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Monument at La Crosse Veterans Freedom Park would honor Hmong-Lao veterans

Monument at La Crosse Veterans Freedom Park would honor Hmong-Lao veterans

Hmong Memorial

ZaXa Vue, left, Louie Ferris, center, and Naotou Lor are raising money for a memorial honoring Hmong-Lao soldiers to be placed in Veterans Freedom Park.

Though they had never been to the United States, Naotou Lor and ZaXa Vue rallied behind the Americans and risked their lives in combat during the height of the Vietnam War.

A statue planned for Veterans Freedom Park would honor the sacrifices of Lor and Vue, now residents of La Crosse, as well as the service of thousands of other Hmong-Lao soldiers who fought side by side with Americans.

“We want to do something that says thank you for your service — not necessarily for us, but for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren 100 years from now,” said Louie Ferris, president of the local Korean War Veterans Association and one of the driving forces behind Veterans Freedom Park.

“They fought for our freedom, our American freedom, and then went through a lot of obstacles when they came to live here,” Ferris said. “It’s important that these men are not forgotten.”

Lor and Vue served in 1970 as the Vietnam War spilled into the jungles of Laos, their home country. They and other Hmong-Lao soldiers were handed some of the most dangerous assignments of the war, from gathering intelligence to rescuing downed American pilots.

Ten years later, Lor and Vue were part of another great movement: the migration of Hmong-Lao families to the United States, a country that seemed not just foreign to them, but alien.

“It was very difficult coming from a communist country,” Lor said. “We didn’t know the language, didn’t know how to speak or write.”

But, he added, “things are all right now.”

The proposed memorial would be a tribute to their service and a reminder of their place in the community — things people too often overlook, according to Ferris.

He said the statue — it would really be two statues, one modeled after Lor and the other after Vue — would be the first of of its kind in the United States.

“These men are getting older, and someday, they’ll be gone,” said the 88-year-old Ferris, no spring chicken himself. “It will be even more special to use them as models for this statue. People need know what they did for us.”

Ferris needs to raise $40,000 for the project, and he hopes residents and businesses will chip in what they can. He asked that checks be made out to “Hmong-Lao Vietnam Memorial,” and that they be sent to 1519 George St. in La Crosse.

The monument would be the fourth in the gradually expanding Veterans Freedom Park, which also has memorials for World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The latest project, completed in July, honors nurses who served in World War II and was modeled after La Crosse native Marian Pavela, a former U.S. Cadet Nurse.

Standing in a cluster along the Black River, the memorials underscore the revival of a park that, as recently as a few years ago, was little more than a mud pit.

Ferris, who has devoted the later years of his life to honoring fellow veterans, has done a lot of the work himself — raising the ground, tending to flowers, building the park he has long envisioned.

“There used to be nothing here, just kids who would come and spin their trucks in the mud,” he said. “I’m trying to make something beautiful out of it. I plan to keep building.”

Kyle Farris can be reached at (507) 450-6733 or Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_A_Farris.


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