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A woman's search for her love lost in battle

Update: October, 18/2015 - 11:34
A long wait: Phung Thi Hue spent nearly haft a century tirelessly looking for her lover's remains. — Photo

Phung Thi Hue has looked tirelessly for her husband's remains for decades, after she promised him she'd wait for him, "no matter how long". Nguyen Van Hai reports.

Phung Thi Hue's fiance died on the battlefield more than 40 years ago, and she spent much of the last four decades travelling thousands of kilometres across the country, searching for his remains.

'Out of sight' did not mean 'out of mind' for Phung Thi Hue, whose love for her fiance remained true and unchanged.

Born in Hoi Tien Village in the central province of Ha Tinh in 1950, Hue voluntarily joined the army when she turned 18. She was assigned to a group of voluntary youth Brigade 557, C18N5, and crossed the Truong Son Range to fight on the southern Binh Tri Thien battlefield.

During the four years she served in the army, she received assistance and support from her comrade Dang Xuan Tho, who was in the same army. Love blossomed gradually between two young soldiers, and together they dreamt of the day the country would be reunified and they could start their own family.

Then Hue was wounded in a fight and sent back home, while Tho became a student of the Maritime Vocational School (presently known as Vietnam Maritime University in the northern city of Hai Phong).

More than a year later, Tho's mother and younger brother were killed in a US bombing raid. Determined to take revenge for his great loss and to fight for the South's liberation, he joined the army again.

The day he left for the battlefield, he had just enough time to ask Hue to wait for him.

"Set your mind at rest. No matter how long -- five years, 10 years, 20 years or my whole life -- I will wait for you," were the last words Hue said to her beloved.

Besides letters, Hue also sent Tho a pillow that had an embroidered image of two doves perched on a blossom peach branch. Tho sent his beloved a comb. Their love grew stronger in silence and waiting, despite the distance and time they spent apart. Both of them longed for victory day so that they could be united and live a happy life together.

One fateful evening, while waiting for his letter, Hue suddenly received tragic news that Tho had died on the southern battlefield. Hue felt so much pain that she fainted on the pillow that she had half-sewn in preparation for the day she would be united with Tho.

After that day, she asked his family to accept her as their daughter-in-law and took care of his old father. Though she could not become Tho's wife for a single day, she always considered herself a part of his family, and fulfilled the duties of a daughter-in-law.

Hue went to work in the morning, returned home by night and recollected those memories of the war that were the most wonderful and beautiful moments of her life. Though Tho had passed away, Hue kept her promise that she would love and wait for him for the rest of her life.

Tireless journey

However, one thing that tormented her was that Tho was still unaccounted for. Hue worked hard to save money for the journey she would make to search for her lover's remains.

"Many years passed by. What I longed for the most was to meet him in my dreams to tell me where he was lying, so that I could bring him back home either on his death anniversary or on the war martyrs' day," Hue said. "But it was all in vain."

"I intended to search for Tho's grave from 1976, but I did not know on which battlefield he had died. The death notice had just bare words that soldier Dang Xuan Tho had sacrificed his life on January, 26, 1973, on the southern battlefield. However, I still travelled to all the former battlefields and started my search.

"I always believed that one day he would somehow show me the place where he was lying to bring him back home."

Devotion: Phung Thi Hue has set up an altar for her fiance, Dang Xuan Tho, at her house, since his sacrifice on the battlefield. — Photo

She spent nearly 40 years travelling through the central province of Quang Tri and Central Highlands and the southern provinces of Dong Nai and Tay Ninh. She also visited Truong Son, Viet Lao, Road 9 cemeteries and also the border of Truong Son forest, but Tho's remains were nowhere to be found.

"I cannot remember how many cemeteries and places I have set foot on. Many relatives advised me to give up the journey that might take my whole life, but I was not discouraged," Hue said.

She said the most difficult part of her journey was when she recklessly crossed dangerous jungles and streams in the central highlands. She also had to sleep in the forests sometimes, and ran out of food and money, but fortunately was helped by the local people.

There were so many challenges, but none could dampen her spirit and determination to find her fiance.

In her 40-year journey, it is estimated that Hue travelled up to thousands of kilometres, showing the enormous love she has for Tho.

She could not set her mind at ease as long as she didn't find him. She went to Quang Tri battlefield every year, read newspapers, watched TV and listened to the radio to take notes of any clues, especially those from the columns of Nhan Tim Dong Doi (Comrades Missing).

Hue's tremendous efforts finally paid off, when she found Tho's grave in the faraway southern province of Tien Giang on August 22, 2010. Together with Tho's three younger brothers, she was able to bring his remains back home, which was also the happiest moment of her 40-year journey.

Tho now rests in the graveyard of Xuan My Commune in Nghi Xuan District in Ha Tinh Province, which Hue can frequently visit to take care of her beloved's grave. — VNS

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