Hundreds mourn the death of former Merced resident

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no caption Merced Sun-Star

More than 800 Hmong from as far away as France came to the Hmong Shamanism Church in south Sacramento this weekend to honor the spirit and memory of Song Ger Xiong, who lived in Merced from 1985 to 2003.

Gen. Vang Pao flew in from Orange County to pay his respects to Xiong, who recruited more than 1,000 Hmong for Vang’s anti-communist guerrilla army in Laos between 1960 and 1975.

“He was a great man, a great businessman and a great political leader back in Laos,” Vang said Sunday. “He was one of the greatest, most trusted community leaders.”

Xiong, 92, died June 30, but his four-day Hmong funeral unfolded this weekend as shamans (spirit healers) and keng players (Hmong flutists) guided Xiong’s spirit home, stopping at each of the places he’d lived along the way.

He was born in Xiengkhouang province in northern Laos in 1917, not far from the North Vietnam border. He became a wealthy businessman who raised livestock and cattle, which are like gold to Hmong villagers.

The Lao government appointed him “Phutong,” or the leader overseeing 12 village chiefs and hundreds of Hmong families.

In 1960, paratroop commander Kong Le led a coup against what he thought was a corrupt Lao government, then joined the communist movement Pathet Lao.

Vang then enlisted Xiong’s help to recruit soldiers — some as young as 10 — to fight the communists, recalled one of those recruits, Chai Fue Xiong, 67, of Minnesota.

“Xiong recruited me in 1961, because Kong Le was going against Vang Pao,” Chai Fue Xiong said Sunday.

Another of Xiong’s recruits, Lt. Lee Gao, remembers Xiong addressing the people of 12 villages. “He said, 'Now our area is at war and everybody has to help each other, we have to help General Vang Pao.’ They gave me a rifle.”

Gao, 60, of Minnesota, said Xiong “was a good man, a good leader and everybody learned from him to follow the good road.” Xiong’s recruiting efforts continued throughout the war, said Sacramento Hmong leader Rocky Vang. “In 1966, when I was 8 or 9, I remember he told me, You need to have a weapon to survive,’” said Vang, who fought the communists from 1969 to 1975.

By war’s end, Xiengkhouang province had been practically bombed off the map by the communists.

Xiong led his family to Thailand after the communist takeover in 1975, said Tommy Xiong of Sacramento, who considered Song Ger Xiong his “great-grandfather.”

Song Ger Xiong and his family spent nine years in Thai refugee camps before resettling in Fresno in 1984.

They moved to Merced in 1985, then came to Sacramento in 2003 to be closer to the majority of their 12 children and 15 grandchildren.

Song Ger Xiong remained a respected clan leader in the United States, as well as a keeper of traditional Hmong culture.

Until his death, Tommy Xiong said, “he was still active as a community leader and shaman,” who helped conduct the traditional Hmong harvest ceremonies around Hmong New Year. “He was an honorable person.

In the U.S. he helped unite his family, friends and his people.” “He’s pretty much considered a great-grandfather to all of us,” added Sacramento community leader Vaming Xiong.

The funeral concludes today at 11 a.m. Song Ger Xiong’s body will be laid to rest at noon at East Lawn Cemetery, 5757 Greenback Lane in Sacramento