A former Vietnamese pilot and two American foes he confronted in the Vietnam War four decades ago have become the best of friends now in peace.
One day in March 2014, Vietnamese Nguyen Hong My and American John Stiles walked side by side around the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi, sharing their wartime memories.
Few would know that the two used to be on opposing sides during the Vietnam War that ended on April 30, 1975 when the U.S.-backed Saigon regime fell.
My is the first Vietnamese pilot to shoot down an American aircraft in 1972 and Stiles’ F4 was the first American jet to be shot down by a Vietnamese pilot that year.
On Jan 17, 1972, amidst the escalating war, My, in his MiG-21 aircraft, fired Stiles’ F4 to the ground.
Stiles was lucky to cheat death after parachuting down and being trapped on a tree in central Vietnam for two days. Stiles’ co-pilot also escaped but later died in a traffic accident.
In 2007, as the U.S. air force summarized their war processes, they tracked down the first Vietnamese pilot to shoot down an American aircraft in 1972.
The Vietnamese government gave them the name: Nguyen Hong My.
As My got permanently injured during the 1972 attacks, which cut his military career short two years later, the U.S. air force officials paid him a visit at his home in 2008.
My was then invited to meet former American pilot Dan Cherry, who gunned his aircraft down in April 1972. Cherry later became a friend My called “best.”
In 2009, My was also invited to Kentucky, the U.S., where he was awarded the title of Honorary Colonel.
There he met Stiles, who had always believed that his aircraft was shot down by a land missile.
Stiles then asked My about the intricate details of the attack which no one except the two men knew. Only then was he positive that My was really the same man.
‘We’re best friends’
Their first meeting helped soothe Stiles’ obsessions about the war. Their bonds grew steadily since.
Stiles has paid several visits to My, who he intimately calls “cowboy,” and has gotten to know all of his family members well.
“My is really a good friend of mine. He really impressed me at our first meeting and has visited me every year since. We have visited Vancouver, Washington and some other places together,” Stiles shared.
“John Stiles, Dan Cherry and I are best friends now. We exchange emails regularly and often talk on Facebook. John’s mother really loves me, she puts our strong bonds down to sheer destiny. This year, John visited me and brought a great gift for my new-born grandchild,” My said with a smile.
Stiles said he will continue to visit Vietnam, where My is always waiting for him.