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Lao General's Family Makes Last Appeal for Arlington Burial

Members of the Hmong community wait in line to view the open casket of Hmong war hero General Vang Pao on the second day of his five day funeral in California, February 5, 2010.

The family of an anti-communist Lao general is hoping for a last-minute decision Wednesday that would permit the remains of General Vang Pao to be buried alongside many of America's greatest war heroes.

Vang Pao's widow and children appealed Tuesday for President Barack Obama to reverse a decision by the U.S. military preventing the general from being buried at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. Unless a reversal comes through, the general is scheduled to be buried later Wednesday at a cemetery in California.

Several prominent U.S. politicians are supporting the request from Vang Pao's widow, May Song Vang, who said Tuesday she was "deeply hurt and insulted" by the decision. Vang Pao led Hmong fighters in a covert war against Lao and Vietnamese communist forces during the Vietnam war, helping to save hundreds of American lives.

The general also helped resettle thousands of Hmong hill people in the United States after immigrating in 1975. Thousands of supporters have visited his remains during an elaborate five-day funeral ceremony in California which ends Wednesday.

Burial in Arlington, America's most hallowed military cemetery, is normally reserved for those who fought in U.S. uniform, but Biong Xiong, a local politician in California, told VOA that other presidents have made exceptions to the rule.

He said the Hmong community believes Vang Pao's service "stands out" and that his actions meets the criteria for burial in Arlington.

Asked if it would be acceptable for the general's remains to be re-interred should a decision to allow him to be buried at Arlington be made at a later date, Biong Xiong said moving a body from its final resting place is a serious cultural taboo in the Hmong community.

Listen to full interview with Biong Xiong