Friday, November 13, 2009

The 1st of October 1995 was quite a busy day at the General Sir John Kothelawala Defence Academy (today elevated to Kothelawala Defence University - KDU) despite the fact that it was a Sunday. It was none other than any reason that a new batch - the Intake XIII of Officer Cadets including the first ever 04 Lady Service Cadets of the KDU history - was being enlisted. The dream of the youth hood, becoming Officers of the Armed Forces, was what filled the hearts and minds of those young ladies and gentlemen. The cherished dream of their youth gave them an immeasurable joy, ardent enough to overcome the nagging sorrows of parting with their beloved family members and friends.

Despite all the hardships of military training, the feeling of being trained under one shelter and one flag as Officer Under Trainees of the Tri Services in accordance with the noble motto of the General Sir John Kothelawala AcademyFor The Motherland Forever”, kept us together with a strong sense of esprit de corps'.

We all learnt to share the joy and sorrow alike among ourselves. Without an iota of doubt, by drilling ourselves into such an attitude, we have been able to perform exceptionally well as a batch and as individually as well in whatever the situation we have been in for the past 14years and we continue to do so for the rest of our lives.

We all cherish the memories of such irretrievable time of our life as trainee Officers of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. We chose the Profession of Arms at a time when most of our contemporaries started fleeing abroad for the fear of their lives under the pretext of continuation of higher studies. But we were all aware of the fact that in the end we all had to die. Yet, dignity and freedom had no price.

Though we now belong to the Army, Navy and Air Force, we started learning the 'Alphabet' of the Profession of Arms under one shelter and one common flag, where we were all moulded into Officers who vowed to serve the motherland with dignity and honor. We were of the stand that loosing an eye, a leg, a hand or even life can never be matched with loosing an inch from this precious land.

Today (15th) as we, the 13th Intake of KDU, prepare to celebrate the 'annual get together' to mark the passing of the 14th mile post in our 'Long March', we feel that it is incumbent on us to look back and ponder a while as how we have forced so far throughout our tour of Duty, especially since we departed from KDA. So far 10 of our comrades have paid the supreme sacrifice in the name of territorial integrity, sovereignty of the motherland and the freedom and dignity of the citizens of Sri Lanka.

We do hope that those valiant Sons of Mother Lanka will be happy about their sacrifices by seeing the end of the savagery and barbarism of the LTTE and moreover, by seeing the rays of hope, which had been awaited long,  emerging over the horizons of this Emerald Island - Sri Lanka. On top of our Roll of Honor is Capt. AKPS Kumara - VIR who fell prey to a booby trap laid by the enemy at Paranthan. Then it was Capt MG Weeratunga - SLE, Capt TR Saino - GW, Capt AM Kuruppu – CR, Capt TAUK Mudalithennehelage  - CR, Capt - VGS Siriwardana - SLLI, Capt KAC Karunarathne - VIR, LCdr MDDL Ranjan - SLN, Capt CS Wijewicrama - SR and LCdr ONMR Panditharathna – SLN - who died in an enemy suicide attack during a confrontation to  become the last of the martyrs of our batch.

As we go to the war struck areas where the guns are silent now, and watch the waves lapping at the shore and set eyes yonder towards the horizons and the terrain inland with Palmyra trees stabbing the skyline, we try to imagine what it must have been like for those young men, for the past few years, to have fought battles out at sea, and  charge out across the enemy defences amidst an array of mines and booby traps mixed together with all kind of enemy atrocities, and to give up their chance to grow old and instead make the ultimate sacrifice. You served our nation with courage and an unmatched commitment to the country.

We pay our utmost tribute to those fallen heroes of the Intake 13 KDU for sacrificing their precious lives for their motherland especially at the prime of their youth, which each one of us enjoys today. Death is inevitable, we all will have to go when our time comes, but those who have died for their motherland will live on in our hearts and minds forever.

The memories of our good times together still bring tears to our eyes more than our eyes can hold. The laughter and merriment we shared together will dwell long in our ears. The nation is forever indebted to our fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives for our country. They are among the best of our country and a shining example to all in our nation. It’s an honor to say that we are your batch mates. There is no group of people that we hold in higher regard than our fallen heroes. Because of you we live in the greatest, freest, proudest country in the world.

Even though you are not among the living today, and no statues of you have been erected yet, the memories of the noble deeds you have done for us, for the country and its people to live freely, will surely be cherished deeply in the hearts and minds of the grateful people of Sri Lanka.

The flag that draped over your casket during your last journey is the same flag that you fought, bled, and died for. We feel you in every breath we take and in every flower we smell and touch.

Remembrance is a golden chain
Death tries to break, but all in vain.
To have, to love, and then to part
Is the greatest sorrow of one's heart.
The years may wipe out many things
But some they wipe out never.
Like memories of those happy times
When we were all together.

Sadly missed and fondly remembered by the Officers of the Intake XIII KDU. 

It was around 1500 hrs on 9th November 2006 P 416 & P461 – two fast attack craft commanded by Lt ONMR Panditharatne & Lt NGCD Jayatilake, RSP came ashore after an extensive sea patrol off the Eastern coast of Chalai. These Officers-In-Command of the two craft were renowned to be very dedicated, fearless and experienced Fast Attack Craft (FAC) Commanders. With a very high sense of duty and responsibility they instructed their crew to prepare the craft for sea to face any unforeseen and urgent eventuality, before they left the craft at one of the piers in the Kankasanthurai Naval harbour.

