opinion

Father’s Day Greetings to the Children of our Nation

18 June 2018 - 147   - 0

The second Sunday of the month of June is considered as Father’s Day. We all celebrate this special day with our children. On this day I would like to share my thoughts and affection with the children whose fathers sacrificed their lives for our tomorrow and for the peace of this country.

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By: Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne, WV, RWP and Bar, RSP, VSV, USP, ndc, psn Chief of Defence Staff

 

The second Sunday of the month of June is considered as Father’s Day. We all celebrate this special day with our children. On this day I would like to share my thoughts and affection with the children whose fathers sacrificed their lives for our tomorrow and for the peace of this country.

 

This story is about a few of those fathers and their children whom I know.

 

Samantha

 

Twenty-five years ago, in Fort Hammenhiel, Karinagar, two officers and forty-two sailors, all volunteers from the Navy underwent a special training to start a new unit in our Navy known as the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) or the Naval Commando Unit.

 

SBS was formed to fight against LTTE Sea Tigers in lagoons and waterways. I was fortunate enough to command this unit and train my men to be the “Bravest of the Brave” in the Navy. I was a young Lieutenant Commander at that time and my Second-in-Command was an officer more than 12 years junior and younger to me. He was Acting Sub Lieutenant Samantha Waruna Gallage, hailed from Dehiwala, was an excellent swimmer and a fearless fighter. Samantha was also an excellent boat handler and a top marksman.

 

We trained together for three months in the Karainagar lagoon with the intention of taking over boat operations in the Jaffna lagoon from our small detachment at Nagadevannturai.

 

On 2nd November 1993, our naval detachment in Nagadevanthuri and Poonaryn Army Complex came under heavy attack from the enemy. One by one small detachment around the main Pooneryn Army Complex fell into the enemy’s hand like a pack of cards and more than 700 military personnel were trapped in Poonaryn.

 

As there was no possibility to reinforce the besieged Army Complex from the air, Military Commanders decided to sent reinforcement troops through an amphibious landing. My unit SBS, the brand-new Naval Special Force was tasked to carry out the first wave of landing.

 

Landing at an enemy beach is a suicidal task. If you want to see how it looks like, please watch first half an hour of Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film “Saving Private Ryan”. It’s bloody and chaotic. There is no cover for you until you get some cover by crossing the beach area. Enemy obstacles and gun positions will be there to slow down your advance and there is a 90 percent probability of getting killed or injured during this crossing.

 

Orders were issued; Samantha and I were commanding two Inshore Patrol Craft (commonly known as Water Jets) which carried fifteen Commandos each, followed by fiberglass boats carrying six Commandos each. My orders were very clear to Samantha. I told him, that I will land first because I want to assess the situation.

 

Navy Gunboats started bombarding the beach early morning with their 37mm guns, and we were given clearance to do the landing with the lull of heavy gunfire. Our two Water Jets raced towards Poonaryn beach. Two machine guns of enemy started firing towards us and suddenly Samantha increased the speed of his Water Jet and landed first and nullified enemy machine gun position with his grenade launchers.

 

I was very angry with Samantha. My orders were very clear as I told him that I will be landing first. However, I was very happy that he destroyed enemy gun positions in quick sessions with no casualties to us. The landing was successful and we established the beachhead for our landing craft to beach and reinforcements poured in. Rest was history. Poonaryn landing was successful. The SBS was hailed as the “Bravest of the Brave” in the Navy.

 

After accomplishing our given task successfully, we returned to Karainagar that evening to rest and relax. That night I asked Samantha why he disobeyed my orders and landed first. He said with tears in his eyes, “Sir, I was afraid that you would be hit by enemy machine gun fire! I did not want you to get killed”. I told him that he would have had the same fate. He said, “Sir, I can die. That’s not a concern. My father and mother will cry. But, not YOU! You have a wife and a son (my son was one year old at that time).

