Bay’s family is in a peaceful rural village that was once heavily impacted by war. This place has seen remarkable changes for nearly a decade. The village now has a good traffic system, an electricity network, and clean water supply.

At that time, I was in a seventeen-seat car. The car was stuck in between an eucalyptus tree and a half meter-high earth mound some two kilometers away from Bay’s house. Bay had to ride his motorbike to take each of us to his house. Entering the house, we could see a tea table with drinks ready and Bay himself carrying a box of beer. Bay urged his wife to bring in food. When one of us showed hesitation, Bay said that “You all come here to see me so I should treat you well. It is our tradition.”

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Senior Colonel Nguyen Van Bay, a legendary pilot

I sat watching Bay’s straight-sitting gesture and listened to every story he told. Though his eyes had signs of old age, they remained very keen. His voice was clear. Bay still remembered every event that had happened many years before. It seemed that Bay was reliving the memories of his youth. He spoke with his eyes, his face, and his hands. He recalled that he did not finish primary school. However, thanks to the Party, the Vietnamese revolution, and Uncle Ho, he could later continue his study and became a jet pilot. Bay said that his ancestors and even his parents had never dreamed of flying a jet and stressed that if the State had not trust in him and entrusted him with a MiG-17, he could not have had a chance to become a hero.

Of course, Bay was a heroic pilot. That pilot was sitting in front of me and feasting us with beer and stories. Bay was a legendary fighter pilot. It was him who thought of an effective close aerial combat method. “The liberation army in the South had a slogan “Grabbing the enemy’s belt to fight,” and Bay created the tactic “Getting close to the enemy’s aircraft to shoot,” Bay stressed.

At that time, he could not sleep for many nights because he always asked himself how he could down them when he did not see enemy aircraft. “Observing and following my comrades’ aircraft to fly in a formation is one thing but how to observe and spot enemy aircraft is another thing,” Bay recalled.

Thinking over for many nights and finally Bay found his own way. He laughed saying that “you might not believe that fighting against the enemy requires you of talent. Without talent, you could hardly win a battle.”

According to Bay, MiG-17 was armed with a 37mm gun and a 23mm gun totaling 200 rounds. For us, guns were our friends and bullets were precious like gold. We knew that our country was poor so we all did not waste bullets by firing at random like American pilots. During battles, Bay determined that any time he fired, the bullet should hit enemy aircraft. With that determination, Bay thought of a close aerial combat tactic. Accordingly, he decided to open fire when he was about 100 meters close to enemy aircraft.

Bay hailed 40 rounds of the 37mm gun on his MIG 17 as gold. When detecting enemy aircraft, he predicted its flight, took a short cut to encounter it at a 90-degree angle. He just shot the aircraft when it was nearly 100 meters away from his. He shot one at a time. If the first shot was low, he would adjust the second higher and vice versa. By doing so, Bay successfully shot down one enemy aircraft after two shots.

Explaining about his skills of downing enemy aircraft, Bay said that US aircraft was very modern, exceeding all technical parameters of the MiG-17 so he had to decide on the flight path of enemy aircraft, took a short cut, and approached the enemy aircraft from the right angle and fired it from a distance of 100m. With his own way, Bay flew a MiG-17 to down US’s F-105 Thunder chief and F-4 Phantom.

Bay revealed that he was called Saint by US pilots after shooting down three US aircraft. “In combat, U.S. pilots called each other to find the fighter of Vietnamese Saint to down. But none could down me, then I downed them,” Bay said, adding that he downed seven US’s F-105 Thunder chief and F-4 Phantom. After that feat of arms, US troops called Bay a flying ace (A flying ace has shot down at least five aircraft).

Watching Bay and his wife sitting side by side happily, I remembered a lyric I learnt by heart for more than 40 years, saying that the fish makes the fish sauce, the older couple love each other more. The verse seems to suit Bay’s family.

The legendary flying ace Bay was grateful to his wife for giving birth to three children. Each time she had a baby, he was in an air battle trying to approach the enemy’s aircraft to down them. In spite of that fact, Bay’s wife, a Southern woman dispatched to the North, hurriedly rode her bike to Gia Lam airport to ask for any information related to her husband whenever she heard about an air crash.

Written by writer Ho Tinh Tam, a member of the Vietnamese Writers’ Association

Translated by Mai Huong