Fowler slowly reached up, put her finger on the AK47 automatic
rifle, and gently pushed it to one side.
me, the soldier said, shifting the barrel away from
her infant daughters temple so that it now pointed to
the roof of the patio.
child himself, the boy had a slightly embarrassed smile on
his face but remained standing by the picnic table, watching
as the American and her adopted Lao daughter cut up magazines
and pasted the pieces onto big sheets of paper a diversion
to keep them busy while the boy soldier and his army peers
barricaded the house. He hadnt meant to get that close.
But drawn by the magazine, he had inched nearer and nearer,
forgetting what direction his gun was pointed.
was such a poignant sweetness about both his intense interest
in the pictures and his embarrassment at touching a small
child with the barrel of his very deadly weapon, says
Fowler, a 1991 MPA graduate.
moment has remained with her more than a quarter century after
she and a handful of other volunteers working for agencies
like USAID and International
Volunteer Services (IVS) as was Fowlers case
were held hostage for almost two weeks in 1974, by
the Pathlet Lao, a Communist nationalist movement that eventually
seized control of Laos and continues to rule today as the
Lao Peoples Democratic Republic. Fowler and her two
infant girls, adopted from the local orphanage where she was
volunteering, had just arrived at the home of a USAID worker
to spend the holidays in Ban Houei Sai, a provincial town
in the southeastern corner of Laos, where the country intersects
with Thailand and Burma the infamous Golden Triangle of the heroin trade. Her son, Adam, and husband, also an IVS
volunteer, were driving to the town by motorcycle via Thailand
and would arrive a few days later.
their plans for a fun-filled holiday in the country they had
called home for nearly three years changed in an instant when
Pathlet Lao troops attacked a nearby government fort in an
attempt to capture a corrupt colonel who had been withholding,
and then selling for profit, the soldiers wages
rice rations that fed their families. That night, the fort,
the surrounding town, and everyone in it including
the American volunteers were taken hostage.
says that during those two weeks, there were times of
great tension and fear, as they were uncertain what
was going to happen. Most troubling was the night they were
monitoring traffic between the U.S. embassy in Vientiane,
the nations capital city, and the Pathlet Lao leaders
camped out in the fort, which was on a hill near the house
where she was staying. Listening on a secure radio that had
been smuggled to them by a Lao employee of USAID, Fowler and
the other captives suddenly heard a Pathlet Lao shout, Were
going down the hill to kill the Americans.
moments, we heard a Jeep roaring down the hill, she
says. Several heavily armed men burst into the house,
made us all sit, grabbed Jack [a USAID worker], waved their
weapons at us, and left. It was a very bad night. We didnt
talk. We just waited and listened, for hours. Finally, the
sound of a Jeep
and then Jack was in the house, shaken,
were better memories, as well, including as is often
the case in traumatic situations forged bonds that
have never been broken (the group of hostages reunited in
Laos 20 years later), as well as music, thanks to a good stereo
system in her friends home.
kept the music playing most of the time, occasionally blasting
it to cover the talk during our frequent sitrep
(situation reports) meetings, she says. We still
have flashbacks when certain songs come on the radio. Dont
Rock the Boat and When Will I See You Again? yank us right back to those days.
the soldiers decided that it was in their best interests to
let their hostages go. A happy moment, she remembers, but
one still filled with tension.
left in small boats, one or two at a time, and crossed the
river into Thailand. As the first group left, carrying the
kids, a friend in a body cast, and a friend who was a nurse,
she says, the rest of us held our breaths. We werent
certain that the boat wouldnt be blown out of the river
as they crossed. Pretty scary. Nobody breathed much on either
side of the river until everyone was across safely.
Fowler, now living in Georgia, says she wouldnt trade
her Laos experience for anything, though you can be
certain that none of us hope to repeat it. She and her
family stayed in Laos for several months after the two-week
siege, leaving in the evacuation when the country fell to
Communism in May of 1975.
who werent in Laos are surprised by this, but none of
us who were there are at all surprised, even now. We loved
living there, she says. The day we left was one
of the saddest of my life and scariest. I overheard
one of the Pathlet Lao say to another that my daughters looked
like Lao kids and that I shouldnt be allowed to take
them. I told my son to keep a tight hold on my shoulder bag,
pushed my babble button, and started walking fast
across the tarmac to the plane while yammering on about the
wonderful victory theyd won and the great challenge
they were now involved in as they made Laos a paradise for the people. Thanking my lucky stars that I spoke Lao,
I left the Pathlet Lao shaking their heads in bewilderment.