Nguyen Hong My – 1st pilot to shoot down American fighter jet in 1972

(VOVworld) -The war ended long ago, but the memory of the triumphant past remains fresh in the mind of veteran Nguyen Hong My, the first Vietnamese pilot to shoot down an American fighter jet in 1972. The stories of his military career are the pride of the Vietnamese Air Force, and have also won respect from the American air force. His victory is a legend but he himself leads a quiet life.

 Nguyen Hong My – 1st pilot to shoot down American fighter jet in 1972 - ảnh 1
Pilot Nguyen Hong My (1969)

I visited Nguyen Hong My at his little house on the bank of the Red River and offered to write an article about him. He welcomed me with a friendly smile and said that he was the first Mig 21 pilot to shoot down an American fighter jet in 1972 but not a hero to be praised in the mass media. During our talk, he excitedly recalled his military memories. Sometimes he was moved to show me pictures and mention the names of his fallen comrades.

Nguyen Hong My was born in 1946 in the central province of Nghe An. While he was studying at the Hanoi University of Economics in 1965, he passed an examination and was sent to take pilot training in the Soviet Union, together with 120 other young men.  The 7-year course was shortened to 3 years as Vietnam desperately needed to strengthen its Air Force. Hong My was one of 19 graduates to fly the MIG - 21. My recalled: “My University had three students who passed the pilot examination. We were very excited. We didn’t care about our private interests. We just wanted to study well and return home to fight the war. Our families didn’t know we were studying to be pilots. We sent letters home from Russia but the return address was Hanoi.”

Nguyen Hong My and his comrades joined the war one month after returning home in 1968. They were stationed at the Noi Bai , Vinh, Thanh Hoa, and Kien An – Hai Phong airports. In early 1972, the US sent to the war in Vietnam 1,000 tactical fighters, and 150 B52s. The Vietnamese Air Force had only 180 Mig fighters, a few ground to air missiles, and radar. Mr. My again: “Regarding the balance of power, we were lagging far behind. But we weren’t afraid because we were fighting in our sky and had the support of our people on the ground.”

January 17, 1972, was the first day pilot My encountered American fighter jets. He and his partner Le Khuong fired 8 missiles off the mark. 2 days later, they went on another sortie. “That day we met 16 jets and another 8 coming later. I chased a F4 from the northern province of Hoa Binh to the central province of Nghe An. When I was flying over Thanh Hoa province, the command center said my flight was running out of fuel and I had to return. But I was burning with anger because of the previous missed fire, I took the decision to continue and shot it down. I saw the fuel light turn red when I shouted “burning”. I returned to land in Thanh Hoa and the mechanic told me that the plane would have crashed 1 minute later.

Pilot My was granted the Ho Chi Minh order after his victory for shooting down the first American fighter jet. He shot down 2 more jets during his 6 years in the military. During an airstrike in 1972, My’s MIG-21 was shot by Daniel Edwards Cherry flying a F4. My’s two arms were broken and he was demobilized. He returned to studying economics, got married, and had two children.

In 2007, American brigadier  General Daniel Edwards Cherry visited Vietnam and met with his one-time enemy, former MIG – 21  pilot Nguyen Hong My. General Cherry invited My to the US in 2009 and the Governor of Kentucky conferred on him the honorary rank of Colonel. My’s photo was put on an American stamp.

My now enjoys a simple life in a small house in Hanoi. He says his grandchildren are his happiness. “Previously, my neighbors didn’t know who I was. They know me as an insurance agent. Now I live on my pension. The American cried when I told him that my monthly income was about 200 USD. But I said I was satisfied with it. Many people earn more than me but don’t have as a pleasant and happy life as I do.