FRESNO, Calif. — Only a few hundred mourners remained in downtown Fresno on Wednesday morning, after an all-night blessing ceremony, to witness the final stage of a six-day funeral for revered Hmong leader Gen. Vang Pao.
The traditional Hmong funeral service at the Fresno Convention Center for Vang, who was a U.S. ally during the Vietnam War, ended quickly compared to the elaborate opening ceremony on Friday.
A single qeej player – a musician playing a Hmong bamboo wind instrument – and a woman wearing a traditional Hmong costume led Vang’s casket down an aisle flanked by sobbing mourners.
People formed a line through the lobby and knelt as Vang’s casket was wheeled to a white hearse.
A group of Hmong veterans saluted the casket outside. A military rifle salute sent loud bangs into the chilly air as mourners raced out of the convention center to get a last look at the general.
Vang, 81, died Jan. 6 in a nearby Clovis hospital of pneumonia.
Boua Xiong Lee, 60, and his wife, Kia Vang, 65, of Fresno attended each day of the funeral. They remained Wednesday after staying up all night to participate in the last of three Hmong funeral ceremonies known as the blessing ceremony.
“We’re not tired,” said Vang who had been at the funeral since 5 p.m. Tuesday. “We wanted to stay. We wanted to see him go then we’ll go home.”
Lee wiped away tears as he spoke about his love of the general. He was a 16-year-old soldier for Vang when both lived in Longcheng, the general’s secret CIA headquarters during the Vietnam War.
“We love him,” Xiong said through loud sobs. “Now that he’s gone, we don’t have anyone to stay here with us anymore.”
After the short procession, mourners boarded 13 buses to Forest Lawn cemetery in the Southern California city of Glendale where Vang was to be buried Wednesday afternoon.
The Vang family had hoped the Pentagon would approve a request for Vang to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but it was denied.
The decision was delivered on the first day of the funeral. The family appealed the decision on Tuesday and is waiting to hear if the decision will be overturned.
If the appeal is approved, the family would have Vang’s body moved to Arlington, a family spokeswoman said.
Many of the out-of-town funeral mourners left Fresno early in the week, but California residents remained to watch Vang leave on his last journey.
Sacramento resident Meng Vang, 17, was happy to have the chance to attend the general’s funeral over the last three days.
It was nicely decorated and professionally organized compared to typical Hmong funerals, Meng Vang said. The general did a lot of great things for the Hmong and was respected, which is why so many people felt they had to come to the funeral, he said.
“There won’t ever be another day to see him,” Vang said.
By BONHIA LEE