The Montagnards, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia’s indigenous people, took extraordinary punishment during the Vietnam war, eventually losing not only their lands but also their way of life. Their name, a holdover from French colonialism, translates roughly as “people of the mountain,” and accounts for a swath of Malayo-Polynesian tribes. They are ethnically, culturally, linguistically, and, once Animists but now increasingly as Christians, religiously distinct from Vietnam’s kinh majority.
They are also easily singled out for another attribute. Around 70,000 Montagnards fought exclusively alongside US Special Forces against North Vietnam, serving as infantrymen, paratroopers, scouts, guides, translators and spies. It is estimated that over 200,000 died in combat, both in the Montagnards own operations against the NVA and while in joint operations with American’s Special Forces.
Their anguish intensified after the Americans left and South Vietnam fell, as the victorious communists placed many of them for years in reeducation and labor camps, where without proper food, water, or medicine, they often got sick and died by the thousands. To this day, Green
Berets continue to praise the Montagnards’ loyalty, sense of duty and valor in combat. “Best fighters I ever saw,” one emotional special forces soldier commented.
The Montagnards’ affinity for Americans still runs staggeringly deep, despite the betrayal of the United States when it lost interest in the Vietnam war. In North Carolina, where a few resettled veterans reside, they continue to believe in the country that forsook the majority of their ethnic brethren so much so, that they still tried to support the United States’s military ventures abroad. Shortly after the events of Sept. 11, a battalion of former soldiers originally from the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, volunteered for the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan. They wanted no pay. All they asked was for transportation to the region, weapons and ammunition, and one final condition: that their battalion takes the place of an equal number of American soldiers.”
The request, while commended online by American veterans, was denied, a refusal indicative of the Montagnards’ general relation with the United States. The latter utilizes the former, whose loyalty knows no bounds, when convenient and in pursuit of broader goals, only to brush them off upon mission completion — or as more properly put in the case of the Vietnam War: upon mission exhaustion.