FRESNO, Calif. -- Gen. Vang Pao has been compared to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington.
When the general died three weeks ago of pneumonia at age 81, the Hmong community lost an iconic figure regarded as the leader of the Hmong people worldwide.
Plans for his six-day funeral reflect his standing: Up to 40,000 people are expected to attend his memorial in Fresno, including members of the Lao royal family, former CIA operatives and American politicians. His death brought tears to people who never met him and inspired a congressman to push for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
The general often is referred to as "father" or "grandfather," said Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong, who attempted to explain the devotion accorded Vang.
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"I know it's hard for mainstream America to understand, and it's even harder for them to grasp that the Hmong community views him as a figurehead like George Washington, but that's the type of reverence that he has with a strong segment of our community," he said.
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