Vietnam war General Vang Pao, 81, with his family at his side, passed away in a Californian hospital today after being admitted to the facility on December 26. Michelle Von Tersch, a spokeswoman for the Clovis Community Medical Centre announced today.

General Pao was a former Laotian General who once commanded a CIA backed “secret army” of Hmong guerrillas during the Vietnam War.

Vang Pao served as a general in the Royal Lao Army and was known to once be a member of the Hmong ethnic minority. Pao ran an irregular army in the 1960s and 1970s, commanded thousands of fighters in the US funded covert war against Vietnamese and Lao communist forces.

General Vang Pao fled to the United States in 1975 after Laos royal rulers were forced out by the communists. Pao eventually became a symbol for peace movements when he was credited with helping negotiate resettlements of tens of thousands of fellow Hmong members into the United States.

Thousands of ethnic Hmong, Vietnamese, and others are expected to attend his funeral.