Korean War veterans return to peninsula

Updated: 2013-07-26 02:02

By ZHOU WA (China Daily)

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Former CPV members visit fallen comrades’ tombs in DPRK

“Please tell him I miss him a lot,” Hu Xiurong, 88, told Zhang Ailan.

Zhang is the founder of the Family of Old Soldiers, China’s first organization that reunites former soldiers of the Chinese People’s Volunteers. Zhang was on her way with former CPV members to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to visit the tomb of Hu’s husband and other Chinese soldiers killed in the Korean War.

Korean War veterans return to peninsula

A DPRK woman, Kim Bu-ok, cries as she mourns her father, a veteran of the Korean War, after the opening ceremony of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang on Thursday. The ceremony was one of the events for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the truce that ended the fighting. [Jason Lee / REUTERS ]

“If only you could bring him back to me,” Hu told Zhang tearfully.

Hu is not alone. Visiting the tombs of family members or former comrades in the Korean Peninsula is the dream of thousands of former CPV soldiers and their relatives.

On Friday, Zhang will begin a new trip to the DPRK with seven former CPV soldiers. It will be Zhang’s sixth such trip to the DPRK.

The CPV entered the war to help the DPRK resist US-led UN troops in 1950. Tens of thousands of CPV soldiers died in the war, which ended in 1953.

Zhang’s father was also a member of the volunteer soldiers. After returning to China, he and his companions returned to their hometowns and led normal lives.

As years went by, the former young soldiers have became gray-haired, but their desire to commemorate their fallen battle companions and reunite with their surviving ones has remained and become even stronger.

Hu wanted to visit the tomb of her husband, who joined the war just three months after their marriage and was killed only six days before the July 1953 armistice. “We had intended to invite Hu to visit the DPRK with us together originally, but she was too old to come,” Zhang said.

“But I’ve sent the message to her husband for her and their only son.”

Remember those who died

Zhang began her quest to reunite the former volunteer soldiers in 2008 after learning that her father missed his former comrades-in-arms.

She cannot forget meeting Li Shuanzhu, one of her father’s former companions, who lived in the remote mountains of Hubei province.

“Everything is back to peace nowadays, and life is much better,” said Li, who has since died.

Before Zhang left Li’s village, Li told Zhang, “Don’t forget those who died in a foreign land.”

After returning to her hometown, Zhang sold her small convenience store and rented a three-room suite in Zhengzhou, Henan province, where she founded the Family of Old Soldiers, offering free food and short-term stays to former CPV soldiers.

“I would like to create a family for them, where they can reunite and share their common experiences,” Zhang said.

Hundreds of old soldiers soon came to visit the “family”. They sing the songs they used to encourage themselves in the battlefield. They share stories that captured their youth. They recall their lost companions with whom they used to fight side by side.

They told Zhang that they were happy to have a “family” after the war.

“Having a chance to recall the past experiences and to value the current good and peaceful life is the best comfort for us and our dead companions,” they said.

“If they were still alive, they can see the good life and see our comfortable rooms with bright lamps.”

Since the foundation was established, the organization has been visited by former soldiers more than 3,000 times and by relatives more than 3,300 times.

The soldiers who visit the family tell Zhang that they still share a common wish to visit the tombs of their former comrades-in-arms.

In 2010, Zhang led the first delegation of former CPV soldiers and family members to the DPRK to sweep the tombs of those Chinese soldiers who were killed in the Korean War.

So far, she has led five such delegations to the DPRK. An experience on one of those trips underscored their significance to her.

A former CPV soldier who received a security check at the China-DPRK border made the security machine beep again and again, even after he removed all his metal belongings.

While the security staff racked their brains trying to determine the cause, Zhang suddenly realized the cause must have been the metal shrapnel that was still inside the soldier’s body.

“I was so touched at that moment. That is what the war left for us. People should learn lessons from the war and value the peace now. For me, to help those old soldiers is my way to show my understanding of the war,” she said.