Above and Beyond: My Enemy, My Friend
Dan Cherry and Hong My met in the skies over North Vietnam in 1972, then again 36 years later.
- By Dan Cherry
- Air & Space magazine, May 2009
(Page 2 of 3)
I concentrated on smoothly tracking the MiG in my gunsight and setting up switches for a shot. Lo and behold, at about 4,000 feet Feinstein got a full system lock-on. I clamped down on the trigger—with no expectations—and swoosh, out came a Sparrow. It hit the MiG in the right wing root. The wing blew off. Flame, smoke, and pieces of airplane went in all directions. What remained of the aircraft went into a snap roll and then, right in front of me, out popped the pilot with his parachute. I had to maneuver quickly to avoid the white canopy with one red panel. Crane confirmed the kill, and we joined up and headed home. Then came Olmsted's call, "Scratch another MiG-21," confirming his kill on one of the silver MiGs.
Two confirmed MiG kills, and all of Basco Flight coming home safe and sound. The Udorn Officers Club was the hot spot that night.
In June 2004, during a visit to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, some friends and I discovered the very airplane I had flown that April day 32 years ago. F-4D no. 66-7550 was on static display on the outskirts of Dayton, with my name and the red victory star, but the elements had taken their toll. Citizens in my hometown, Bowling Green, Kentucky, working to establish an aviation museum there, arranged to borrow Phantom 550 for future restoration and display.
We constantly brainstormed ways to promote Aviation Heritage Park and raise money to acquire more aircraft. The idea of trying to find the MiG pilot came up, usually over a couple of beers, and in jest. Still, I had always been curious about his fate—who he was, whether he survived, if he had a family—so we set about seeing what we could find out.
Through an acquaintance, I learned about a Vietnamese television show, "The Separation Never Seems to Have Existed," which reunites people who have lost touch. When the producer heard of my quest, she asked me, via e-mail, to write a letter stating my intentions and the circumstances surrounding the dogfight. Within two weeks she had found the MiG pilot, and invited me to Vietnam to appear on television with him.
On April 5, 2008, on live television, my heart pounded as Nguyen Hong My—the man I had last seen in a black flightsuit, swinging under a red and white canopy—walked onto the set. He greeted me with a firm handshake and words of welcome, and expressed his desire for us to become friends. We sat down at a table with the producer, Thu Uyen. The interview began with our histories and pictures of our families. I teared up when I saw photos of our children and grandchildren on the monitor, and so did Hong My—two tough old fighter pilots weeping on national television.
After the show, we had dinner and wine on the roof of the Majestic Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, and with the help of an interpreter, we got to know each other. In the early 1960s, Hong My spent four years in the Soviet Union, training to fly and checking out in the MiG-21. He told me that Ho Chi Minh himself had presented him with his pilot wings and that he had been credited with one American shootdown. In our engagement, he broke both arms and severely injured his back in the ejection, but he recovered and went on to fly for two more years.