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War Enemies Now Good Friends

March 23, 2014, 10:00 PM by Don Jorgensen

War Enemies Now Good Friends

KELOLAND News recently introduced you to a local artist who found a way to turn his childhood hobby of drawing airplanes into a unique show on the internet. The show is called Old Guys and Their Airplanes.

But for his next episode, John Mollison went more than the extra mile.

The Vietnam War was an unpopular one for the United States. 58,000 Americans lost their lives.

Aviation artist John Mollison of Sioux Falls hasn't drawn any conclusions about the war, but he has about the men who fought in it.

"I got to meet a North Vietnamese fighter pilot when I was in Hanoi teaching last November," Mollison said. "I later learned he shot down an American pilot, the pilot was still around, so I thought we got to get these guys together on their home turf."

Those two pilots were Hong My and Lt. John Stiles. For his online show, Old Guys And Their Airplanes, Mollison organized a special reunion between the two one-time enemies.

"So I went to work, putting together the financing, the logistics and we made it happen," Mollison said.

Mollison and his camera crew traveled to Vietnam earlier this month along with Stiles, so the former Air Force pilot could meet the man who once tried to kill him. They actually had met before in the US when Hong My was visiting Washington D.C.

Mollison: Why did you want to go meet him?
Stiles: I didn't, oh no.

Stiles held a grudge and deep rooted animosity for years.

"When you have a traumatic event in your life, most people want to bury it and I had buried it for 37 years, it was done and over," Stiles said.

But surprisingly Stiles says that negative feeling instantly went away.

"As soon as I saw him, it was like this guy is special. You could tell, he has that really warm look about him and he wants to be your friend," Stiles said.

The two have maintained a friendship since their first meeting, but this organized trip was the first time Stiles had returned to Vietnam since he was shot down.

"The reunion was, it was awfully emotional for those guys, but you understand they are old men and they are in their 70's and they had put the war behind them. They were all about reconciliation. They were all about what's important in life, getting along, seeing differences and saying how can we make them work," Mollison said.

As he always does for his online show, Mollison interviews the pilots and draws them a picture of the planes they once flew.

For Stiles it was the F-4 Phantom. The plane My flew when he shot down Stiles was a MIG 21.

"I could tell Hong My was extremely grateful that I was able to draw his airplane and create it and give it as a legacy for his family," Mollison said.

Both former pilots signed their prints and posed for pictures. 

They took a tour of Hanoi, including the POW camp that came to be known as the Hanoi Hilton where wax figures today depict the suffering.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the two paintings evoke words some people might have a hard time understanding about two people who once were enemies.

"When I draw airplanes and interview history and I meet these old people, I believe people can change and when you believe people can change that means tomorrow we can make decisions based on today," Mollison said.

Stiles and Hong My spent less than a minute as mortal enemies on that fateful day in 1972. Little did they know, that they would one day reconcile and develop a friendship that would last a life time.

"It has been, it's been wonderful, really cool and now I've got a good friend, a really good friend," Stiles said.

The next episode of Old Guys And Their Airplanes will air on the internet sometime in May. To learn more click on Old Guys And Their Airplanes web site.

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