Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA
Publication Year: 2007
It just didn’t sit right. Not with his friends, not with his coworkers, not with his hunting and fishing buddies, and certainly not with his family. The American Embassy in Bangkok had reported the accidental death of Jerry “Hog” Daniels by carbon monoxide poisoning. Three decades later, his family and most of his friends remain unconvinced that the U.S. government told them the truth about his death.
As a former CIA case officer to legendary Hmong leader General Vang Pao during the “secret war” in Laos, Jerry Daniels was experienced, smart, and careful. Those who knew him well said he wasn’t the type to die as reported. Raising even more doubts, his casket was “Permanently Sealed” by the U.S. State Department before being shipped home to Missoula, Montana, where he was honored with a three-day funeral ceremony organized by his former comrades-in-arms, the Hmong hilltribe warriors from Laos.
This book examines the unique personality and reported death of a man who was a pivotal agent in U.S./Hmong history. Friends and family share their memories of Daniels growing up in Montana, cheating death in Laos, and carousing in the bars and brothels of Thailand. First-person accounts from Americans and Hmong, ranchers and refugees, State Department officials and smokejumpers capture both human and historical stories about the life of this dedicated and irreverent individual and offer speculation on the unsettling circumstances of his death. Equally important, Hog’s Exit is the first complete account in English to document the drama and beauty of the Hmong funeral process.
Hog’s Exit provides a fascinating view of a man and the two very different cultures in which he lived.
Published by: Texas Tech University Press
Series: Modern Southeast Asia Series
Title Page, Copyright
Hmong refugees started to arrive in the United States from the “secret war” in Laos not long after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. In 1978 I started working in Hmong refugee resettlement at Lao Family Community (LFC) in Santa Ana, California. At that time there was almost a complete lack of information about the Hmong from Laos. ...
I would like to extend a warm and sincere thank-you to every one I interviewed over the ten years it took to research and write this book. A very special thanks goes to Roger Waxeng Thao, Hmong culture and funeral expert, who worked extensively with me so that I might better understand the complex Hmong funeral rituals. ..
Missoula, Montana, sits astride the Clark Fork River, 100 miles west of the Continental Divide on the forested side of the northern Rockies. Ringed by gentle hills covered with sage and prairie grasses with rugged mountains beyond, in summer Missoula is the picturesque hub of five valleys and a coveted destination for world-class trout fishing. ...
I’m looking for information on a CIA officer assigned as an advisor to General Vang Pao during the war in Laos. I’ve heard the wildest stories about Jerry, including that his death in postwar Thailand was faked to cover his return to Laos as a godlike freedom fighter. Some believe that Jerry didn’t die in Bangkok. ...
A lot of times I go to places and sit down in the bar just to get away. I don’t have many guys to drink with anymore, so I don’t drink that much now, but I did. Probably one of my last real flings was when we put Jerry in the ground. After I came back from that deal, my buddy Toby didn’t drink for eleven months and I didn’t drink for about four. ...
In May 1982 I was living in California. I dreamed that Jerry came to see me and he said, “Long time, no see! I’m coming back home now. I hope you will come and visit me in Missoula. I no longer want to stay in Thailand. In three days I’ll be home. I have to adjust to the time difference and jet lag from Thailand to the U.S., but three days will be enough. ...
One: Bangkok: late April–May 6, 1982
Two State Department cables regarding the death of Jerrold B. Daniels in Bangkok, Thailand; initial reaction from a coworker in Bangkok; diagram of the apartment of Jerry Daniels; reactions from family and friends in Missoula, Montana; reactions from Hmong friends in the United States and American friends in Washington, DC, ...
2. Shock and Dismay
Hmong leaders at Ban Vinai refugee camp are informed of the death of Jerry Daniels; a Buddhist memorial service in Bangkok; an article in the Bangkok Post; several conspiracy theories; more coworkers in Bangkok react; State Department cable and report; two condolence letters; ...
3. Laos, Part I: Na Khang
Jerry Daniels was hired by the CIA and sent to Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. Montana may seem a strange place to hire covert agents for the CIA, but most of the group that was used in remote locations like Laos had been smokejumpers for the U.S. Forest Service. Jerry, too, had been a smokejumper. ...
