Sky Is Falling

An Oral History of the CIA’s Evacuation of the Hmong from Laos


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About the Book

Starting in 1960, Hmong guerrilla soldiers, under the command of General Vang Pao, functioned as the hands and feet of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s secret war against communist forces in Laos. Operating out of Long Cheng, the Hmong soldiers allowed the CIA to accomplish two objectives: to maintain the perception of United States neutrality in Laos and to tie up North Vietnamese troops in Laos who would otherwise have been sent to fight in South Vietnam. The U.S. government had quietly pledged to General Vang Pao and the Hmong that the Americans would take care of them in the event that Laos fell. In May 1975, this promise was redeemed when the CIA generated an air evacuation that moved more than 2,500 Hmong officers, soldiers and family members out of their mountain-ringed airbase. Fifty or so Hmong and Americans involved in the evacuation provide herein a firsthand account of the 14-day evacuation and the events leading up to it. Their accounts document both the political and human aspects of this unusual historical event.

About the Author(s)

Gayle L. Morrison has worked with the Hmong community for the past 30 years. In 2003-04 she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue her oral history research with the Hmong. She lives in California.

Bibliographic Details

Gayle L. Morrison

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: 50 photos, maps, appendices, glossary, index
Copyright Date: 2008 [1999]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3753-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0264-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii
Preface      1
Maps      3
Introduction      9
Brief Chronology of Events      11

1 An Uneasy Peace (1973–1975)      15
2 Not Enough to Fight a War (May 1–5, 1975)      27
3 Vientiane Hmong      35
4 A Strategic Junction (Tuesday,May 6, 1975)      41
5 For the Safety of My Soldiers (Wednesday,May 7, 1975)      51
6 Laos Is Falling (Thursday,May 8, 1975–Saturday,May 10, 1975)      59
7 Spies, Traitors, Tanks (Saturday,May 10, 1975, and Sunday,May 11, 1975)      73
8 Not Too Many Pilots, Not Too Many Planes (Sunday,May 11, 1975)      83
9 Get Ready! (Monday,May 12, 1975)      91
10 Mobs and Mobs of People (Tuesday,May 13, 1975)      109
11 People Go Like Ants (Tuesday,May 13, 1975)      121
12 Three Children (Tuesday,May 13, 1975)      137
13 Survival Only (Wednesday, May 14, 1975)      145
14 A Can-Do Operation (Wednesday, May 14, 1975)      159
15 Find Your Own Way Out      181
16 Thailand      187

Appendix A: People Interviewed      195
Appendix B: Pilots’ Flight Logs      199
Glossary: Terms, Places, People      205
Index      213

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “pieces together the story of the evacuation from the actual words of the participants—from the son of Hmong leader Vang Pao and US pilots to ordinary Hmong students and villagers…a valuable addition”—South China Morning Post
  • “an impressive compilation of oral history…offers new and detailed information from reliable sources…an important record of events and how they were perceived by different parties”—Khosana
  • “both key players and ordinary people…. The direct, unadorned language of those interviews gives the book an impact a more academic approach could never have…an important contribution”—Air America Log
  • “a source of valuable insight”—Air-Log
  • “deals with one of the most secretive parts of the war”—Southwest Oral History Association Newsletter
  • “a firsthand account of the 14–day evacuation and the events leading up to it…document[s] both the political and human aspects”—Hmong Tribune