July-October 1972: Trưóng Hiếu Documents Fighting in Mỹ Tho

Trưóng Hiếu in Mỹ Tho

In the end stages of the Easter Offensive, Trưóng Hiếu was based in Mỹ Tho Province, a little under 100 kilometres from his location at the beginning of the year in the Plain of Reeds (Đồng Tháp Mười). The town of Mỹ Tho, long regarded as a crucial entry point to the Mekong Delta, was high on the list of targets during the Easter Offensive. The US and South Vietnamese navy utilised the expansive inland waterways. An estimated 1,200 National Liberation Front (NLF) troops attacked the town at the start of the offensive. 1

One of Hiếu’s many ink sketches made in Mỹ Tho depicts a charging soldier (fig. 1). With sometimes adjoining battlelines in Mỹ Tho Province, opposing forces engaged in frequent, close-quarter skirmishes. Very often, fighting required hand-to-hand combat with fixed bayonets.

Trưóng Hiếu advance
Figure 1: Trưóng Hiếu, 1972, Mỹ Tho Province. Ink on machine-made paper.

Heavy Bombing

Together with fierce fighting on the ground, soldiers were under threat from constant bombing raids. Heavy bombing all but obliterated the natural environment in Mỹ Tho Province. Hiếu documented this destruction in sketches of the stark surroundings and split palm trees (fig 2). Bombing sorties by US B-52s left little cover for patroling communist troops.

Trưóng Hiếu and the coconut tree
Figure 2: Trưóng Hiếu, July 1972, Mỹ Tho Province (Tiền Giang Province today), Mekong Delta, “B52 Dừa Đứng Mỹ Tho (B52 Standing Coconut Tree, Mỹ Tho).” Ink on machine-made paper.

Difficult Terrain

In parts, however, the Mekong Delta continued to provide cover for People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), NLF and People’s Liberation Armed Forces of Vietnam (PLAF) soldiers looking to move silently and secretly throughout South Vietnam. On his excursions with different divisions, Hiếu had the opportunity to document their clandestine movements. He quickly sketched resistance soldiers crossing a monkey bridge (fig. 3) spanning one of the waterways so ubiquitous in the Mekong Delta’s mangrove forests.

Trưóng Hiếu and the monkey bridge
Figure 3: Trưóng Hiếu, October 1972, Mỹ Tho Province, “Qua cầu khỉ (Crossing Monkey Bridge; Mỹ Tho).” Ink on machine-made paper.

Hiếu’s Close-Quarter Sketches

As well as sketches and paintings taken from a long-range perspective, Hiếu made sure to document individual soldiers when the opportunity arose (fig. 4). Hiếu recalled that the portrait depicted a “long-haired soldier,” a common term for female soldiers at the time.2 This is an important detail. As we know from artists such as Phạm Thanh Tâm during the First Indochina War and more recently from Văn Đa and Phan Kế An in 1965, female soldiers played a vital role in resistance units, taking on the role of soldiers or performers. Hiếu reasserts their importance in 1972 by documenting their contributions to resistance forces as active soldiers in Mỹ Tho Province.

Trưóng Hiếu guerrilla
Figure 4: Trưóng Hiếu, 1972, Mỹ Tho Province, “Du Kích (Guerrilla).” Ink on machine-made paper.

REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:

  1. John Sherwood, “Defending the Mekong Delta: Tet and the Legacy of the Brown-Water Navy,” 31 January 2018, War on the Rocks
  2. Interview with Trưóng Hiếu by Witness Collection, 2004, Hanoi

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