By Xinhua writers Li Laifang, Luo Yufan
LUDIAN, Yunnan, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- More than 100 soldiers and residents in Longtoushan Township, many of them in tears, bade farewell to Xie Qiao Friday, a 24-year-old soldier whose body was retrieved four days after he went missing on a rescue mission.
A team of armed police rescuers discovered a body floating on a barrier lake at around 9 a.m. Thursday, and it was soon confirmed to be that of the border policeman.
Xie went missing Monday when he swam a barrier lake in search of survivors after a strong earthquake struck Longtoushan in southwest China's Yunnan Province Sunday. He was only five meters from the shore when he was struck by a falling rock.
A brief and solemn farewell ceremony was held at midday as a minibus carrying Xie's body made its way slowly through the township. A local resident scattered paper money, a tribute to the dead, along the road.
A border police officer spoke to the crowds, who stood silent on both sides of the street. "Xie Qiao is our hero and our comrade-in-arms. He comes back..." Soldiers saluted, some bursting into tears. Villagers, many of whom did not even know who Xie was, showed their respects.
Xie was among the first rescue troops to arrive in Longtoushan, at the epicenter of the 6.5-magnitude quake which has killed at least 617 people.
Xie was one of many soldiers who dug out villagers buried in the debris of their own homes and transported them to makeshift treatment sites along precipitous mountain roads.
On Monday afternoon, a father and his son asked Xie's rescue team to help search their wife and mother. Arriving at the village, a barrier lake blocked the way.
"We are here to rescue people. I am young and can swim. Let me swim the river first," Xie said before he jumped into the river.
A native of eastern Fujian Province, Xie joined the army in 2008. He became a medical worker in a border police hospital after graduating from military college. His parents feel rightly proud of their handsome, intelligent son.
"He has done very well in the army. He is frugal and sent us money every month," said Xie's father Xie Xishuang.
Troops are widely loved and admired by Chinese citizens. When the quake struck, thousands hastened to the affected area. They have played a major role in the rescue.
(Xinhua correspondents Li Fang and Li Huaiyan contributed to the story)