A Famous Old Soldier Closes the Circle with a Visit to the Vietnam War Memorial
updated 09/17/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/17/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Ky spent the drive to Washington telling a long story about courting Mai—how he once commandeered an American-built A-1 bomber and flew after her. At the time Mai was a stewardess for Air Vietnam, and as Ky jockeyed alongside her plane, he rocked his wings in greeting. The Air Vietnam pilot panicked and asked Mai to appeal to Ky over the radio to stop. "There was nothing he could do about it," Ky recounted delightedly, "because I outranked him."
The story was interrupted by our arrival at the Memorial. We got out of the car and walked through the rain without talking. I was worried about the reception Ky would get if any hostile veterans recognized him. He was immediately spotted by two vets, but their cordial greeting plainly cheered him. They told him where they had fought in Vietnam, and he thanked them, firmly clasping their hands as he said goodbye. We continued toward the Memorial, that imposing black granite slab with the names of the dead etched in its shiny surface. Ky said hardly a word but placed a bouquet of flowers alongside a tiny American flag left by a previous visitor. A group of Vietnamese kids spotted him and started to follow at a distance. Gradually some other people recognized him and snapped pictures. I don't know if Ky saw them or not; if he did, he said nothing about it. At one point his wife became slightly annoyed when she stepped in a puddle, splattering her white stockings.
After 10 minutes, Ky turned to go. Back in the car he resumed the story about chasing Mai in the A-1, picking up precisely where he had left off. Mai's radioed plea finally worked, and Ky peeled off toward his base in Saigon. But once over the airfield, he had to be talked down. Laughing, Ky said he had not been checked out on the airplane and had no idea how to land it.
During the 20-minute drive back to Falls Church, he did not mention the Memorial again.