15 March 1975: Bùi Quang Ánh Records Liberation Soldiers in The East Forest

At the beginning of March 1975, the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) launched the Campaign 275 offensive from North Vietnam. The main objective of the campaign was to control the Central Highland area of South Vietnam by capturing Ban Mê Thuột, with diversionary attacks near Kon Tum and Pleiku.

In 1975, Bùi Quang Ánh followed the Delegation of Economic Exploration of the Central Highland (Military Supplies Department) heading to South Vietnam. On his way, he met the Board of Commanders of the Hồ Chí Minh Campaign, including Đinh Đức Thiện and General Văn Tiến Dũng of the PAVN. He also visited the troop’s station of the commander’s board in Bù Đốp.

While stationed in the East Forest, near the district of Bù Đốp, part of what was then Phước Long Province, Ánh employed his use of bright watercolours to capture the dynamic portrait of a liberation soldier (fig. 1) in the B2 military zone (the code that designated the southeast Military Zone). So-called “liberation soldiers” was the name that local people called northern soldiers who came to liberate South Vietnam. Campaign 275, well underway when Ánh created the painting, was a huge military offensive that amassed a total of 65,141 soldiers for the main battle of Ban Mê Thuột. As such, liberation soldiers would have flooded into South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh Trail, into areas around the Central Highlands in March and later through the COSVN bases dotted along the border with Cambodia for the final assault on Saigon.

Figure 1: Bùi Quang Ánh, 15 March 1975, The East Forest in Phước Long Province, an old province of Southeast Vietnam, entitled: “The East Forest.” Watercolour on machine-made paper. “The East Forest Phước Long (province) 15/3/1975.”

The soldier in Ánh’s painting, carrying a Soviet-made AK-47, has the appearance of a man from North Vietnam. His face is drawn with hard, angular features, very different from the softer, rounder facial features prevalent in the south. Standing in a relaxed pose, with his arms resting along the top of the rifle hanging from his neck, gives the impression of some confidence – the painting, in general, suggesting a show of strength from North Vietnam, very much up to the task of liberating the southern population.

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