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War veteran devoted to martyr's cemetery in Jilin

By ZHANG YANGFEI | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-24 12:40
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Xu Zhenming discusses his experiences in revolutionary wars in his home in Tonghua, Jilin province, in March 2017. WANG HAOFEI/XINHUA

Although 95-year-old veteran Xu Zhenming has limited mobility, he often likes to go out in his wheelchair and visit Yang Jingyu cemetery, located in Tonghua, Jilin province.

Xu, who was recently awarded the honorary title "Role Model of Our Time" by China's top publicity department, participated in many wars and won many medals of military merit. After retiring from the military in 1958, he could have chosen an easy and comfortable life, but he made a decision to guard the cemetery of a martyr whom he aspired to emulate from the moment he enlisted.

Xu first joined the Eighth Route Army in 1942 before turning 17 years old. While training, he learned the story of General Yang Jingyu, the commander-in-chief of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army who had sacrificed his life two years before, and chose Yang as his personal hero.

"I was particularly moved after hearing the story and vowed to learn from General Yang, defend our home and our country and fight till the end," he told Xinhua News Agency.

During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), Xu said he was motivated by Yang's spirit and fought bravely. During a battle in Shandong province, he was hit in the back by a cannonball but refused to quit fighting, earning him a first-class merit.

After the war ended in 1945, he fought in the War of Liberation (1946-49) and then the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53), earning another first-class merit after that war ended.

In 1958, 18 years after Yang's death, Xu retired from the military and was transferred to the civil affairs bureau in Tonghua. At that time, he was offered three positions-director of a guesthouse, director of an orphanage and director of Yang Jingyu cemetery.

Xu chose the third option without hesitation.

"There are many people across the country who admire General Yang Jingyu. I am guarding his cemetery not only for myself, but also on behalf of my comrades who sacrificed. When I stay in the cemetery, I feel like I am still with my comrades," he told Xinhua.

When Xu first arrived at the cemetery, there were only four workers, and the land was bare. Xu led them to repair the cemetery and plant trees.

One of the workers told Xinhua that they climbed steep hills into the mountain to get pine trees. They took on the "hard and dangerous task" of transplanting the trees by slowly digging up soil and then dragging each pine tree one by one down the hills.

Wanting more people to remember the history and heroic spirits of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, Xu also led his team deep into the forests to trace the footprints of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army and collect materials to record the history, which later contributed to the establishment of the memorial hall for the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army at the cemetery in 2004.

Xu retired from the cemetery in 1980. Worried about its upkeep, he tried to persuade his son, Xu Yongjun, who was looking to start a career, to take over his job.

Though he had grown up in the cemetery with his father since childhood, Xu Yongjun initially had never planned to work there, but three lengthy talks with his father finally persuaded him to take up the guardianship.

Now a national patriotism education base, the site receives more than 100,000 visitors annually. Until a few years ago, Xu still gave revolutionary lessons to students and soldiers and shared moving stories and personal experiences.

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