Behind every work of art is a story.
A recent painting completed by Tinker Air Force Base Artist in Residence and U.S. Air Force Historian Darby Perrin captures a brief glimpse into the story of retired Col. Chuck DeBellevue and Capt. John Madden during an encounter with a MiG 21J during the Linebacker Strikes on Sept. 9, 1972.
“This [painting] shows a guy trying to land at his home base and these crazy Americans saying ‘not so fast’,” DeBellevue said.
DeBellevue and Perrin collaborated on the painting, titled “Landing Denied,” which shows an F-4D going after the MiG 21J over the backdrop of Phuc Yen Airbase, about 19 miles north of Hanoi.
“We knew he was out of gas, he had to land and we’d just slowed down from 600 or 650 to about 240 knots so we’re doing everything we can to get the airplane to slow down and we end up on his wing. He picks up his gear flaps and turns into us,” DeBellevue said.
Eventually the MiG pulled up and out of the fight and the team committed their number 3, an E model F-4, to take it out.
“It [the F-4] had an internal gun in it and he emptied the gun into the guy and the plane crashes,” DeBellevue said.
The history of the moment captured on canvas extends past the painting itself, as 10 minutes later, DeBellevue and Madden were involved in a dog fight with two MiG 19s and took down both of them. This victory resulted in DeBellevue’s fifth and sixth MiG kills, putting him at Ace status. These were Madden’s first and second MiG kills.
Although this particular incident in the Vietnam War took place nearly 50 years ago and he retired 21 years ago, DeBellevue says there are days where he can remember this moment like it was yesterday.
“Some days when I relive this it’s 50 years ago, other days it’s yesterday. We were in a situation where if you weren’t successful, you weren’t going home.”
DeBellevue’s memories from the day, coupled with Madden’s account, made the process of creating a painting based off of collective memories much easier for Perrin, who completes artwork related to aviation and moments in AF history.
When presented with stories from military history to paint, Perrin will then interview subjects who were there, to get a more clear accurate account of the situation before beginning the piece.
“There are so many stories out there that are only a paragraph in a book somewhere that may or may not get read,” Perrin said. “They say ‘hey can you paint this story? Can you go interview the guys who were involved?’ I do that and turn it into what hopefully is close to reality.”
Perrin and DeBellevue say “Landing Denied” is a tribute to the flight.
“I wanted something that wasn’t about me and was about us, the team. It took the entire team to make this happen. While I was doing this they were making sure no one got behind us so when he pulled out of the fight, number three was in position and was able to move in,” DeBellevue said.
They also say the painting acts as a remembrance of the crew that shot down the first MiG, but were killed two weeks later during a training accident in Thailand.
“This is as much a tribute to them as anyone else,” Perrin said
DeBellevue commended Perrin for his work in capturing the moment so accurately.
“It’s extremely accurate. When you look at this picture it pops out,” DeBellevue said. “He made it what it is. I couldn’t do this, but he took what we told him and made it reality.”
Only 555 prints were made from the original lithograph, all of which were signed by DeBellevue during a signing session at Tinker AFB and were then shipped to Madden to sign.
You can purchase the prints and view other pieces of Perrin’s work by visiting planeart.com or by visiting Darby Perrin’s Studio located on base at 3680 H Ave. in Bldg. 478.