|High flyers: Pilot Trung (second from left) and his comrades touch down after a mission during the war. — VNS File Photo
Despite climbing the ranks at Vietnam Airlines and leading a sedentary life today, the beginnings of Nguyen Thanh Trung's career were fraught with risk and danger as he courageously fought in the war effort. Thanh Luan and Ha Nguyen report.
After the US bombed Ha Noi in 1972, killing hundreds of people, Nguyen Thanh Trung wanted to avenge the violence.
"Seeing my smouldering hatred, officials at the Central Southern Division [South Viet Nam Liberation Force Command] decided to embed me in the airforce of the Sai Gon regime. I was commissioned to bomb Doc Lap [Independence] Palace," said Trung.
It's hard to believe that the calm man watering his bonsai and flowers is the air-force hero who bombed the Sai Gon regime's headquarters to help liberate South Viet Nam in 1975.
Today, Trung lives a simple life in a small house in HCM City's Go Vap District.
But describing his actions during the war, his face filled with excitement as he relived those heady times.
Trung's F-5E fighter was ordered to bomb the advancing liberation forces in Phan Rang on April 8, 1975. But after passing the captain and air traffic patroller, he steered the plane left from the squadron.
The jet carried four bombs, intended for Doc Lap Palace, the US Embassy and the Nha Be fuel dump.
|Mass destruction: The Independence Palace after the bombing.
Unfortunately, the first two bombs missed their targets. But the remaining ones hit Doc Lap Palace. In addition, Trung used a 20mm gun to shoot at the fuel dump.
After the successful bombing at the palace, he returned to the liberation zone where he and other anti-war Sai Gon pilots prepared to bomb Tan Son Nhat Airport on April 28, as the liberation army came forward to liberate Sai Gon.
Trung continued to train young pilots for the military air force until the 1990s, when he was invited to work at Viet Nam Airlines as its deputy general director. He was one of Viet Nam's first captains to pilot Boeing 767s. Recently, the first Vietnamese businessman to own a personal aircraft (locally known as bau Duc) invited him to join his pilot team. Today, he flies Duc to Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand on business trips – a far more sedate life than his revolutionary past.
Yet he still feels responsible for educating the younger generation and raising their sense of patriotism.
"I've seen many young people nowadays who live a life of self-indulgence, so I try to help them by attending meetings to talk with young military officers and soldiers about our aircraft and military history and describe how we fought against foreign invaders," he said.
"This makes me very happy because after each meeting, I see a patriotic flame on their faces. These impressions give me the health and energy to continue helping young soldiers to be more aware of their responsibility towards the country."
Trung has four children - two daughters and two sons. After he bombed the Doc Lap Palace, his wife and daughters were arrested by the Sai Gon regime and held until South Viet Nam was liberated in 1975.
"I was questioned again and again about why my husband, a Sai Gon pilot, bombed the Doc Lap Palace," said Trung's wife, Nguyen Thi Cam. "We led a miserable life in prison, running short of everything – including drinking water. I had to use our ration of tea water to make the formula for my eight-month-old daughter, who seemed to be getting sick."
Fortunately, she and her children were saved by liberation soldiers on April 30, known today as Liberation Day.
|On a wing and a prayer: Trung working as a captain at Vietnam Airlines. — VNS File Photo
Continuing in Trung's footsteps, his daughters Nguyen Thuong Thuong and Nguyen Thanh Phuong are flight attendants for Viet Nam Airlines.
"They have wanted to follow my career since they were young," said Trung.
His two sons, Nguyen Thanh Danh and Nguyen Thanh Tin, are now Viet Nam Airlines pilots.
"I'm very happy because my sons have the capability to pilot these modern aircraft. Although they're very busy, they still try to return home to eat meals with us, particularly on the weekends," said Trung.
He also expressed thanks to his wife for taking care of the family after liberation.
"I spent almost all of my time in Ha Noi, so my wife had to do everything for our family – including feeding our four children and supervising their studies – without help from any other relatives. It was very hard work," Trung said.
"Thirty eight years have passed, but as people in our country celebrate national unification this week, I still feel wrapped up in memories of the past. Still, I'm very happy to witness our country's rapid development and integration into the world economy." — VNS