In 1964, a year after he had enrolled in a diploma course at the Vietnam Fine Arts College, Phạm Thanh Tâm volunteered for the front in South Vietnam. He was given permission to write and paint from the Khe Sanh battlefield under the qualification of an artist for the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). From then onwards, he continued to use his writing nom de plume Huỳnh Biếc. In the north, he also helped at sea in Hạ Long Bay. Tâm also captured scenes in and around Hanoi.
Tâm sketched a young MIG 17 pilot at Nội Bài airport, Hanoi, preparing for his first air combat mission (fig. 1). In 1964, North Vietnam held its first fleet of jet fighters at Nội Bài airport. Tâm remembered the importance of air superiority at the time:
“To wage war against the American’s sabotage, we needed aircraft like they did. We prepared for the war by sending our people for training abroad and brought back a fleet of jets. Nội Bài airport was under construction, not finished, however, it had to receive these jets. At first, we had MIG 17 jets, then we had more MIG 19s. Finally, we had MIG 21 jets in the war against the US.”
Phạm Thanh Tâm in one of many interviews conducted by Witness Collection between 2003 and 2019.
This is one of many sketches of North Vietnam’s air force by Tâm.