2008-05-21 01:26:07 GMT 2008-05-21 09:26:07 (Beijing Time) China Daily
When Chen Hong's call finally got through to his father-in-law, he was told that his wife, 10-month-old son and five other relatives had died in the quake that hit Sichuan province last Monday.
But the soldier has no regrets about not going back to his hometown of Hongbai in Shifang county, one of the worst hit areas in the quake, to be with his family when the disaster struck.
He had chosen instead to help with rescue work at an elementary school near his military camp that had collapsed and buried more than 100 students.
"My heart is bleeding when I think of them, especially my son. How I wished to dig out their bodies with my own hands!" Chen said.
"But I am a soldier and health worker many other people are waiting for us to save them. If my family in heaven sees what is happening here, I believe they would understand."
Chen said he was very worried when news of the quake reached him last week. His mother-in-law had once told him that Hongbai town is quite vulnerable to quakes.
"I kept dialing home but nobody answered; communications were cut off," he said.
Thoughts of his family were never far from his mind at the school disaster site where he chose to stay on and help save victims.
Chen and other soldiers saved more than 60 people trapped in the ruins after seven hours' clawing at rubble with their hands, pickaxes and cranes.
When they got back to camp, it was midnight. Chen worried so much about his family that he immediately walked more than 50 miles to get home.
In the darkness, Chen got more anxious as he saw the injured being continuously carried out. He finally arrived home, only to find that the five-story building had collapsed.
"Wang Dan! Ziheng!" he cried out to his wife and son. But nobody answered. Neighbors told him his family was at home when the quake hit. Chen ran about the ruins, listening, wishing for even a weak cry for help.
Thinking that they must have died, Chen decided to save others. He bowed to the ruins and rushed back to join his fellow soldiers.
Chen devoted himself to rescue work in Longju elementary school in Shifang, where 30 injured were saved. After that, he hurried to another middle school to help until 10 pm.
When his comrades asked him to take a rest, he answered with tears in his eyes: "Since I cannot save my own wife and son, let me save others; only that would alleviate my anguish."
On May 14, two days after the quake, his father-in-law received his call and told him that his wife and son had been confirmed killed. His two cousins, nephew and uncles also died. Chen could not stop crying.
However, in the afternoon, another call for help came from the Shifang People's Hospital, asking for illumination sets and tents. Chen again applied to join the rescue efforts.
When talking about his family, Chen unconsciously clenched his fists. Tears rolled down as he showed a picture of his wife and son, the little boy smiling in his mother's bosom.
His army superior later praised Chen for his heroism.
"Many other families suffered too in the disaster, and what I have done is what a soldier should have done," Chen said.