Ho Chi Minh Insignia
One very important Ho Chi Minh badge, which bears singular mention, is the Huy Hieu (badge or insignia) Ho Chi Minh. This large red and gilt badge, measuring approximately 1.5 by 1.5 inches, was awarded (on numerous occasions by Uncle Ho, himself) to PAVN pilots for shooting down U.S. aircraft. The badge's province revolved almost exclusively around the PAVN's fledgling Air Force.
From its humble beginnings in 1955 as the Air Studies Bureau, the People's Air Force (Quan Khong Nhan Dan) grew steadily with the aid of the Soviets and Chinese into a creditable military air component of PAVN. During the early stages of the war, PAVN pilots trained at Soviet and Chinese bases.
Following the construction of an 8,700 foot runway at Phuc Yen, originally known as Noi Bai, near Hanoi in 1962 and the training of 31 fighter pilots at Son Dong by the Chinese, using MiG-15 UTI jet trainers, the PAVN received 36 MiG-17PF Fresco D fighters from the Soviet Union. These aircraft were kept near the Vietnamese border at Mong Tu Air Base in southern China and were not moved to North Vietnam until 1964. Nguyen Van Ba recorded the PAVN's first aerial victory, while flying a captured Royal Laotian North American T-28 Trojan. He reportedly downed an unarmed Fairchild C-123 Provider on February 16, 1964 near the North Vietnamese-Laotian border. American forces, citing several factors, have deemed this claim a complete fabrication.
On April 3, 1965, PAVN MiG-17 pilots, Pham Ngoc Lan and Phan Van Tuc downed two Ling-Tempo-Vought RF-8 Crusaders over the Dragon's Jaw (Ham Rong) Bridge at Thanh Hoa. On the following day, Tran Hanh and Le Minh Huan, flying MiG-17s downed two U.S. Air Force F-105D Thunderchiefs over Ham Rong. Le Minh Huan and two other MiG-17 pilots, Pham Giay and Tran Nguyen Nam, were subsequently shot down during the same dogfight.
In 1966, PAVN received its first MiG-21F-13 Fishbeds. By 1972, PAVN had an inventory of 80 MiG-17s, 33 Chinese-built MiG-19S Farmers and 93 MiG-21s.
Sixteen PAVN pilots, including Nguyen Van Coc (nine kills), Nguyen Van Bay (seven kills) and Pham Thanh Ngan (seven kills), were among the PAVN's war aces (five or more air-to-air kills). These aces accounted for 106, or 63% of the total 169 kills (164 manned aircraft and 5 unmanned spy drones) claimed by the PAVN Air Force. Although the PAVN pilots did enjoy some success against the U.S., their overall performance throughout the war must be judged to have been highly ineffective.
The Huy Hieu Ho Chi Minh was also awarded on a much more limited basis for conspicuous non-flying deeds, involving the destruction of enemy forces. Nguyen Duc Chuyen was awarded the Huy Hieu Ho Chi Minh when his scouting company repelled an enemy battalion "annihilating" 18 of them on December 20, 1968. PAVN Infantry Senior Captain Bui Quang Than was also awarded the badge for his battlefield accomplishments against the enemy.
Of the entire genre of Ho Chi Minh medals and badges, this particular badge, which is available in the U.S. market in unusually fine condition, commands an exceptional value among collectors, exceeded only by that of the rare and prestigious Ho Chi Minh Order