May 1967: Võ Xưởng in the Bunkers in Phước Long Province

A video on the Tết Offensive as described by prolific war artist, Võ Xưởng. (Witness Collection).

From February 1966 to October 1966, Võ Xưởng travelled to South Vietnam (đi B). He travelled by train from Hanoi to Quảng Bình Province and, from there, he walked at marching speed (hành quân thần tốc) down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to Phước Long Province and an area that he described as “the sacred forest of poisonous water (rừng thiêng nước độc)” in Military Zone 6. While there, he submitted drawings to the military zone’s newspaper (Báo quân khu).

Arriving in Phước Long Province

In 1967, before involving himself in the Tết Offensive in 1968, Xưởng was still based in Phước Long Province, documenting the war for the military zone newspaper.

Vỡ Xương, Phước Long Province
Figure 1: Võ Xưởng, 1967, Cần Lê, Phước Long Province. “Thanh niên xung phong bảo vệ thương binh trận Cần Lê (Phước Long) (A female Volunteer Youth protecting a wounded soldier at the battle Cần Lê (Phước Long).”

At a battle in Cần Lê, a minor conflict in Phước Long Province during the Second Indochina War, Xưởng managed to capture an intense scene (fig. 1). In it, a nurse desperately fires out of the entrance to a bunker where she also shelters a wounded soldier. Xưởng reflected that all members of the Volunteer Youth, which the nurse in the painting was part of, were expected to fight when the time arose – medical staff more so than any:

“The nurse and the soldier were inside a shelter; she picked up a gun and combated. In wartime, nurses had to know how to fight.”

Võ Xưởng in an interview conducted by Witness Collection at his home in May 2014

A Turning Point

The middle of 1967 and the beginning of 1968 was a turning point in the Vietnam War. The US army had increased its military presence in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). Troops fighting for the National Liberation Forces and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) did the same.

The allied US and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) pursued heightened bombing campaigns. This was met by the development of a network of defensive tunnels in Củ Chi and the Iron Triangle by the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF).

Other artists, such as Truong Hieu, were in similar positions. He reveals his own fascinating stories of fighting in Củ Chi and the Iron Triangle.

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