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