"The handshake and words of encouragement on that day (Sunday) was the last time we met," Major General Nguyen Duc Toi, former deputy chief of staff of Military Region 4, recalled.
Toi remembered Major General Man as someone who was "willing to fight and not afraid to suffer difficulties since he was a young officer."
On 4 p.m. Sunday, a working team led by Man arrived in Phong Dien Commune, Phong Dien District, Thua Thien Hue Province.
After assessing the situation, the group immediately moved to the Phong My Commune, located upstream O Lau River. About 2 km from National Highway 1A to Vinh Nguyen Road, their vehicles were forced to stop as strong flows had caused heavy flooding.
Major General Man immediately got off the car and waded through the floodwaters to supply necessities to local residents.
"What have you eaten for the past few days?" he asked locals as he handed out boxes of instant noodles to more than a dozen households on Vinh Nguyen Street.
Next, on hearing that Quang Dien District in the lower reaches of the Bo River was deeply flooded, he asked the military command of Thua Thien Hue to take him to the area for an inspection. After surveying the large flooded area, Man asked that all available forces are deployed to rescue people, saying the 4th Military Region will support these efforts with resources and equipment.
On Monday morning, his working team went deep into the flood-hit area in Quang Dien and Phong Dien districts to continue supplying daily necessities to affected residents. The same afternoon, after receiving information that at least 10 workers at Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant were buried by a landslide, Man organized a 21-member rescue team to verify the incident.
It was raining heavily then and Road No.71 leading to the hydropower plant inside the jungle had at least 10 areas that have been hit by serious landslides and four streams were in spate. The team continued to push ahead despite these difficulties.
At around 11 p.m. the same day, the team was only around 13 kilometers from the reported accident site, but it was very dark and raining heavily. They stopped at ranger station 67 to rest for the night.
About an hour later, a landslide of rocks hit the station. Only eight members of the team managed to escape and the rest were buried in the rubble.
On Thursday, the bodies of 13 members of the rescue team were found and were taken in ambulances to the 268 Military Hospital in Hue. Soldiers lined up on either side of the road and solemnly saluted as Major General Man’s ambulance passed.
For locals, the final image of Man is of a man standing in the middle of the rain and floodwaters with his wet helmet, jacket blowing in the wind, solicitously enquiring about their plight and taking action to help them.
Major General Man (2nd, R) stands in the middle of the rain with his comrades while inspecting anti-flood task in Phong Dien Commune, Thua Thien-Hue Province, October 11, 2020. Photo courtesy of the 4th Military Region.
Comrades and friends remember Major General Man as a straightforward, compassionate man not given to pulling his rank.
His high school classmate Doan Ngoc Lam, deputy chief for the Commission of Organization of the Quang Binh Provincial Party Committee, said: "This is so shocking and painful."
Man was a member of the 14th National Assembly, voted from Quang Binh's Minh Hoa District.
Cao Thanh Hai, head of the district’s Commission for Information and Education, said that each time he met voters, Man evinced particular interest in beneficiaries of special policies - poor households and lonely old people. He had proposed many mechanisms to improve the lot of the ethnic minority communities, Hai said.
Minh Hoa is notorious for suffering frequent flooding, and its Tan Hoa Commune is in a low-lying area surrounded by limestone mountains that create a natural hollow. When there is sustained rainfall, rising water levels in rivers and streams worsen the flooding. The flooding that lasted from October 7-10 submerged hundreds of houses in 0.5 to 4 meters of water.
Once Major General Man familiarized himself with the distinctive characteristics of the area, when heavy rains lasted for hours, he asked his soldiers to inspect and direct the relocation of people to floating houses built as shelters for the flooding season.
"When the floods isolated Tan Hoa Commune, Man and many others came in canoes to inspect the situation. Looking at many houses fully under water with only their roofs sticking out, he instructed subordinates to slow down the canoes, saying if they moved fast, big waves can break the rooftop tiles," Hai recalled.
Colonel Trinh Thanh Binh, Commander of the Quang Binh Border Guard, knew Man for seven years. He was "a straightforward, practical and decisive person," Binh said.
While working in Quang Binh, the two met mainly in relation to military and defense work. Colonel Binh said that every time he was about to hold exercises in preventing and mitigating natural disasters, Man told him to make a detailed plan so as to avoid any negligence that could affect the safety of soldiers and officers. If there was something that did not satisfy him, Man would speak plainly about it, Binh said.
In his last call with him, Man had discussed details of the revised Border Law that will be debated at the next National Assembly session in the coming days, Binh recalled.
Man, Commander of the Military Command in Quang Binh Province, was promoted Major General in May 2019.