Vietnamese colonel who defended Spratly reefs against China dies aged 76

By Le Tan   August 20, 2022 | 04:00 am PT
Vietnamese colonel who defended Spratly reefs against China dies aged 76
Senior Colonel Vu Huy Le speaks at a veterans' meeting in 2015. Photo by VnExpress/Vu Huong
Senior Colonel Vu Huy Le, captain of a ship that participated in a 1988 battle to protect Spratly Islands against China, died Friday, aged 76.

Le, who died of illness, would have his funeral held at his own home in Hai An District in the northern port city of Hai Phong. A ceremony was held Saturday morning, and his final resting place would be Duong Dua Cemetery in Hai An Ward, said Duong Dinh On, chairman of Hai An District.

Le joined the army in 1968. After years of combat and missions, he was sent to the Soviet Union to study, before returning to Vietnam and becoming captain of the HQ505 vessel.

In 1988, when China sent its army to the Collins, Lansdowne and the Johnson reefs of Vietnam's Spratly Islands, Vietnamese naval forces also sent vessels to protect the reefs. The HQ505 helmed by Le was tasked with bringing soldiers and construction materials to Discovery Great Reef at the time.

On March 13, 1988, the vessel received an order to go to Collins Reef. On the way, the HQ505 was intercepted and provoked by Chinese forces. Despite China's efforts, the vessel managed to reach the reef and erect a boundary marker on March 14.

On the same day, Chinese forces attacked Vietnamese soldiers who were protecting the islands, firing bullets at several vessels, including the HQ505. The attack damaged the boat, causing it to drift away from the island for over a nautical mile.

Le was the one who requested that the vessel be fixed to prevent sinking so that crew members would be safe. He and his crewmates destroyed confidential documents on the ship, before collecting their weapons and evacuating.

After Chinese forces retreated, crew members of the HQ505 used rubber boats to reach Johnson Reef to save the lives of soldiers on the sunken HQ604 ship. They managed to bring back 44 soldiers, including the dead and wounded, to Collins Reef.

Le and his comrades then stayed on Collins Reef and protected it from Chinese forces until June 1988. Le retired in 1998.

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