No sooner they refreshed themselves and relaxed with two hot cups of tea at the wardroom, the ‘action alarm” prompted them back into their usual ‘sea rigs’, and off they bolted towards their Dvoras without delay. Having sailed and fought for the past many years they knew that every second mattered to the FAC that relieved them from patrol now at sea and involved in an ‘attack imminent’ situation. It was around 1630 hrs that P416 & P 461 joined the other FAC which were setting into battle formations to take on a cruising LTTE cluster of 10 – 12 attack craft and 03 suicide craft heading for KKS harbour from the then enemy held coast of Chalai.

The two battle hardened crews of P416 & P461 took up stations in the battle formation and all SLN FAC decided to take on the enemy head on before they closed in on KKS harbour where few ships with essential cargo for humanitarian missions and some military cargo were lying. If the explosive laden – suicide craft broke through the Naval defence line and cruised into the Naval harbour all hell would have broken loose. Then the SLN craft, sticking to their primary classic role as the first line of defence of Sri Lanka, decided to open fire at the enemy craft coming at them in full swing with suicides lined up couple of meters behind them. It was the sea tigers’ usual strategy to cover their deadliest weapon – suicide craft, from the Naval gunfire until SLN craft are hit & stranded with less or no manoeuvrability, with few guns operating effectively, and then unleash their deadly suicide craft. This is a threat which no Navy in the world has ever encountered in an open Naval combat with any kind of Naval force in the entire Naval history recorded so far.

In a Naval battle no commander of a vessel ever asks his comrade sailors to go forward, but  takes them forward with him. He keeps his head up always despite the deadliness of the volume of fire projected at him from the enemy's heavy & medium calibre machine guns. He takes decisions standing in the line of fire with the last protection of Armour on an unfriendly medium – water. More importantly he is the last to leave the craft when everything fails, or usually will take the noblest manner of death as a captain of a Naval Warship going down with the sinking vessel. Such was the fierceness of a Naval Battle the Sri Lanka Navy fought for the past 3 decades to liberate this country from the clutches of LTTE barbarism.

As the sun set in the Northern seas of Sri Lanka on that fateful day, many lives went down, making the supreme sacrifice for their motherland. Lt Mudeep Panditharathne, NRX 0954, was always an honourable Officer and died a Naval Officer’s noble death when P 416 settled down in the Davy Jones's Locker (Seabed) off Thondamanaru, KKS and Lt Chinthaka Jayathilake, Commanding P 461showed sheer courage and comradeship by attacking the advancing enemy fleet in an extraordinary feat of bravery. P 461 along with its Commander and crew went down fiercely protecting P416 which had lost its controls and was moving at a very low speed.
Survivors of P416 later recalled how their brave OIC Lt Mudeep Panditharathne ordered them to leave the craft and decided to stay inside the craft few seconds before it was rammed by a LTTE suicide craft. P416 managed to destroy the first suicide craft which approached them but fate prevented them from doing the same to the latter.

LT. Mudeep Panditharathne was born on 25 January 1975, into a family of four. His younger brother had had a tragic death when Mudeep was very young. Mudeep had his primary education at Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, Udapola and Mayurapada College, Narammala. After obtaining 6 Distinctions and 3Credits at O/Ls he entered Maliyadeva College, Kurunegala for his Secondary Education where he excelled in Academics and obtained 3As and 1B at A/Ls in Bio Science stream with a very high certainty of entering the Medical College. But his childhood dream of becoming an Officer in the Profession of Arms made him decide to join the 13th Intake of the General Sir. John Kothelawala Defence Academy (now elevated to Kothelawala Defence University – KDU) on 01 October 1995.

As a trainee Officer at KDA he showed signs of becoming a very promising Naval Officer when he secured a second class lower in the Bachelor of Science (Defence Studies) degree. He was selected to undergo his Sub Lieutenants’ Technical Course in Bangladesh in year 2001/2002 & did his Long Navigation Course in India in year 2005/2006.

Lt Chinthaka Jayathilake was born on 13 November 1976, into a family of six where he had one elder sister and two younger brothers. Chinthaka had his education at Vidyartha College, Kandy where he excelled as a keen sportsman and represented Vidyartha in Cricket. He joined the Navy on 04 August 1997 as an Officer Cadet of the 28th Intake of the Naval and Maritime Academy. He was known for honesty, comradeship and above all bravery both by his contemporaries and seniors as well.

Both of these, brave officers were to tie the nuptial knot in year 2007 but fate denied them of such happiness. Both Lt. ONMR Panditharahna and Lt NGCD Jayathilaka along with their additional Officers Lt PGA Geethanga (2IC – P 461) and Lt AS Gamage (2IC – P 416) and the crew members of P416 & P461 who sacrificed their lives in the attack have been recommended for the Weera Wickrama Vibhushana (WWV) medal for their acts of gallantry & distinguished conduct in the face of  enemy attack.

These valiant Officers had one thing in common - they considered dignity was more precious than life. They fought for freedom, comradeship, pride and honour and by many means they were unmatched to many of us who are among the living today. Three long years have passed without their valuable companionship yet the beautiful memories of these true heroic sons of our time will be deeply cherished in the hearts and minds of the grateful people of Sri Lanka.

Some gave all and all gave some
Some stood true for our land so true
And some had to fall…
When we always think of them
Let us think of all our liberties
And recall
That some gave all… (Sir Billy Ray Cyrus)

Missed every day and remembered every moment by Officers of the 13th Intake (KDU) and Officers of the 28th Intake (Naval & Maritime Academy)