Dan Cherry to meet pilot he shot down
Daily News | By Jim Gaines | March 24, 2008
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - On April 16, 1972, Dan Cherry shot down a Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter near Hanoi. He knew the opposing pilot survived the missile strike, but knew no more about his target's life or subsequent fate than the North Vietnamese pilot did of his.
Now, just short of that event's 36th anniversary, the two men are set to
meet each other face-to-face.
The plane Cherry flew that day -- a U.S Air Force F4D Phantom II, tail
number 550 -- is now restored to its wartime appearance as the first exhibit of the Aviation Heritage Park on Three Springs Road. When that park was in its planning stages 21/2 years ago, its local backers were discussing fundraising and publicity ideas, he said.
"Someone said, almost in jest, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could find that MiG pilot?' " Cherry said.
They laughed at the time, but the idea remained; Cherry had always been
curious about the pilot he shot down, and wondered not only what he was like but whether he was hurt and what became of him in later life.
"All those thoughts have crossed my mind many times since then," he said.
As plans for the park moved forward and Cherry's old plane was secured for the first exhibit, its supporters made inquiries through current business connections in Vietnam, Cherry said.
One day at the Bluegrass Jet Jam, he ran into attorney Ed Faye, who told
Cherry about his recent tourist trip to Vietnam; Cherry told Faye of the search for his old opponent, and Faye promised to ask through friends there, Cherry said. Those friends contacted a popular monthly show on state-run Vietnamese TV, which specialized in reuniting old friends and family on camera. That show's producer got the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense involved, he said.
On Dec. 5, 2007, back came an e-mail from Thu Uyen, producer of the show, whose title translates into something like "Seems As Never Have Been Separated."
"We are happy to announce to you that we have found the 'brave pilot' who you were desiring to one day (to) find through our program," the message says.
"After April 16, 1972, the life of the 'brave pilot' has changed tremendously
and (he) has a lot of interesting things to share. The 'brave pilot' is
looking forward to meeting you and rebuild(ing) the friendship as you have mentioned."
It asks if Cherry would come to Vietnam to meet the pilot and appear on the show, offering assistance with a travel visa and hotel. Cherry said he asked the U.S. embassy in Vietnam for its opinion, and diplomatic officials encouraged the trip.
"I leave March 31, and the TV show is April 5," he said.
For now, about all he knows is the pilot's name: Hong My. As a fellow pilot, Cherry suspects, they'll have lots in common. He hopes they'll get along well -- and if they do, Cherry hopes to invite him to visit Bowling Green. The show's producers are keeping information about each man away from the other until they meet in the TV studio, where they'll both see narratives of the other's life, Cherry said.
If things go well, he'd like to spend more time with Hong My after the show, and plans to stay a few more days to visit Hanoi -- and the notorious prison where many American pilots were held, dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton." It's now a museum.
Cherry volunteered for combat duty in Southeast Asia in 1966, then for a
second tour in 1971. He flew 295 missions, most of them over North Vietnam. A major at the time, he retired as a brigadier general.
He wrote up his own account of the four-minute fight in which he and his
flight leader each shot down the MiG-21. After taking off from a base in
Thailand on April 16, 1972, Cherry was flying with three other Phantoms from the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, patrolling about 50 miles southwest of Hanoi. They were chasing two MiGs when they spotted a third lower down. Cherry and his wingman chased the third MiG into a cloud, and spotted the North Vietnamese pilot when they emerged.
Sidewinder missiles malfunctioned repeatedly on both of the American planes, but Cherry finally fired a Sparrow missile, which hit the MiG about 4,000 feet away.
"The explosion blew the right wing of the MiG and it immediately went into a hard spiral, trailing fire and smoke," Cherry wrote. "The MiG pilot ejected and his chute opened right in front of me.
"The whole thing had a dreamlike quality to it ... there we were ... smoking by this guy just as his parachute opened. We must have been close to supersonic, with the afterburners cooking ... and I know we weren't more than 30 feet away from him when we passed. Even at that, I got a good look at him. He had on a black flying suit, and his parachute was mostly white, with one red panel in it. I thought, 'This is just like in the movies!' "
Now, Cherry said, he's just as excited about flying to meet the man he shot at in 1972.
Bye Bye Phantom Video
A Sad End to
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Justed wanted you to know that LtCol Pat Dickman (pilot) and myself, LtCol Jerry Youngblood (WSO) of the 177 TFS/ 184 TFW at McConnell AFB, KS. were the last two to fly tail # 271.
We were TDY at a guard training base in Wisconsin when one of our RTU students over Gd 271. Instead of trying to fix the jet, it was decided to be used as a static display back at McConnell. Pat and I were given a 1 flight/1 G flight clearance back home.
The 184th used a lithograph/photo of 271 as momento for all its members. I have a signed copy of all the assigned aircrew at McConnell when I retired in 1992.
I'd be interested in any Phantom stuff/groups/reunions etc. that you maybe aware of.
LtCol. Jerry Youngblood
A photo of my earlier handiwork (May '75) ---utility hyd failure followed by a broken line in the pneumatic emergency gear lowering system. Conversation between my RIO and I (our first flight together) --- Bob: "Dave, the gear didn't come down." Dave: "The gear didn't WHAT!" Some conversations you don't forget! The good news was it took 10 man-hours to fix the airplane and it flew the next day. The bad news was that it was destroyed in a crosswind landing accident at Reese AFB 10 months later (not by me). Bummer!
