During The Dean K. Phillips Memorial Chapter 227‘s September meeting in Arlington, VA, Channapha Khamvongsa was honored for her work in clearing unexploded bombs in Laos.
While the war in Vietnam took place, its northwestern neighbor, Laos, was engaged in a civil war. The U.S. dropped bombs to disrupt the flow of supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units in South Vietnam. Moreover, the CIA supported the civil war to keep the communists from controlling Laos.
The issue that impacts daily Laotian life is unexploded bomblets from a cluster bomb. Each cluster bomb dispersed 6 to 25 ball shaped bombs, bomblets, over a wide area unlike a single target bomb. About 30% of the bomblets did not explode on contact and remain as a time bomb. The danger is that children are susceptible to picking up one as a toy ball, or a farmer working his field detonates the bomblet with personal injury or death, and physical destruction.
Khamvongsa, executive director and founder of Legacies of War, provided chapter members an in-depth history of the U.S. aerial bombs campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War and the Laotian civil war. Her discussion included an ABC News documentary on the problem and her organization, and a Power Point presentation.
She successfully petitioned Congress and the U.S. State Department to increase the bomb disposal budget from $2 million in 2008 to $30 million in 2016 for Laos. Her campaign resulted in President Obama’s visit to a museum in the capitol, Vientiane, Laos, which was the first time a sitting U.S. president visited the country.
Khamvongsa arrived in the U.S. at the age of seven from Laos and was raised in Fairfax County, VA. During a family visit to Laos, she witnessed the horror of the unexploded ordinances. She returned with a passion to do something about it.
Legacies of War provide prostheses for bomb victims and educating the population on the danger of the bombs.
Chapter 227’s vice president Len Ignatowski presented a chapter challenge coin to Khamvongsa.