Vietnam War: The Montagnards / Degar People

Figure 1.--This 1969 press photo was captioned, "Boys lightup: Militiamen at the ages of 12 and 14, these Montagnard boys light up cigarettes after returning from a predawn patrol around their outpost at Song Be, South Vietnam. A ptovincial capital, Song Be was being threatened last week by three Viet Cong battalions. In the first stage of the sprung offensive , the town was partly overun and the youngsters saw much action, as did their fathers who are serving at the same outposts. The post was being morarted daily."

The Montagnards or Degar were the indigenous tribal people. who inhabited the central highlands near the Cambodian border. They are of Mon-Khmer origin. There history traces back to the ancient Champa Kingdom. They were once notable for their skills in domestication of elephants. Montagnard is a French term for "mountain Peoples". It was a political term during the French Revolution without any relevance to Vietnam. The Vietnamese use the term thurong for "highlanders", but this includes other ethnic groups as well. They were largely Christianized during the French colonial period. The Montagnards allied themselves with the Americans during the Vietnam War. This reflected in part because of their Christisn beliefs and thus opposition to Communism. Many Vietnamese did not like them, viewing them as uncivilized. They were recruited by the Americans. They paid a heavy price when the United States withdrew from Vietnam. Many Montagnards were killed during the War. Others were targeted by the victorious Communists after the War. The central highlands were once dominated by the Montagnards, but this is no longer the case becazuse of the descimation of the Montagnard people. The Communists arrested many Montagnards after the War, suffering imprisonment, torture and religious persecution. The Communist Government even carried out a program of forced sterilization. [Johnson] Some Montagnards have found refuge in the United States, many in North Carolina.


Johnson, Scott. Johnson is an American lawyer based in Perth, Australia. He is a human rights advocate for the Montagnard Foundation in South Carolina.


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Created: 4:57 AM 10/22/2009
Last updated: 4:57 AM 10/22/2009