Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eight Hundred Heroes

The cable TV station reran Eight Hundred Heroes (1977) the other day. For a war movie it might not be listed as a perfect production, but the plot, as it was based on a true story, touches me every time I saw it.

October 1937 saw the end of Sung-Fu Campaign of the Second Sino-Japanese War which broke out following Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937 as Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, the supreme commander of Chinese forces, decided to pull out all Chinese troops out of grand Shanghai area to defend Nanking, the capital city of the Republic of China. To cover and buy time for the withdrawal, a 420-strong battalion of 524th Regiment of 88th Division, one of the few crack outfits equipped and trained by the German, was order to hold a warehouse near Suzhou River as long as possible. Lt. Col. Xie Jin-Yuan, 524th's deputy commander, was given the task to lead these men. Words were deliberately spread out claiming this battalion a rear guard of eight hundred men to bluff the Japanese. From October 26 these men defended their positions fearlessly repulsing countless attacks and smashed Japanese dream to annihilate China within three months. Yang Hui-ming, a brave girl scout, swam across the river and brought the isolated troops a flag of the Republic of China. The flag that was raised high at their position boosted the morale of Chinese citizens of Shanghai City and let the world witness the Chinese determination to resist Japanese invasion. Four days later Xie and his men were ordered to lay down their arms and evacuate to a British concession where they were detained for four years. During their detainment, Xie tried hard to maintain discipline and order. He wanted his men not ever to forget themselves as Chinese soldiers. Unfortunately he was assassinated by four traitors in April 1941. He was later promoted major general posthumously to honor his gallantry and dedication to his duty.

After Japan attacked on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, these men became POWs and suffered inhuman treatment by the Japanese. A handful of them managed to escape and rejoin the China Expeditionary Force fighting Japanses in Burma. Some were shipped to Rabaul, New Guinea by the Japanese to build airfields and died of maltreatment, malaria, and hard labor there. The remains of the deceased were brought back to Taiwan almost sixty years later and are now being worshipped at the Martyrs' Shrine in Taipei City. The last man of the "eight hundred" died in December 10, 2010 in Shanghai, China.

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