Pop Buell

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Edgar M. "Pop" Buell
Born (1913-04-26)April 26, 1913
Steuben County, Indiana
Died December 30, 1980(1980-12-30) (aged 67)
Manila, Philippines
Nationality  United States
Occupation farmer, humanitarian aid worker
Spouse(s) Mattie Lorene Gilbert (1914-1958)
External images
Edgar "Pop" Buell.
Edgard Buell (at left) with General Vang Pao.
Air America UH-34s at Sam Thong, Laos, 1961. Edgar Buell is the shirtless man at left. (Photo courtesy of E.C. Eckholdt.)
Edgar Buell (at right) and Major Chao La in Nan Keung village in the northwestern Laos.

Edgar "Pop" Buell (1913-1980) was a humanitarian aid worker in Laos. He worked as farmer in Steuben County, Indiana until the age of 47,[1] but following the death of his wife in 1958 he joined the International Voluntary Services, a precursor to the Peace Corps, which offered him a job as an agricultural adviser in Laos. Buell worked in Laos through the Laotian Civil War, organizing relief aid to refugees and isolated villages, before he was forced to flee Laos in the mid-1970s.[when?]


Buell volunteered with the International Voluntary Services in 1958, at the salary of sixty-five dollars a month. In May 1960, he left Indiana for an orientation course in Washington, D.C., and then flew to Laos (his first time out of the United States) for his new job.

In Laos, Pop (as he came to be universally known) was assigned to a small village about 100 miles north of Vientiane. He lived in a hut without plumbing or electricity, his life there reminding him of growing up on the farm in Indiana.[2]

The Vietnam War[edit]

When Pop arrived in June 1960, Laos' isolation and low international profile changed dramatically with a coup d'état and the entry of Laos on the world stage as a pawn in the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.[3]

Pop became involved in the Laotian Civil War between the Royalist government, supported by the United States, and the Communist Pathet Lao. Increasingly, both the United States and North Vietnam intervened militarily in Laos to protect their toehold in the country. Unlike Vietnam, where the US sent more than 500,000 soldiers, only a few Americans, civilian and military, worked in Laos. The CIA supported an anti-communist army made up largely of Hmong and other highlanders and Pop Buell was the man on the scene who knew the Hmong and had their trust. Many Laotians were displaced by the fighting or, in the case of the highlanders, cut off in their mountaintop villages. To Buell, now working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, fell the task of organizing relief aid to refugees and isolated villagers. Frequently, the aid was in the form of bags of rice air dropped by Air America aircraft. Air America was the CIA owned civilian airline operating in Southeast Asia. Buell became a "one-man supply corps."[4]

Buell took money out of his retirement fund to buy supplies when U.S. government funds and resources were interrupted, as they often were at the far end of the supply chain. He was known to the Hmong as Tan Pop, "Uncle Pop". His opinion about the war in Laos was, "for every Hmong that died, one fewer American soldier died" in Vietnam. Many thousands of Hmong died in the war.[5] He became one of several seldom-seen but mythical figures of the war in Laos – which is almost always described as "secret".

Later life[edit]

The Hmong army held off the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao for many years, but with the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 U.S. military aid and most economic aid to Laos ceased. The position of the Hmong army and the Royalist government became increasingly untenable. In 1974, Pop was out of a job with the Hmong and the U.S. government. He worked briefly as a teacher in Vientiane, but the American Embassy there soon learned that his name was on a "hit list" of the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese who were completing their conquest of the country. Continental Air Services, Inc. pilot Les Strouse evacuated Buell from Laos by dressing him in a pilot's uniform, driving him to the airport, and flying him to Bangkok, Thailand. Everything Pop owned fit into three suitcases. Pop lived in Bangkok the rest of his life. He died December 29, 1980 while visiting a friend in Manila, Philippines.[6] He is buried beside his wife Mattie in Edon Cemetery, Edon, Ohio.[7]

In 1967, author John Steinbeck remarked during a visit to Laos. "I think Pop is an example of how the ancient Gods were born... Whether you believe it or not, there are still giants in the earth."[8]


  1. ^ "Everest District". DC Everest School District. Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Warner, Roger. Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos at the Wayback Machine (archived April 9, 2005). Accessed January 18, 2011.
  3. ^ http://www.onwar.com/aced/data/lima/flaos1960.htm, accessed May 16, 2010
  4. ^ Tapp, Nicholas. Impossibility of Self: An essay on the Hmong Diaspora. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2010
  5. ^ Thompson, Larry Clinton. Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010, 51
  6. ^ Thompson, 52
  7. ^ Cecelia Headley Hinkle, Florence Township Cemetery Records, Williams County, Ohio, Inclusive to June 1, 1995, Bryan, Ohio: Williams County Genealogical Society, p. 167.
  8. ^ Tapp, 82

Further reading[edit]

  • Don A. Schanche. Mister Pop. New York: David McKay, 1970.
  • Larry Clinton Thompson. Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010
  • Roger Warner. Shooting at the Moon. Steerforth Press, 1996. ISBN 1-883642-36-1.

External links[edit]

  • (THIS LINK IS DEAD) Tales of Mr. Pop, Hmong National Development, Inc.
  • "Somebody Cared: The Legacy of Pop Buell" (video) [1]