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Lawmaker wants funeral honors for Hmong veterans

DATELINE: OSHKOSH, Wis., February 24, 2002, Sunday

Hmong veterans who fought with Americans in Vietnam deserve the same military funeral honors as other U.S. veterans, a legislator says.

Though the state has an estimated 2,000 aging Hmong veterans, they have been denied official funeral honors because the Hmong were never classified as members of the U.S. military. Rep. Terry Musser, R-Black River Falls, said Hmong veterans were recruited and trained to do such things as help the CIA find downed American pilots in southeast Asian jungles, so they at least deserve Wisconsin's official military goodbye.

"I think it's a project that is well needed. Like so many other things, it's long overdue," said Musser, a Vietnam veteran who serves as chairman of the Assembly Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

He learned about the funeral issue from Sen. Carol Roessler, R-Oshkosh, after a story in the Oshkosh Northwestern told of the funeral held for a CIA-trained Hmong veteran.

The newspaper reported that Xailee Lor, who died Jan. 1 at age 53, was granted military funeral honors - presentation of a burial flag, playing of taps and a gun salute - but only as a training exercise for a National Guard unit.

Musser said he plans to investigate whether Wisconsin's funeral honors provisions for veterans can be extended to include the Hmong, although some in the military community oppose any change in the definition of U.S. military members.

"While this is a very controversial issue among our veterans, we need to find a way to recognize the service that our allies gave to us," Roessler said. "It's the only appropriate thing to do."

Both legislators plan to meet with members of the Wisconsin Lao-Hmong Veterans Association.

Roessler said she planned to contact U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, who has helped Hmong residents in their quest for citizenship.