Fighter pilots who re-united with opponents they shot down, years later

I just read this interesting story about two fighter pilots of the Vietnam War - Maj. Dan Cherry and Lt. Hong My - on opposing sides, who were actually reunited 36 years after Cherry shot down Hong’s plane in Vietnam. The reunion seems to have been orchestrated by a Vietnamese television show. I was amazed by this story. Truly these aerial dogfights, between elite officers equipped with state of the art technology on a relatively level playing field, are the modern equivalent of knights meeting on the battlefield.

The story made me think of an anecdote I had read about Hermann Goering: “In June 1917, after a lengthy dogfight, Göring shot down Australian pilot Frank Slee. The battle is recounted in The Rise and Fall of Hermann Göring. Göring landed and met the Australian, and presented Slee with his Iron Cross.” This appears Wikipedia page, but some further research fails to yield any more information than some news stories about Slee with varying accounts of what actually happened. And in any case, their meeting happened within days, rather than years later.

How many times has this situation happened? Pilot re-united with opponent, decades later? There have got to be some other, similar stories, from various wars around the world. Does anyone know?

Cool story. Thanks for sharing :slight_smile:

It’s happened quite a lot since WWII and the rise of tourist/veterans returning to the battlefields of their youth.

Just a few months ago the Military Channel ran a series called “Missions That Changed the World”, and brought together two pilots who fought against each other, the German ace Ginther Rall and an American pilot whose name escapes me. The show mentions that it is unclear from the records whether this particular American shot Rall down in the incident, but if it wasn’t him it was his wingman.

There is a memoir of the Japanese fighter ace Saburo Sakai called Samurai, and in the post war years Sakai apparently met a number of the pilots he flew against. They even jointly remembered particular missions, as one early war episode when a Japanese pilot was so determined to down a bomber that he rammed it.

I even personally had a little piece of a similar reunion, involving Navy ships, though, not planes. A friend of mine was an officer on the destroyer Nicholas in WWII, and I happened to give him a memoir called Japanese Destroyer Captain. It turned out that their two ships fired at each other from s few thousand yards apart off Guadalcanal. My friend had some business in Japan the next year and made some inquiries. It turned out the Japanese commander had died a few years back, but my friend met and had dinner with two of his children, and exchanged pleasantries and gifts.

There was a Captain Gallery in the Navy who captured the u-boat U-505 (now in Chicago at a museum) who became friends and got together several times after the war with the German submarine captain.

Likewise, Adolf Galland, one of the top surviving German aces, got to know a lot of British pilots after the war, particularly Johnny Johnson, the top scoring English pilot IIRC. I can’t recall if they ever personally got into a dogfight with each other, but their squadrons surely did.

The captain of the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer that rammed PT-109 was a guest at JFK’s innauguration.

(and was not led in chains behind JFK’s chariot.)

I vaguely recall reading about one incident in the Second World War where a German fighter pilot escorted a heavily damaged allied bomber (American I believe) from Germany into friendly airspace.

Both pilots met up years later and discussed the incident.

On the ‘knights of the sky’ thing I recall reading a story in, ‘The Story of Air Fighting’ by J.E. Johnson. A German pilot recalled an occassion when he was testing a new radar in his night-fighter, he followed the track to its target and was amazed at its accuracy when he shot past a Mosquito bomber so close that he could see the surprised expression on the British pilots face, he said his only regret was that he didn’t have time to salute… :smiley:

The imagery in that simple story always stuck with me.

A story I read a while back had a P-47 Thunderbolt getting shot up by an Me-109. Pretty early on, the P-47 got banged up badly enough that the American couldn’t do much to evade, so the German pilot was able to just sit behind him and unload his weapons into the guy.

The American plane, somehow, stayed airborne despite all the abuse. The German pilot pulled up alongside the American, looking at the damage he caused and shaking his head. He then escorted the American out of German airspace, saluted him, and flew home.

There’s a painting in the Cavanaugh Flight museum in Addison, Texas depicting a particular air battle between two fighter planes (US and German). The German aircraft was shot down and the pilot survived. It has been signed by both pilots. (I don’t know if they met, though).

