Pachai Her: 'You have to see everywhere'
Pachai Her did not fight in Vietnam, but he was an ally nonetheless in the U.S. effort to defeat communism in Southeast Asia.
Her was a Hmong guerrilla, part of the fighting force trained and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency to fight North Vietnamese soldiers and Laotian communist forces in neighboring Laos.
Her, 85, has lived in Rochester for the past 15 years. He relishes its peace and tranquility, so different from his youthful years as an anti-communist fighter.
"I'm happy, because since I came to this country, I don't hear the weapon and I sleep well and am not worried about my life," Her said through a translator.
He spent his youth fighting communists. From 1961 to 1975, he saw nearly continuous combat in northern Laos. In 1975, after communist forces prevailed and established a government, Her and his family joined other Hmong in fleeing into the jungle to avoid the slaughter of Hmong people carried out by the government.
"I hate them a lot, because they make me suffer. (Whether it) was in the day or the night, we suffer the same," Her said about the communists.
Laos was a complex battlefield, because it involved overlapping conflicts. There was a multi-sided civil conflict that also became a Cold War proxy war, drawing in world powers such as the U.S. on the Western side and the Soviet Union and Communist China on the communist side.
Laos was a key adjunct to the Vietnam war because the critical supply network called the Ho Chi Minh Trail that the North Vietnamese relied on to funnel men and supplies to the war in South Vietnam snaked through Laos.
Her was born in Xengkhoua province in northern Laos and raised in Phoualeng village. He says he would have preferred a peaceful life, but he and other Hmong were given few options. He says North Vietnamese soldiers sought to recruit them to fight against their king. That was something that they would not do.
"We cannot do anything. That's why we get up and fight," Her said.
Her said a lot of people and friends he fought with died in the conflict, and that he owes his own survival to the quickened senses that combat engendered in him, elevating his sense of hearing, seeing and thinking.
"You hand had to act quickly. You have to relax. If you're watching only one side, the enemy will come the other side," Her said. "You have to see everywhere."
In the years after the communists took over and the Hmong were fleeing for their lives, women also played a key role in the fighting. They were also intelligence gathers. When they went out looking for food, they might also see a footprint and report back what they saw.
Her and his family eventually made their way to a refugee camp in Thailand and were allowed to immigrant to the United States as refugees in 1989. A nephew of Her's living in Rochester sponsored them and that's how they ended up in Rochester.
"I'm happy in the United States," he said.