The Exodus of the Hmong

Ampur Loei Refugee Camp
Thai Lao Border
Summer 1976
Five Years after King Solomon's Gate



On meeting Jerry Daniels

It would seem odd that I would spring to Jerry Daniels Defense. It probably requires clarification. He was a very brave man. He saw his government engaged in dishonorable behavior toward the friends he had promised so much, and he brilliantly,... single handedly,... corrected the Injustice.

Much of what I know of Jerry Daniels is from his mouth, the rest is from a volunteer I replaced, and the incredible respect shown him by the tribe of starving Hmong (Montegard) in Ampur Loei refugee camp, Loei Thailand. They were looking to him for a way out of the nightmare in the summer of 1976.

I guess its a little irresistible not to start at the beginning. Peace Corps started out real interesting in the village of Mae Jon, but the guerilla activity in the three counties of Mae Jon, Mae Saei and in particular in Ching San along the Lao border required my relocating to Chang Rai. Moving from a house with six inch spiders whom you could hear coming on the rough teak floor (woke you up) (tap tap tap kinda like "with fava beans") to the relative luxury of the Chang Rai Hotel. Old but still colonial elegance by comparison. Trips to the field got scarce with the Agricultural agents preferring to hang at the County Seat. With little to do but play the guitar poorly, read history of American foreign policy in South East Asia (Best and Brightest back to Truman), and take Aussie Junkies Akha Woman in Village on junket for walks in the hills to meet the Akha ...junkets to Bangkok every first to get and spend the paycheck were a real highlight.

On one of these trips to the RongRam Liberty (Liberty Hotel near Klong Thoy) I was told of a job opening that required both Thai, Hmong, English and American bureaucracy skills that paid a literal fortune and was supposed to be a little exciting. I applied and interviewed with Lionel Rosenblatt and was hired.

I had spent the last year reading about various aspects of American Foreign policy in South East Asia and now I was suddenly working in a refugee evacuation next the former head of AID Cambodia. When Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia went down that only left Thailand and Malaysia as the ASEAN bureaucratic unit. Bosses I read about were now file clerks, bored and choc-a full of gossip about what was really happening, and block-a full of what had happened.

There was really only one game left in town if you were human...get your people out.

Army wanted the Vietnamese colonels out, AID fought for the Cambodians, and the CIA wanted the Hmong. Congress wanted as few as it took to look good as long as it did not include the primitive Hmong. The "Jungle" folks would never fit in went congressional thinking by all local reports.

The arguments raged. No Hmong was blatant racism and an easy mark for the politically savvy spooks. By the numbers and divide was what was fair. It looked good until they saw the numbers. Too many Hmong still. The trap of their own prejudice was masterfully laid. "Your right, we can do that with a test, primitivos get the boot, democracy's face is saved, see it was really fair after all (politely ignoring the fact that the whole tribe got massacred for saving so many American lives and always keeping their word).

Ok, so lets see how do we do this. Lets do it by points like a school grade card. Ah Points if you been to America, that should help the second time, Language is going to be tough, points for each non primary language fluency ...a bonus for English, oh and of course job skills, after all we want taxes out of these folks in five years not welfare.

The Hmong all trained at camp some name or other in the US, many several times for updated spook courses on something or other related to killing your fellow man. The Hmong occupied the hilltops and had to speak the languages of all sides to survive. Hmong, Chinese, French, Lao and of course English. Then there were all those courses at American bases on things like Vehicle Maintenance...by the time they added up the points there were about three PRA numbers left for the Vietnamese ...war hero's with a rank of colonel or above :)

Congress Freaked. Viet's X, Cambodian's Y Hmong's Z (11,000) end of discussion, end of embarrassing episode, end of thinking challenges to current political Theocracy. DO IT.

I can't remember the name of the guy I replaced but I only met him once in a Restaurant for lunch in a busy noisy Thai market. He was heading out country as I recall. He was a friend of the brunet I had a crush on who introduced me to Lionel Rosenblatt and got the me Job in the first place. (Linda?). His nerves had broke and he wanted out. The job description included twice weekly trips up a long dirt road to Ampur Loei right in the crook of the Mekong to organize and load busses of refugees for the trip to Bangkok. Gunfire was frequent in that area. Busses were getting hit. and then he started to tell me about having to ride with that guy sometimes into the camp ... "that who ?"...there was obvious awe in his voice.

"I don't really know who he is, but this guys too god damned important to be sharing a cab with on the road to Loei". He said as I recall. He had a point...good instincts...quite sharp as I recall. I think I was daydreaming/flirting with Linda at the time and it sort of registered :)

He started to tell me the story of the agenda and I started to pay attention. He was a dumb shit volunteer just like me. Except he never got to talk to someone like himself. 100 percent green. Out of TEFL* I think, one of those Bangkok volunteers who mostly spoke English. He shows up at the camp trying to get folks organized. Everybody's listless he isn't quite sure what's going on but can't quite get folks in line. According to his account he looked up and saw the Ambassadors Limo roaring into camp with both flags waving and out jumps Jerry Daniels. He'd grabbed the car, the man was away by tale. Fluent Hmong, action and reaction like a spring and its hustle hustle hustle, papers in a line and now quiet.

