Traditional Hmong funeral ceremony for Jerry Daniels

Hundreds gathered at the Missoula Cemetery in May 1982 for the final rites of a traditional Hmong funeral ceremony for Jerry Daniels. The wreath arrangement on the coffin, provided by a family friend from Ovando, remained intact when Daniels' remains were temporarily disinterred in October 2017.   

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The book on Jerry “Hog” Daniels story remains cracked open.

He's the former CIA and state department operative from Montana who allegedly died in his Bangkok apartment in 1982 and was returned to Missoula in a sealed casket.

His brother, Dan Daniels of Florence, said a saliva sample he provided has been forwarded Monday to a forensics laboratory in Virginia for DNA testing to see if it matches tissue taken from the remains.

He hopes the results provide proof whether the remains in Jerry Daniels’ grave in the Missoula City Cemetery are indeed his brother’s. Even though Daniels believes they are, and the state medical examiner said after the grave was exhumed in October 2017 that he was all but certain they are, doubts have lingered.

The DNA should be the final scientific confirmation, said Dr. Rob Kurtzman of Billings, the medical examiner who oversaw the disinterment.

By coincidence, the development comes days before the Missoula City Cemetery’s annual Stories and Stones historical tour on Sunday. Dan and his brother’s biographer, Gayle Morrison, will be at the gravesite of Jerry Daniels to tell his intriguing story. They’ll be joined by two men who were close friends and associates of Daniels in Montana and southeast Asia.

Toby Scott of Helmville, like Daniels, was a Missoula smokejumper who was recruited into the CIA during the Vietnam War. Chou Moua of Frenchtown was a representative of the Hmong at the 2017 exhumation. He worked alongside Jerry Daniels in Laos as a captain in Gen. Vang Pao's Special Guerrilla Unit army before becoming chief of the Forward Air Guides at Long Cheng. With Daniels’ aid, the families of Chou Moua and Vang Pao were among the many relocated to Montana after Laos fell to the Communists in 1975.

Daniels said the DNA sample he provided in 2017 was first sent to a lab in Texas.

“We waited and waited but nothing ever came of it,” he said Wednesday. “They kept saying they were too busy.”

Not until this summer did word come that the sample was being sent to the Bode Technology laboratory in Lorton, Virginia, the nation’s largest private forensics lab, but this time there’d be a cost involved.

On Tuesday, a friend of the Daniels family, Rose Field, launched a Go Fund Me page with a goal of $3,000 to secure the DNA results.

The post calls Daniels “a true American hero” and explains:

“In 1982 it was reported that Jerry Daniels lost his life due to carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaky propane water heater at his apartment in Bangkok, Thailand. His remains were put into a casket and shipped off to the United States under the guard of the U.S. government. The casket was sealed, never to be opened (a)nd remained under guard until buried. His body was never identified by the family.

“For many years the family remained confused as to what exactly took place leading up to the tragic loss of Jerry. With a language barrier, a different country, the classified secret records of the CIA and everyone having their own opinion of the events that took place, the family has been in turmoil for years!

“Jerry was deeply loved and respected by his family, his friends and by the Hmong people who he worked so hard to protect and save. The biggest question is still unanswered — Do the remains in the casket belong to Jerry Daniels?”

Sunday will see the 18th edition of the Stories and Stones event, which was moved from Halloween weekend to mid-September a couple of years ago in search of better weather. As always there’s no admission. Donations for the popular family event are welcome.

The Jerry Daniels story will be one of 15 told around the cemetery at 2000 Cemetery Road from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Two new stories are on the slate. Richard Allegra will talk about Forrest “Red” Bex (1924-2003), the self-proclaimed preacher on the streets of Missoula who was “known for his fiery preaching of hell, damnation and love.”

Dawn Dambach highlights Jack LaShell, a prominent man but abusive husband in Lothrop, near Alberton, whose wife Julia was exonerated after she shot him in the head in self-defense in 1910.

This article originally ran on missoulian.com.

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