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General turns peacemaker

By May Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-09 08:29
Chinese officers check Bernard Leoffke's parachute before he jumps with Chinese paratroopers in Wuhan in 1984. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

Decorated US commander Bernard Loeffke was wounded by Chinese troops during the Vietnam War. He soon changed his views on the country and its people, May Zhou reports in Hollywood, Florida.

A sad-faced toy gorilla, dressed like a boxer with the national flags of the United States and China on each side, sits at the entrance of the apartment in Hollywood, Florida, where retired US army major general Bernard Loeffke resides.

"China and the US have had turmoil, and (the toy) is all banged up. It's got gloves on, and it says I want a hug," Loeffke says humorously.

His apartment is filled with memorabilia - medals, awards, family and military photos, art pieces from around the world (including China) - and a world map showing all the places he has visited.

Loeffke pointed at a photo of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: "I had 34 of my soldiers who died when I was a commander and about 200 wounded. I don't want any more soldiers on my walls," he says.

Loeffke is the recipient of four Silver Star medals, five Bronze Star medals and a Purple Heart for his military skill and valor on the battlefield. The former Special Forces officer once ran through enemy fire to rescue a fellow soldier.

The general was himself wounded by Chinese and Vietnamese troops trained and equipped by the Chinese military during the Vietnam War.

His first indirect contact with China may have left him injured, but his subsequent interactions changed his views of the country and led him on a path to promoting friendship and understanding between the two peoples.

Loeffke visited China for the first time in 1973, as director of the White House Fellows. During that trip, he shook hands with Chinese general Xu Xin, who was wounded by US fire as the commander of Chinese volunteers during the Korean War. The two generals became firm friends.

That experience led Loeffke to view the Chinese not as the enemy but as people to get to know and build up a friendship with.

In 1982, Loeffke became the first US army general assigned to the US embassy in China, as defense attache. Over the next three years, he made many Chinese friends and became fluent in Mandarin.

He also became the first foreigner to jump with Chinese paratroopers.

Loeffke had been trying to arrange the jump for almost two years without success before the then US secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger made a request on his behalf when he visited China in 1984.

When the Chinese expressed concern that Loeffke might be injured, Weinberger replied: "I have hundreds of generals in the Pentagon. If he dies, I will send you another one."

"I started training with the Chinese army within two weeks," Loeffke recalls. "The Chinese wanted me to jump with my own US parachute packed in the US. My answer: I want to use a Chinese parachute packed by Chinese riggers. I wanted them to know that I was trusting them with my life."

Loeffke laughed as he pointed at a photo in which a few Chinese military men were checking his parachute.

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