April 1966: Phạm Thanh Tâm in Quảng Trị Province

In 1963, Phạm Thanh Tâm began his art education at Vietnam Fine Arts College. While studying, Tâm volunteered for the front in South Vietnam where 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, later in life. In North Vietnam, Tâm also helped at sea in Hạ Long Bay. His paintings also depicted the caves and shelters along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the liberation of Saigon and Đà Nẵng in the south, as well as the mountainous regions of the north, Hạ Long Bay and Hanoi.

As part of his excursions around the country, Tâm spent some time in Quảng Trị Province. As the province bordering the 17th Parallel, Quảng Trị was an area of vital importance for both northern and southern forces in Vietnam. During his time spent in Khe Sanh, Tâm had the opportunity to record Việt Cộng defensive positions in detail.

This would have been a volatile time to be in Quảng Trị Province. US and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces were slowly moving their way up the country towards North Vietnam. On the 22 May, US and ARVN troops would take over Đà Nẵng, a strategic city with a functioning airport. Only three hours drive from Quảng Trị city, American-lead military capabilities were severely heightened after taking Đà Nẵng.

Figure 1: Phạm Thanh Tâm, 1966, Northern Quảng Trị Province. Graphite pencil on machine-made paper.

Tâm had the opportunity to sketch a 14.5 mm heavy machine gun battery located on the coastal sand hills of northern Quảng Trị Province (fig. 1). This was installed as a defensive position against US and ARVN infantry. Out in the open, one can see how desolate the environment was, devoid of trees and grass. Tâm recorded that this battery also took down a number of enemy planes.

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