By Zhao Xiquan, Huang Yongcang, and Lin Lin
Tian Guanglan and her husband, Hu Dongtao, a 78-year-old veteran, did not expect that their story would go viral on the Internet with continuous good wishes from netizens more than two weeks after the group wedding.
"Now we've become 'Internet celebrities'!" Tian said smilingly. Their home is in the Hujia village of Juxian County in east China’s Shandong Province. In October 1969, she and her fiancée Hu Dongtao, who was then an active serviceman in a PLA unit in Jiangsu Province, set a date for their wedding, after having been in love for four years. However, days before their wedding, the unit Hu Dongtao was serving kicked off a major combat-preparedness operation and the bridegroom-to-be couldn't return home for their wedding on schedule.
42 days after their scheduled wedding day, approved by the PLA unit, Tian went to Jiangsu to reunite with her bridegroom. Hu’s unit was conducting field training then, and the soldiers set their camp in an orchard. There was no decent accommodation but a ranger’s shed in the orchard for them to spend their wedding night. Remembering this, Hu still feels sorry for Tian today.
The couple was ultimately reunited in February 1973, when Hu retired after the nine-year service and returned to his hometown. Despite the sweet life, Hu still has a regret deeply buried in his heart – he owed his wife a decent wedding 53 years ago.
When the staff from the Veterans Affairs Bureau in Juxian County visited Hu's home at the beginning of 2022, Hu expressed his desire to give his wife a unique wedding, making up for the regret.
On follow-up visits, the staff of the Veterans Affairs Bureau discovered that, as many as 201 veterans in Juxian missed their weddings because of performing military missions, and many of them expected a chance to make up for the regret. "Let's hold a group wedding for veterans to realize their dreams." The Juxian People's Armed Forces Department, in conjunction with the Veterans Affairs Bureau and local publicity institutions, started the wedding preparation.
The first group wedding was held for Hu Dongdao and his wife as well as the other six veteran couples on May 20 at a local tourist attraction in the county seat. Among the seven veterans, the youngest is nearly sixty years old and the oldest is eighty.
"Decades have passed since we retired from the army, yet our country has never forgotten us," Hu said excitedly.