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The Montagnards, America's Best Allies

Vietnam's, Laos's and Cambodia’s highlands indigenous people, the Montagnards, were America's most competent and reliable allies during the conflict, and as such, took extraordinary punishment during the war, eventually losing not only their lands but also their way of life. Their name, a holdover from French colonialism, translated roughly as “people of the mountain,” and accounts for a swath of Malayo-Polynesian tribes.

They are ethnically, culturally, linguistically, and once animists, now Christians, very distinct from Vietnam’s kinh majority. They are also easily singled out for another attribute. Tens of thousands of Montagnards fought exclusively alongside US Special Forces against North Vietnam, serving as infantrymen, paratroopers, rescuers, scouts, trackers, guides, interpreters and spies. They could do anything, were asked to do everything, and they did in missions that more often than not, took place deep on NVA and VC held territory.

Their anguish intensified after the Americans left and South Vietnam fell, as the victorious communists hunted them with extreme prejudice and placed thousands of them for years, in reeducation and labor camps, where with ill treatment, without enough food, clean water, or medicine, they died by the thousands. At the beginning of the war, there were approximately 2.3 million Montagnards. Today they are less than 700,000 and diminishing.

However, 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 Montagnards 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, 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, explained objective 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.

To this day, Green Berets continue to praise the Montagnards’ loyalty, sense of duty, Christianity, and valor in combat. “Best fighters I ever saw,” one emotional special forces soldier commented, "Never retreated an inch even when confronting numerically superior forces unless we ordered them to and we left them to the mercies of the communists."

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