He and his flight lead went supersonic in a high-g dive and pulled in behind two enemy MiGs as they lifted off from the runway at Kép Air Base 40 miles northeast of Hanoi. The MiGs broke hard left on takeoff, but the Navy F-4 Phantoms remained in close pursuit flying at tree-top level at more than 700 miles per hour. He fired a Sidewinder at the right-hand wingman, but it malfunctioned. He launched a second sidewinder. This one exploded in the MiG’s tailpipe. The plane destroyed. Its pilot killed.
Lt. Curt Dosé had just shot down a MiG-21 flow by Nguyen Van Ngai. His aerial kill turned out to be the start of the bloodiest day of air combat during the Vietnam War. On May 10, 1972, U.S. Navy and Air Force pilots shot down 11 MiGs in the skies over North Vietnam.
Low on fuel and out of missiles, Curt and his flight lead headed home to their aircraft carrier on Dixie Station in the South China Sea.
“We went back and did the traditional victory roll entering the break on the USS Constellation and came around and landed,” said Curt, a Phantom pilot with Fighter Squadron 92 (VF-92). “The ship was pretty excited.”
The shoot-down of an enemy aircraft in combat is the highest achievement for any military fighter pilot, but for Curt, his MiG kill put him into the most exclusive club he shares with no others.
“A friend of my dad, who was watching the Navy message traffic, saw my MiG kill announced and immediately called him at home in the middle of the night,” said Curt, a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. “Such a phone call with a son in combat would have scared me to death. Instead the caller said, ‘Your son Curt just bagged a MiG-21!’”
On that day in May 1972, Curt and his dad became the only father and son to both record aerial enemy kills in combat as fighter pilots.
Retired Navy Capt. Bob Dosé became a naval aviator 35 years earlier in 1937, and flew combat missions in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1944. From Rabaul to Bougainville and Tarawa to the Gilbert Islands, Bob was no stranger at dueling with enemy fighters as allied forces move westward towards Japan. During one of his many combat flights, he shot down a Japanese Zero.
For Bob, being a Navy pilot was the best job he ever had, but like so many World War II veterans, he rarely spoke of his combat experiences.
“Dad was very proud of his fighter squadron, VF-12, never losing a plane to enemy fighters,” said Curt, reflecting on his father’s career. “Interestingly enough, my Vietnam squadron, VF-92, also didn’t lose any attack planes to the MiGs. But we actually never talked much about his Zero kill. He was quiet about World War II.”
Bob Dosé served another 23 years following the end of the Second World War. One of his career highlights was becoming the 20th commanding officer of the USS Midway in 1961.
“My father was a legendary naval aviator, with many important commands,” said Curt, who ultimately became a Navy test pilot. “He loved the USS Midway. I remember him talking about how he brought the Midway to right off the Solana Beach kelp beds one day. We lived on the cliffs above Solana Beach.”
Curt retired from the Navy in 1979 ending more than 40 years of combined naval service by the Dosé family. His combat missions became quiet memories until 2016 when he was asked, along with several other Vietnam War veterans, to return to Hanoi to meet some of the pilots he had flown against more than four decades earlier.
“I was invited to go back to Vietnam with several Navy pilot friends, so this was comfortable,” said Curt. “Hey, we’d been there before.”
Introductions to former North Vietnamese pilots, tour of the war museum, great food and reliving old memories. All was going well.
“It went as expected until the TV interview,” said Curt, who flew for FedEx for nearly 30 years. “I was told that some of Ngai’s family wanted to meet me.”
For Curt, being introduced to the family of the pilot of the MiG he shot down was an emotional moment. The television crew took him to Ngai’s home where he met his entire family. He also visited Ngai’s grave and later ate dinner with his family complete with vodka toasts.
“It was special meeting Ngai’s sister,” remembered Curt. “She was very kind and understanding. The family uncle said, ‘We were proud of Ngai flying MiG-21s, but now we have a new fighter pilot – Curt Dosé. We hope he will come back and stay with us.’”
Before he left Vietnam, Curt was told that the road to the Ngai house would be renamed Dosé-Ngai Way.
“Vietnam is a beautiful place, especially the south,” said Curt. “They have no memory of the war. It’s young and moving fast. I feel like I had a hand in this.”
Now retired, Curt often reflects on both his and his father’s naval aviation careers.
“It is so interesting to see the progress from dad’s first biplane torpedo bomber to my F-4 and F-14,” said Curt, who flew more than 20 different aircraft while in the Navy. “It is fascinating to review our flight logbooks and see the difference between World War II and Vietnam flying.”