TAIPEI: War veteran Tung Chung-hua fought in the three great battles of Kinmen between China's Communist Party and Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) from 1949 to 1979.
The 87-year-old, then a soldier in the KMT army, survived them all and lived to tell his story.
Born in Jiangsu Province in China, Tung joined the KMT army when he was only 15 years old. He came to Taiwan with the KMT in 1949, after the party lost the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party and has since made Kinmen his home.
The island, just 2km off China's southeastern coast, was the frontline of major clashes between both sides from 1949.
Of all the battles Tung fought, the one he said he can never forget took place the night of Aug 23, 1958, when China's Communists launched a massive bombardment on Kinmen.
“I was taking a shower when I heard the artillery shells firing. The Communists fired more than 60,000 artillery shells in two hours. Many had struck our military base and killed quite a few high-level military officials who were eating dinner at the time,” said Tung.
He recalled that he was immediately deployed to transport military supplies while trying to keep himself alive amid the heavy bombardment. He can still remember that night as if it was yesterday, he said.
“We fired artillery shells to the sea and sunk several warships from the Communists. There were such heavy exchanges of fire at night that they almost looked like fireworks,” he recounted.
In the heavy conflict, soldiers like Tung had to carry rifles and grenades with them even while they slept. The battle lasted 44 days, and fear was not the only hardship they struggled with.
“We had no water for showers. We were given only one water bottle each and we had to use that water for drinking and washing our body and feet. At the time, the army ran out of coal to burn, so we had to burn our shoes for heat,” he said.
Nearly 600 soldiers from KMT were killed during the 44 days of intense combat in which nearly 500 thousand shells were fired. But their sacrifices have not been forgotten. At the August 23 Artillery Battle Museum built in 1988, those killed in the battle had their names carved on the walls to commemorate their courage and honour.
Despite the heavy casualties, the KMT’s troops stood firm against the onslaught. Sixty years on, cross-strait relations have gone from war to peace, and feelings towards old foes on the other side of the strait have improved.
“We used to be enemies, we wanted to kill each other, but now we’re like brothers. We are very courteous with each other. I always enjoy going back to the other side of the strait, especially in Xiamen. I have many friends there.”
Although Tung spent most of his life fighting China's Communists, he still calls himself Chinese. His final hope, he said, is for Taiwan and China to reunify - even if he may not live to see it happen.