Gen. Vang Pao, an iconic figure in the Hmong community and a key U.S. ally during the Vietnam War, died Thursday afternoon in Clovis after spending days in the hospital with pneumonia and a heart problem.
Over 100 people crowded into the outpatient care center at Clovis Community Medical Center to grieve the loss of a beloved leader, who some saw as the George Washington of the Hmong.
"He was a larger-than-life figure for this community," Fresno City Council member Blong Xiong said. "It will take time to mourn this tragic news."
Gen. Vang, 81, had been admitted to Clovis Community on Dec. 26. He apparently was admitted shortly after making his annual appearance at the Hmong International New Year event at the Fresno Fairgrounds. He had lived in Southern California.
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Charlie Waters, a friend and veterans advocate in Fresno, said Gen. Vang was suffering from pneumonia and an ongoing heart problem. He also had battled diabetes and had developed cataracts in the past few years.
Gen. Vang "was a great man and a true warrior," Waters said. "His two dreams were to get his people out of the jungle and to have his warriors buried at Arlington."
News of the death spread quickly Thursday evening.
"The Fresno community is deeply saddened by the loss of Gen. Vang Pao, who was a hero to the Hmong community here in Fresno and all across the country," Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said in a statement. "Gen. Vang Pao was courageous in times of war and a giant in the advocacy of citizenship within the Hmong-American community in times of peace. He displayed the American flag proudly at every community event he held. He was an American patriot of the highest order."
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