Geneseo’s national warplane museum is getting a new plane. It will be the main feature of a planned Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. An airplane that saved countless lives at the end of the war.
Kheim Pham was a South Vietnamese pilot and in 1975 he narrowly escaped with his family and hundreds of other refugees out of Saigon before it fell to the North Vietnamese. That plane will be in Geneseo for display.
Pham flew transport aircraft for the South Vietnam Air Force, helping the Americans until the end.
“It was very difficult,” Pham said when asked about how hard it was to escape. Devastation in Siagon was all around him at the end of the war and he knew the entire city would fall to North Vietnamese rule.
“If that’s happening to Saigon, how can I get my family out,” said Pham. At the time he had his wife, a two-year-old, and a five-month-old. He devised a plan. It was a routine trip to drop off some helicopter blades, but their next destination would be his last trip out of Saigon.
“We offload the helicopter blades, and I saw people running after the airplane,” said Pham. “One minute. Two, three hundred people scramble to my airplane.”
Pham starts to take off and people are still fighting to get on, hanging from the plane as speeds down the runway. “I couldn’t close the door because people were standing on the ramp.”
He slammed on the brakes to shake people off. Next was a helicopter. Then a truck forced him to stop to take more people. “He jumped out of his truck and pointed his M16 at the cockpit.” Finally, he escaped. An aircraft designed for 100 people fit about 350. This trip saved all those lives, including his own.
The plane needs a lot of restoration and that is what will happen through the spring of next year. This will include a new paint job that will feature the colors of the Vietnamese flag. The hope is to have the Vietnam Veterans Memorial open with the plane ready for tours during the summer of next year.