Wednesday, January 15, 2014

FLEEING SOLDIERS: A Hmong Child's Story

We have many Hmong people living in our community. The following story by my friend, Memee Yang tells how she got here. The story is a bit longer than my usual blog post but not nearly as long as this child's journey.
On a night in February 1978, my mother woke me and my siblings up and told us we had to leave because the communists had arrived. I remember my father was holding my two siblings’ hands. My mom carried my sister on her back and held my hand. She whispered that we must go to the jungle to hide and that no one was allowed to cry because the soldiers would hear us.  After a short period we met my grandparents and their family.  During our escape, I heard gunfire and bombs behind us. Not long after, we met some other families that I didn’t know.  All of us were traveling together by foot in the dark, because we were afraid that the communists would know where we were going.

While we were in the jungle hiding, the head of the group came to all parents and told them they must keep their children from crying.  If the group was captured, the parents would be responsible for the others’ persecution. They were told to use opium for their children to keep them calm.  Even though my brother and sister were not crying, my mother still had to give them opium just to make sure we were safe. During the time we were hiding in the jungle, my mother woke them up to eat. I saw them eat only a little, then fall back to sleep.  After many days in the jungle everyone ran out of food. Therefore, my parents and many families with children decided to surrender. 

My grandparents, aunts, and uncles decided to continue their journey to Thailand.  After we parted from each other, my parents took us back to where we could find refuge.  After we surrendered to the communists my younger brother Kao and sister Mai Tong were very sick. My sister was the first one to die in my family and then my brother died not long after.  

 After my siblings’ death, mom and dad took me and my brother, Pao back to the village where we used to live with my grandparents.  We walked for many days. Pao was very ill then but we had to continue walking to reach the village.  A few days after we reached the village, Pao died.  After a while my mom gave birth and had a baby girl.  She also died. Mom was very sad and attempted to commit suicide. But each time she went to the woods to kill herself I would follow her so she did not have any choice but to go back home with me.

In late February 1980, when I was about 8 yrs old; my family wanted to escape again.  My father told me we couldn’t stay in the village because the communists were watching - trying to catch him.  Then one day, Mom said we were leaving to go to my grandparents.  We began our second journey to Thailand.  We traveled at night and the road was so narrow I could hardly see it.  On the way, we would see dead bodies on the side of the narrow road - adults, children and babies. 

We climbed a very high mountain named “Phuv Npiab”. Many Hmong people had died on this mountain due to starvation and gun shots by the Vietnamese soldiers. One night my family had to rest there because the mountain was very steep. The leader led us to a cave to rest for the night. Inside the cave was very dark and it had a horrible smell. After sunrise, I saw dead bodies of Hmong peoples from babies to elderly piled on one another everywhere in that cave. 

But for us to survive, we continued our journey to reach the Mekong River to cross to Thailand. 

In early March 1980, two years after first leaving home, my family reached Thailand. We were placed in a refugee camp called Ban VaiNai. We lived in the refugee camp for a short time, because right after we arrived in Thailand, my grandparents submitted a sponsor petition for my father to have an interview.   Approximately four months later, my family had an interview with an American officer to come to the United States.  After the interview was done and we received approval for our deportation we came to Portland, Oregon in July 1980.

Without God’s protection, I would have died a long time ago.  But because of His love he extended his hands to hold me from one place to another and has kept me alive today.  His love will never end. Whoever trusts and believes in him will not perish, but His light will shine upon his or her path.  May His name be praised forever and ever.

View images from Ban Vinai camp in this Youtube clip.

I, Joyce, am happy the Hmong are here because they're gentle, hardworking members of our community. Also because, when they helped us in the Vietnam War, our military promised them protection from the enemy. The U.S. did not fulfill all it's promises and after the communist victory, many Hmong fled for their lives through the jungles of Laos. If they made it to safety they often lived for long periods in Thailand's refugee camps. Memee Yang's story, could be repeated countless times.

She will share her story in person at the next meeting of Sojourner Truth Book Club here in town.  The book we'll discuss is The Late Homecomer by Kao Kalia Yang.
This gripping story will hold you like a novel.  But it's true and we need to know.


  1. Wow. That is an amazing story. I saw the beginning on Talking Story. Thanks for posting this and reminding us of the horrors of that war.

  2. Joyce, long time no see, no hear. Thank you for spotlighting Memee's story and the book. The sorrows of war are just too great ... and still God gives the grace to go on.

    I've missed you. The Feed thingie was wonky for months, but it's nice to catch up. Will you be there at Write 2 Ignite?

    1. Hi Vijaya, Glad you could come back around and it's lovely to hear from you.

      I'm not sure yet about W2I. But thanks for asking!

  3. thanks for posting this entire story. quite amazing. sobering. and yet testimony to God's faithfulness.

    1. Yes, Carol - incredible story of survival and faith in spite of everything.

  4. What a remarkable, inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it with us, Joyce and thank you for telling it, Memee.

  5. Alex, I am glad you could hear Memee's story. i know how much you care about war and children.