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War veterans hail their fallen comrades
2020-10-23 
Veterans attend a ceremony to bury soldiers' remains in Shenyang, Liaoning province. LONG LEI/XINHUA

Valiant efforts recalled from Korean conflict

On a sunny morning in October last year, retired army officer Lyu Pin reunited with his regiment's honor flag in Tian'anmen Square in Beijing.

It was nearly 69 years since Lyu saw his young soldiers thwart numerous attempts by better-armed troops from the United States Army to take a strategically important hill on the southern banks of the Han River during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53).

The wording on the red honor flag states that The Regiment of Mount Baegun, a peak on the Korean Peninsula also known as Baegunsan, serves as a reminder of the fierce battles fought by brave warriors commanded by the then-26-year-old Lyu during the conflict.

On Oct 1 last year, the flag, along with 99 others from the Chinese military, was displayed by troops on armored vehicles passing along Chang'an Avenue in central Beijing during a grand parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Lyu, 95 at the time, was invited to the parade, which he watched from an open-top bus with other war heroes and the offspring of founders of New China.

Tens of thousands of people attending the celebration, which took place on National Day, stood as Lyu and his comrades appeared. They applauded and cheered to show their respect to the elderly heroes.

Lyu wept as he saw the cheering crowd and the Tian'anmen Rostrum.

The veteran, who lives in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province, said:"History remembers the Battle of Mount Baegun. The motherland and the people will never forget those who sacrificed their lives to safeguard the nation."

In October 1950, Lyu's unit, the 447th Regiment of the 149th Infantry Division, and other forces of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army entered the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to join the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.

In late January the following year, the regiment, in which Lyu served as a deputy political commissar, was ordered to hold Mount Baegun against opposing forces, mostly from the US Army's 3rd and 25th infantry divisions, which had strong air and artillery support.

"We were determined and ready to sacrifice our lives to defend our positions," Lyu said. "The enemy wanted to defeat us by frenziedly attacking our positions with countless bombs dropped from aircraft and with artillery, including napalm bombs. Enemy troops and tanks charged us many times each day."

Casualties in Lyu's unit soared as bloody fighting continued on several fronts.

Troops, platoon leaders and company commanders died. Positions were sometimes lost because nearly all the troops holding them had been killed.

However, Lyu said reinforcements soon arrived to repulse the enemy and regain territory. "I was with the commander of the 149th Infantry Division and often heard him ordering front-line officers: 'Take it back! Take it back! Take it back'," he said.

The intensity of some battles was "beyond imagination", he said.

"Nearly all the officers and troops in one of our companies died after holding their positions for five days and nights. After withstanding desperate enemy strikes for five days, only four out of the company's 100-plus members survived-one officer and three soldiers. They fulfilled their promise to keep the positions."

A commemorative exhibition is held in Beijing at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution. YANG QING/XINHUA

Heroic defense

Lyu often recalls one soldier in particular, Gao Xiyou, even though he has been dead for nearly 70 years.

"Gao was a member of the 2nd Squad in the 7th Company of our 3rd Battalion. On Jan 29, 1951, his squad was ordered to hold a position at the foot of Mount Baegun. By dusk that day, all the squad members, except Gao, had died.

"Before the squad leader Han Jiazhen died, he ordered Gao to continue defending the position. Gao vowed to keep the position, and he succeeded. The enemy had to retreat at night."

Lyu later visited Gao after hearing that the young man had asked to be sent to fight in another battle."I told him he was now a hero and that the regiment would apply for a citation for him," he said.

However, Gao never received a medal, as he died in the new fighting.

"I have regretted all my life allowing him to go to that combat. He was the last survivor from his platoon. I should have saved him," Lyu said.

Song Shiyun, a 21-year-old officer, was killed in the same battle. He already had head injuries, but was the first to run from a trench and charge enemy troops before being shot in the chest and stomach. Even after he died, his hands were still clutching his machine gun, Lyu said.

Lyu added that Song once gave him part of a US parachute to serve as a reminder of the battles they fought together.

"After all this time, during which I have moved house several times, I have always kept this piece of cloth with me. Sometimes, when I touch it, I feel as if I can see those young men once again," he said.

To honor those who died and their bravery, the regiment was later named after Mount Baegun and was given an honor flag, which is now a permanent exhibit at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution, in Beijing.

For Li Jide, 86, a farmer in Gaoqing county, Shandong province, who served in the Chinese People's Volunteer Army as a signalman, the sacrifice made by his comrade Huang Jiguang remains a vivid memory.

"Huang said that to ensure victory, he was willing to act like Aleksandr Matrosov, the protagonist in the Soviet movie Private Aleksandr Matrosov, who used his body to block the enemy's machine gun fire. Huang really did this," Li said.

In October 1952, the infantry battalion Li and Huang were serving in took part in the Shangganling Campaign, known in the West as the Battle of Triangle Hill.

During the battle-one of the war's most-documented-both Chinese forces and the enemy mobilized all available troops and heavy weapons in a desperate bid for victory.

The US sent tens of aircraft and hundreds of artillery guns and tanks to the battlefield, firing more than 1.9 million shells at Chinese troops positioned an area of some 3.7 square kilometers.

At the height of the fighting, an average of six shells per second rained down on Chinese-held positions.

