January 1973: Trần Hoàng Sơn and Mr. Bội in Quảng Nam Province

Background

During the Paris Peace Accord negotiations, war artist Trần Hoàng Sơn stayed with a local fisherman in Quảng Nam Province. In 1962, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) government divided Quảng Nam into Quảng Nam (north) and Quảng Tín (south). The US Marines ensconced themselves at the air base in Da Nang on the coast.

Because of its proximity to the demilitarised 17th Parallel, it was a region of fierce fighting between 1966 and 1968. Notable operational conflicts, such Battle of Hill 488, wrecked the countryside. The rural population, once supporters of the allied US/Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces, lived in fear. Successive massacres in the villages of Hà My, Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất in 1968 had swayed their allegiance.

Trần Hoàng Sơn in Quảng Nam Province

As part of the Tết Offensive in 1968, Sơn traveled south to Quảng Nam Province in Military Zone 5. From then until 1973, Sơn recorded the lives of soldiers, shelters and medical clinics in the region.

Trần Hoàng Sơn
Figure 1: Trần Hoàng Sơn, 5 January 1973, Phước Lảnh, Quảng Nam Province. “Chú Bội người bám trụ trên mảnh đất Phước Lảnh, Quảng Nam (Mr. Boi the person holds the territory in Phước Lảnh, Quảng Nam).” Ink on machine-made paper.

Sơn painted the portrait of Mr. Bội (fig.1), a fisherman living on the coast of Quảng Nam, following the relative calm during the Paris Peace Accord negotiations. Posed sorting his net and smoking a cigarette, Sơn also included a local machete and an ammunition box. These small additions to the image strongly convey the reality of guerrilla warfare among the rural population of the region. They were often on guard and regularly repurposed discarded military equipment for their own use.

In the image’s caption, Sơn writes that Mr. Bội “holds the territory in Phước Lảnh, Quảng Nam”. In a less literal interpretation, Sơn’s statement refers to the beginnings of US troop withdrawal. With hostilities postponed, the process of Vietnamese people taking back control of their respective homelands had begun.

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