Special Forces pay for Montagnard farmland

by Amy Kingsley

Dozens of Montagnards, natives of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, and former Special Forces soldiers gathered early on Dec. 16 to wrap bicycles, dolls and other toys for refugee children. Members of Save the Montagnard People, an advocacy group made up of Vietnam War veterans, unwrapped the biggest gift of all in the afternoon: the deed to 101 acres in Randolph County.

Richard “Bear” Shorten, a member of the 1st Special Forces Group, cut a check for several thousand dollars on behalf of his battalion to secure the land for Montagnard refugees. Representatives from Save the Montagnard People said the land would be placed in trust to be used as a summer camp and cultural center for North Carolina’s 9,000 Montagnard residents.

Special Forces soliers served alongside Montagnards during the Vietnam War and developed close ties to the people, who were oppressed by the Vietnamese. Montagnards started settling in North Carolina in the 1980s after persecution by the Vietnamese government escalated; they chose this area because of its large military population.

“This will be the best thing to happen to the Montagnards since they came to America,” said George Clark, president of Save the Montagnard People.

Thousands of Montagnards have been driven out of the Central Highlands and into Cambodia, many of them persecuted for their Christian religious beliefs and for aiding the Americans during the war. Thousands have been resettled in America, and it is unclear when or if conditions in Vietnam will allow them to return to their homeland.

“What Save the Montagnard People, Special Forces Association, Mike Force Association and Special Operations Association are doing is not only fulfilling the phrase ‘de oppresso liber’ but also saving an entire culture from extinction,” said former Mike Force member Larry Pease.

The United Dega Asheboro project started more than three years ago when Special Forces service organizations obtained a mortgage for the 101 rural acres outside of Asheboro. They’ve built a covered picnic area, refurnished an old farmhouse and started to erect longhouses to represent all seven Montagnard tribes. In the future the organization plans to secure funding for a cultural center and start a traditional summer camp for Montagnard children younger than 15.

“The land being paid off is a promise fulfilled to the Montagnards,” wrote George Clark, president of Save the Montagnard People, in a statement. “A promise that many of you helped to get started and continued to support over the years. The land project is the future for the Montagnards, it guarantees the survival of a noble culture and will leave a living monument to all Montagnards and Special Forces Veterans.”

Gary Betterton, president of the Special Forces Association, presented a carved water buffalo to Minh Pang Ting, president of the United Dega Asheboro Project, after the announcement.

“We will speak of you in our campfires for three hundred years,” Ting said, reciting a traditional Montagnard honor.

When asked about the gift, Save the Montagnard People member Sam Todaro chalked the gift up to Special Forces loyalty.

“You don’t know Special Forces,” he said. “We’re not all the killers we’re made out to be.”

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