Forgotten: Freedom Fighter, Ly Tong

By Faye Higbee

There are left wing murderers that the current crop of leftists espouse as “freedom fighters.” But there is one real live freedom fighter who endured imprisonment for the cause of his country: Ly Tong, a South Vietnamese pilot who risked his life in hopes of freeing his people from the grip of North Vietnamese. He passed away this weekend on April 6. He was often known as the “Vietnamese James Bond.”

“I have the duty to liberate my country! You cannot enjoy yourself when your whole country is in pain, in torture.” Ly Tong in NY Times interview

When the United States withdrew from South Vietnam, they left behind a people whose lives were suddenly and abruptly destroyed. Perhaps the most demoralized of them all were the South Vietnamese military, who fought hard to keep their nation from falling into the hands of the Communists. For them, losing their country was extremely difficult.

Vietnamese civilians rush a military helicopter in a desperate attempt to flee

“I survived the war, I survived prison. Now I must survive my freedom, and it is very hard. We are old men now. We have lost the ability to adapt and renew.” Phan Nhat Nam, former Vietnamese paratrooper and war correspondent

Ly Tong was a South Vietnamese pilot during the war. He was shot down, spent time in a Vietnamese prison before escaping in 1980, then trekked for 17 months through 5 countries to obtain his freedom.

The NYT reported,

He picked his way through minefields, he said, broke out of jails, dodged security patrols and crawled through jungle to avoid border posts.

He was accepted as a refugee in the United States, where he worked as a security guard and earned a degree in political science from the University of New Orleans. He published a 300-page autobiography, “Black Eagle,” which made him a celebrity among overseas Vietnamese.

He became a hero to his refugee countrymen when, in 1992, he hijacked a commercial airliner, forced it to fly low over Ho Chi Minh City and dropped thousands of leaflets calling for popular uprising. Then he donned a parachute and followed the leaflets to the ground, where he was captured. He spent 6 years in a Vietnamese prison.I

Mercury News reported:

In 1992, Tong traveled to Thailand, where he hijacked a plane leaving Bangkok for Vietnam and ordered the pilot to fly low while he dropped 50,000 fliers calling for a political revolution over Ho Chi Minh City, known as Saigon among refugees.

Tong parachuted out the cockpit window and landed in a swamp but was quickly captured by the Vietnamese government. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but granted amnesty and released in 1998 after the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam.

That didn’t stop him.

In 2000, he rented a plane and dropped leaflets over Havana, Cuba – an action which garnered the praise of Cuban-Americans. They even gave him a “victory parade.”

Decked out in his orange flight suit, Ly Tong was honored in a parade. Screenshot via YouTube

Later that year, he hijacked a plane in Thailand and once again dropped leaflets over Ho Chi Minh City. That trip cost him six more years in prison in Thailand. (See featured photo, screenshot via YouTube).

That wasn’t all, of course, he also pepper sprayed a Vietnamese singer in the face in 2010 while dressed as a woman. The singer was someone to whom he was politically opposed. He spent 6 months in the Santa Clara County jail for that stunt. He once went on a hunger strike in 2008 because of the plan to rename the Little Saigon neighborhood.

So why would this man risk his life to hijack planes, drop leaflets, and get in serious trouble with authorities over stunts that were “over-the-top”? And why would his refugee countrymen feel that he was a hero freedom fighter? Ly Tong hated Communism. He knew what Communists did to his nation, even if that nation no longer exists.

His daring stunts, his courage to fight Communism at all costs, made him a hero to many Vietnamese. He symbolized that the fight for freedom was on-going, even if most of the fighters were too old and demoralized to do it. He did it anyway. He gave them hope.

“Tong’s numerous dare-devil actions in his struggle against communism made him a hero among Vietnamese around the world. He is a stubborn man and very difficult to work with, but even his critics admire his courage and devotion. In many ways, Ly Tong will always remain a unique and heroic advocate for the Vietnamese refugees everywhere.” Tam Nguyen, defense attorney and former San Jose city councilman to Mercury News

Tong moved to San Diego, and was on his death bed when around 200 people came to pay their respects. He had been in a coma for two weeks. Friends and fellow Vietnam veterans kept watch as he passed away. He may have been eccentric and rebellious, and he may have even known there seemed to be no hope. But
freedom and courage never truly die.