After I finished high school, I took the university entrance exam, but didn’t pass it, so I couldn’t go to university. My father was the deputy chairman of the Party forestry farm, so told me that I should go work as a laborer there. I ended up working on the farm, taking care of the cows and digging holes to plant trees. It was a very tough job, but I got the title of “Good Worker,” so they sent me to study at a university in Hanoi, as an accountant.
Then the war started. At the time of the war, our country was in danger – we saw the war and it was very intense. Both of my parents were people who loved their country, and were determined to help it to overcome difficult times. So our hatred, our feeling toward the enemy was very intense. We were not afraid of anything, we just tried to accomplish whatever our task was. Whatever we can do, we do.
During the war, I worked as a militant for the North, which was very important work. We had to bring rice, weapons, and ammunition to the soldiers in the south. One day in June 1968, when we were transporting goods, three US airplanes discovered us and began to shoot at us. So we took our guns and fired back. When I shot the first time, I didn’t hit the plane. So I lay down and placed the rifle against the tree and aimed. When I shot the second time, it hit right at the gas tank, and the whole airplane exploded, and crashed into the next hill.
Then I saw something falling from the sky – I thought it was a bomb, but actually, it was the pilot parachuting down. So I ran, followed the parachute. When the pilot landed, he had already untied one side of his parachute, but I came and put my gun right to the guy’s neck and said, “Stay still.” He raised his hands, and I told my friends that they should cut up the parachute rope, so we had something to tie him with.
Then, I saw something that I thought was a signal, but I didn’t know what it was. So I grabbed it and smashed it. Then, about three minutes later, 9 or 10 airplanes came and surrounded the area. That signal was sending messages to the American army! But we hid and were not hurt.
You know, I was not scared during the attacks. Bombs were very normal things at that time. At night, they used to fire rockets at us, from the ocean to the land. At night, they had bombs coming down from the airplanes. The border between life and death was very thin. Death was something very normal.
When the other army unit responsible of taking care of prisoners came to take the American pilot away, he asked to meet me. We shook hands, and then they took him away.
Thirty-six years later, a man from a government office called me. He asked, “What did you do during the war, did you achieve anything?” After I told him the story of shooting down the pilot, he told me that General Võ Nguyên Giáp had been looking for me for 36 years. They invited me to the Army Section 4 to meet and take photos with General Giáp, and to receive a diploma and a medal for my brave fighting during the war. When I met with General Giáp, he asked me, “Why are you so good?” I responded, “It’s probably also luck, but I just followed the words I was taught.”
I now have a very good relationship with the local Party chairman, and I go to visit him every once in a while. The people there receive me very warmly.
I now have three children. The first is a girl, and the second two are boys. My daughter is now living inside of Huế city, and all three of them are married.
I talked about the war often with my kids when they were growing up. I told them, even though I do have this achievement, it is just a small thing to contribute to the war. But somehow, I do hope that not only my children, but also future generations may learn from this example, that it can help them learn how to become good people.
We are living in peacetime now. But if something happened, if there was an enemy, I would encourage my daughter to go to the war. We would go to war right away. No problem.
Of course no one wants war. The life of the human being is sacred. You don’t want war, you don’t want to fight, but when the enemy comes you have no choice. We had to protect our country. Had to protect the life of our people.
Ngo Thi Thuong, born 1946, photographed in her bedroom in Huế, Vietnam with a portrait of her with General Võ Nguyên Giáp taken when she was honored for shooting an American F-101 Voodoo in June 1968. July 2010.