The Opportunity to Make History: Vietnam War Hero’s Flight to Freedom Remembered

Model designer Michael McLeod, Larry Chambers, Ted Bronson, and Buang Ly at the model presentation, 5 April 2014.

Model designer Michael McLeod, Larry Chambers, Ted Bronson, and Buang-Ly at the model presentation, 5 April 2014.

“The bravest guy I know. He didn’t have enough gas to make it back to the beach when Midway gave him an opportunity to make history.”    – Rear Admiral Larry Chambers, USN (Ret.) on Buang-Ly’s historic landing on the deck of USS Midway.

30 April 1975.

South Vietnam was in the process of being overrun by the North Vietnamese in April 1975. The end of the decades-old Vietnam conflict approached, and many South Vietnamese desperately tried to escape the country before the takeover by North Vietnam.

Major Buang Ly landing his Cessna OE-1 "Bird Dog."
Major Buang Ly landing his Cessna O-1 “Bird Dog.”

The U.S. Navy was busy cooperating with South Vietnamese forces in Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation in history. According to NHF volunteer and Vietnam War veteran Capt. Ted Bronson, USN (Ret.) Frequent Wind was the final phase in the evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese from Saigon, South Vietnam. When that final phase ended, more than 7,000 people had been evacuated to safety aboard many U.S. Navy ships operating in the South China Sea.

Although the U.S. ran the operations during Frequent Wind, several South Vietnamese aviators took it upon themselves to escape in countless helicopters and planes. The most memorable story of the evacuation occurred nearly fifty years ago this month.

Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang was desperate. Buang-Ly and his family flew a VNAF O-1 “Bird Dog” from Con Son Island in South Vietnam to safety during the evacuation operation. Under heavy fire and dangerously low on fuel, Major Ly eventually found the American aircraft carrier USS Midway.

Ly began to circle around the Navy ship, desperate but unable to make contact. He resorted to writing a note stuck into his pistol, which he then dropped on the flight deck during a low pass:

Ly's handwritten message.

Ly’s handwritten message.

“Can you move the Helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough to mouve. Please rescue me.

Major Bung, wife and 5 child.”

Midway Commanding Officer Capt. Larry Chambers knew the lack of flight deck space aboard his ship would make Ly’s landing difficult. He ordered his crew to push several VNAF UH-1 Huey helicopters overboard to allow enough room for Major Ly to land. Rear Admiral Chambers recollects the events of the 30th:

“The sky was overcast. Light rain was falling. Not much of a sea state. When we turned into the wind we had 40 kts over the deck (15 knots natural plus 25 knots that the old girl was making). My only concern, besides the Admiral telling me not to do it, was whether or not Major Ly would carry enough power to get through the burble and down draft aft of the ship. The high wind over the deck increases the downdraft and the turbulence. Because we were operating helos, I had given the engineers permission to shut down half the plant for maintenance. When I told the chief engineer that I needed 25 knots, he informed me that we didn’t have enough steam. I ordered him to shift the hotel load to the emergency diesels. You get the idea. In addition, we stripped the arresting gear cross deck pendants. At Ly’s approach speed, my only worry was getting him across the ramp. His relative speed couldn’t have been more than 20 to 25 knots.”

Ly received the “green light” from the tower and had permission to land. Landing the Cessna on the deck of carrier without a tailhook was no easy task. One website described the “Bird Dog” as “the plane those gutsy pilots used from Korea to Vietnam.” According to Chambers, Ly nonetheless “made a perfect landing.” Everybody on deck applauded, and Ly made it into the history books. Many sailors aboard collected money to help Buang and his family emigrate to the United States.

5 April 2014.


Buang-Ly and Family with Admiral Chambers at the Sun ‘n Fun Expo.

Almost fifty years later, these events were commemorated in a small ceremony held at the 2014 Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In & Expo in Lakeland, Florida. The Orlando resident came with his extended family to the event held outside the Florida Air Museum at Sun ‘n Fun.Major Ly was presented a special aircraft model in honor of the historic event. The ‘weathered’ model set on flight deck markings, was built by the US Navy’s ‘Cold War Gallery’ award-winning model builder Michael McLeod, and set in a museum quality acrylic case. The model was commissioned and presented by Captain Bronson on behalf of the Naval Historical Foundation.

Major Buang-Ly

Major Buang-Ly

Spread the word. Share this post!


    • Mark Buchner


      No, that’s just one of the many Bird Dogs that fly to Sun-n-Fun every year. The actual airplane Maj Ly flew hangs in the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola, FL

  1. Robert Armitage


    I was one of the CATCC controllers when the Bird dog landed. What a day. What a skipper we had in Capt. Chambers.

    R.A. Armitage

  2. Wendell Gideon


    As a former Army Bird Dog pilot and Vietnam Vet, I salute Baung-Ly, the Ship’s Captain (then Capt. Chambers) and his fine crew. I would never have made it through the fixed wing course at Fort Rucker had I been required to land a Bird Dog on a Carrier.

  3. Jim Dolbow


    Great article! Just one typo: it was nearly 40 years ago not 50 as stated twice int he article.

    • Jim Gordon


      A second typo: The BirdDog was an O-1E.

