CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)-Don Wolford remembers the devotion of the Montagnard people
when he was an Army Special Forces medic in Vietnam during the early 1960s.
So he didn't miss the chance to welcome the first group of Montagnard refugees when
they arrived Nov. 19 in North Carolina after living nearly two decades in the jungles
of northeastern Cambodia.
"These people are our friends," Wolford said, holding an old snapshot of
himself with two Montagnard rebels. "They were very loyal to us."
Wolford was one of about 50 people who came to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport
to welcome the group of Montagnards who will make North Carolina their new home.
They were left behind when the United States pulled out of Vietnam nearly two decades
During the next few weeks, 398 Montagnards are to fly from Cambodia to North Carolina.
The first small group of men, women and children were brought out of the jungles
last month by United Nations peacekeeping forces. They will be settled in Raleigh,
Greensboro and Charlotte. Some of them have friends or relatives in a group of 200
Mon-tagnards who settled in Charlotte in 1986.
"I saw some of my friends and I am so happy I can't think of anything right
now," said one of the arrivals, a 29-year-old father of three who gave his name
as Theo. His wife stood nearby holding their 1-year-old daughter.
Yput Mloduondu, one of the Montagnards who earlier settled in Charlotte, helped greet
the new arrivals.
"I worry about them. They just came from the jungle and here they are in the
United States," he said. "I want to help them."
In Vietnam, the Montagnards had been among tribes who rebelled for hundreds of years
against the lowland Vietnamese who had sought to wipe out their culture.
Relegated to second-class status in their own land, many Montagnards welcomed U.S.
intervention in Vietnam and fought alongside U.S. troops. After winning the war in
1975, the communists launched offensives against the insurgents in the Central Highlands,
forcing many Montagnards to flee.
In June, a group of Montagnards, most of them suffering from malaria or other diseases,
contacted U.N. peacekeepers and asked to be resettled in the United States.
Margaret Pierce, director of the refugee office for Catholic Social services of Charlotte,
said relief agencies will help house the Montagnards and give them training in English.
"They don't sit around and brood about how rough it is," she said. "They
are very smart people and hit the ground running. They are the survivors of the survivors."