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Large ceremony celebrates discovery of Camp Hale site where CIA trained Tibetan freedom fighters

Event features international attendees as well as those who lived at the site

About 100 members of the worldwide Tibetan community gathered at Camp Hale National Monument Sunday to recognize the site where members of Tibet鈥檚 Chushi Gangdrug Army trained from 1959 to 1964. The exact location of the training camp was recently identified thanks to the work of Carole McGranahan with CU and local Tracy Walters.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

The commemoration of a CIA training site at Camp Hale National Monument was a major event for the global Tibetan community on Sunday, with members of an international delegation visiting from as far as India.

But for Dr. Carole McGranahan, a Tibet scholar and anthropologist with the University of Colorado Boulder, it was the culmination of a goal she had quietly set for herself 14 years earlier 鈥 find the site and recognize it.

McGranahan had been working toward her goal since September of 2010, when a plaque honoring the Tibetan freedom fighters who were trained by the CIA at Camp Hale from 1959-1964 was installed thanks to the efforts of Mark Udall, who was a U.S. senator from Colorado at the time. It was the first official acknowledgment of Tibet’s history at Camp Hale, McGranahan said during a speech at the 2010 event.



Dr. Carole McGranahan, a Tibet scholar and anthropologist with the University of Colorado, speaks to members of a Tibetan international delegation at Camp Hale National Monument on Sunday. A portrait of Andrug Gonpo Tashi, founder of Tibet’s Chushi Gangdrug Army, is displayed between McGranahan and the delegates.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

On Sunday, McGranahan recalled that event and how it prompted Sunday’s ceremony.

“It was a beautiful day, similar to this,” McGranahan said. “Some of the retired CIA officers and Tibetan veterans left the ceremony site to go find the site of the secret camp in which they had lived, some of them for several years.”

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They toured around Camp Hale but couldn’t find the site, McGranahan said.

“This was a source of distress,” McGranahan said. “So I made a silent vow, at that time, to do what I could to find the camp.”

She told Vail-area local Tracy Walters about the site and showed him some pictures of the area. In February, Walters and McGranahan identified the location, and sent it to former CIA officer Bruce Walker, now 91, to confirm.

Ngawang Dhargye of Erie, Colorado, left, points out a land feature displayed in the picture below him, which was taken from a CIA training facility at Camp Hale in the 1960s. Dhargye, a former member of Tibet’s Chushi Gangdrug army, was one of dozens of members of the Tibetian community visiting Camp Hale to attend a ceremony commemorating the Camp Hale site on Sunday.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Walker not only confirmed, but said it was he who had taken the pictures McGranahan and Walters used to find the site.

Pointing to a nearby slope on Sunday, “I took the picture from the top of that hill, looking down,” Walker told the crowd.

Sunday’s gathering was arranged after Walker had confirmed that McGranahan had found the site in February. McGranahan, who has worked with the Tibetan community around the world for more than 30 years, notified descendants of the Tibetan soldiers who had trained at Camp Hale, as well as current members of the Chushi Gangdrug Army, who helped to arrange Sunday’s ceremony along with the CU Department of Anthropology, the Tibet Himalaya Initiative, the Colorado Chushi Gangdrug and the .

“It is one final commemorative event to celebrate the Tibetan resistance effort that was here,” Walker said, “and that the CIA made an effort with the Tibetans to fight the fight.”

Former CIA officer Bruce Walker, who oversaw the operations of American-trained Tibetan agents at Camp Hale, shakes the hand of Tashi Dawa, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Chushi Gangdrug Army.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

The Camp Hale training site was known to the Tibetans as “Dumra,” or garden, and the Americans called it the ranch. Hundreds of Tibetans and Americans lived together at the site year-round, Walker said, and the site contained Tibetan dormitories, staff barracks, a gymnasium, classroom buildings, an administration building and more. Walker said he lived there for several years and taught in the classroom.

“This site was specifically used for the purpose of training radio teams who would be parachuted back to Tibet to join the resistance forces and send back messages about the resistance in Tibet on a real-time basis,” Walker said. “I taught them in some kind of tradecraft techniques and participated in some of the sabotage techniques of interrupting Chinese transportation and that sort of thing.”

