DES MOINES, Iowa -- 40 years ago, Robert D. Ray refused to turn a deaf ear to the suffering of refugees in Southeast Asia. On Thursday the families he helped save lined up to say goodbye to the former Governor.
The crowd of mourners who filed past Ray's casket as he lay in state at the State Capitol was full of the faces of Iowa's Tai Dam community. Among them, Som Baccam.
"I could not miss this, this is my last bid of farewell to my favorite person ... my ray of light, my ray of freedom." said Baccam.
Iowa's southeast Asian community views Robert D. Ray as a father figure or a hero. He came to their rescue after the Vietnam War when no one else would and welcomed them to Iowa in their greatest time of need.
"I just said 'thank you'. Thank you for pretty much saving the Tai Dam culture and the people here," said Toni Minard, another Tai Dam mourner.
For some in the community, it's like losing a family member. "It didn't hit me when I heard form the family on Sunday," said Baccam, "I cried a little bit, but today when i saw the casket coming in, it's like it's real. He's gone. You know this great person, you want them to be alive forever."
Baccam gives Ray perhaps the greatest praise you can give to an American politician: "I compare him to Abraham Lincoln. He basically freed us."