Navy memorials across Vietnam have seen bigger crowds these days, with soldiers and veterans paying tributes to fallen comrades in the Spratly battle against China, which broke out exactly 29 years ago today.
They would hold requiem for the Vietnamese soldiers who died fighting on March 14, 1988. They would review the glory and the loss, and the memory would come fresh every time.
Early on that day, the Vietnamese Navy’s Brigade 125 sent three ships with nearly 100 officers and soldiers to the Gac Ma (Johnson South), Co Lin (Collins or Johnson North) and Len Dao (Lansdowne) reefs in the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago.
The soldiers were transporting construction materials onto Gac Ma when four Chinese vessels arrived.
A second-lieutenant and two soldiers then used a small boat to rush to the island to protect the national flag, but the Chinese soldiers opened fire, killing the officer on the spot.
As the fight continued, one of the Vietnamese ships was damaged and sank. Another ship with 18 aboard was also attacked while defending Len Dao.
The third ship managed to plant a flag on Co Lin that morning and successfully defended the island.
Later on the same day, three other Vietnamese naval ships arrived at the site to support the defense of Co Lin and Len Dao. But Chinese forces had occupied Gac Ma.
A total of 64 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the battle, and they have been remembered as the Gac Ma soldiers.
Colonel Nguyen Van Dan, who was heading to the battle on another ship that day but could not make it on time as he was obstructed by two Chinese boats during the journey, still kept a clock and a bucket from the sunken ships as souvenirs.
“I could have been killed like my 64 brothers. So any day I am still alive, I will be remembering them,” Dan told Thanh Nien on Tuesday.
A 2.5 hectare memorial site dedicated to the soldiers is being completed after two years in Cam Ranh peninsula in the central province of Khanh Hoa. The project has received VND130 billion ($5.71 million) in funding from labor unions across the country, and donations from in and outside Vietnam.
The complex, with a giant circle representing the immortals, is scheduled to open to the public in late July. But many Spratly veterans and their families were already there on Tuesday morning.
The memorial site under construction in Cam Ranh in central Vietnam.
The "Immortals Circle"
There will be various granite statues including the main one of 12 meters (39 feet) tall.
Pigeon statues represent the call for peace.
The lane for wheelchairs
Photos by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc