In Remembrance of the Border War

Translated by: Phạm Đoan Trang

Dear, if you ever go to the border
you’ll find plenty of rose myrthes
shining their colour of purple
in that windy and sandy land.

They are as purple as the colour of faith
in the heart of the young soldiers
in the land of the border…

These beautiful lyrics of the song “Border Rose Myrthes” by songwriter Minh Quang arose from the inspiration he found in a 1979 trip to the northern border of Vietnam. The song would later be completed in 1984 amid tensions between Vietnam and China. Not long before his trip, on February 17, 1979, first sounds of gunfire echoed in the border area between the two countries, marking the return of Chinese invaders 190 years after their defeat in Dong Da, Ngoc Hoi (now part of Hanoi).

500,000 Chinese soldiers and civil defend servants from 9 combat corps of the PLA, together with many other military units, were deployed. At 5am, February 17, 1979, they opened fire, launching a large offensive across the entire northern border of Vietnam. In the brief war which lasted for only one month, the Chinese made an incursion deep into Vietnam, capturing some bordering cities including Lang Son, Lao Cai, Cao Bang, slaughtering approximately 10,000 civilians, destroying all crops and properties of the local people.
Within that savage war, at least 10,000 Vietnamese soldiers were killed, and they lay down over the hills, along the streams, in the trenches of the border area. Thousands of soldiers were injured. They were unyielding in fighting to defend national land and pushing back forces of invaders at last on March 18. Today, their graves can be found in every cemetery in northern provinces. Many remains have not been repatriated or even found, and the dead soldiers remain sand and dust permanently.

Those heroes, for many reasons, have not been commemorated during the past 34 years. Young generations today have almost no idea about the 1979 border war and about the soldiers, possibly of the same age as they are now, who sacrificed the life for the sake of the country.

We must never let those dead heroes fall into oblivion.
On February 16, 2012, a group of Vietnamese intellectuals called on people to take activities in commemoration of the soldiers in the border war. “Would you please, in every house, every market stall, every shop, every class and school, every cemetery, in any sacred place across the nation, burn an incense, place a flower or a garland with dedication reading, ‘In commemoration of the beloved sons and daughters of the motherland, who passed away in the defensive war against Chinese invaders in the northern border, the southeastern border, the Spratly and the Paracel islands. Would you please carve these words on the door of every house of us?’”
In support of this call, we urge people to use rose myrthes as a symbol to commemorate our soldiers who slipped away in the border war of 1979. Given the famous song by Minh Quang about young soldiers, “Border Rose Myrthes”, we believe these flowers should be regarded as the symbol of border soldiers, which has been engraved on Vietnamese hearts for dozens of years.

Kindly place rose myrthes on the altar of your home on February 17, decorate your home with rose myrthes, bring rose myrthes to the soldiers’ cemeteries, print rose myrthes on your T-shirts, pin rose myrthes on your clothes, use rose myrthes as your Facebook avatar, sing about rose myrthes, and about those dead soldiers.

And, more than ever before, please let the whole nation keep thinking about them as a way to demonstrate our deference to history and to become a mature people.

 Trịnh Hữu Long - Phạm Đoan Trang


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