For some 36 years, General Dan Cherry wondered. He thought about it often. What had happened to the MIG-21 fighter pilot he had gunned out of the sky near Hanoi, Vietnam, back on April 16, 1972? Cherry had actually seen his enemy’s parachute open, and even guided his plane around it to avoid contact.
Had he lived or died?
Cherry had a distinguished 29-year military career, logging 285 combat missions in two tours of duty, and flying lead aircraft for the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s elite precision exhibition squadron, before retiring as a brigadier general and returning to his hometown of Bowling Green in 1989.
He even wondered about where his old F-4D Phantom II 550 had ended up, the one he flew on that fateful day when he was Major Cherry.
Cherry, through the encouragement of some of his walking buddies, was able to find his old plane. Sitting at a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) club in Enon, Ohio, the plane had fallen in disrepair, and the timing was right for it to be brought to Bowling Green, where a group of volunteers had decided it would become the foundation of its Aviation Heritage Park.
Finding Cherry’s plane was relatively easy, but what about the pilot he had shot down?
The wheels of bureaucracy began to turn. One of Vietnam’s most popular television shows was a reunion show that brought people together who had been apart for years. Officials from the show went to work, and through the country’s Ministry of Defense found that the pilot of the plane Cherry shot down was Nguyen Hong My.
And he was alive.
Cherry was invited to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the television show where, in an emotional meeting, the two former enemies warmly shook hands, letting each other know the past was behind them.
“I was nervous, not sure how I would be received,” says Cherry. “But when My came out with a big smile, and through an interpreter said he was glad to meet me, it was pretty exciting.”
Hong My, a lieutenant, had injured his back and broken both arms during his ejection. Following a year of recovery, he went on to fly for two more years during the war.
To further cement this unusual friendship, Cherry has invited Hong My to visit him in Bowling Green on April 16. Through correspondence it was decided that Hong My would be here to reunite with Cherry on the 37th anniversary of their dogfight over Vietnam.
In a twist to the story, Hong My revealed to Cherry that he, too, had shot a plane out of the Vietnam sky.
“He said he shot down one of our planes and felt sure the pilot died,” says Cherry. “He asked if we could find the pilot’s family so he could pay his respects.”
It was discovered that Hong My had indeed hit an American plane, a two-seater. And as if only in a movie, both pilots ejected and parachuted safely to the ground. One of the airmen recently died in an auto accident, while the other, John Skiles, today lives in North Carolina.
Cherry says efforts are under way to try to bring Skiles to Bowling Green to make this almost unimaginable reunion extra special.
“It would be pretty exciting if this happens,” Cherry says. “It will mean the reunion has come full circle.”
Aviation Heritage Park
2055 Three Springs Road
Bowling Green, KY 42103
Open during daylight hours. Admission is free. Directions: I-65, exit 22 toward Bowling Green on Scottsville Road (Hwy. 231). Turn left at stoplight #12 onto Three Springs Road. Travel approximately two miles to Aviation Heritage Park, which is in Basil Griffin Park.
My Friend, My Enemy April 16 Reunion
There will be an Aviation Heritage Park Dedication featuring a special reunion of General Cherry and the visiting Nguyen Hong My, along with General Cherry’s plane, on Thursday, April 16, at 10 a.m.
• F-4D Phantom II flown by Major Dan Cherry with Captain Jeff Feinstein in Vietnam.
• Grumman F9-F5 Panther, representation of the plane Johnny Magda flew in Korea. Magda, a Western Kentucky University graduate, became commander of the Navy’s Blue Angels before being shot down and killed over North Korea in March 1951.
• Recognition of General Ken Fleenor, a decorated fighter pilot from Bowling Green, shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Vietnam. He and his co-pilot ejected and were POWs for several years.
• Bert Hall, one of America’s first combat aviators. He flew with the French before America entered WWI.
• Victor Strahm, a general, was Kentucky’s first WWI flying ace, shooting down six enemy aircraft. He flew in WWI and WWII in the U.S. Army Air Force before the two branches separated. His dad taught music at Western Kentucky University.
