FEATURE: Joyful reunions across the sea

KHANH HOA (Viet Nam News/ANN) - As the sun rises over the shimmering sea and seagulls fly overhead, it’s time for Ship No 571 to leave Cam Ranh Military Port for Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago in Khanh Hoa Province.

But this isn’t a normal journey.

Instead of ferrying soldiers across the sea, Ship No 571 is filled with hundreds of mothers, fathers and wives to visit their relatives, who are soldiers on duty on the archipelago.

Dozens of these trips happen every year, bringing joy from the mainland to the dutiful soldiers.

The Spratly archipelago consists of more than 100 small islands, reefs and coral reefs. The islands are seen as a shield to protect Vietnam and the soldiers here are responsible for protecting the country’s sovereignty.

Previously, it was rather difficult to travel to Truong Sa, but it is now more convenient and less of an arduous trip.

Nguyen Thi Ha Trang, wife of soldier Nguyen Ngoc Tu, hailing from Hung Yen Province, who is on duty at An Bang Island, said although food and water on the island was not as readily available as on the mainland, soldiers offered them fresh vegetables, fish and other delicious food.

“Like other relatives, I always feel happy on the island. We cherish every moment we spend together while we are on the island to feel the challenges and sacrifices of the soldiers,” she said.

“We plant vegetables and go fishing with the soldiers during the trips,” she said.

Captain Nguyen Van Tien, political official of An Bang Island, said it was important to help soldiers’ relatives come to visit them.

“We have set up a ‘happy room’, a private place for soldiers and their visitors, so they can enjoy reunions in the most comfortable way.”

Do Ngoc Truong, who served on Da Lat Island a year ago, said he was touched to learn his father was visiting.

“I couldn’t sleep the night before my father’s visit. I just hoped the time would pass quickly,” he recalled.

He and his father hugged each other tightly when they were reunited, he said.

“My father has told me to complete my glorious duty to serve the army for a long time and deserve the love of the family and the homeland,” he said.

According to Colonel Nguyen Van Thang, an official from Naval Zone 4, organising the trips to Truong Sa makes soldiers and their loved ones happy, helping encourage the former to fulfill their mission.

He also said that administrative procedures have been simplified to help the relatives visit the archipelago as soon as possible.

"We’ve tried to shorten the time travelling on the sea to allow soldiers’ relatives to have more time on the island, even an extra hour,” Thang said.

All travel and accommodation expenses of relatives are covered by the State, he said.

Those chosen to visit the soldiers are all of good standing in their communities, according to officials of Naval Zone 4.

The relatives of soldiers, especially young wives, all have a sense of self-reliance and optimism. They always strive to overcome difficulties in their lives to take over the husband’s duty in family and society without any complaints.

The 26-year-old Tran Thi Ngoc Bich, from Hai Phong City is one example.

To take the trip, she had to ask her parents in-law to look after her two children and travel nearly 2,000 kilometres to visit her husband on Thuyen Chai C Island.

Bich has faced a lot of obstacles because her husband is far away and her house is far from her parents and parents-in-law. She works as an accountant at a company near home so she can bring her kids to and from school.

The couple got married in 2010 but her husband has been in Truong Sa for four years, Bich said.

Her husband was not home when she gave birth to their second daughter and it was a week before he met the child when he came back on annual leave.

"As a wife of soldier who is always far away from home, I’ve determined that I must be a good wife and mother,” she said.

In the same situation, Phan Lan Anh, from Nam Dinh Province, said she has taken care of her children and parents-in-law so her husband doesn’t have to worry while on the island.

“It has been nine years since we celebrated New Year’s Eve together,” she said.

During the journey to Truong Sa, each relative of the soldiers may have had different feelings, but they all shared love for the soldiers and wanted to help them complete their tasks by supporting them from afar.

They also agreed that the living conditions of the soldiers have improved remarkably. The islands all have electricity, fresh water, green vegetables and fresh food.

The most impressive thing during their stay on the island was their time in the "happy room" which gave more strength to soldiers in performing their tasks.

After nine days, the reunion between the soldiers and their relatives which was full of joy, smiles and tears had come to an end, but the memories would last forever.

For Bui Thi Ngan, from the northern province of Quang Ninh, she was glad that her son Nguyen Ngoc Nam had grown up after a year of training in the army.

During her stay on the Truong Sa Lon Island, the mother and the son confided a lot in each other.

Nam promised his mother that he would strive to enroll in the Vietnam Navy Academy for long-term service in the army, Ngan said with a twinkle in her eyes.