'It's history repeating itself': Veterans, Hmong community draw parallels to Vietnam War and Afghanistan

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) - The stories coming out of Afghanistan have some people comparing it to the end of the Vietnam War, as people desperately try to seek refuge.

"The desperation of the people trying to get out. That's heart-wrenching. When I see that on the news, I have to turn it off because it brings back too many bad memories," Sgt. Howard Hadley said.

Hadley is a retired chief sergeant of the United States Air Force. He flew in missions at the end of the war to fly young children back to the U.S.

"It was called 'Operation Baby Lift' and that was because we brought babies, orphans, anyone from a year old and up to about seven and ten years old," Sgt. Hadley said.

He flew six missions, bringing back 100-150 children at a time.

"We didn't have seats for all of them, so we put them in boxes, children in boxes with little blankets and a pillow," Sgt. Hadley said.

The missions are still vivid in his mind. It is hard for him not to get emotional talking about it.

"We're filling up the airplanes. There are some very desperate people looking in, trying to get into the airplane because knowing if they were there, they wouldn't make it. The look on their faces, it's haunting," Sgt. Hadley said.

Sgt. Hadley is heartbroken to see similar images coming out of Afghanistan today.

"I see looks of desperation, I see airplanes full of people," he said. "Then I look and I see airplanes taxiing out, with people hanging on them. I'm sure they did that with our plane. But we had to take off. We had to go."

Maysee Herr is the executive director of the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce. Her family is one of the first Hmong families who came to the U.S. to seek refuge.

"We're the fortunate ones. My family was very fortunate," Herr said. "[But] I've heard the stories my whole life. I lost a sibling due to the war."

Seeing the stories come out of Afghanistan feels almost personal for her.

"I think we will share many commonalities and experiences just being displaced," Herr said. "Hearing the stories and knowing the narrative of so many Hmong individuals and families, I can't help but wonder if some of these Afghan families are experiencing some of those same things."

Once Wisconsin and the rest of the U.S. receives refugees, she hopes Americans will be understanding.

"I almost feel as though we have an obligation to assist in some way, shape or form," Herr said.

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