Vietnam veteran, Major Dan Cherry will be at Cave Creek Museum at 2 p.m. Sunday to talk about and sign copies of his book, My Enemy, My Friend. Cherry’s book recounts his story of reconciliation and now friendship with Nguyen Hong My, a Vietnam fighter pilot, who Cherry shot down in battle in 1972.
Vietnam veteran to speak in Cave Creek
Marc Buckhout ~ Managing Editor ~ 2/10/2010
In military terminology collateral damage is damage that is unintended or incidental to the intended outcome.
Instead of causing collateral damage retired Air Force Brigadier General Dan Cherry has discovered additional benefits following the printing of his book “My Enemy, My Friend”.
At 2 p.m. on Sunday Cherry will be at Cave Creek Museum signing a book that was written with the idea of raising funds for Aviation Heritage Park in Bowling Green, Kent., which pays homage to military aviation history.
In addition to raising funds for the facility, in what Cherry said is an area rich with military veterans, the book has been a vehicle for extolling the messages of forgiveness, friendship and the importance of looking for common ground rather than clinging to differences.
“I’ve given 30 or 40 presentations about the story and the response I’ve received has been very gratifying,” Cherry said. “The most important thing I’ve discovered is how much it means to other Vietnam Veterans. I’ve had vets come up to me with tears in their eyes and tell me that my story has helped them get over some very unpleasant memories they’ve had to deal with since the war.”
Cherry’s story began in 2004 when he and some of his friends from Bowling Green, located between Nashville and Louisville, visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
In talking to museum staff during their trip Cherry was told that the same type of plane he had flown during Vietnam was available for viewing at a Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge no more than 20 miles from the museum.
The next morning Cherry’s group visited the VFW and discovered not only was it the same type of plane, but it was in fact the plane that he had flown during a mission in 1972.
On that day during an extensive dogfight Cherry, piloting a Phantom 550, had shot down a Mig-21.
“It was one of the highlights of my military career,” said Cherry, who served in the Air Force for 29 years, enlisting in 1959 and retiring in 1988. “You wonder from the time you join the military how you will be able to perform when you’re in a mortal combat situation. Normally dog fights last less than a minute, but this one was four or five minutes long. It was very intense. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
The discovery of the Phantom 550 spearheaded a group including Cherry to get to work on forming the Aviation Heritage Park.
“Our thought was that there are a lot of people from our part of the country that were distinguished in aviation,” Cherry said. “If we could collect some of these artifacts they could be used to tell the real stories of real people that experienced parts of history. I think that’s what attracts young people today. If you’re an aviation nut you were going to enjoy what we were putting together regardless, but when we brought these aircraft to life with a real story that’s what the young people are interested in, a real personnel connection.”
Excited by their project the group quickly discovered that the required funds to obtain, restore and maintain the aircrafts would be quite an undertaking.
Time and again the idea was jokingly brought up that reconnecting with the pilot that Cherry had shot down back in 1972 would add an element to the story that surely would provide some exposure for the project and possibly help raise funds for their efforts.
Through a national television program in Vietnam that reunites people that have become separated over time the pilot Cherry had shot down, Nguyen Hong My, was located.
Flying to Vietnam in 2008 Cherry’s first chance to meet the man that he’d shot down in battle some 36 years ago would come on national television.
“My heart was going 90 miles per hour,” Cherry said. “I wanted it to go well. I had thought about it for weeks on end and my intuition told me it would be a good thing. I felt we’d have a lot in common. Even though we were on opposite sides of a hard fought war fellow fighter pilots have ta mutual respect so I hoped there would be potential to develop a friendship and have reconciliation.”
The initial response gave Cherry reason for optimism.
“They made it very dramatic,” he said. “I was sitting on stage and they’d shown videos of our story and then he came out from behind the curtain. We locked eyes immediately and he was an imposing figure. I was wondering how this was really going to go, but while he wasn’t smiling, he had a pleasant look on his face.”
Nguyen Hong My calmed Cherry’s concerns with his greeting.
“I extended my hand, he shook it and then he said, ‘Welcome to my country. I’m glad to see you’re in good health and I hope we can be friends.’”
Following the show Cherry spent some time with My and his family, with My serving as Cherry’s tour guide for his time in Vietnam.
“As a fellow pilot you automatically have that measure of respect and I figured if the conversation was difficult to come by we could always turn to that as a common ground, but we not only talked about planes, but we talked about our families, our children our grandchildren. It was fantastic how we were able to have some chemistry right from the beginning,” Cherry said.
Before leaving Vietnam Hong My asked Cherry about a plane he had shot down, wondering along the same lines whether the U.S. pilot had survived and if there were any way Cherry could research and possibly connect My with the U.S. pilot if he had survived.
Upon returning to the United States Cherry did just that and when Hong My came to visit the United States in April 2009 Cherry was able to setup that reunion.
“At least from my perspective war is not nearly as personal for fighter pilots as it is for infantry men,” Cherry said. “I was never thinking about the fate of the pilot in the other plane. I just knew if I did my part right and shot that MIG down that I would be protecting our men on the ground and my fellow pilots in the air.”
After getting to read the first edition of Cherry’s book Hong My said he had only one problem with it, the title, “I don’t think you and I were ever enemies. We were just soldiers doing the best we could for our countries during a very difficult time.”
For information on Cherry’s appearance, set for 2 – 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Cave Creek Museum call 480-488-2764 or visit www.cavecreekmuseum.org. For information on
Aviation Heritage Park go to www.aviationheritagepark.com.