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Woman finds father through lost artwork from Vietnam War

Myrtle Mobley (left), Erika Colligan and Col. Billy Mobley display Erika's father's painting at the Mobley home in Stephenville. Photo by Michael Ross, Empire Tribune

Myrtle Mobley (left), Erika Colligan and Col. Billy Mobley with painting - Photo by Michael Ross, Empire Tribune

After searching for over 30 years a San Diego resident finally found her deceased father’s paintings from the Vietnam War.

According to an Associated Press article, 50 year oldErika Colligan lost her father, Phan Khoi, in 1966 during his involvement in the Vietnam War. Her father was a pilot for the South Vietnamese Air Force and was trained by U.S. aviators during the Vietnam War. During that time he created artwork for his U.S. counterparts.

Colligan was only 1 year old when her father died. She eventually fled Vietnam at the age of 10 to the United States. During her escape she had to leave behind her belongings and her father’s artwork. After the Communist government took over, she resigned herself to the fact that his artwork was destroyed and lost forever.

The thought that some of the artwork her father made for the U.S. airmen had survived, she searched for any remaining pieces. Colligan hoped that finding any of his paintings would give her a glimpse into who her father really was. For years she approached veterans and posted online a faded photograph of Khoi with his paintbrushes in his room at the U.S. Air Force base in hopes someone would recognize him.

Eventually her diligence paid off when Khoi’s former Air Force instructor, retired Col. Billy Mobley saw the photo.

Mobley emailed Colligan and told her about a painting that was given to him by Khoi that had been hanging on his wall for over 50 years. Colligan drove to Stephenville, Texas to Mobley’s house to see the painting and to learn about her father.

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

It was an emotional exchange that affected the 83 year old Mobley.

"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."

Khoi was among more than 1,500 Vietnamese pilots trained by the U.S. Air Force.

The U.S. military helped build the South Vietnam Air Force to be among the ten largest air forces in the world in 1974.

Collegian would eventually be reunited with other recipients of her father’s works. She organized a reunion earlier this year with other Air Force officers as well as South Vietnamese pilots who were trained at the Air Force base. While they talked and reminisced about their collective experiences, the painting made for Mobley was prominent in the room. Colligan commented about feeling as if her father was there.

Within Khoi's paintings were names of the recipients integrated into the background. Colligan hopes to find more clues leading to other people who knew her father.

"I think my father is doing this," she said of her search. "My objective is still to find his artwork but along this journey I've been able to learn what my father was like. It's been a great journey."

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