      The landing was first-rate. The errors came from folks who weren’t involved.

      • Admin



        Thanks for the heads up. According to the National Museum of Naval Aviation and our records here at NHF, it is a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog – no “e” designation. We have corrected it on the blog. Thanks so much.

        – NHF

  4. Jackie L. Howe


    Still cry reading about this story. I left as a young child from Viet Nam and I still have fond nostalgia and deep connection with my birthplace. My heart aches for those who were left behind and suffered in “re-education” camps and it aches for all who still long, as I do, for the beautiful country that fell to communism.

  5. rick Kessel


    I just had the pleasure of meeting Admiral Chambers over dinner and I am honored and edified ; what a great man!

  6. Pingback: Commemorating 40 Years Since Operation Frequent Wind | Your Stories. Your Wall.

  7. Ted G. Smyers, MSC (SW/SS) USN, Ret.


    Admiral Chambers, is my Hero. Operation Frequent Wind, USS Miday (CVA-41), assigned to Supply Dept. S-2 Div., Aft Galley. We worked around the clock non-stop, to ensure all hands, & every single person, that made it out of “harms way” got a hot meal 24/7. Fair Winds & Following Seas.

      • Reply

        Retired US Navy, September 1997, after 23 years.
        Living in NW Arkansas, working at Tyson Foods, Inc.
        USS Midway (CVA-41)
        Retired USN
        Golden Shellback

  8. Bruce Denner


    Admiral Chambers at the ckst of going up against the standing krders of the then Admiral you rock wish I would have had a Co like you when I was in. Awesome story.

    • Frank Godfrey


      I also watched that landing from the Flight Deck, and was one of many Sailors and Marines that ran out and grabbed the wings as soon as the prop stopped. Those three days were some of the proudest moments in my life.
      I can’t count the people I saw get out of their aircraft and kneel down and kiss the Flight Deck, knowing they were in American hands.

  9. Reply

    On that day, then CAPT Chambers chose a difficult right over an easy wrong. His moral courage and decision to allow MAJ Ly to land on his aircraft carrier that save seven lives truly reflect outstanding leadership at its best . ADM (RET) Chambers you are my hero and on behalf of all Vietnamese American in the U.S.A. thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving a former allied officer and his family.

  10. Bill lee


    It was amazing how well he land on the flight deck
    I was in V1 div and was right there when he landed

  11. Frank Dooley


    I found the story of this rescue while Googling something unrelated and by the grace of God I read it. I was amazed and profoundly moved at the decision making process that “then Captain” Chambers used. His actions make me so proud to be an American! The faith, courage and ethics his actions showed are truly inspiring! This was truly a “Victory at Sea”!

  12. Moroni C.


    We each must commit, today, to always make the right moral choice, regardless of the consequences. When our moment of decission comes will not be a time to vacilate.

  13. Mustafa Camcı


    I am a Turkish man who heard about this story on a doc. Must say very impressed not only by the commanders decision to throw a couple of helichelicopters off the carrier but also the pilots courage . Peace…

  14. Pingback: That time a South Vietnamese O-1 Bird Dog landed aboard USS Midway - The Aviation Geek Club

  15. W.J McCabe


    I just saw the video of landing on a Smithsonian channel show called Combat Ships. WOW, truly amazing.



    I just watched the same show (repeat) and looked the story up. What a great story of Maj Buang-Ly willing to do anything to save his family and the great crew of the USS Midway willing to do whatever it took to clear (literally) the way for the Maj. Military will always go out of their way to help our brothers-in-arms. HOOAH!!!

  17. Pingback: That Time Marines Dumped Millions of Dollars of Helicopters Into the Ocean to Save One Family

  18. Pingback: That Time Marines Dumped Millions of Dollars of Helicopters Into the Ocean to Save One Family | Raket Science

  19. Ralph


    Beautiful, beautiful indeed! Humanity, skill and morality at it’s finest! I’m very proud of the United States Navy!

  20. Pingback: Vietnam Air Force pilot historic O-1 Bird Dog landing aboard USS Midway to save his family

  21. Gabriel


    For an admiral who told his crew to push 2.1 billion dollars worth of aircraft into the ocean sure did get into a lot of trouble just to save a South Vietnamies family is a real hero. I live in Pensacola,Florida and have been to the National Naval Air Museum multiple times . My first tour in September of 2019 was when I found out about it, then November of 2019 just a week before the attack on the base, I overtook the tour guide and was being questioned about the plane by the tour guest . I was 17 at the time.

  22. Thuc Nguyen


    His name is :
    Last name : LÝ
    First name : BƯNG
    Not BUANG LY
    or BUANG LEE

  23. Pingback: O Almirante Negro e o Japa* Top Gun | Contraditorium

  24. Yuriy


    This is the act of a real humanist, a man of a hero. Captain Chambers thank you for your heroic decision to let your neck save Pilot Lee’s family. Greetings from Russia with love!

  25. Yuriy


    This is the act of a real humanist, a human hero. Captain Chambers thank you for your heroic decision to save Pilot Lee’s family. Greetings from Russia with love!

Leave a Reply to Ed Wells Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *