During training to throw live grenades, a nervous recruit tossed one into the middle of several soldiers. After pushing them aside, Zhang held the grenade to his body and was killed with the explosion.
"When I got the news, my world was shattered, but I had to soon put away my sadness," Ma recalled. "I needed to be strong enough to support the family."
In 1971, she sent her eldest son Zhang Yanbin to join the army at the age of 17.
"I have waited for this day for five years," she told the leader of the troop receiving her son. "I'm sure his father would be happy to see his son in uniform."
Zhang Yanbin didn't disappoint his mother. He performed very well in the army in the fields of military technology and cultural quality.
In 1973, shesent her second son Zhang Yanchun to the army at the age of 15.
Misfortune struck the young woman again.
In 1974, Zhang Yanbin became seriously injured during military construction, making him permanently blind forever.
At about the same time, Zhang Yanchun became seriously ill and finally died in the winter of 1979.
After the funeral, she sent her youngest son to the army to be an armed police soldier.
"In my mind,soldiers are the most glorious," she said. "I feel quite proud and happy without any regret, even though I have suffered much pain."
Ma also wished to donate her corneas after death, so she may help some soldiers who are in need.