Below, left to right: pipe and jewelry. Courtesy of Michael Little.
H onoring the H eritage of M ontagnard P eople by Jeanne Marie Warzeski, PhD, Curator of Militaria and Ethnography
Mike Little ( center ) with Prot, Kenh, Kunh, and Koch, Vietnam, 1994. Courtesy of Michael Little.
Mike Little ( center ) during his service in Vietnam with his “adopted sons,” Kenh and Prot, 1968. Courtesy of Michael Little.
The Montagnards paid a terrible price for their support of US troops during the VietnamWar: more than 50 percent of adult Montagnard males were killed fighting alongside American soldiers during the conflict. After 1975, count- less numbers of Montagnards fled deep into the jungles of Cambodia, joined by those escaping from concentration camps operated by the Com- munist government following the fall of Saigon in 1975 and a continuous stream of villagers in small bands fleeing the severe repression in Vietnam. Montagnards by the thousands died of starvation or disease or were killed by the Vietcong. Little, a Vietnam veteran, began a relationship with the Montagnards in 1968, when he served as a military policeman in the central highlands, a member of the Roadrunner platoon that provided road security along Highway 19. It was there that he formed a friendship with many Montagnard children, and despite a 26-year separation (the highlands were finally opened to foreigners when the United States lifted a ban on trading with Vietnam in 1994), that connection continues to this day. He has returned to Viet- nam nine times since then, spending time with Montagnard families that he befriended during the war. During these visits, he collected as many
In May 2016, Michael Little, of Mission Viejo, California, donated a large collection of textiles, crafts, tools, hunting weapons, musi- cal instruments, and trade goods made by the Montagnard peoples of Vietnam to the North Carolina Museum of History. Mr. Little contacted the museum after reading on our web page that the museum is “looking for objects related to the experiences of minority com- munities in North Carolina.” Eager to share the little-known history of the Montagnards as United States allies during the VietnamWar, museum staff worked with Mr. Little to bring the collection to North Carolina, where many Montagnard families have settled since the 1980s through the efforts of Vietnam veterans. Montagnard , a French word meaning “mountain people,” refers to the indigenous, largely Christianized ethnic minority living in the central highlands of Vietnam. Known affectionately to US soldiers as “Yards,” these tribes became close allies of American soldiers, particularly US Special Forces units, during the VietnamWar. They were considered tribal people, and their history is one of enduring persecution at the hands of the Vietnamese majority. The close relationship between US Special Forces, or Green Berets, and Montagnards began in early 1961 with a Central Intelligence Agency program known as the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). The idea was to form South Vietnamese irregular military units from minority populations in order to counter Communist Viet- cong influence in South Vietnam’s central highlands. Detachments of Green Berets trained Montagnards, drawn from the tribe dominant in the surrounding area, into CIDGs, thus creating a security zone radiating outward from each camp. As the war escalated, focus shifted from village defense to border surveillance; in 1970 most CIDGs were converted to Vietnam Army Ranger units.
cultural items as possible, realizing that their way of life was gradually disappearing under Communist rule. After the war ended in 1975, veterans like Mi- chael Little came forward to help the Montag- nard people by sponsoring them in relocating to the United States. In 1986, 200 Montag- nards were resettled in North Carolina. Today, the state is home to about 5,000 Montagnards who have begun new lives in Raleigh, Char- lotte, and Greensboro, the largest Montagnard population living outside of Vietnam. Work is currently under way for a collaborative exhibit project with the Greensboro Historical Mu- seum and Wake Forest University to pre- sent Montagnard history and culture, both in Vietnam and North Carolina. We are grateful that our museum is now home to this meaning- ful collection. Artifacts from this collection are on view in the lobby exhibit Collecting Carolina: Montagnards, Vietnam’s Central Highlanders through Septem- ber 30, 2018.
Baskets and fish trap, woven rattan. Courtesy of Michael Little.
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