This was recreated in an episode of Dogfights. My recollection matches yours, except I believe the German was flying a Focke-Wulf 190.

The P-47 was built like a tank in some regards. It was so huge compared to other fighters, the British pilots joked that the American pilots could avoid the Germans by running around inside the plane if they were ever attacked.

Of course, much of that extra size was made up of the engine, so it was also very very fast.

That was Robert S. Johnson, on June 26th, 1943. The episode is recounted in Thunderbolt!

The FW-190 pilot was Egon Mayer. I read his side of the battle in another book, whose title escapes me.

Perhaps slightly off the subject, but some of you Dopers might be interested. Get yourself down to the library and check out some of Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery’s books. After retiring from the navy he turned out to be a really good author, both in humerous and serious writing. The capture of the U-505 was only one of his many adventures.

A bit dufferent from the OP, but in the general vein. A Pakistani pilot who shot down an Indian aircraft, sent a letter to the daughter of the man who was the pilot apologising 46 years later.

Oh – Mayer may have stopped firing because he ran out of ammunition. I’ve remembered that his side of the fight was recounted in To Kingdom Come: An Epic Saga of Survival in the Air War Over Germany. I’ll have to find it and re-read that part.

The story in the OP is both inspiring and kind of depressing.

It makes you wonder just what the hell the point of wars are. I mean, here’s two people trying to kill each other, and yet when reunited years later they’re just a couple of guys happy to shoot the shit and drink beer and talk about old times. Why did they have to fight?

It seems these sorts of stories are commonplace - well, maybe not crazy stories like meeting the guy you personally shot down, but stories about warriors from opposite sides who get along great afterwards. They’re FAR more common, really, than stories of soldiers who hold grudges against old enemies, or so it seems to me.

My grandfather bombed the living snot out of Germany in 1943-1944, watched the Germans kill his friends and killed lots of Germans in return, and then a few years after the war was stationed… in Germany. Did he have a problem with Germans? Why, not at all. They seemed like really nice people. And they liked him and made him and his family welcome. How sad that it had to come to war.

My guess is that a common element is that these fighters were at least one step removed from face-to-face encounters with the enemy, or were otherwise able to restrict their view of “the enemy” to the field of battle.

Firing at opponents from planes or subs that take off and return from a base is different from hand to hand fighting, especially in your home country. In the former scenario, one can think of it as suiting up to play a deadly version of football or tag, and so be able to chivalrously salute the opponent’s grit, tactics, skill and so on… Especially when the Americans and Brits were being sent abroad to Europe or Asia to do this fighting, on commission as it were. But I would be surprised if many Russians who fought on the Eastern front in Europe, or many Chinese or fighters from other Asian countries who resisted an invading and occupying Japanese force, were in similarly chummy moods afterwards with their erstwhile enemies (especially in light of the civilian atrocities and harsh rule inflicted on them). Or the US Army soldiers involved in liberating concentration camps.

Galland and Douglas Bader were both very tight as well.

But I’ve read that even during World War I, one Christmas the German and British troops stopped fighting each other and actually climbed out of the trenches to celebrate together. That story might be apocraphal but I distinctly remember reading about it as a kid.

The Christmas Truce.

nm. Too slow.

I just finished Robert Ballard’s Return to Midway, about the 1998 rediscovery of the sunken carrier USS Yorktown. Ballard took along two Japanese and two American survivors of the battle. They hadn’t directly fought each other, as far as they could determine, but were parts of the two vast fleets involved. They were very respectful towards each other, if not chummy.

RickJay, I take your point, but just because warriors on opposite sides of a conflict forge a common bond of friendship doesn’t mean that the war was futile or unnecessary. Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini weren’t stopped by diplomatic notes or negotiations, and had they won, those who’d opposed them would have been in for very rough treatment. Historically, democracies which win wars tend to be relatively kind to former foes, leaving us to enjoy these heartwarming stories decades later.