Man of the sky finds new life in field

TN News

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At 75 years old, Nguyen Van Bay at first appearance seems like any other farmer in the Mekong Delta.

He lives with his wife in a small thatched house 40 kilometers from the provincial capital Cao Lanh. Every day the old man with a long, unkempt beard tends his farm land, chicken coop, and fishpond.

Bay, also known as Bay Lua (rice), is more than a typical farmer in Hoa Thanh Commune. He amazed locals when he harvested over five tons of rice on a 0.5-hectare field. Recently he shocked them with a cassava weighing nearly 23 kilograms, a record weight in the neighborhood.

Still, having a record setting green thumb may not be the old man's greatest accomplishment.

Bay is also known as a famous pilot who shot down seven US aircrafts within five months in 1966 during the Vietnam War.

He recalled debuting as a pilot for Vietnamese military on October 7, 1965 with a Mig-17.

That day he encountered a group of US aircrafts in the northern province of Bac Giang. His plane was shot heavily with 82 holes, including many at the cockpit.  Although Bay was ordered to parachute by military officials, he refused to give up control of the plane.

Instead, with one hand covering a hole in cockpit, he flew back to the surprise of his trainers from the Soviet Union.

After that, Bay encountered US aircrafts another several times before shooting one down on April 26, 1966, when his team stopped a group of 20 US aircrafts from attacking Vietnamese fuel storage units in the northern province of Thai Nguyen.

Bay brought down another six aircrafts with the Mig-17, and was honored by Vietnam's first president Ho Chi Minh, also known as Uncle Ho.

Thanks to that achievement, Bay said, he was granted an honor to lead a team of 12 Mig-17 to fly around the Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi to pay a last tribute to Uncle Ho on September 9, 1969.

Favorite number

According to Bay, he was once offered to replace his Mig-17 with a Mig-21, which boasted a better speed.  However, Bay refused because most of his life's turning points were related to the number 7.

The man, whose name means "seven" in Vietnamese, said he was born in a poor family in Hoa Thanh Commune so he did not spend much time studying, but worked in the field to graze buffalos.

At 17 years old, when his parents forced him to get married to maintain the family name, Bay ran away and joined the military.

One year later, he went to the north and at the end of 1960 he was chosen to study about flying overseas. It was then required that candidates must finish the tenth grade but he had only completed the third grade.

"So, I was sent to the northern province of Lang Son to take a speedy course completing the education of seven grades within seven days," Bay said.

"When studying about flying, I tried to remember graphics and then studied from my friends only, because I couldn't remember laws or theorems."

Still, Bay managed to become one of the first pilots to fly 12 Mig-17 aircrafts back to Vietnam.

After the war ended, Bay took charge of Can Tho Airport as well as other southern airports like Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhat. In 1990 he was also positioned as the chief of HCMC Club of Air Defense aviation.

However, he soon left all behind to come back to Dong Thap Province, living in Tan Phu Dong Commune, feeding fish, pigs and growing trees.

A couple of years ago, as the commune started being urbanized. Bay transferred his house to his daughter to return to his fatherland Hoa Thanh Commune, where he has worked as a farmer since then.

"I'm a farmer who grew up when the country was dominated, so I devoted to the revolution mission. Now that the country's matter has been settled down, I came back to the field, where I was born," he said.

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