He had spent the entire morning just trying to explain what he wanted and get everybody in line with their papers and they did it automatically themselves in five minutes flat at the sight of Jerry Daniels. He said "I had no idea who he was, I just looked at him and said What do you want me to do"? Jerry Daniels, former Montana Smoke Jumper, was now in charge of allocating the PRA numbers.

Mr. and Mrs. Xiong with nine kids first in Line. Dejection then polite worried smile and they leave. Back and fro and its always the two kids to the front. Mr. Xong, wife maiden Xiong, no kids and "kablam...stamp...smile". In that one critical day Jerry Daniels saved what was left of the people he came to help. Hmong Tribes In three years its PRA status (Permanent Resident Alien) for the couple, and automatic visas for the Xongs, and for the Xiongs, ...and on and on it went. PRA relatives are eligible in three years for PRA, and then the relatives of the relatives and on it goes. Oskar Schindler had a list... and Jerry Daniels had a chain letter. Three thousand PRA's today became 90,000 a few years later because Jerry Knew his people, their family's, who was related to who etc et al. He faced death too. In a way that's not for money.

Anyway, I had to meet this guy. Not sure, but I think I started on a Tuesday and was introduced to Corvalier. The French Tyrant. This was at the heart a file clerk business, whatever went on in the field. Corvalier was the epitome of the rule of the chief file clerk, pure terror. But you had to get through the time in the Bangkok office before they let you anywhere near the field. WHO's (World Health Organization Documents) protected the clerks, as well as the Americans at the other end. Corvalier was legend. In Chile, after Allende, he moved ten thousand refugees out in three months starting from scratch. Now he had tea every afternoon with the French ambassador and returned at the end of the day for the ceremonial three questions. You had to know everything to be safe. Miss one and its the slide back to Hoboken looming in the horizon. By the end of the week it was a crisis in photos and matching up and finding the right Xiong. I spent the weekend organizing hundreds of photos, writing the name on the back of the photos, which were later pasted onto Transit, Visa and WHO documents. I got everything nice and orderly and got myself bumped quick to the Nong Kai embassy to start taking out eleven hundred Hmong refugees from Loei. In a real war I guess you would have called me a replacement. The couple with the Southern Accent opposed the quickness saying I wasn't paperwork qual'd yet, but it was needed now. I moved into a spacious bungalow in Nong Kai with a bar and a housekeeper and a shower and a car and a driver and a gate and a wall around it and heavy bureaucrats dealing with devastation in their careers and all around.

Papers and busses were organized at the Nong Kai office. Transport was requested and assigned. Usually a Thai taxi driver (Lon?). I made the trip from Nong Kai to Loei with Daniels several times and drank with him occasionally at a bar whose porch overhung the Mekong. Once a body from the Cambodian massacres going on just across the river floated past smelling badly. In the restaurants and bars and over games of snooker he told me his version of the story of his life and it is largely that which I impart.

He said he had grown up in Montana and was working as a smoke jumper on forest fires when he got an offer to do Air transport in Laos of medical supplies to remote villages. He did it for years and kept at it because he liked the people and the adventure. They became his friends. When the Vietnamese came through, the Hmong were the only unallied group they could pick on, so they did. Murder and forced service became the order of the day at the hands of the Pathet Lao. He was already flying in guns purchased with Hmong money for their defense, when the CIA offered them for free. At the end of the war the company wanted him to go to Africa which was supposed to be the next hot spot for spook super spies in 1976. He declined. Abandoning friends at their darkest hour to climb a corporate ladder just wasn't in his playbook. He assisted Vang Pao in liquidating certain properties and helicopters and bought the ranch south of Missoula to get the tribe landed in the new land. Why Missoula ? His only relative, a niece (?) was sponsored by Daniels mother at U of M Missoula and therefore that is where he went. It was his only living relative in the US. That story alone kind of makes me believe him, let alone the reverence shown him by Ly Teng among others. But who knows I could have just been a dumb shit volunteer who got snowed, it was very confusing at the time, but I doubt it.

