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Pan Jinliang, a farmer from Bazi village in Yunnan province"s Mengdong township near the Vietnam border, said he and his neighbors will always remember Du Fuguo.
"Du sacrificed for us. We will never forget him," Pan told Yunnan Daily recently.
Pan, who lost both his legs in landmine explosions on his farm - the lingering residue of China"s past conflicts with Vietnam - said younger generations will no longer be haunted by landmines thanks to the heroic acts of Du and his fellow soldiers, members of a landmine clearing unit of the People"s Liberation Army Ground Force.
Du, a 27-year-old staff sergeant who is now disabled, was named on Thursday as a national role model. He met with President Xi Jinping after attending a conference earlier in the day in Beijing at which 500 individuals and organizations were commended for their contributions to disabled people.
The new title is the latest honor the staff sergeant has received since Oct 11 when he lost his hands and eyes in a landmine clearing accident. After detecting an unexploded hand grenade he asked his partner to stand back and then began to defuse it. The grenade exploded and he was rushed to the hospital, but his injuries could not be repaired.
Du is now in a military hospital in Chongqing, undergoing rehabilitation.
Born in November 1991 in Guizhou province"s Meitan county, Du joined the PLA Ground Force in December 2010 in a border defense regiment in Yunnan. In June 2015, he volunteered to take part in a massive landmine clearing operation that started in November that year.
The three-year operation, which was ordered by Xi and involved 402 officers and soldiers, was completed in November. It was the third large-scale effort by the Chinese military to get rid of explosives left by a series of border clashes between China and Vietnam that flared up from the late 1970s to 1989. The first two clearance operations were in the 1990s.
The area Du was assigned to was a major battleground during the border conflicts and was Yunnan"s most dangerous minefield. Tens of thousands of mines and other explosive devices were left behind when combat ended.
Du knew nothing about how to clear unexploded ordnance when he joined the operation so he spared no effort to learn and practice.
After three months of training, he was able to handle more than 10 types of landmines and also became skilled at using a mine detector.
During Du"s time in the clearance unit, he entered minefields about 1,000 times, detected and defused about 2,400 mines and explosives and handled at least 20 dangerous situations. He was one of the top landmine sweepers in his unit.
For his heroic deeds, he was awarded several national and military honors and was given a first-class merit citation by the PLA.
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