George Clark, a former Green Beret who commanded indigenous Montagnard soldiers during the Vietnam War, has dedicated his life to their post-war safety and rescue from oppression. Over the years, he and his fellow members of STMP, Inc. - Save the Montagnard People, Inc. - have helped more than 2,000 "Yards" out of the central highlands of Vietnam and into the United States.
In Vietnam, Clark says, Montagnard - or Dega - people are currently subjected to religious persecution from the government, property seizure, and even torture and death in what STMP describes as nothing less than genocide.
Clark, who is president of the organization, met with members of The American Legion's National Security and Foreign Relations Commissions in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to urge support for S.R. 1159 and H.R. 1969, Senate and House versions of similar legislation that would cut off U.S. aid to Vietnam without dramatic and documented improvements in the communist nation's treatment of ethnic minorities.
The Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2009 was introduced last April and, according to the STMP Web site, "seems to be going nowhere."
In the meantime, Clark told the commissions, the lives of 149 Montagnards currently held in Cambodia near the Vietnam border are known to be in immediate danger. "I need your help getting these people out," Clark told the Legionnaires. "There have been over 350 Montagnards executed in the last 18 months. We don't need bombs. We don't need bullets."
Clark implored his fellow veterans to contact their congressional representatives and get them to move on the bills, which would restrict all funding other than humanitarian aid, to the nation of Vietnam.
"These people have a right to live," Clark said. "They are there, waiting and hoping for us to help them. Morality, loyalty, courage - that's what matters. Let's not forget them."
For many years after U.S. troops left Vietnam, the Montagnards fought a hit-and-run guerrilla war against the communist government, which has since been accused of ethnic cleansing in regard to the Dega people, largely due to their support for American military efforts during the Vietnam War.Clark and members of STMP regularly travel to Southeast Asia, and last year they helped 102 Montagnards out under U.N. rules. However, thousands more remain.
A majority of the refugees who have gotten out have settled in North Carolina, where STMP has assisted them in job pursuit, education and acculturation. Donations helped the veterans recently pay off a piece of farm property near Asheboro, N.C., for the close-knit tribal culture.
Each year, STMP conducts a Memorial Day Picnic and a September Montagnard Day of Remembrance in North Carolina. The group - with especially strong support of U.S. Special Forces veterans who worked closely with the Montagnards in Vietnam - also manages an education fund for the refugees.
To learn more, visit www.montagnards.org on the Web.