Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin and Kansas Senator Jerry Moran introduced a bipartisan bill on Wednesday that recognizes contributions of Southeast Asian communities to the United States military during the Vietnam War.
The Legacies of War Recognition and Unexploded Ordnance Removal Act acknowledges the Hmong, Cham, Cambodian, Lu-Mien, Khmu, Lao, Montagnard, and Vietnamese American communities who supported the U.S. in their war in Vietnam. Members of these communities evacuated refugees and rescued U.S. pilots shot down in enemy-controlled territory, saving thousands of lives. They also gathered intelligence for the U.S. military about enemy positions, movement, and strength and provided food, shelter, and other assistance.
“Americans are indebted to the Hmong-Americans and other Diasporas from Southeast Asia for their service and sacrifice to support our troops in the war in Vietnam,” said Sen. Baldwin in a press release. “I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to recognize and honor the efforts of these brave refugees and immigrants and work to do right by those communities who are still facing the consequences of the war.”
Many landmines and other unexploded weapons (UXOs) dropped over Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam continue to cause injuries and casualties, over 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War. According to Sen. Baldwin’s press release, there are tens of millions of UXOs left in the three countries. Over 50,000 civilians in Laos, 38,000 civilians in Vietnam, and 65,000 civilians in Cambodia have been injured or killed by them.
The legislation authorizes funding for the removal of landmines and other unexploded weapons left behind in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, reports WEAU. Additionally, it will help finance support programs for those injured by landmines and other legacies of war.
“I’ve heard heart-wrenching stories from landmine survivors firsthand in Vietnam, and it is abundantly clear that the United States must take action to clear the unexploded ordnances and landmines,” Sen. Baldwin said in a press release.
In the same statement, Sen. Moran said, “The impact of war decades ago in southeast Asia is still being felt to this day. This bill recognizes the assistance provided to the American military by people of the region and helps remove the dangerous remnants of war […] that continue to prevent farmers from cultivating fields and parents from allowing their children to play outside without fear.”
The bill is supported by Legacies of War, HALO Trust, the Mines Advisory Group, The SEAD Project, LaoSD, Asian American Alliance, and Laos Angeles.
“It provides closure, it provides peace of mind,” remarked Yee Leng Xiong, Executive Director of the Hmong American Center. “As the years go by, many of our veterans are passing away, they need closure.”
He told WAOW that the bill is long overdue, and Southeast Asian veterans who served in Vietnam have yet to be properly recognized and are scared to be forgotten. This legislation “provides a recognition to those that deserve it,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, the bill signifies validation that the Southeast Asian community’s concerns are being heard.
Sera Koulabdara, executive director of Legacies of war, said in a statement, “As a child in Laos, I was taught to walk on well-worn paths to avoid unexploded bombs left over from the Secret War my parents survived. Today, I’m proud to lead Legacies of War’s efforts to support bomb clearance and survivor assistance so that children can live and play in safety. […] This tragic legacy must end so that new ones may begin.”
“With the Legacies of War Recognition and Unexploded Ordnance Removal Act, the United States has one last opportunity of restoring trust and humility to a very tragic war rather than bury it in history,” proclaimed Long Vue, executive director of Northeast Wisconsin Hmong Professionals. “I look forward to the successful passage of this to allow survivors and their descendants the opportunity to truly start healing from this devastating war.”
The full text of the legislation can be found here.
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