Two: Missoula: May 2–8, 1982
4. Hometown Friends
Friends of Jerry Daniels in Missoula share the news of his death; Louise Daniels; a State Department cable; suspicions voiced by Missoula Hmong and the family of Jerry Daniels; decisions about estate administration; a reporter files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. ...
5. Missoula Hmong
Some background regarding the Hmong community in Missoula, Montana; Hmong friends meet and prepare to conduct a traditional Hmong funeral ceremony for Daniels; comments by Hmong Christians. Brief description of the required positions in a traditional Hmong funeral ceremony; ...
6. Laos, Part II: Long Cheng (1968–73)
The importance of Long Cheng during the secret war in Laos; Daniels as operations officer; smokejumpers working in Laos; Richard Helms visits Long Cheng; Daniels at work; the intensity of war in Laos, especially Military Region 2 (MR2); some letters; bar stories. ...
Three: Missoula: May 8–10, 1982
7. Hard Landing
About a week after we heard Jerry was dead, the body was flown from Bangkok. The day before the casket arrived, somebody called from Washington, DC, to let us know the schedule. John Tucker also arrived the day before. John reported to me that the casket will be there at the Missoula airport at such and such a time the following day, accompanied by Jim Schill. ...
8. Laos, Part III: The Fall (1973–75)
I can’t really say too many words of wisdom on the peace deal,1 just hope it does come through one of these days so things might be a little different for awhile. The enemy has not yet probed Long Cheng this year with the exception of a few shellings which were kids play. Don’t know what their intentions will be the remainder of the dry season. ...
9. Laos, Part IV: Uprooted
Several newspaper articles; difficulties for Hmong refugees in Thailand; exodus from Laos continues; a secret memo from Henry A. Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state; refugee resettlement to the United States begins; Lao dirt; more letters; new year letter from Jerry Daniels to the Hmong refugees in Thailand. ...
10. Coming Together
My wife and I were at Clark Canyon when we heard Hog died. We’d gone there to meet the Olsens and fish. General was there; Elmer, too. My wife and I were pretty much round-mouthed like everybody else. Everybody assumed that they finally got him. Hog had a bunch of enemies, but he didn’t let that bother him a bit. ...
11. Refugee Program, Thailand (1976–82)
Former coworkers from the refugee program remember time spent with Jerry Daniels; letters from Daniels to his mother; the question of alcoholism; political screening techniques; work ethic; relationship with Hmong interpreters; changes in Hmong attitudes toward resettlement; ...
12. Condolences and Rumors
Traditional Hmong funerals typically go on for many days, especially for an elder or a revered person. As a consequence they can be expensive. This is understood within the Hmong community, and monetary contributions are made directly to the family. Those attending the funeral make their contribution in person. ...
13. Funeral Chant Phases 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: “Showing the Way”
Instructional section [qhuab ke] of the funeral ceremony begins; drinking stories; poem about the creation of water; remembering Daniels. The creation of people, crops, and death; the rooster as guide for Jerry Daniels; release from house spirits; the need for spirit money; city thank-yous; reclaiming the “birth shirt.” ...
14. A Way of Life
Early childhood of Jerry Daniels; the move to Helmville, Montana; Missoula County High School; Death ’o Dirt; college graduation party. Memories about hunting and fishing trips with Daniels including antelope, black bear, rabbit, porcupine, squirrel, coyote, grouse, goose, pigeon, dove, trout, walleyes, perch, pike, paddlefish and grouper. ...
15. Funeral Chant Phase 6: Sin City and Rodeos
Instructional section of the funeral for Jerry Daniels continues, wherein his spirit is informed of how to avoid trouble at the Evil Spirit’s [Ntxwj Nyoog] Sin City, followed by the cowboy rodeo, the marketplace and the bitter pond; stories about whorehouses, rodeos, and bull riding. ...
16. Funeral Chant Phase 7 and Kheng Performance
Useful tools are given to the spirit of Jerry Daniels in the final instructional section of the funeral ceremony; the soul guider separates himself from the spirit of the deceased; crying over the casket. Kheng [qeej] instrument performance; introduction to the bamboo kheng and the funeral drum; explanation of the “horse” carrier [nees]; ...
