. That “secret weapon” for the Vietnam-era Green Berets was the indigenous mountain people of Southeast Asia; the Montagnards.
The presentation, hosted by retired 5th Special Forces Green Berets, took many surprising turns, the first of which was a speech given by a 17-year-old Montagnard girl from Raleigh, North Carolina. Maria read from her well-prepared notes because, when speaking of her extended family still living in the mountains of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, her emotions overcame her voice. There is genocide going on right now. She cried for help with her people’s plight.
In the 1960s there were four million tribal Degars or Montagnards as they were later called by the French. Among the tribes, there at least 13 different languages spoke. Today there are only 500,000 Montagnards remaining. The tribal people are subjected to torture, imprisonment, and slaughter under the current regime in Vietnam.
When American Special Forces Soldiers and their CIA counterparts went into Vietnam in 1957, it was the medics who made first contact with the mountain people. The medics cured their children and their elderly and gained the trust of the tribal people. In turn, the Montagnards (French for mountain people) teamed with Americans to fight the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. They were warriors first, last and in between; and they were fierce.
Last night’s other surprise was the introduction of Col. Sahn (Sah-en) the female Montagnard who joined the Freedom Fighters when she was just 21 and then rose to the level of commander. Through a translator she recalled living in the jungle for five years after the war was officially over. She now trains Special Forces Soldiers at Fort Bragg.
Since 2002, retired Special Forces Soldiers have paved the way to bring 6,000 Montagnards to the United States. Last night’s symposium was not a plea for funding. It was a plea for Americans to educate themselves and their lawmakers to help bring more of these hill-people, who so bravely assisted the U.S. Soldiers during the war and after, to a safe home in America.
For those who would like to know more about the effort to help, please read this. Contact your Senator or Representative and ask them to support legislation that will give asylum to the Montagnards. At the same time, ask them to rethink the “favored-nation” status America has granted Vietnam, where human rights abuses have turned into an annual $6-$12 million retail business with the Communist country.