Ge Thao of Fresno can't help but choke back tears as he talks about the death of his beloved leader, General Vang Pao.
"I had a broken heart immediately. He's our leader, he led us here and now he left us, just an invisible stage emotionally," Xaochan Ge Thao said as his son translated.
Thao's son, Tulou Thao translates for his father, who during the Vietnam War fought beside General Pao and saved his life.
"The soldiers basically wanted to capture and who knows, probably kill him too and I stepped in, found an escape route for the general, at that time it was major, and he escaped to safety. So they arrested me and tortured me for 48 hours," Xaochan Ge Thao said.
That heroic act by Ge Thao made it possible for the General to eventually make it to America and after that, right here to the Valley where he was revered by so many as the symbol of freedom.
Yet others disagree.
"You can't expect everyone to like you. But as a person I think the General has lived a good legacy. He has lived his life and he is someone who we should always treasure and respect. To be someone, you have to respect those before you. Any Hmong person who does not respect the General, I probably don't have much room for them either," Toulu Thao, Xaochan Ge Thao's son, said.
But as a leader to so many, the General's death poses questions about the future.
"I certainly don't know who is going to lead us and I wonder," Xaochan Ge Thao said.
And with his eyes still choking back tears, I ask Ge Thao to go back to that day, on the battlefield when he offered his life to save General Vang Pao's.
I ask him if he'd do it again.
"I joined the military service in 1953, if that should happen again I wouldn't mind stepping in and saving him again," Xaochan Ge Thao said.
Thao also says he credits the General for being able to bring his family here.
He says he thinks it's going to take a while for the Hmong community to really grieve this loss and move forward.
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