 

You should live Sir! I want to protect you, Sir! (Ironically, I was the only married person in the SBS at that time.)

 

This was the caliber of officers and men with whom we went to war. We were fortunate Commanders to have officers like Samantha as our subordinates. They were ready to sacrifice their lives to protect us.

 

One day I saw Samantha going through the Navy List. Navy List is a book which denotes the seniority and qualifications of naval officers. I asked why he is referring the Navy List and he said as per the seniority gap between two of us when I become a Rear Admiral, he will still be a Lieutenant Commander. I promised him if I made to Rear Admiral one day, I will take him as my Flag Lieutenant [Aide-De-Camp (ADC)]. He was very happy and he had mentioned this even to the SBS senior sailors.

 

In 1995 Samantha got married to Nishika, a young lady officer of the Navy who was a teacher at our Naval Pre-school. Samantha died in an SBS and Army Special Forces joint operation at Nallathannithuduvai in Chalai, Jaffna on 20th October 1996. His only son, Rumal was only eight months old when he sacrificed his life for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our Motherland. He was awarded the Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya for his valour and bravery during this operation. His wife Nishika died of cancer in 2011, leaving young Rumal alone in this World.

 

Today 25 year old Rumal is following his higher education in Australia. He is missing his father on ‘Father’s Day’. He was always proud of his parents, especially of his father. His family today is the SBS.

Keeping my promise to Samantha, I never took a Flag Lieutenant when I became a Rear Admiral. Even though Samantha is dead, I kept my promise to him. The seat and table of Flag Lieutenant next to my office are kept empty as an honour to my buddy who was ready to sacrifice his life for my protection. As the Navy Commander and now as CDS, a four-star Admiral, I do not have a Flag Lieutenant. I have only Personal Security Officers (PSOs) but not a Flag Lieutenant. Lieutenant Commander (SBS) Samantha Gallage, WWV, RWP and Bar, RSP will remain as my Flag Lieutenant until the day I retire.                                                                

Rumal

 

 

 

Samantha

 

 

 

Samantha

 

 

 

Rumal

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

Bhathiya

 

We studied together at the Royal College. He was two batches senior to me, but we were in the same Royal College Cadet Platoon. He was our cadet Sergeant in 1978 Platoon. Bhathiya was a very cheerful person. He was smart and liked to wear fashionable clothes. When we all were wearing baggy shirts and trousers issued by Cadets Corps, Bhathiya had his own uniforms stitched to his size. Since school-time he wanted to join the Army, and he was very excited about it.  He joined the Army as an Officer Cadet into the first Short Service Commission batch in 1979 and was trained at the Indian Army Officer Training Academy, Chennai and subsequently, joined the Artillery Regiment of Sri Lanka Army.

 

As young officers, we both worked together in Mannar. I was the Officer-in-Charge of an isolated naval detachment in Thalaimannar, and he served in the Brigade Headquarters in Talladi, Mannar. We used to have security meetings every fortnight at the Brigade Headquarters headed by our boss at that time, Brigadier Daya Wijesekara. As the land route from Talimannar to Mannar was not secure, I used to travel by a speedboat. The meeting was usually held on Saturdays. After the meeting my Arty friends, Bhathiya, Roshan, Athula, Bandula (Logistician) and CLI friend (Trinitian) Chandana will approach Brigadier Daya and get permission for me to return to Talaimannar on Sunday. Brigadier Daya handed over the Brigade to then Brigadier Srilal Weerasooriya (who later became the Army Commander and our High Commissioner in Pakistan). We worked very hard as young officers and seniors were very fond of us.

 

So, the evening party on Saturday will start at eight ‘o’ clock after strong warnings from our Battery Commander (BC) at that time Major Thibbatumunuwa (rose to Major General rank later), Major Nissanka Wijesinghe (rose to Major General rank and appointed as the Chief of Staff of the Army), Major VR Silva (rose to Major General rank later) and Major Mahesh Samaraweera (rose to Major General rank later) not to drink too much and not to break glasses. However, after convincing them of good behaviour, the party starts and Old Arrack and beer will flow till late into the night.