Coming in September
The Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, will be at the Aviation Heritage Park, September 24-27. The Wall and a 53-foot mobile museum will be open for visitation 24 hours a day during the four days in September.
Gary P. West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
An economic downturn in early 2000 caused Carl Chaney to call a family meeting to discuss the future of their dairy farm, located five miles south of Bowling Green on U.S. Highway 31W. The farm had been in the family since 1888, and had been a dairy farm since 1940, so the family caucus was a serious matter.
Carl and wife Debra watched the downward spiral of milk prices for a couple of years and realized if they were going to keep the farm, they needed to come up with another source of revenue.
“Each generation that comes along has a deep responsibility of not being the one to lose the farm,” says Carl Chaney. “We recognized that each generation is getting one step farther away from the farm.”
The challenge for the Chaneys was to find something that would add value to their farming operation. After several months of research, conversations with other farms, and hours of family meetings, the Chaneys finally had the answer. Ice cream.
“We found that our problem was not unique to us,” says Chaney. “There were dairy farms all across the country that faced the same problem we did, and several of them had discovered selling homemade ice cream was the answer.”
After doing their homework and visiting several dairy farms in other states, Carl and Debra quickly found a willingness to help them. They also found that Penn State University offered an intense 10-day ice cream school plus a four-day retail seminar.
They now had a plan and the land on their existing farm, with another plus being located on heavily traveled 31W between Bowling Green and Franklin.
The major obstacle facing them now was the lack of a building.
What they wanted was something that would be attractive, something that would draw tourists and other visitors to the area. Since agritourism was fast becoming a hot topic, what would be more representative than a dairy farm with a dairy barn selling homemade ice cream? Chaney’s Dairy Farm was opened in 2003.
Today it is one of the most well-known agritourism venues in south-central Kentucky. And it’s not just ice cream.
Something is going on at Chaney’s all the time.
Farm tours with Carl driving a tractor followed by a wagon full of school children are ongoing. So are birthday parties, craft fairs, and the ever-popular summertime Ice Cream and a Moovie, which runs every other Friday night in June and July.
“It’s so nice to see all of the families come out with their lawn chairs and blankets and enjoy a movie in a fun setting,” says Debra. “We have big speakers set up and the picture is projected on the end of the barn.”
The Chaneys are pleased with their efforts.
“We never imagined it would get to this, especially in such a short time,” Carl says. “But the best part of it all is that we were able to carry on the family farm.”
In the meantime, Carl and Debra are in demand to speak to other agricultural groups in order to encourage other farms to look at alternative ways to make farming more profitable.
For the Chaneys it was right under their nose.
Chaney’s Dairy Barn
9191 U.S. Hwy. 31W (Nashville Road)
Bowling Green, KY 42101
(270) 843-5567 or (270) 529-0037
Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon-5 p.m. Carl’s dad, James, keeps an eye on the farm operation, while Debra’s mother, Ruby, makes sure the food operation stays up to her standards, and their children, Jessica, Elizabeth, and James Neal, all take turns scooping ice cream.
Mammoth Cave Transplants
5394 Brownsville Road
Brownsville, KY 42210
Open in spring, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
and Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. They have 14 greenhouses, bedding plants, hanging baskets, perennials, vegetable plants, and more.
1280 Slim Island Road
Bowling Green, KY 42101
Open April-August: Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-
6 p.m. September-October: Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. More than 13,000 apple, peach, and plum trees on about 100 acres. Tours available. Also flowers, vegetable plants, herbs, fruit trees, and strawberries for sale in May.
Dennison Roadside Market
5824 S. Jackson Highway
Horse Cave, KY 42749
Open April-December, Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 12 noon-5 p.m. First opened in 1992, this little market specializes in local produce they raise on their farm. U-pick strawberries, blackberries, petting zoo, and craft and gift shop all add to the experience.
Quail Hollow Candle Factory & Gift Shop
455 Andrew Jackson Way
Adolphus, KY 42120
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. This Allen County site is a working candle shop with primitive country and antique gifts. Fresh produce in season.
Gary P. West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.