In '69 i was stationed at george, afb california. the wing had a block of f-4e's delivered without a radar package onboard. to keep proper weight and balance lead plates where installed in the nose of each aircraft. these so called "lead noses" where the aircraft chosen to be converted to the f-4's flown by the thunderbirds. after conversion we had the honor of being the first to see their show.
fc straile, kearny, nj
Denny Wisely was a cocky 19-year-old in 1960 when he told a Navy recruiter he wanted to fly planes. He hadn't yet heard of Vietnam.
Wisely, now a retired rear admiral, would learn about Vietnam in spades when he served his first of three tours in 1965.
At first, it was fun flying the F-4 Phantom, and he was excited to go to war. "I'm a warrior for the U.S. Navy," he thought, "and I'm going to go and defend my country." advertisement
"My enthusiasm was bubbling," Wisely said at his Scottsdale home, surrounded by memorabilia from 34 years in the military.
When his commander, a combat veteran, was killed on his second day during a run over North Vietnam, Wisely's enthusiasm turned to fear. The commander's nervous replacement sent jitters through the squad.
Their job was to bomb power plants, bridges and railroad yards in the north. In the south, they dropped napalm over North Vietnamese troops when U.S. soldiers were pinned down.
"Our guys would say, 'OK, pickle 'em.' "
Home base was the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, operating out of the Gulf of Tonkin.
April 1967 was a hot time in Vietnam. On April 24, Wisely's ship was ordered to launch a strike against Kep Airfield, northeast of Hanoi.
Wisely flew into intense air and ground fire. One of the pilots in his squadron radioed he'd been hit and had lost an engine. As the crippled aircraft exited toward the sea, two North Vietnamese MiGs chased him. Suddenly, there were MiGs all over - nine of them against three Americans.
"It was a furball," Wisely said. "Every man for himself."
Cutting in front of one MiG, Wisely sent a Sidewinder missile into
another: "Bye-bye, MiG." It was the second time he'd shot down an enemy plane, a Vietnam War naval record he said would stand for five years. He was a hero.
But war took its toll. Wisely twice had to eject from his F-4, once landing in a tree. He has had several back surgeries to repair damage to his spine.
By 1972, when he began his third tour, he was a more reluctant warrior, critical of how the war was being waged, run by Washington instead of the military, he charged. "It wasn't prosecuted right."
Wisely's sister had become a war protester. That caused a rift lasting years.
"As I look back on it, I understand," he said. "This country can't take long, drawn-out wars."
But at 66, Wisely has no regrets. He grew up in that war.
"Vietnam shaped my life. It made me more competitive." Now, he said, sitting in a comfortable chair, "I'm like a retired racehorse."
The Arizona Republic
The Beast was standing before me. It was inert, dead;… only man could bring it back to life. I had heard the story, how it had killed. Without any thought it had reached out and claimed its victim. It didn't care who the victim was only that it had been careless and had gotten too close.
The Beast had been designed for death and it would claim any victim that it could find. It had both beauty and a twisted ugliness about it. Its roar was loud and terrifying and its flame could spit for thirty feet. You could hear it coming before you could see it. It had a low mournful sound like the ghost of Hell coming for you and leaving a black trail where it had been.
I stepped closer; I wanted to look into its mouth, to see what the victim had seen in his last moments. I wanted to know all of my enemies; I wanted to be the one to survive, to go home when this time had passed. Its mouth was big enough to swallow a man whole. Its teeth were terrifying. I'm sure that it had happened so fast that its victim had not even had time to think. Certainly there was no time to react or even to scream. Was there time even to be terrified?
The only evidence that was left were the scuffmarks left by the mans boots as he was sucked down the intake and into the turbine blades of the F4 Phantom. The lifeless body had been removed; another sacrifice to the "Prince of Death".
The Beast and I would cross paths many times but I knew to keep my distance. There were other Beasts on the flight deck and other close calls and other victims. The flight deck was both a beautiful and fearful place, where peace and death walked hand in hand.
Michael L. Murphy
Attack Squadron 153, Ordnance
USS Coral Sea
Vietnam 1967, 68, 69
When I took over my wing [in Vietnam], the big talk wasn't about the MIG's, but about the SAM's ... I'd seen enemy planes before, but those damn SAM's were something else. When I saw my first one, there were a few seconds of sheer panic, because that's a most impressive sight to see that thing coming at you. You feel like a fish about to be harpooned. There's something terribly personal about the SAM; it means to kill you and I'll tell you right now, it rearranges your priorities ... We had been told to keep our eyes on them and not to take any evasive move too soon, because they were heat-seeking and they, too would correct, so I waited until it was almost on me and then I rolled to the right and it went on by. It was awe inspiring ... The truth is you never do get used to the SAM's; I had about two hundred fifty shot at me and the last one was as inspiring as the first. Sure I got cagey, and I was able to wait longer and longer, but I never got overconfident. I mean, if you're one or two seconds too slow, you've had the schnitzel.
General Robin Olds, USAF.