Beyond Classroom Walls Header
Personal tools
You are here: Home > Stories > Green Medicine Main > Peace and War

Peace and War

A prominent Hmong clan leader now living in Appleton, Wis., Chong Ge Thao lives life by leading the Hmong community and volunteering time to guide his clan in a positive religious path. However, Chong Ge did not always live in the land of the free. He was born in a small village named Hoi Thah. By the age of 6, he was working on the family farm to help his family make a living. When Laos was targeted by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, Thao became a young soldier, fighting for the Communists. As a child, Chong Ge played a Chinese musical instrument called a qeej, which is made of bamboo pipes and a hardwood blowing tube, and sounds similar to bagpipes. Thao now plays the qeej during Hmong ceremonies throughout the Fox Valley.

as told to Laura Simon

We had livestock and there were no bills to pay. There was no stress. The only worry was for our wife and kids. We were worry-free. We lived very similar to the Native Americans where we basically lived with rats, squirrels or birds. We could find anything to eat; there was nothing that we thought we didn’t have. In Laos, I went to school for five years. I stopped because I was commanded to be a soldier.

Chong Ge Thao 
Chong Ge Thao, Sitha Thor's uncle.

At that time I was very afraid. It could be any moment or any day that the enemy could come and kill. I was so afraid of stepping on a bomb or a grenade or to lose a leg or a body part. A day passes by and I realized that I had lived.

I couldn’t call because I was very far away. I only used letters to ask about each other. I was writing to the parents and brothers back home. I just asked about their well-being, how they are doing and also I said that I am doing well. I have to tell them not to worry about me because I am part of the war. I needed to tell them those things so they would stop missing me or stop worrying.

There was a time when the enemies shot a big gun until the soldier next to me died. Something flew really fast and got to my leg. I was injured, and a plane came and took me to a big city. After my leg was recovered I had to go back. I had to be a soldier again. As long as we can eat, live or talk, I had to continue my duties. Even today I can’t walk as I wish.

There was a second incident where planes were dropping bags of rice to feed the soldiers. The rice bags were dropped from the sky until it hit a bamboo stick and hit a person who was doing radio communication next to me. That person died. What did we do with the rice? We ate it. Another incident a bag of rice fell from the sky. There was a person next to me, his head was crushed and splattered all over. At the same time it hit a bamboo stick. The bamboo stick went into my brain. I felt a dark light immediately. When I woke up I was in a different place. Many people told me that I was lucky.

Now I am a clan leader. A clan leader needs to know many things. For example, a clan leader has able to remember the traditional and religious ways of the Hmong and the clan or volunteer time to help everyone.

I want my children to have an education, but I want them also to know about the traditional values and ideas, rules that we have always followed, everything that includes illnesses or healing practices. We worry a lot because after us, there is no one to carry out the old way that is set from our ancestors or parents. Because we worry about this we teach them to our kids, but only ones that are willing to learn.