CHIANGRAI TIMES – A former private, who once held a bright future in the military, can now barely support himself after being injured in the southern unrest. If it were not for the bomb blast that hit him four years ago, Mangkornthong Limprasertkul might have joined the Army Non-commissioned Officer School and become a young corporal.
Today the 23 year old Chiang Rai native is just an ex-army private who sells lottery tickets at Phramongkutklao Hospital in Bangkok. He has poor memory, speaks slowly and his right side is too weak to function due to injuries from the blast in Krong Pinang district of Yala on May 28, 2008, that injured him and five other soldiers who were escorting local teachers.
Mr Mangkornthong took the brunt of the damage as shrapnel was imbedded in his head and he has struggled to make a living after the injuries forced him to give up his military career early.
His struggles are just a microcosm of the suffering dished out by the insurgency. While more than 4,300 people have been killed in the South since the insurgency renewed in 2004, many more have been injured and maimed, suffering permanent and disabling injuries that they must live with for the rest of their lives.
Mr Mangkornthong’s story is one of those stories.
After the bombing, he was taken to Yala Hospital, and later transferred to the better equipped Phramongkutklao Hospital.
There, he remained unconscious for three months and has been under the care of his 45-year-old father Nopparat ever since. “At that time, the doctor said there was no hope. As a father, I could not afford to lose my son. I asked the doctor to do whatever it took. I let the doctor do the brain operation. I took the chance,” Mr Nopparat said.
Surgeons removed shrapnel and dead brain tissue. That cost Mr Mangkornthong some of his memory and speech, equilibrium, and strength on his right side. He can move his right arm but cannot raise it. He cannot raise his right hand or move his right fingers. His skull is dented.
“But I am lucky that my son still remembers me,” Mr Nopparat said.
As a teenager, Mr Mangkornthong dreamed of being a soldier. At the age of 19, he quit vocational college to join the army. After finishing a two-year term as a private, he was planning to seek admission to the Army Non-commissioned Officer School.
After enlisting in the army, Mr Mangkornthong was sent to Chiang Mai and then Yala.
After just three months in Krong Pinang district, his squad was hit by a bomb during an ambush. The bomb missed his team but he suffered temporary hearing difficulty and chest pain. The explosion that disabled him occurred seven months later.
He still has a soldier’s heart. “I want to be a soldier. I will go to the South again. I want to be there and I am not afraid of bombs.”
This is always his reply whenever people ask if he wants to return to the military service, his father said.
Mr Mangkornthong always stands up whenever he hears a military song but he is unable to salute.
His father stopped selling fruit in Chiang Rai and stays with him in a flat near Phramongkutklao Hospital. In a visit to injured soldiers at the hospital, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn asked the hospital management to allow Mr Mangkornthong to sell lottery tickets there.
His father stays with him at the hospital as he cannot calculate change.
Mr Nopparat is concerned about the future of his son.
Mr Mangkornthong depends on his father alone as his mother died in 1998.
He receives 200 lottery tickets for sale in each draw.
He pays 74 baht per ticket and he sells them for 110 baht.
“I wonder how many more privates will be injured and disabled from their duties in the three southern border provinces and will end up like my son,” Mr Nopparat said