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Hanoi, Vietnam (CNN)The very first time Le Tran Lua laid eyes on John McCain, he wished to eliminate him.
Now, over half a century after that remarkable very first and only encounter with a United States Navy pilot, Lua regrets Sen. McCain’s death.
“I am extremely unfortunate,” Lua states of his previous opponent’s death. “I constantly wished to fulfill him [once again] because this was such a turning point in my life.”
Lua is a rail-thin Vietnamese grandpa with a gray ponytail who earns a living painting calligraphy beside Buddhist temples.
The 68-year-old sips sweet coffee in a Hanoi coffee shop as he remembers the afternoon when he initially found McCain’s parachute.
It was October 26, 1967. Lt. Cmdr. John McCain, a United States Navy pilot, was piloting a battle objective targeting a power plant when a surface-to-air rocket struck his Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. He ejected from the stricken aircraft, deep inside opponent area.
That day, Lua, then 17, was a mechanic at a paper factory. When he captured a look of McCain’s parachute, he states he was concealing in an air-raid shelter.
McCain crashed in Truc Bach Lake, in the heart of Hanoi.
Lua states he dove in and swam directly towards the downed pilot.
“I got his hair instantly,” Lua states. “I did not speak English, so I screamed out in French ‘haut le mains!'”
In other words, “Hands up!”
For Lua, the capture of an opponent pilot was among the proudest accomplishments of his life. For McCain, it was the start of an experience as detainee of war that lasted more than 5 years.
Flowers for an opponent
A little monolith beside Truc Bach Lake commemorates the downing of McCain’s airplane. “The residents and military captured Pilot John Sidney McCain,” the statue’s inscription states. “This was among 10 airplane shot down that exact same day.”
Nowadays, Hoa Lo Prison is a state museum, often visited by crowds of young travelers worn shoes and shorts.