Artist Phạm Đỗ Đồng lived in the south of Vietnam from 1969 until 1975, based mainly in Tây Ninh Province. Working for the Liberational Fine Arts Department of South Vietnam of the National Liberation Front (NLF), Đồng saw violent action while documenting the lives of the 5, 7 and 9 Divisions based in Tây Ninh Province as a journalist and war artist. A harrowing and confusing time, Đồng remembers his time most clearly while attached to Division 5.
At approximately the end of 1971 or beginning of 1972, for a period of roughly four months, Đồng lived with the local militia in Thủ Thừa District, Long An Province, in the Mekong Delta. During his time in the Mekong Delta, Đồng, along with a fellow soldier, was almost captured by Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Vietnamese soldiers when they were nearly caught unawares while arguing about a bet on the side of the Hậu River in Hậu Giang Province.
Đồng also spent part of his time in An Giang Province with an amateur performing group affiliated with the Literary Delegation (Đoàn văn công) in South Vietnam. At the end of 1972 until the beginning of 1973, Đồng documented ship battles on the Tieàn River. His painting The first battle on Tiền River (Trận đánh đầu trên sông Tiền) depicted an important supply route used by the ARVN, which was regularly attacked by the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN).
While in the south of Vietnam at this time, Đồng captured the portrait of a young, “model” soldier working for the Logistics Department of the Eastern Liberation Army (fig. 1). The painting, as well as Đồng’s description of it, reveal certain details about the life of a soldier stationed with such departments. The badge attached to his hat represents the flag of the National Liberation Front (NLF), the leading organisation for resistance fighters throughout South Vietnam. According to Đồng, the soldier was dressed in his full uniform before attending a meeting. It is not possible to know the rank of the soldier through his uniform. However, Đồng explained that only people in the same unit knew each other’s ranks, partially explaining the success NLF forces had in disguising their identities and activities during the Second Indochina War.