Le Thi Thu Nguyet was just 19 when she managed to blow up a Boeing 707 carrying 80 American military advisers during the Vietnam War (1954-1975).
It was just one of many accomplishments that the 71-year-old Ho Chi Minh City woman recalled at a recent exhibition held in the city to honor Vietnamese women soldiers.
But it was that plane explosion that fetched Nguyet, a member of Biet Dong Saigon (Saigon Special Force) that fought for Vietnam’s reunification right in Saigon, her nickname Chim Sat (Iron Bird).
In 1963 she was assigned to set explosives in the plane carrying the advisers from Tan Son Nhat Airport to San Francisco.
She had pretended to be the mistress of Muoi Luan, a liberation agent sent to work undercover for the US-backed Saigon regime, and accompanied him frequently to the airport to win the trust of officials.
She told Thanh Nien News: “I was really embarrassed. I was unmarried but had to pretend to have an affair with a married man.
“I was criticized by my family and was even beaten by his jealous wife on the street.”
Shocking plane blast
On March 25, 1963, she pretended to be pregnant to hide an amount of C4 plastic explosives while seeing off Muoi Luan at the Tan Son Nhat Airport.
In the airport toilet, she put it in a suitcase and secretly exchanged it with the luggage of one of the American advisers.
“I set the bomb to explode 15 minutes after the plane took off, but an unexpected thing happened.”
The bomb went off only at Honolulu Airport in Hawaii, two minutes after the advisers got off to transit.
“I bought the cheapest clock due to our unit’s difficult financial situation. And we did not calculate the fact that clocks slow down due to low pressure on the plane,” Nguyet said.
The advisers escaped but the explosion was a big shock to the US Army.
She said: “Uncle Ho (President Ho Chi Minh) called to praise me. The BBC and radio stations in Hanoi also reported it, saying the Vietnamese were fighting the Americans not only in Saigon but also pursuing them to attack them in their own den.”.
On another occasion, Nguyet was assigned to transport primers hidden in two containers of peanut oil through a US military checkpoint.
She intended to set off the primers and die there before a thought struck her.
“Suddenly I remembered an officer in charge of recruitment for the military (of the US-backed Saigon regime) named Tran Tu Oai, and told them I was his daughter.
“Luckily they were too afraid of his influence to verify further and quickly loaded the two oil tanks on my motorbike again.”
Nguyet also transported weapons and poison to kill four American soldiers, destroyed a US Army helicopter and undermined a military exhibition in 1962, when she was just 18.
Le Thi Thu Nguyet, dubbed Iron Bird for her accomplishments during the war for the liberation of southern Vietnam.
In 1963 Nguyet was arrested while on her way to a major secret conference of the liberation forces and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.
She was transferred to several notorious prisons, including Chi Hoa and Con Dao, and tortured.
“I was jailed with a bear at a military security base on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street. I was not scared because they only wanted to threaten me and had a muzzle on the bear.
“I was also hung over dogs but did not confess to anything.” She has large scars in her legs from being bitten by the dogs.
After demonstrating several times in Chi Hoa, she was transferred to Con Dao before being released in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords.
A tough soldier who was conferred the honorary title of Hero of the Vietnam’s Armed Forces, Nguyet is also a typical family-oriented Vietnamese woman.
She used to stay with her uncle after her mother, a member of the National Liberation Women’s Association, died when she was a toddler and her father moved to the north in 1954 to fight for the nation’s liberation.
Le Thi Thu Nguyet and her family live in Ho Chi Minh City's Phu Nhuan District. Photo credit: Phu Nu Online
Asked what motivated her to overcome all difficulties, she said she wanted to find her father and fight like him to chase away all enemies.
When leaving her in 1954, her father promised to return to meet her in two years. But he only did so when the war ended more than 20 years later.
Nguyet has two sons with her husband, Colonel Do Khanh Van of the Military Zone 7.
Her elder son, a Boston University graduate, works for Vietnam Airlines while her other son works in real estate after studying in the UK.
“We always tell them to learn advanced technologies abroad to serve our country.
“They are very obedient and their success is actually my greatest accomplishment.”