Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Woman Finds Artwork by Father Killed in Vietnam

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Woman Finds Artwork by Father Killed in Vietnam

Article excerpt

SAN DIEGO * Erika Colligan spent three decades searching for her father's artwork paintings the South Vietnamese pilot made for the U.S. Air Force aviators who trained him during the Vietnam war.

Colligan, 50, a software consultant in San Diego, was only 1 when her father died in a plane crash in his native country in 1966.

At age 10, her family fled Vietnam and came to the United States, leaving behind their belongings and his artwork. Colligan believes most of his paintings were destroyed after the Communist government took power, but she kept faith some of the artwork Phan Khoi made for his American friends was still out there, offering a tangible sliver of the father she never got the chance to know.

For decades, she showed veterans a faded photograph of Khoi sitting with a paintbrush and two portraits in his room at a U.S. Air Force base. She posted the image repeatedly online, asking if anyone recognized the American pilot in one of the portraits.

Her search paid off about three months ago when it led her to Khoi's former Air Force instructor, retired Col. Billy Mobley.

Mobley told her in an email that Khoi had given him a painting a serene landscape that has hung on his wall for more than 50 years. Colligan immediately drove to Mobley's house in Stephenville, Texas.

"He grabbed hold of my face and said, 'Yep, you're Phan Khoi's daughter all right,' " Colligan said. He then handed her the painting.

"I took the painting and cradled it for half an hour and cried a lot," she said.

She ran her finger over her father's signature on the back. She and Mobley talked well past midnight that cold December day. She learned her father was a quiet, serious man, a surprise to the outgoing woman with an easy laugh.

"It did not bring me closure, instead it marked a beginning for me," she said later.

Mobley, now 83, was overwhelmed as well.

"That hit me right in the heart," he said of Colligan's visit. "Phan Khoi gave me that painting in 1962 and then here was his daughter standing in front of me. …

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