Charles R. Jordan, a British World War II survivor, threw a cardinal red rose into the East China Sea Thursday afternoon to pay tribute to more than 800 fellow soldiers who came to the seabed aboard the Lisbon Maru 63 years ago.
"Sixty-three years is not long enough to release me from the torment of the tragic memory," the 87-year-old veteran said, with tears sparkling in his eyes.
If not for the sinking of the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese prisoner ship, Jordan's life would never have intersected with the Dongji Islands and those fishermen on these tiny islands in east China's Zhejiang Province.
During the shipwreck, nearly 200 Chinese fishermen rescued more than 380 British prisoners, with Jordan on the list. Altogether 847 died in the shipwreck and 970 survived.
Enlisted in 1936, Jordan served in the Royal Artillery as a gunner. He became prisoner of war during the fight against the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, and survived shipment to Japan aboard the Lisbon Maru.
A survivor revived with green tea & sweet potatos
When Jordan met seven Chinese fishermen who engaged in the saving Thursday, he gave them each a big and long-lasting hug. It was probably the first and last opportunity for this war survivor to meet the fishermen in person.
"I'm getting old. Finally, I'm able to return with the help of old and new comrades to say thanks on behalf of war survivors and come here to pray for your humanity and bravery," Jordan said.
On Sept. 27, 1942, Jordan and more than 1,800 other British prisoners of war boarded the Lisbon Maru, leaving Hong Kong for Japan.
"You lived for today and never thought about tomorrow," Jordan recollected the days aboard the Lisbon Maru on Thursday during his2-hour voyage to the Dongji Islands, where he was rescued 63 years ago.
"We were put into three holding cells and I was in No. 2. There was not enough food and even not enough room for us to sit. We had to take turns to sit and sleep," Jordan said.
The ship was torpedoed by a US submarine off the Zhoushan Islands in Zhejiang, on Oct. 1, 1942.
"I cannot swim but fortunately I was able to hold a raft. Then I was picked up and put into a fishing boat and taken to a small island which now I know is called Dongji." However, the appearance of the fishermen who had saved Jordan has faded due his poor physical condition at that time.
"No food, no water, and no air for two full days, I was finally revived by green tea and sweet potatoes provided by the Chinese fishermen," said Jordan, holding a pipe in his left hand.
"Little did I think then that I would survive, as I floated in the sea, and could get away from the Japanese who had chosen to kill so many of my comrades."
According to Tian Qinghua, vice-chairman of the Zhoushan Social Science Association, nearly 200 local fishermen with 46 fishing boats rushed to the site and pulled 384 British soldiers from the water.
Except for three soldiers who managed to escape by hiding in a cave, Jordan and the other rescued soldiers were recaptured by the Japanese and taken back to Japan and were not freed until the war ended in 1945.
Only 200 of the 600 fellow British soldiers in Hold 2 managed to survive the sinking of Lisbon Maru.
"I'm here to see where the 'root' restarted"
Jordan and his wife Evelyn will celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary next year. They've got five children, two sons and three daughters. Alan and Richard, the eldest and the yongest children, have come along with their parents.
Richard, who runs a garage back in England, said, "When I first heard about my father's experience aboard the Lisbon Maru ten years ago, I was amazed how much this ordinary old man had gone through."
With several medals, awarded for his long service in the army and in the Far East, glittering on his uniform, Jordan said, "I'm just a common soldier. So many British people at home and aboard fought so bravely and even sacrificed their lives during World War II."
"If my family is a big tree, my father is the root. I'm here to see where the 'root' restarted." Alan said.
Jordan, now a great grandfather, presented a family photo frame to the Zhoushan authority. Amid the photos is a note that reads:
"These photos are a record of the life of Royal Artillery Gunner C. R. Jordan, 360109. They picture his wife, children and grandchildren. All this was made possible because of the bravery and kindness of the people of the Zhoushan Islands who rescued him and many others on the 2nd October 1942, after the sinking of the Lisbon Maru. He and his family live through their deeds, and are forever grateful."
(Xinhua News Agency August 20, 2005)