Bruce Walker points out a feature on a hillside at Camp Hale Sunday during a speech at a ceremony recognizing the area’s contributions in training soldiers of Tibet’s Chushi Gangdrug Army.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

From 1962 to 1964 Walker was joined by Tsering Dorje, a Tibetan translator who worked with the CIA. Dorje, after being born in Tibet, attended boarding school in India in the 1950s and became fluent in English. Dorje was also able to attend the Camp Hale Ceremony on Sunday.

“He was one of our finest interpreters and a welcome friend to see after all these years,” Walker said Sunday.

Dorje, on Sunday, said there were 200 to 300 Tibetan soldiers at Camp Hale when he lived there.

“There were six or eight CIA officers, they were all very kind,” Dorje said. “We tried to teach our men as much as we could.”

Tsering Dorje gives a speech Sunday at Camp Hale National Monument. Dorje lived at Camp Hale during the 1960s, working with the CIA as a Tibetan translator.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

The Tibetan soldiers who trained at Camp Hale were members of the Chushi Gangdrug Army, which was newly formed at the time. Sunday’s event at Camp Hale doubled as a celebration of the 66th anniversary of the Chushi Gangdrug, founded in 1958.

A large portrait of Andrug Gonpo Tashi, founder of the Chushi Gangdrug, was displayed near the podium as the speakers took the stage that had been set up at the site of the original Tibetan camp.

Many of the attendees to Sunday’s ceremony, including current and former members of the Chushi Gangdrug, were there to celebrate the army’s heroics.

Tashi Palmo, who was born in Nepal and now lives in New York, said her father died fighting in the Chushi Gangdrug two weeks after she was born. She said it was important for her to attend Sunday’s ceremony to honor the legacy of the Chushi Gangdrug.

“Without the Chushi Gangdrug, His Holiness would probably not have been able to escape Tibet successfully,” Palmo said. “And if it wasn’t for His Holiness, the community in any way shape or form would not have been the same.”

Pema Chinjor with the Central Tibetan Administration speaks at Camp Hale National Monument on Sunday.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Pema Chinjor, a member of the Central Tibetan Administration, attended on Sunday and spoke about the Chushi Gangdrug’s efforts to help Tibetans escape to India. Chinjor said his brother was among those who helped the Dalai Lama escape, events which the Dalai Lama wrote about in “The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong.”

“I thanked them for their strength and bravery, and also, more personally, for the protection they had given me,” the Dalai Lama wrote of the Chushi Gangdrug, as recited by Chinjor on Sunday. “By then, I could not in honesty advise them to avoid violence. In order to fight, they had sacrificed their homes and all the comforts and benefits of a peaceful life. Now they could see no alternative but to go on fighting, and I had none to offer.”

For many of the Chushi Gangdrug, the fight would end in death, and that was true for most of those who trained at Camp Hale.

Tenzing Sonam, whose father Lhamo Tsering was the Chief of Operations for the Tibetan resistance movement from the late 50s until the early 70s and trained at Camp Hale in 1959.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Several relatives of Tibetans who were trained by the CIA spoke on Sunday.

Tenzing Sonam, whose father Lhamo Tsering was the Chief of Operations for the Tibetan resistance movement from the late ’50s until the early ’70s and trained at Camp Hale in 1959, said most of those who his father trained with died on difficult missions after returning to Tibet.

“(My father) always said, this chapter of the Tibetan struggle, we should not see it as something that did not achieve its goals,” Sonam said. “We should see it as one chapter in a continuing struggle for Tibetan independence.”

Doma Norbu, whose father, Tibetan freedom fighter Athar Norbu, trained at Camp Hale with the CIA in the 1960s, speaks about how happy she is to see young people at a ceremony Sunday commemorating the area of the national monument where her father trained.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Speaker Doma Norbu, whose father Athar Norbu trained at Camp Hale, spoke about how happy she was to see young people at Sunday’s event. Norbu also attended the 2010 event, when McGranahan made her silent vow to find the site.

“We did have a few Tibetans, and we had quite a lot of the trainers here as well as the trainees,” Norbu said of the 2010 event. “But it was done by people who were not Tibetans, and I hoped that one day, Tibetans would acknowledge all these brave fighters. And today I’m happy that we have so many Tibetans here acknowledging what we have done, and I hope that this continues.”

Sunday’s festivities at Camp Hale were organized in an effort to commemorate a Tibetan training site, but also doubled as a celebration of the 66th anniversary of Tibet’s Chushi Gangdrug Army.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

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