Returning & Remembering

This exhibit features the story of a refugee family returning to Vietnam in search of closure. Phạm Kha and her family had left Vietnam as part of the massive refugee exodus resulting from the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Although they had resettled in California, they were still haunted by the mystery of her missing brother-in-law, Bùi Đại Giang, a pilot in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF). During a routine mission on July 3rd, 1966, Bùi Đại Giang’s aircraft had gone missing over Hố Bò, a stronghold of the Việt Cộng. In 2003, Phạm Kha resolved to find her brother-in-law on behalf of her sister. After two years of relentlessly searching, Phạm Kha finally located the aircraft in Bến Súc with the help of village locals. The aircraft had crashed into a swamp and Bùi Đại Giang appeared to have died upon impact. They collected his remains and held a funeral for him in Bến Súc, almost forty years after his death. To the surprise of Phạm Kha and her sister, who had been afraid that Bùi Đại Giang would not receive a proper burial with enough people to aid in the funerary rituals, over thirty villagers from Bến Súc came to pay their respects – none of them had known Bùi Đại Giang but they wanted to lend their support. Every year since then, the village holds a ceremony on the anniversary of his death. This story then is one not only of closure, but also of reconciliation. 

The items recovered from Bùi Đại Giang’s aircraft has been donated to the Việt Museum by Phạm Kha. You may read more about her journey recovering her brother-in-law in her memoir entitled Đi Không Ai Tìm Xác Rơi (Gone where no one can find your fallen body): 


Excerpt from Đi Không Ai Tìm Xác Rơi

“Anh Thái đưa cho tôi cái đồng hồ mới tìm thấy. Đồng hồ đã bị vỡ mặt kính. Kim còn chỉ 12 giờ kém 14 phút. ‘Cửa sổ’ có chữ SUN 3. Người thấy số 3, người thấy chữ SUN. Tôi không thấy rõ chữ hay số gì hết. Dù sao đi nữa, anh Giang mất ngày Chủ Nhật, mồng 3 tháng 7.

Cầm đồng hồ, tôi nức nở khóc. Giờ này, ngày này anh nằm sâu trong bùn sình. 39 năm 6 tháng sau mới biết chính xác anh ở đâu và ngày giờ anh mất.

(Thai handed me a watch that they just found. The face of the watch was cracked. The hands of the watch stopped at 11:46. The ‘window’ displayed ‘SUN 3.’ Some people saw the number 3, others saw the letters SUN. I couldn’t see clearly any numbers or letters at all. But at any rate, Giang died on Sunday, July 3rd. 

Holding the watch, I began to cry. It was at this time, on this date that he plummeted deep into the muddy swamp.  39 years and 6 months later, we finally know exactly where he fell and the exact time he died)." 

Below are items that, along with his remains, were recovered from the downed A-1H aircraft of Bùi Đại Giang.

Fragment of RVNAF A-1H Skyraider

17.6 cm x 13 cm

Featured is a fragment of the A-1H aircraft of Bùi Đại Giang. The A1-H Skyraider, a medium attack aircraft, was initially used by the US Navy beginning in 1945. The aircraft would eventually be used by the US Air Force and introduced into the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. The A1-H Skyraider was known for efficiency and versatility of use. After 1972, all A-1H aircraft in the US services in Southeast Asia were transferred to the RVNAF.

RVNAF Goggles

10.5 cm x 8 cm

The aviator goggles featured were issued to Bùi Đại Giang as part of the standard uniform for pilots in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. Along with the remains, items such as the goggles were recovered from the downed aircraft.

RVNAF Aviator Headset 

21 cm x 9.5 cm

The headset, a Roanwell Corporation H-154/AIC model, was issued to Bùi Đại Giang by the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. The shell earphone structure, which once included cushions on the inner ear, was designed to withstand a variety of situations and elements.


6.2 cm x 7.2 cm

The metal pin features a rising phoenix and the initials VN in reference to the Republic of Vietnam for which Bùi Đại Giang served. In line with standard practice, the metal pin was likely attached to the chest of the uniform worn during active service by pilots of the RVNAF.

Pilot's Watch

3.5 cm x 3.5 (face), 7 cm (chain)

Included is the pilot’s personal watch, a silver waterproof 1966 Seiko Sportsmatic 5 6619-7980. Only one side of the wristband straps remains and the face, of which the glass is shattered, is severely damaged. The watch stopped at 11:46, which given the extensive damage to the watch, may be the approximate time of the plane crash. 

Pilot's Knife

24 cm

Featured is a MILPAR Jet Pilot Survival Knife with a 5-inch (12.7 cm) blade belonging to Bùi Đại Giang. The workmanship of the knife, compared to others issued during the early period of the conflict, is distinct as the washer is flush with the guard into which the pommel flows in a concave shape. The MILPAR Jet Pilot Survival Knife was generally issued with an accompanying leather scabbard and sharpening stone. Neither the scabbard nor sharpening stone were recovered.

Pilot's Scissors

14 cm

Included among the items recovered are a pair of 5.5-inch (approx. 14 cm) Rex USA Chrome scissors. The scissors, despite the conditions of the swamp in which the aircraft crashed, are still usable.

Pilot's Paperwork

Preserved within the downed aircraft were a variety of documents belonging to Bùi Đại Giang. Slides 1-2 feature a pamphlet with instructions on how to treat communists taken into custody. Slides 3-4 feature a motorbike permit. Slides 5-6 feature assorted decayed fragments of paperwork that were recovered with the pamphlet and permit.