He was a legend among those who loved and hated him.
Criminals spoke of him as a terrifying nemesis who was immune to arms. The adoring public had any number of tales to tell about his fearless pursuit of bad guys.
His comrades at the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department, mourning the sudden, unexpected and premature death of Ly Dai Bang, say these tales would be recounted forever among his peers and the public whom he served with unflinching dedication and courage.
Colonel Ly Dai Bang whose name means "eagle", and who was known popularly as the "Flying Eagle" head of the city Police Department's anti-drug agency, was found dead on the floor of his office by subordinates on Thursday [April 8] morning. He was on night shift the day earlier.
Investigators have said that the 50-year-old legendary cop died of a stroke.
On the same day, his body was taken to his native town of Cu Chi in the city's eponymous district some 70 kilometers from the downtown area well known as a major base of the liberation forces during the Vietnam War with its vast underground tunnel network spanning more than 200 kilometers.
Bang was buried at the Cu Chi Martyrs' Cemetery April 14.
Le Thanh Liem, deputy head of the Ministry of Public Security's drug crimes branch, said it was "really painful" to learn of Bang's death. Liem used to be Bang's comrade at the HCMC Police Department and had joined him in dangerous fights against drug-trafficking criminals several years ago.
Bang's rise to fame began just a year after 1977, the year he joined the police force at 17 years of age. He joined the anti-robbery police force, known as SBC, which was set up in 1978 to fight rampant robberies then.
Since then, he had on his own busted more than 300 cases and arrested about 400 criminals, not including another 200 cases solved by him and his comrades together.
But for Bang, all this was par for the course
Colonel Ly Dai Bang, former head of the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department's drug crime branch
"Any plainclothes policeman would do it. I have no interesting story about myself to tell," he told the media several years ago when asked about his accomplishments.
But there are many witnesses who have many stories to tell about the policeman who was awarded the "Hero of the Armed Forces" title in 2005.
Nguyen Tu, a grocer in District 5's Xa Tay Market, said he felt he had lost a close relative when he learnt of Bang's death.
"He would not have known who I am, but my neighbors and I will never forget him," he said, recalling the time when he saw Bang chase and catch two kingpins of a robbery gang already notorious for their brutality before 1975, the year the Vietnam War ended.
Nguyen Van Chinh and Nguyen Van Thang, the two gang leaders were being hunted by the police in 1983 on robbery and murder charges. They were known for not hesitating to shoot at anyone who tried to obstruct their crimes.
Following a case on District 5's Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, Bang secretly followed them when he and another plainclothes policeman were patrolling the area on his motorbike. He gave chase after they robbed a handbag of a woman.
Bang jumped onto their motorbike to catch one robber who was attempting to take his gun out. The other fled even after Bang's colleague shot him in his thigh. However, Bang managed to follow and catch him as he tried to flee on a tricycle, pretending to be a normal person on the street.
He was also quick enough to kick the gun from the robber's hand before the criminal took out a grenade and threatened the people around. However, Bang won again this time, pinning the criminal to the ground with the grenade under the latter's belly, and holding on despite being bitten hard by his captive.
Brave and caring
In 2001, Bang was assigned to be the deputy chief and later the chief of the HCMC Police Department's drug crime branch.
One of his subordinates, who wished not to be named, said he was lucky to have worked with Bang over the past nine years and accompany him on several drug busts, including one named 403H in 2003 when they arrested 29 criminals and seized 90 kilograms of heroin, 20 ecstasy tablets, five pistols and two grenades.
In this case, the scouting force had detected the criminals unloading drugs to a store in Dong Nai Province in May 2003 after several months of following the gang. The three police officials accompanying Bang were very upset after he ordered them to withdraw.
However, they realized that Bang was right four months later when the case was cracked and all the gang members were arrested without a single police casualty. They conceded Bang had been right in withdrawing to conduct more investigations and prepare better, because it would have been difficult for four of them to face nine dangerous criminals armed with pistols and grenades.
Moreover, it would have been more difficult for them to arrest other members of the gang if they'd attacked them then, they added.
"His death is a tragedy not only for his family but for the Vietnamese police force as well. We have so many memories of his bravery and heroism. He dedicated himself to the security of the public until his death," mourned a policeman who used to be his SBC comrade.
Lam Quang Truong, a reader, said Bang was his idol and he felt as if he has just lost something sacred.
"I was born and grew up here, in this city. Colonel Ly Dai Bang was my idol although I only knew him through tales and the media. I used to wish I could be an SBC police officer like him but I failed to fulfill that," he said.
"But it is not important because I decided to follow his example by being ready to fight against criminals anywhere and anytime I find them," he added.