Gen. Vang Pao, an iconic figure in the Hmong community and a key U.S. ally during the Vietnam War, died Thursday in Clovis, Calif.
Vang, 81, was admitted to Clovis Community Medical Center on Dec. 26. Vang apparently was admitted shortly after making his annual appearance at the Hmong International New Year event at the Fresno Fairgrounds.
Charlie Waters, a friend and veterans advocate in Fresno, said Vang was suffering from pneumonia and an ongoing heart problem.
Over 100 people crowded into the outpatient care center at Clovis Community to grieve the loss of a beloved leader.
With tissues in hand, relatives and friends consoled one another and shared memories.
"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."
Mayor Ashley Swearengin issued a statement: "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. 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."
Shortly before 8 p.m., the crowd inside the outpatient center parted as Vang's body was taken out of the hospital. Vang, dressed in a suit, was rolled on a gurney in view of the crowd to a van to be taken to a Clovis funeral home.
Funeral arrangements are being made with the hopes that Vang can be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, family spokesman Chai Vang said.
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