Gadfly or Hero? Former Pilot Fights On Against Vietnam

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SOME old soldiers don’t even fade away. They keep on fighting, trapped in their own past as the world around them changes, ghosts of a long-dead war.

“I have the duty to liberate my country!” shouted Ly Tong, wearing bright yellow prison pajamas, through a double screen of wire mesh at Bangkok’s central jail.

“The only thing that matters is, the Communists still control my country,” he shouted over the hubbub in the caged visiting area recently. “I’m a pilot. This is what I can do.”

His country is Vietnam and the Communists have controlled it since 1975, when they defeated the South Vietnamese Army, for which Mr. Tong fought, along with its American allies.

But time has moved on, and President Bush was just in Hanoi, shaking hands and praising the government’s great capitalist strides forward.

Mr. Tong, 62, who emigrated to America and became an American citizen in the 1980s, could only watch in frustration from his Thai jail cell.

The last time an American president was in Vietnam — Bill Clinton in 2000 — Mr. Tong went into action, doing what he could do as a pilot to turn back history.

Pretending he wanted a flying lesson, he commandeered a small plane in Thailand, flew to neighboring Vietnam and scattered thousands of leaflets over Ho Chi Minh City calling for a popular uprising.

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