April 13, 2013
Gayle L. Morrison takes a few moments to do some proofreading before she spends the afternoon with her adopted Hmong family. It's a chance to mix pleasure with business after spending three days at Fresno's 16th Hmong National Development Conference.
At the conference she gave a presentation and discussed her latest book, "Hog's Exit: Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA" (Texas Tech University Press, $39.95.)
Morrison has worked with the Hmong community in education, refugee services, private enterprise and as an oral historian, researcher and writer since 1977. Her latest book looks at the life of Jerry Daniels, a CIA case officer whose assistance to Hmong leader General Vang Pao during the secret war in Laos was so crucial. A three-day funeral ceremony was organized for the Montana man by his former comrades-in-arms, the Hmong hill tribe warriors from Laos.
"The book looks at the funeral and how Jerry was so respected that he was given the great honor. It also looks at the Americans who didn't want to talk about the funeral but tell me stories about Jerry," says Morrison.
The book is based on first-person accounts from Americans and Hmong, ranchers and refugees, State Department officials and smokejumpers. They talk about the human and historical stories of Daniels' life, and they speculate on the circumstances of his death in 1982. The American Embassy in Bangkok reported Daniels had accidentally died from carbon monoxide poisoning, but there are many who doubt the accidental part of the report.
The last chapter of Morrison's first book, "Sky Is Falling: An Oral History of the CIA's Evacuation of the Hmong from Laos (1999)" originally dealt with Daniels. The writer was upset when it was cut, but she later realized that she needed to do more research. That has been one of the hardest parts of writing her books.
"Because I am dealing with oral history, I have to go to that chicken farm in North Carolina to talk to first generation Hmong," Morrison says. "The Hmong and the CIA are a lot alike in that information is often on a need-to-know basis."
She spent years compiling all of the personal accounts. Because memories can differ, the process has been to look for common elements in a story and reject anything that sounds too far in left field.
The result is Morrison's book, which is available at amazon.com and at ttupress.org.