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The StoriesTrung

Trung grew up in the river byways of the Mekong Delta, a fertile land home to many poor farmers, many of whom saw the Viet Cong, guerilla fighters who supported Communist North Vietnam as their only hope for a better life - and a united Vietnam. Like so many other children in Vietnam, he lost a parent to the war being fought around him, when, in 1963, his father, a Viet Cong guerilla, was executed by South Vietnamese forces.

On the death of his father:

"That day, I could not go back to my house. I didn’t have anywhere to go. So I sat on the ferry [I took to school every day and went] back and forth, back and forth on the river all night. I asked myself the question, who is responsible for the death of my father? I answer for myself. I said, President Diem [the leader, handpicked by the Americans], you are responsible for the death of my father. And I told myself, when I am grown up, if I have the opportunity, I will become a pilot. And I will bomb the palace of the leader of South Vietnam."

pow questioned
Trung trained in Texas in 1969.

Trung joined the Viet Cong movement shortly after his father's death. He would spend the next twelve years working to fulfill his dramatic vow to bomb the palace in Saigon. The Viet Cong encouraged him to join the South Vietnamese Air Force, and in 1969, he was sent for advanced training in Texas. When he returned to his country, he began flying regular bombing sorties. But stealing a F-5, one of the American's most sophisticatd jets from the tightly guarded military base was close to impossible. It would take him three years to perfect his plan to bomb the presidential palace.

Trung finally perfected a plan using the military's own protocol against them. To cut down on radio noise, the pilots were required to communicate with each other by visual signals before they took off. On April 5, 1975, Trung gave his squad leader a hand signal that he was having electrical trouble. The rest of his squadron took off without him. According to military procedure, he had ten seconds in which to abort his mission, or catch up with the other planes. He waited out the ten second countdown and took off. But instead of joining his formation, he headed for the target he had held in his mind - the presidential palace.

cockpit shot of jet fighter
South Vietnamese interrogate suspected Viet Cong agent.

Trung avenges his father's death:

Just after take-off, I fly direct to Saigon. On that day, my aircraft was loaded with four bombs, [Viet Cong leaders had told him to use] two for the palace, two for the U.S. embassy. But with the first two bombs, I missed targeting the palace. Very quickly I made the decision. With the last two bombs I will bomb the palace and forget the embassy.

Trung's bombs set fire to only a small section of the Presidential Palace roof, but the psychological damage was done. He had brought the war to downtown Saigon - and signaled South Vietnam's leaders that their time was running out. When Trung landed the American F-5 jet on a tiny airstrip in Northern territory, he was greeted with a hero's welcome. But he paid a hefty price for his actions - back in Saigon his wife and children were thrown in jail just hours after the bombs fell.

saigon's main airport in flames
Saigon's main airport in flames.

In one of the final actions of the war, Trung faced an even greater challenge than the bombing of the Palace: training a ragtag group of North Vietnamese fliers, who were used to Soviet-made MiGs how to fly F-5s. The young captain was able to teach them to fly the American planes in just five days. On April 28, 1975, Trung led a formation of five planes that bombed Saigon's main airport, Tan Son Nhat, throwing the entire American evacuation into chaos.

trung lands in nva territory to a hero's welcome
Trung lands in NVA territory to a hero's welcome.

On his motivation for the bombing:

I did everything I could to stop the war as soon as possible. You stop the war one day earlier, you can save a lot of people. One month earlier, you can save thousands. One year earlier, a million. The earlier you stop the war, the more people you can save.

vietnam airlines hopes to expand with the growing tourist industry
Vietnam Airlines hopes to expand with the growing tourist industry.

Trung was one of a handful of Vietnamese pilots trained by the Americans to remain in Vietnam after the war ended. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, he took to the skies again and led bombing raids over the border. In 1990, Trung joined the national carrier, Vietnam Airlines, and has been helping train a new generation of aviators ever since.

capt. trung today
Capt. Trung today.

Vietnam Airlines' new generation:

"Most of our pilots are very young, less than 35 years old. Most of them have grown up in peace, and were not involved in wartime. My generation is always teaching them, letting them know what happened in the past… and they are always learning."

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