Brigadier Lê Thanh Sơn ( sixth from left) and member of Tây Đô battalion veterans group hand over a charity house for a poor veteran's family. — Photo vov.vn
HÀ NỘI — Retired brigadier Lê Thanh Sơn, better known as Ba Ngay, has spent the last 17 years building more than 1,000 houses for poor veterans, all paid for from his pension and fundraising efforts.
The 82-year-old lives in Châu Thành District, the Mekong Delta province of Hậu Giang, and prefers people call him “a man of the southern region” rather than brigadier.
He said as long as his health was still good, he would keep doing charity work for veterans, particularly to help his comrades have better houses.
For veterans who died, Sơn said he would help their families build better places to memorialise them.
After retiring in 2001, Sơn visited his comrades who fought with him years ago. Sơn was a commander of Cần Thơ Province (now Cần Thơ City) Military Command and former head of Tây Đô battalion.
Sơn said such visits showed him the living conditions of veterans, some of whom were struggling to make ends meet.
“I saw my comrades living in makeshift houses. Some couldn't afford to send their children or grandchildren to school,” he said, adding that he was sad to see families of veterans get wet during the rains because their roof leaked.
“All members of the families tried to sit in a corner of the house to avoid wetness,” he said.
“Such images pushed me to do something for them,” Sơn said.
Since 2003, Sơn started spending his retirement pension and calling for donations to build concrete houses for veterans.
Sơn and some other veterans established a group of Tây Đô battalion veterans to raise funds to help their poor comrades.
During the early days of the group’s operation, they mobilised about VNĐ10 million (US$430) to build a house.
When more and more donators heard about their charity work, the donations increased, allowing them to spend VNĐ20 million and now up to VNĐ 40 million on each house.
Up to now, as many as 1,031 such houses have been built and handed over to poor veterans.
For the last 17 years, whenever hearing about veterans facing housing difficulties, Sơn travelled to their houses to observe, making estimates to build them a new house and searching for donators to join in.
“When construction of the charity houses started, I am happy as if it’s my house,” Sơn said.
When construction of a house is completed, he often bursts into tears of joy as his comrades have better places to stay.
Colonel Lê Trọng Nghĩa, a member of Tây Đô Battalion Veterans Group, said the charity housing programme launched by Sơn attracted the attention of many people.
During wartime, soldiers lived and fought together. Some were willing to be at the frontline to give others a chance to live and during peace, veterans once again wanted to help each other overcome difficulties, he said.
Colonel Nguyễn Thanh Phương, chairman of Cần Thơ City’s Veterans Association, said giving poor veterans a house helped reduced their life burden a lot.
Phương said Sơn cared a lot about the lives of veterans and Sơn was willing to help anyone who is facing difficulties.
Sơn usually told us to help disadvantaged ones, Phương said.
Sơn said he kept in his mind the images of soldiers who were with him in the line between life and death in battles.
When he was a soldier, he was helped by people and teammates, Sơn said.
The old veterans said from now until his last breath, he hoped to continue to help more veterans.
“I hope all of them would have a good house to live, no worry about rains or heat anymore,” Sơn said. — VNS