Old Man Looks for Remains of Revolutionary Martyrs

For over thirty years now, Mr. Pham Ly Chanh, once a party member for over 60 years, has traveled throughout Thanh Co (Ancient Citadel) in Quang Tri, in search of soldier’s remains.

Mr. Chanh in his working room

At over 90 years of age, Mr. Chanh still appears healthy and nimble. He was born in Quang Nam, but after taking leave of the army, he decided to settle down in Thanh Co, the site of an 81-day battle between the liberation troops of South Viet Nam and the armed forces of the Saigon Regime in  South Viet Nam in 1968.

Looking back at his past time in the army, Mr. Chanh realized how lucky he was not to have been killed. Once a soldier in the two resistances, first against the French colonists and then against the American armed forces, Mr. Chanh survives to live a happy life with his family.

However, many of his comrades gave their life for the motherland and now he is determined to spend his last years looking for the remains of revolutionary martyrs in order to give them a proper burial in the martyrs’ cemetery.

During the fierce battle of 1968, Mr. Chanh recalls how the blood and bones of revolutionary soldiers covered every inch of land in Quang Tri. During the 81 days and nights, tens of tons of bombs were dropped on the land; killing more than 10,000 soldiers from the two sides. The loss of human lives, however, was tilled towards the liberation troops.

Mr. Chanh has stressed to his team the importance of examining every single piece of earth in order to uncover any small personal effects from the revolutionary martyrs. For instance, a pen nib, comb or hairpin may help to identify the corpse of the owner, buried just a few inches below.

Whenever the remains of any martyr are found, Mr. Chanh himself organizes the burial service and rituals. He always feels a sense of warmth in his heart when the local people come together to offer their help for the service; old people set up the pavilions and altars, young people make commemorative wreaths and the band plays mourning music. All help is offered free of charge as the local people contribute towards Mr. Chanh’s noble deeds.

Mr. Chanh is interested in setting up memorial steles for the dead. He believes that whether or not the revolutionary martyrs are identified, there should be something to mark the place where they now rest in eternal peace.

He holds burial services and builds tombs not only for the revolutionary martyrs, but also for the

Mr. Chanh (1,L) meets with members of a martyr's family
remains of the dead republican soldiers that he uncovers from time to time, and on such occasions as the grave visiting day or Lunar New Year, he always visits the town cemetery to offer incense in front of their graves. He said, “I never think of any discrimination between the dead. Any remains in this land used to be the flesh and bone of sons of Vietnamese people.”

Although over the past 30 years, many martyr’s remains have been uncovered, Mr. Chanh is worried by the number of bodies that remain beneath the soil and by those remains that are accidentally uncovered when people in the town dig the earth to plant trees or to lay foundations.

On the old, small wooden table in his working room are piles of certificates of merit awarded to him by central and local authorities, in recognition of his noble deeds. When asked to tell about his work, he simply said, “What I’ve done is of my own choice. It is the responsibility of the living towards the dead. I never think of a day I will be honored.”

He added, “Being 92 now, I have one foot in the grave. I only wish I can live a few more years to find as many martyr’s remains as possible.”

In fact, only recently, Mr. Chanh and some local people unearthed the remains of four more martyrs. Three were found under house foundations and the other was found in a construction site. Apart from some rotten bones, there remained a few personal belongings such as belts, rubber sandals and water bottles.

Mr. Chanh’s noble deed not only has great meaning to the dead but also brings peace of mind to many families whose sons died during the war.

By Lam Khanh – Translated by Phuong Lan

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