War’s echo

Sol­dier loses both hands and eyes from a blast while clear­ing mines along Viet­nam border

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Global Times

“Step back, let me do it,” 27-year-old Du Fuguo told his partner Ai Yan be­fore a land mine ex­ploded in front of him.

A month later, the words still echo in Ai’s mind.

In a land mine clear­ance op­er­a­tion along the China-Viet­nam boarder in Yun­nan Prov­ince, South­west China on Oc­to­ber 11, Du chose to han­dle the com­plex sit­u­a­tion by him­self af­ter ask­ing his partner to step back. The ex­plo­sion took Du’s both hands and eyes.

“One in­jured is bet­ter than two in­jured,” Du said in an in­ter­view with China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion (CCTV) a month af­ter the ac­ci­dent. His eyes were still cov­ered with gauze.

The field where Du was work­ing in that day is lo­cated in the jun­gle of a re­mote moun­tain in Malipo county of Yun­nan Prov­ince. Af­ter the ex­plo­sion took place in the af­ter­noon, Du was se­verely in­jured and in a coma.

“I saw blood all over his face, and his hands were both gone,” Ai said in the in­ter­view. “His anti-ex­po­sure suit was shred­ded into pieces, and found six me­ters away from him.”

“He was in a great pain. I saw him grind­ing his teeth and shiv­er­ing, but heard not a sin­gle groan,” said Zhang Bo, deputy cap­tain of the land mine clear­ance team. A mil­i­tary doc­tor gave Du first aid be­fore Du was sent to a hos­pi­tal in Malipo county.

On the sec­ond morn­ing, Du was trans­ferred to a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal. The hos­pi­tal or­ga­nized a spe­cial med­i­cal team, and Du’s sit­u­a­tion be­came sta­ble af­ter three hours of treat­ment. How­ever, the sur­geons re­moved both of Du’s eyes.

Du had to face the tough re­al­ity of be­ing blind and miss­ing his hands with a strong mind when he was ly­ing in the ward.

His fam­ily, the mil­i­tary and the hos­pi­tal chose to con­ceal the news from him at the begin­ning, out of fear that the sad news might in­flu­ence his re­cov­ery. The hos­pi­tal fi­nally de­cided to tell him the truth on Novem­ber 17 when he was get­ting bet­ter.

Du was sur­pris­ingly calm when he heard the truth. He even tried to re­as­sure his par­ents and a psy­chol­o­gist that he is fine.

“I was pre­pared for the bad news even be­fore they told me the truth,” Du said.

Mak­ing the land safe

Du joined the army in 2010. Five years later, he ap­plied to work in a land mine team that was un­der­go­ing the third large-scale land mine clear­ance along the Yun­nan sec­tion of the China-Viet­nam border. The op­er­a­tion kicked off in 2015.

“I am hon­ored and proud to take part in mine clear­ance work, be­cause I ap­plied for and signed in for the job, and I got ap­proved,” said Du.

“But I had no idea about how dan­ger­ous the work was un­til I saw the hand­i­capped vil­lagers along the boarder due to land mines.”

“Vil­lagers get in­jured in their own crop fields, so I want to re­store a safe land­scape and bring seren­ity to the vil­lagers,” Du said.

Du was mar­ried sev­eral months be­fore the ac­ci­dent hap­pened. Wang Jing, his wife, showed the Global Times their wed­ding pho­tos. They show a hand­some and con­fi­dent face full of joy and cheer.

Lethal mine­field

Thirty years ago, this was the front line of the Chi­nese-Viet­nam War. Land mines were the most ef­fec­tive weapon to im­pede the en­e­mies. Soldiers would spend their time lay­ing mines in the short time when both sides weren’t shoot­ing.

Mine­fields along the China-Viet­nam border in Yun­nan are deemed the most dif­fi­cult to clear in the world. A great num­ber of land mines of all types are dis­trib­uted in this area.

With the pas­sage of time, the land shifts and sinks, which makes the sit­u­a­tion in the fields com­pli­cated and hard to an­a­lyze.

Land mine re­moval per­son­nel are in­jured fre­quently.

Peo­ple along both sides of the boarder have a vivid vi­sion about where the “death zones” are. Not only could land mines be buried in the soil, but also in a bush, on a tree or even in­serted in a cliff­side.

A vil­lager liv­ing in the area said, “No one has dared to en­ter that field in the past three decades.”

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent maimed Du, peo­ple won­dered why high-tech de­vices such as robots or mine clear­ance ves­sels aren’t used.

In re­sponse to this ques­tion, Zhang said the land­scape of the moun­tain­ous area was not suit­able. There is no road ex­cept for steep hills that are hard to walk along, let alone bring bulky ma­chines.

The only way to search and re­move land mines there is with hu­mans on foot.

Un­fin­ished work

Over the past three years, Du has en­tered mine fields more than 1,000 times. He has re­moved more than 150 tons of bombs, 400 land mines and han­dled over 20 emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the CCTV.

When Ai went to visit him in the hos­pi­tal, Du asked whether the team fin­ished search­ing that field.

“We will fin­ish the work he left be­hind, we help him to fin­ish,” said Ai.

On the af­ter­noon of Novem­ber 16, the last field was handed over to the lo­cal res­i­dents, mark­ing the of­fi­cial com­ple­tion of the third large-scale land mine clear­ance op­er­a­tion in the Yun­nan sec­tion of the China-Viet­nam boarder.

Most of Du’s team­mates signed up for the land mine clear­ance work in the Guangxi Zhuang Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, South China, in­clud­ing Ai.

“My team­mates will fin­ish the work I didn’t fin­ish, and I will sup­port them be­hind the scenes,” Du sobbed.

On Novem­ber 18, Du was awarded the first-class merit ci­ta­tion by the

mil­i­tary.

Soldiers are look­ing for and re­mov­ing land mines along the Viet­nam border in Yun­nan Prov­ince. In­set: Du Fuguo is proud of his work as a land mine clear­ance team mem­ber.

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