The dedication of Aviation Heritage Park in Bowling Green and the unlikely reunion of two Vietnam War enemies took place April 16, 2009 at 10 a.m. The chain of events leading to this day is a remarkable and inspirational story of reconciliation.
The concept of Aviation Heritage Park began in 2004 when Dan Cherry, a Bowling Green native and USAF Brigadier General (Ret.), with a group of friends discovered an F4-D Phantom II 550 in Ohio. Cherry flew this exact aircraft on April 16, 1972 when he shot down a MiG-21 flown by Lieutenant Nguyen Hong My.
The idea began of restoring the plane and creating a tribute to distinguished aviators from South Central Kentucky. A vision emerged of a park that would allow future generations to learn of and be motivated by these aviators’ extraordinary achievements.
“We imagined the unlimited uses such a facility would offer to our community,” Cherry explains in his new book, My Enemy… My Friend. “We considered how teachers could use the displays as educational tools… how such a community project could motivate and inspire the youth to reach for their dreams, to work hard, and to believe anything is possible for those who apply themselves.”As Aviation Heritage Park became a reality, Cherry continued to wonder what happened to the fighter pilot he watched cascade to the ground that day and if he survived. Through a network of friends, Cherry contacted a reunion show producer in Vietnam who located Hong My. Cherry apprehensively accepted an invitation to appear on the show and he met Hong My in person on April 5, 2008.Now, on the 37th anniversary of their aerial dogfight, the two former enemies will shake hands over American soil at the unveiling of Aviation Heritage Park’s centerpiece. The restored Phantom II 550 sits prominently, soon to be joined by a Grumman F9F-5 Panther, similar to one flown by Lieutenant Commander John J. Magda, Jr. Magda, a Western Kentucky University graduate, became the Commander of the Navy Blue Angels in 1950.
South Central Kentucky has played a significant role in the history of aviation. In addition to Cherry and Magda, other aviators with ties to Bowling Green include one of the first pilots to fly in combat, a World War I flying ace, and a pioneer instructor pilot. A Commander of the famed Air Force Thunderbirds, a presidential helicopter pilot, and the Mission Commander for the space shuttle Atlantis also make the list.
Cherry and Hong My also spoke about their experience on the evening of April 16 at an Olde Stone Country Club private event and again on April 20 at WKU’s Mass Media and Technology Hall. The two also attended the Southern Kentucky Book Fest on April 18 for a discussion of My Enemy… My Friend. More information and the book are available at http://www.aviationheritagepark.com/.