UPDATE: Mourners salute beloved Hong leader Gen. Vang Pao - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

UPDATE: Mourners salute beloved Hmong leader Gen. Vang Pao

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- A horse-drawn carriage holding the body of the late Gen. Vang Pao passed thousands of sobbing mourners in military uniform and traditional Hmong dress.

Crowds gathered in downtown Fresno on Friday to begin an elaborate, six-day funeral service.

Vang Pao's large extended family -- including his 25 surviving children -- as well as the former CIA officials who recruited him to lead a secret army during the Vietnam War followed his flag-draped casket.

Once the casket was lowered, a veterans' color guard saluted and bagpipes sounded as a flight team flew over the mourners.

The general died at age 81 on Jan. 6 near Fresno, and is revered as a leader and father figure by the Hmong and Lao people he helped to resettle across the globe once Saigon fell.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Tens of thousands of mourners are flocking to central California for an elaborate funeral service to honor the late Gen. Vang Pao.

Vang Pao inspired an unparalleled reverence among the ethnic Hmong he led in battle and later helped to resettle in cities throughout the United States. He died of pneumonia Jan. 6 near Fresno at age 81.

The general led a covert, CIA-backed army in the mountains of Laos during the Vietnam War.

Thousands of his relatives, community leaders and elected officials are expected to file past his casket to pay their respects in the six days of ceremonies, which begin Friday.

But whether the U.S. will allow the Southeast Asian hero to be buried alongside American troops is uncertain, and hangs in the balance as the Hmong prepare this memorial "fit for a king."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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