Manuscript Diary of a North Vietnamese Airforce Pilot, 1961 - 1989
[Vietnam War / Military / Poetry]. Nguyen Dang Quy.

Manuscript Diary of a North Vietnamese Airforce Pilot, 1961 - 1989

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[North Vietnam]: 1961-1989. 7 x 5 inches. 125pp on 134 leaves, plus inside front cover. Hand-numbered such that only the rectos are numbered. Red cloth album with extremely faded gilt lettering and illustration to front cover, encased in a taped-on clear plastic overlay. Original hand-drawn illustrations in ink, pencil and crayon throughout. Holograph text in Vietnamese. Boards worn, with some loss to cloth; binding loose but holding, with several gatherings nearly detached; tear to foot of front paste-down. Light scattered soiling and toning. Good.

A rare diary kept by a pilot, Nguyen Dang Quy, in the North Vietnamese airforce from August 8, 1961 - September 2,1989, with the majority of the content encompassing Nguyen's military service in the 1960s and '70s. The diary is written for the most part in original poetry, with some additional original prose compositions and a handful of copied work from published texts, such as "President Ho's Way of Life" and "10 Vows of the Vietnamese Red Army".

Nguyen was a committed soldier for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, or Viet Cong, and his writing reflect both his belief in his cause and his desire to use his poetic gifts in service of "Uncle Ho". Despite his thoughts about his home village and a girl he left behind there, he is excited to enter into what he sees as a noble fight to reunite his country, as reflected in an early poem, "Enlistment Date": here, he feels that the objects he sees as he travels to enlist are in some sense seeing him off on his journey, and he writes, "One day again under the one velvet flag we will meet ... Be there struggles, they must mean glory".

New to military training, he is a little uncertain, telling himself, “Knows not the destination this meanderer...” ("Meandering"). Yet, his vow of loyalty to his Uncle Ho gives him strength: “Uncle Ho, his virtues, I’ll forever bare [

] Cheers to tonight, we’ll charge tomorrow.” Too, his thoughts extend to the following generation: on one page he writes in red ink, “Live – Produce – Fight – Like – Communists,” after elaborating on how educating the children is the key to a better future.

His early flight training seems to have suited him, and fills him with optimism about the prospects of the war. In "Flying Memories", he waxes poetic about the arrival of the planes to where he and his fellows await their chance to practice:

“10:15, I hear the engines from afar. Glorious are the pilots of the people, circling in the blue sky of our country. ...

And here: the silver swallow has docked

Our squadron run to. The doors open wide to welcome the sons who are leaving for duty. Not unlike chicks that are returning to their cozy nests.”

After having revved his plane to 1000 horse powers and reaching great heights, the poet bursts into a stream of thoughts as he looks down to what is below: the vast blue ocean with his naval comrades, the rugged mountain range with his army comrades, the city, the factory, the political science school etc. As he puts it, he cannot describe how much he loves his country and the optimism that comes of being a people’s revolutionary soldier. He vows to go where his country will ask. His big army family, as he feels it, will train him to be steady with his politics, excellent with his techniques, and up to bar with his operation ("Aviation School", Dec. 4, 1962).

His passion for flying is interwoven with his hatred of the war-induced division of his country. In “The Communist Wings”, Nguyen wants to reach his dream of seeing his country from above all the way from the northern to the southern tip, but is faced with the reality that, “O cry! Hurt is still raking up my Southern half. | The Vietnamese sky is not in the color of unison. | That leaves me a deep hatred | For the American and Diem armies so egregious | Who unprovoked cut off my flight route” ("Aviation School", December 7, 1962).

Notably, Nguyen expresses his appreciation of the (Communist) Party for also bringing a better life to the Vietnamese women. He quotes the example of Nguyen Thi Thap Dinh, who like many other women listened to the Party and stood up for a better life (p.28). Among these women of the Party, mothers are the epitome of womenhood. As Nguyen writes, his mother loves him most dearly, yet she is willing to let him go to the frontier to kill the enemy and save their country—so that her children and grandchildren can live in peace, civilization, and happiness ever after.

Additional entries record Nguyen's graduation flight, his parachuting lessons, and his fervent conviction that all those who are well-versed in poetry, photography and painting should use their talents to praise the Communist Party and system. In a rush of emotional writing on pp. 35-37, he richly describes his love for Vietnam and its natural beauty, and his contempt for the American invaders: "Indeed: our country is beautiful. My love for my country is clear. I must not let the bloodthirsty American invaders and their butter and milk leftovers-fed minions trample my country. I must fight them to the end, until the day North and South are united, waving the same golden-starred flag."

Not surprisingly, Nguyen had a keen sense of heroism accompanying his sense of patriotism. In his first battle, late at night on April 14, 1966, he writes that he encountered enemy forces as soon as he was dispatched, and during a 45-minute dog-fight, released rockets, flew through a hail of bullets and returned as fiercely committed as ever: "I'm determined on winning to avenge my fellow country-people -- North and South alike" (p. 39). In another battle, this time over Hanoi on June 10, 1966, his poetic bent gives way to abject fury: "Beware American invaders and minions! We, the people and soldiers, will eliminate you all, you bloodthirsty bastards! For our sky to be blue again, for our sea to be clear of enemies, for all wings to fly without borders" (p. 40).

Nguyen Dan Quy served in the military from February 19, 1959 (presumably starting out at a lower rank before becoming a pilot in 1961), although he wasn't inducted into the Communist Party until February 9, 1968. He remained in the airforce and on flying duty until January 9, 1986, and records a total of 3,890 flights, 2,398 hours and 54 minutes of flight time, 302 night flights, and 128 hours and 11 minutes of night flights and aerial combat. The latter portion of the diary is largely given over to single poems celebrating each New Year until the diary ends, in 1989.

A rare and uncommonly revealing perspective on the Vietnam War from a member of the North Vietnamese airforce.

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