The first time I met him was on the four hour ride to the refugee camp. When the taxi driver turned up the dirt road to the camp still some two plus hours away yet, he scrunches down in the back seat and tells me to do the same. "Don't keep any part of your head above the line of sight, lots of snipers around here..." he says. I scotched REAL low as the taxi bumped along the rough dirt road... Two six footers coiled in a back seat bumping heads on a rough dirt road for two hours...and he's telling stories all the time. The Hmong at the end of the war in Laos get pushed across the border into Thailand who doesn't want them and categorizes them as an invading army. Surrender your guns or go or war. I was in those camps. Nothing but a few Men, mostly women and children were what was left. The UN offered to feed the refugees, the Thais said it had to go through them and then stole all the money. The Vietnamese kept sending zapper squads over the border with machine guns after the refugees trying to gather bamboo shoots to eat while defending themselves with crossbows... cause the Thais took all the weapons..., then the money..., then the food. The bamboo shoots closest to the camp went first. They also shot up busses sometimes on the way out. There were three roads out I had to choose from, then it was luck. About that point we arrive at the village to a warm welcome. We are ushered into a lodge inside the camp walls where I am first introduced to Colonel Ly Teng whom I would work with. I was famished with the long ride, the heat and the fear as we sat with a dozen Hmong around a long square table. I started to devour the chicken and he nudged me in the ribs. I looked up to see others just picking. I ate a small portion which would have been a feast to any of my hosts that day and am embarrassed about it to this day. He told me later it was one of only three chickens left in the entire camp. I was really just the bus man checking off names on a list to be sure everybody got on board with what was needed but I guess I looked like a little more than that to them at the time. I was the bus man on the bus to America. I probably looked as good as Moses to those with a ticket to the promise land, but they all knew who was the Real Moses in their world, Jerry was leading their exodus whether Washington liked it or not.

Killed in a drug deal in Bangkok, maybe, it was the Hmong occupation for centuries and money is hard to come by on the loosing end of a war. Purely for personal profit, I don't know, but I doubt it. How would you pay a guy enough to do what he did. The possibility that he was murdered over the denial of refugee status during the enterprise in which we were both involved, I find troubling. I never carried a gun in his presence, but I had an instinct that said he was the right guy to have along if it ever came to that. Mel Gibson got him just right in his portrayal, (based in part I understand on Daniels life) in the movie "Air America". He described himself as a Montana Cowboy, and when I later spent time there and got to know it, I saw what he meant. Different time Different place Different cast... but he was still a Bitterroot Rancher talking about the Bankers back east.... He seemed a good guy to me.


The Era is Passing... Jerry... and now Vang Pao
Rest in Peace guys.
Jan 7, 2011



Documentary Sources: The records of the International Committee for European Migration (ICEM) Switzerland, the WHO and immigration photos of hundreds of Hmong, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Boat People processed in 1976, Lionel Rosenblatt (if he remembers me), Peace Corps Thailand records, the Hmong evacuees whom I evacuated from the camp at Ampur Loei, Numerous Peace Corps Thailand volunteers from the period, Employees of the Nong Kai US Embassy, Allegheny College Alumni Bulletin November 1977. The Evacuation was also cited in the Resume as part of the 1984 accident suit. Related References, Greg Devlin, Polson Mt. Boston Phoenix Article



Footnote 1: Handwriting on the back of photos on Hmong transit papers will match the Nathan R note which is a key piece of Evidence in a current matter of Murder (2001). This also is true of many photos of I.C.E.M. (International Committee for European Migration) refugees that passed through Bangkok, as well a a small subset of the Vietnamese Boat people of 1975-76

Footnote 2: How interesting it is to me that handwriting samples that prove an illegal domestic CIA operation arrive in the States hidden in the transport papers of the remnants of the "CIA Secret Army in Laos". Befittingly weird I would say :)

Footnote 3: A cross stitch sewn for me by Mrs Ly Teng (Vang Pao's sister) as a gift is still in my families possession. It is a colorful Nylon cross stitch on black, a series of squares about two feet square. loose without a border. It and two embrodered Kashmiri shawls are what was left over from my handicraft's venture. I took my ICEM paychecks and spread it around the refugee camp and bought a trunk full of fine embroderies and took it overland to Paris to sell. Sobraj's partner in murder, Marie, had convinced me there was money to be made, and it seemed a good way to lend a hand.

Footnote 4: *TEFL - Teaching English as a foreign language - volunteers who never understand the joke is on them and therefore miss just about everything else as well. i.e. weenies ;)

Footnote 5: This does not correspond with published dates of Vang Pao's whereabouts at the time. The individual was some type of leader in the Camp who was regarded as an authority figure. I was not familiar with Hmong history at this point in time.

Footnote 6: If a reader finds one of these hmong transit photos take a moment and hold the papers up to the light for handwriting on the back would you? and contact me if you see handwriting.s

Footnote 7: The name Chai Soua Vang is familiar to me, although all three are common Hmong names. Vang did not leave Thailand til 4 years after I did, however it is possible his photo was processed earlier - it is unlikely - but the way these things work, and have been working - I wonder ? It would be interesting to know if his World Health and immigration papers exist, and if so, if My handwriting is on the back of the photo.

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