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Army Spc. Thai Vue, 22, Willows; Killed in Baghdad Mortar Blast

June 27, 2004|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Twenty-five years after his parents fled a repressive Communist regime in their homeland of Laos, Thai Vue realized that the American dream they had given him was slipping out of his grasp.

The Willows, Calif., teenager had spent much of his senior year in high school partying and staying out late, and his grades showed it. A few days after his graduation in 2001, he drove to Chico, Calif., and joined the Army in hopes of getting his act together. "He said, 'I don't want to go, but I just need to get my life straight -- and get some money,' " his brother, Alan, recalled.

Thai Vue served his three-year stint in the Army, but military officials extended his service this year so he could serve in Iraq, his family said. He was killed June 18 when a mortar round struck a motor pool in Baghdad, where he was working as a mechanic.

With a new sense of discipline instilled by the Army, Vue, 22, had hoped to leave the military to take advantage of the educational opportunities that had attracted his parents to the United States.

His plan was to join his longtime girlfriend, Nancy Lee, 21, and attend college in Las Vegas. Lee was interested in a graduate program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Vue had been enchanted by the lights of the desert city, which he had seen from the windows of airplanes that shuttled him to and from military postings. "He was going to come back," Lee said. "And we were going to get married and just live our life."

Vue, the third of six siblings and a member of the Hmong ethnic group, was born in Thailand a few years after his parents, Chou Vue and Chia Thao, fled across the Mekong River.

They were among thousands of Laotians who left to avoid the farming collectives and re- education camps of the communist government that was ascendant in Laos in the mid-1970s. Chou Vue spent much of his teenage years fighting the communists. So did his father and brother, who were killed in the fighting, said Thai Vue's older brother, Thor, 27.

In 1983, the family moved to California and sought work as farmers. But language barriers and their illegal immigration status made jobs hard to come by. The 11-member extended family settled in the small city of Willows, living on welfare in a two-bedroom apartment before moving to a slightly larger house during Thai's senior year, said Alan Vue, 19.

When Thai lived in the apartment, he slept in a room with his grandparents. But, Alan said, Thai rarely complained about his circumstances. Instead, he immersed himself in football and basketball and worked incessantly on his 1996 Honda Prelude.

Vue left the prized car with his family when he began basic training. A few months later, he found out through a friend that Alan had wrecked it. Thai's reaction, Alan said, was a perfect example of the kind of older brother he was. "He was like, 'You know what, bro? You don't have to worry about it. I'll come back and buy another car.' "

Alan said Thai supported the Iraq war, but Lee said he had expressed reservations about it. Both said Thai was eager to finish his military duty after three years of service, much of it spent in Hanau, Germany, as part of the Army's 127th Military Police Company.

When the Army extended Thai's tour of duty this year, his parents were concerned. "But they were proud of him because they knew when he came back home he'd bring honor to the family," Alan said.

In addition to his parents, Alan and Thor, Vue is survived by two other brothers, Kevin, 8, and Vincent, 6; a sister, Mai Yang, 24; and his grandmothers, Dia Yang and Chue Lee.

A traditional, three-day Hmong funeral was planned to start Saturday at Memorial Hall in downtown Willows, the family said.

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