Fighting In The Sky, Friends On The Ground

Dan Cherry, Nguyen Hong My
Dan Cherry meets Nguyen Hong My at the airport.

A lot of reunions are heartwarming, but this one might actually renew your faith in mankind, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

"To be able to actually meet the guy I fought a life and death duel with - to be able to put all that behind us and somehow find something positive out of that - it was the right thing to do," said Dan Cherry.

Cherry is meeting Nguyen Hong My the first time as friends. It's their third overall - the first two were under decidedly different circumstances.

Their initial meeting was the subject of a History Channel documentary. Combining computer animation with actual cockpit voice recordings, it told the story of one of the most dramatic dog fights of the Vietnam War. Pilot Dan Cherry had engaged a North Vietnamese MiG fighter. After a prolonged cat and mouse, Dan fired the Sparrow Missile that would give him not only his one-and-only shoot down of the war, but his first glimpse of his future friend - a very lucky North Vietnamese pilot named Nguyen Hong My.

Flash forward 32 years.

"There she was, sitting right there in a grassy field," Dan said.

In 2004, Dan discovered his old plane outside a VFW hall in Dayton, Ohio.

"All these memories came flooding back to me," Dan said. "The first thing I started thinking about, a lot more than I ever had in years, was the fate of the MiG pilot. I wondered if he really did survive when he hit the ground, was he OK, was he injured, did he have a family?"

After an exhaustive, unproductive search, Dan heard about a TV show in Vietnam called "The Separation Never Seems To Have Existed."

"That's the name of the show?" Harman asked.

"That's the way it translates," Dan said.

"Is it like 'This is your Life?'" Harman asked.

"Exactly," Dan said.

Dan sent a letter to the show, which led to their second meeting.

"We had a very firm handshake," Dan said. "And he says to me, 'Welcome to my country. I'm glad to see that you're in good health. And I hope that we can be friends.'"

And those weren't just words. After the show, Hong My invited Dan back to his home.

That brings us to their third meeting. Just a few weeks ago, Hong My came to visit Dan at his home in Bowling Green, Ky. First order of business - fawning over Dan's grand children. Hong My also helped cut the ribbon at Bowling Green's Aviation Heritage Park - new home of Dan's old plane, restored to look just like she did the first time Hong My saw her. Safe to say, Hong My bears no bitterness. The only thing he doesn't appreciate is the title of the book Dan wrote about their relationship, "My Enemy, My Friend." Hong My doesn't like that enemy part.

"I never thought that is my enemy," Hong My said through a translator. "I just thought that person is a soldier and I am a soldier. I had to fulfill my duty and Dan had to fulfill his."

Fortunately, today they share the same sense of duty.

"We hope the fact that we can put this war behind us and we can reconcile our differences and develop a friendship might help veterans on both sides," Dan said.

Both sides of the world - human beings from all corners.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.