On Oct 19, the battalion was ordered to take Hill 597.9, which is named for its height and is located west of Shangganling.

After Chinese troops captured three positions, they were halted by heavy machine gun fire from enemy positions on top of the hill.

The battalion's chief of staff ordered 6th Company, in which Li and Huang were serving, to make all-out efforts to wipe out enemy firing points before dawn. The company commander sent three teams of soldiers with long metal tubes filled with dynamite to destroy the positions, but all of them were killed.

At this crucial point, Huang, 21, a signalman in the company, located the commander and asked to carry out this task.

Li recalled:"He (Huang) said,'Let me do this'. Another two soldiers also asked for the responsibility. The commander gave his approval and made Huang head of the three-member team."

The trio advanced through strong firepower, killing several troops. However, one team member was shot dead and another seriously wounded soon after.

"I was about 50 meters from Huang. The night sky was lit so brightly by enemy flares that I could see him clearly," Li said.

"I noticed he had been shot in one arm and that a lot of blood was coming from the wound. He crawled forward and threw his last grenade, but it failed to destroy the enemy firing point and troops, who continued to fire at us.

"Suddenly Huang rose and charged the gun placement where the enemy fire was coming from."

Huang used his body as a shield to take fire from two machine guns, clearing the way for his comrades, who rushed from their positions and killed the remaining enemy forces, Li said.

Now part of the People's Liberation Army Air Force's paratroop force, 6th Company holds the honorary title The Company of Huang Jiguang.

Fallen heroes from the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, such as Gao and Huang, have never been forgotten by the Chinese people. In addition to commemorative measures, the central government and the military have worked to bring home their remains from the ROK.

Veterans visit the Memorial Hall of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea in Dandong, Liaoning province. YUAN YI/FOR CHINA DAILY

Seventh repatriation

Since 2014, China and the ROK have cooperated to repatriate the remains of 716 Chinese soldiers.

On Sept 27, the seventh such repatriation took place in the ROK at Incheon, when the remains of 117 Chinese soldiers were taken to Shenyang on a Y-20, the PLA Air Force's top transport plane.

As the plane entered Chinese airspace, two PLA Air Force fighter jets escorted it as a mark of respect to the soldiers.

At Shenyang airport, Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan attended a ceremony to welcome home the remains of the fallen, to which some of the war veterans were invited.

Xiao Huaping, an 86-year-old veteran who attended, said: "I couldn't help crying when recalling the days we fought those bloody battles. I'm proud of our prosperous motherland. All the sacrifices and dedication were worth it."

Many residents lined the route to pay their respects as a motorcade of military vehicles transported the caskets containing the remains to a cemetery in northern Shenyang dedicated to those who died in the Korean conflict.

Some 2.9 million Chinese soldiers, commanded by Peng Dehuai, fought in the war, and nearly 200,000 of them died in combat. Their names are inscribed on a memorial wall at the cemetery.

The ROK will continue to recover fallen soldiers' remains and hand them over to China. The two countries will also strengthen cooperation in this respect, according to the Chinese Ministry of Veterans Affairs.

Zhang Shunhong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of History and vice-president of the Association of Chinese Historians, said China was forced to send its troops to fight in the war because the US ignored China's warning and took fighting to the China-DPRK border.

The US even allowed its military planes to enter Chinese airspace and bomb civilians and buildings on Chinese territory, Zhang said.

He added that the battles fought by the Chinese soldiers exemplify how a poorly-equipped military defeated a much stronger enemy.

"Compared with the forces led by the US, the Chinese People's Volunteer Army was significantly weaker in terms of weapons and logistical support capability," he said.

"But our soldiers were never afraid of death and their enemies. In many battles, after all the officers and soldiers had died, the signalmen and cooks would pick up their weapons and continue defending against the enemy, even though they were far outnumbered."

Zhang said the soldiers' heroism inspired the public in the newly founded People's Republic of China to build the nation and make their contribution to winning the war. Moreover, victory in the war took China to new heights on the world stage.

"As Peng Dehuai (the commander) said, the days when Western imperialists only needed to place some guns along the coast in an Asian country so they could occupy that nation will never return. Our soldiers smashed the myth that the US military was invincible," Zhang said.

"After the war, our nation's international status and prestige were heightened considerably, creating a favorable environment for our development."

Qi Dexue, a senior history researcher with the PLA, said that after the war, China's self-esteem and self-confidence were strengthened, along with people's patriotism and enthusiasm.

The war also made Chinese leaders realize the importance of military modernization and that no efforts should be spared to build a powerful force, Qi said.

As a result, the Chinese military's weapons and equipment were rapidly upgraded after the war and research and development started on hardware such as the atomic bomb and nuclear-powered submarines.

Wu Yong in Shenyang and Xinhua contributed to this story.

From left: Chinese volunteer troops cross the Yalu River on the border with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1951; people welcome a train carrying Chinese volunteers home from the DPRK in 1958; Chinese volunteer forces charge an enemy attack during the Korean conflict in 1951. LU PING/CHINA DAILY
The remains of 117 Chinese soldiers are placed in caskets before being repatriated from Incheon, Republic of Korea, on Sept 27. WANG JINGQIANG/XINHUA
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