A Vietnamese family was reunited with the U.S. admiral who saved their lives by dumping $10 million worth of helicopters in the sea so they could land a small plane on the deck of his aircraft carrier.
South Vietnamese Maj. Bung Lee, his wife and their five children had crammed into a single-seat Cessna O-1 Bird Dog to escape from their homeland as it was overrun by communist forces in April 1975.It appeared they would be unable to land on the USS Midway in the South China Sea because its flight deck was filled with helicopters used to evacuate Saigon. Rear Adm. Lawrence Chambers, now retired, ordered the deck cleared.
"His decision was priceless," Lee said. "Without his decision we would not be here today."
Lee and Chambers reminisced about the landing at the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum, where the tiny plane was put on display Friday.
Another retired rear admiral, Magruder H. Tut-tle, bought the plane for an undisclosed price 13 years ago and donated it to the museum at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Lee, now a waiter at a Polynesian restaurant at Walt Disney World; his wife, Van, an electronics worker, and four of their children came from their Winter Park home for the dedication.
Chambers said he worried for a moment about destroying the choppers, but "the situation was desperate."
Lee had flown through Viet Cong gunfire in dense fog, heading out to sea without knowing what was ahead. The plane was miles from shore and running low on fuel when he spotted the Midway, which saved 3,000 refugees.
Lee had no radio, so he tried to drop a note onto the deck asking permission to land. He said he was afraid to fly too low for fear the crew might think it was under attack and shoot down the plane.
Three times he dropped notes attached to a knife, a boot and a key chain. but each was too light and blew away.
On the fourth attempt, a note tied to Lee's survival pistol hit the carrier's deck. It read: "Can you move these helicopters to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. Major Bung-Ly wife and 5 child."
Chambers said there wasn't space to move the UH-1 Huey helicopters, so he ordered them pushed overboard. The single-engine plane touched down once, bounced and rolled to a stop.
"The crew was ecstatic to see the major make his first carrier landing," Chambers said.