17. Tears in My Beer
That evening there was a memorial gathering at a school. It was the last roundup, with Hmong and CIA guys, sixty or seventy people. And it was a wonderful experience. There was a little movie projector set up. We sat around getting drunk and being treated to Mr. Clean’s fantastic home movies of Jerry cavorting around with a bunch of other spooks up in Laos. ...
18. Silk Stories
Jerry, you look at his family. Ain’t brother Kent a beauty? He is just a joy. A longhaul truck driver, the Montana state heavyweight champion in wrestling, and the Montana state champion single-shot trap shooter. And brother Danny Boone, a great forester. And brother Jack, the Olympian. To come out of Missoula, Montana, and go to two Olympics? ...
19. Kickers for the CIA
Jerry jumped for two or three years before the CIA started recruitin’ guys out of the smokejumper base. I remember Oehlerich talking about a bunch of smokejumpers not coming back to Missoula. He said they got “other jobs.” And I’m sure that’s what it was. They were being recruited by the CIA from their Forest Service jobs ...
20. The Lingo
Jerry spoke like the old mountain people. He called himself “this huckleberry” or said “this child” is gonna do this or that. He had a name for everybody. He started callin’ somebody somethin’ and pretty soon that’s what everyone was callin’ him. It’s a language that’s still around Missoula among some of the people he knew ...
21. “Visiting Day”
Sunday: An early-morning meeting at the funeral home; breakfast rituals on “visiting day” [hnub qhua txws]; American Sunday morning service with eulogies. Hmong visiting-day ceremony continues, including gifts of food and drink for the spirit of Jerry Daniels; spirit money [hauv qhua and tshua ntawv vam sab]; ... ...
Sunday evening: smokejumpers gather at the Oxford Saloon. The establishment of Intermountain Aviation at Marana Airpark, Arizona; research and development for CIA’s covert air operations overseas; Skyhook and CIA’s “Operation Coldfeet”; social outings. Jerry Daniels and Toby Scott leave Intermountain; ...
23. A Man’s Man
Memorable traits of the character of Jerry Daniels, including dedication, intelligence, and humor; why he never married; “drinkin’ and drivin’”; Sunday circles; Clark Canyon Dam 1978; thoughts about his sexual preference; commitment and risk; coming to a crossroads. ...
24. Jerry’s Last Visit
Sunday night: Missoula friends meet in the Edgewater Lounge; disturbing memories of the last home leave for Jerry Daniels in spring 1981; trip to Washington, DC; drinking habits; a call from “mystery man”; late-night calls to friends; Daniels in Bangkok, December 1981. ...
25. Final Gathering
I read Jerry’s obituary notice in the local paper. I probably hadn’t seen him since 1972 in Laos, but I wanted to go to his funeral because he was a living legend. And they’re rare. He was a living legend among those Americans who were living and working in Southeast Asia. And among the smokejumpers. And among the Hmong. ...
My parents weren’t well educated, but my mother was brilliant. I mean, gosh, she graduated from high school when she was fourteen. And she married Bob when she was fourteen. And her mother—we called her Kakaw—was a clinical psychologist. Kakaw’s specialty was interviewing kids who either had or were thinking about killing their parents. ...
27. Until Horse Grows Horns
Sunday midday and afternoon: The Hmong ceremony at the funeral home concludes with the “leaving song” [qeej sawv kev]; a group photo; pallbearers; the drive to the Missoula Cemetery; Higgins Avenue bridge remembered. Hmong burial rituals at the Missoula Cemetery; a blessing on the Daniels family; final gifts; Lao dirt; comments after the burial service. ...
Four: After the Burial
28. Question Remains
Tuesday morning: Cha Moua returns to the cemetery to perform the Hmong ritual of feeding the spirit [tawm tshais]; questions about the autopsy report, Thai boy, and investigation in Thailand; suspicions and conspiracy theories; the question of exhumation. ...
29. An Echo of Death
Traditional Hmong believe that each person has three spirit-souls [plig]. When somebody passes away, one spirit is reborn to be an animal or a human. Another spirit returns to the ancestors during the funeral ceremony so that it can be reborn into the same family. The last spirit stays with the body of the deceased. ...
Selected References and Reading