At the age of 25, pilot Nguyen Van Coc shot down 9 US airplanes and he was awarded the Ho Chi Minh Medal 9 times. He has since become a legend of the Vietnamese Air force.
Childhood and ambition to fly
Coc’s childhood was enveloped in sadness. In 1947, when he was just 5 years old, his father and uncle died. His father, Nguyen Van Bay, was a Chairman of the Viet Minh Front in Viet Yen district (Bac Giang province – more than 50 km north of Hanoi) and his uncle was a member of the front.
That year, the enemy launched a “search and kill” raid in his countryside, Bich Son, Viet Yen. His father and uncle used diversionary tactics to help other cadres escape.
Angered by not finding the cadres, the enemy put barbed wire through his hands to chain his father to his uncle and 18 other villagers. These people were forced to go around the village to reveal the Viet Minh’s shelter. No villager identified the shelters so the enemy threw those 20 people in a well.
After that, French troops increased their attacks on the countryside. Coc’s mother had to evacuate her children to Thai Nguyen for a while by putting them in baskets. It could be considered Coc’s “first flight”.
Every evening, Coc repeated a question to his mother: “Why doesn’t dad come back?”
“Count the stars in the sky. When you finish, your father will come back”, his mother replied.
Coc’s home was close to Chu Airbase. He saw soldiers parachuting sometimes. The way the parachute opened impressed him. He also wanted to become “the sky’s son”. Fortunately, when he was in 8th form, in Ngo Si Lien School in Bac Giang, there was a health test to recruit strong men for the Air Force. After tough exams, Coc was enlisted into the force.
President Ho Chi Minh praised Nguyen Van Coc in 1969
No 2 scored
In 1961, Coc joined the Air Force and attended a training course on Cat Bi Airbase in Hai Phong City. He was then sent to the Soviet Union with 120 other Vietnamese trainees. When the theory training in the Soviet Union finished, half of the men were dismissed. Coc and 16 other men were assigned to learn to fly the MiG-17. Later on, when the training course ended, only 23 were chosen to be pilots.
Returning to Vietnam, Coc was reassigned to the Red Star Division in Noi Bai, from which emerged many famous pilots such as Tran Hanh, Pham Ngoc Lan, Nguyen Nhat Chieu. After that, Coc was sent to the Soviet Union again to learn to fly the MiG-21. A year later, he returned to his former unit to join the combat force.
In 1967, he shot down 6 enemy planes.
Coc recalled what happened on April 29, 1967, when pilot Nguyen Ngoc Do told him: “Tomorrow, you and I are on combat readiness duty together”. Do told Coc to keep calm, take advantage of the knowledge about the enemy and choose the right time to fire.
At 9 o’clock on April 30, 1967, when US airplanes were approaching from Sam Nua, Tuyen Quang and Tam Dao, Coc was ordered to take off.
Two MiG-21s immediately left the ground, to chase the enemy fighters. Nguyen Ngoc Do was in the No 1 position. Coc was No 2, at an altitude of 4,000m, 1,000m higher than the enemy.
There were four F105s, flying 1.5 to 2 km apart. These F105s were followed by the bombers, which were set to bomb identified targets.
Without hesitation, Do told Coc to drop the sub-oil tanks, be ready behind his plane and observe the situation.
As he was approaching the enemy’s airplanes, Do kept in touch with Coc. However, when Do shot down an F-105, Coc realised that there was another F-105 in his sight. The indicator light in the cockpit showed that the missile was in good range to be fired.
“Hit”, Do cried, right after Coc pulled the trigger. An F-105 burst into flames. The two then headed back to their airbase.
It was a battle which paved the way for other victories in the year. He was probably the top pilot who shot down enemy airplanes from the position of No 2. It was the job of No 2 to protect No 1, help No 1 to attack. However, Coc not only fulfilled his task but also shot down enemy targets. Once, he shot down 3 enemy airplanes in a single battle. That is why Coc was called by the nickname: Falcon
Among the total 9 US airplanes that Coc shot down, 6 were shot from the No 2 position. This was not taught at air force schools. However, Coc’s method was then incorporated in aviation training school. After that, many other enemy targets were shot from this position. Moreover, Coc’s method also frightened enemy pilots. When the war ended, some former US pilots wrote newspaper articles to show their respect for Coc’s bravery and creativeness. Coc’s teachers in the Soviet Union also praised him.
“Where is Coc? Come and meet Uncle Ho!”
The time he met Uncle Ho was an unforgettable event in Coc’s life. It was in 1969 when President Ho Chi Minh attended the conference to praise heroes in the Air Force.
Hundreds of soldiers waited to see Uncle Ho and clapped their hands loudly when they saw him. After listening to the report of Air Force Commander Phung The Tai and talking to the soldiers, Uncle Ho said, “Where is Coc? Come and meet Uncle Ho!”
Coc stood up and went close to the President.
“How many enemy airplanes did you bring down?” asked Uncle Ho.
“Dear Uncle, I shot down 9”, Coc answered politely.
“How many Uncle Ho’s medals were you awarded?” asked Uncle Ho.
“Dear Uncle Ho, I got 9,” Coc replied.
Uncle Ho then praised Coc for his achievements. Turning to the audience, Uncle Ho said: “As a new year is coming, I wish that the Air Force and Air Defense Command have more people like Coc”.
That unforgettable moment was recorded by photographer Xuan At. The photo in which Uncle Ho held Coc’s hands became the most valuable souvenir in Coc’s life. Late 1969, Uncle Ho passed away. At that time, Coc was a 27-year-old captain.
In total, he shot down 9 US airplanes (2 F-4, 5 F-105 and 2 unmanned planes). This number was written in the Air Force’s record book. When the war ended, no pilot had scored a bigger number.
Coc’s ongoing ambition
Coc said he was not fast but careful. It was a necessary quality for a pilot. His carefulness was demonstrated by his achievements.
Coc was later promoted to Commander of the Air Force and then Chief Inspector of the Ministry of Defense. He retired in 2002.
Most of Coc’s life was devoted to flying airplanes. He, uncountably, flew safely. Now, in his 60s, Coc suffers from chronic stomache pain. He has had to remain in bed or use a wheelchair since he fell down the stairs.
Before going to meet him in Military Central Hospital 108, I was a little bit afraid. I worried that Coc might get angry, like some other patients do.
I was wrong.
Coc welcomed me and spent time talking with me. He said that he was writing a book about his experiences; he would finish it when he left the hospital.
It is good news that the Ministry of Defense has decided to support him to get better treatment in China.
Written by Nguyen Xuan Thuy
Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Hung
Source: Su kien – Nhan chung, Quan doi nhan dan