 

Those were the good days that we had in 1985/86 in Mannar. The only soft spot of Bhathiya had been his sweetheart Sashi, a Vishakian from school time. He will speak for hours explaining how beautiful she is and his future plans for their married life. When we were fighting LTTE and merrymaking in the Officers Mess in our free time and not very serious about our future, he had plans for his future and wanted to live a happy life.

 

Bhathiya was a prolific reader of Military History. He used to learn about Artillery units of other Armies. He trained his gun crews very well. Apart from looking after guns, he was given an additional task to escort Mannar-Anuradhapura logistic convoys, which he loved to, perform despite enemy landmine threat. He always volunteered to escort convoy in one of the two legs, either from Mannar to Murunkan or from Murunkan to Madawachchiya/Anuradhapura. Whether he is training his gun crews in Thalladi or doing convey duties, he used to wear his uniforms very smartly. His boots were always “spit and polished” and shining like a mirror. His men were very fond of him. He always trained his men to be professionally very competent. He was an exemplary military leader to his men.

 

One of these days Bhathiya will come to my detachment on a holiday. He enjoyed driving his open jeep in Mannar roads. I used to take him to Sand Banks off Talimannar. We leave after sunset in our boats and camp out in the Sand Bank for the night. On a moonlit night, while drinking Rockland Lemon gin with fresh lime soda, (we used to get four bottles of local hard liquor per month on duty-free rate. At that time the most preferred brand was Rockland Lemon Gin), eating deep-fried jumbo prawns, sitting on the edge of the sandbank with feet in sea water, and he will start advising me on the importance of a married life, which was Greek to me those young days. Not like us, he had a clear vision and wanted to live a long and a happy married life.

 

As he got married to Shashi, who was his school time sweetheart and relative, the daughter of Army Commander General Hamilton Wanasinghe, VSV, USP, ndc (who later became CDS and Defence Secretary), he never used this connection to be away from War. Few days after his wedding, he went back to the War front. He was always brave and patriotic.

 

Bhathiya and Sashi had two lovely daughters, Druveesh and Sachini. Much later in service, when I ask about his two daughters, his eyes used to light up and used to say “I am their hero”. Bhathiya paid supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle on 22nd April 2000.

 

I was not able to attend his funeral as I was involved in a special mission in the Eastern area and I asked my wife Yamuna to attend. There were two funerals of distinguished Royalists who had made the supreme sacrifice on the same day at the Borella general cemetery. They are; Major General Percy Fernando of the Commando Regiment and Brigadier Bhathiya Jayathilake of the Artillery Regiment. Both paid supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle.

 

My wife who is considered as a strong lady in the military circles cried for days recollecting how Bhathiya’s two daughters wept during the funeral. She says no child should ever go through such an agony in their life.

 

We were invited to the weddings of both the daughters of Bhathiya last year. We saw the void Bhathiya has created to his loving wife and two daughters with his untimely demise. Pictures of young Bhathiya with Shashi and daughters were flashed during both the Weddings as a tribute to him. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of all the Sri Lankan children. And we shall never forget him, Brigadier Bhathiya Jayathilake, RWP, RSP, IG, our Royal College Cadet Platoon buddy.

 

 

Bhathiya ,Sashi and two daughters

 

 

 

Bhathiya

 

 

 

                  

 

Thibba

 

Squadron Leader Thejananda Thibbotumunuwe, RWP was an Air Force transport pilot, and we used to call him as “Thibba”. He was a distinguished old boy of Ananda College, Colombo and followed his elder brother’s footsteps and joined the Armed Forces (his elder brother was in the Army and I have served under him in Mannar).

 

You will never forget Thibba’s face. He was chubby, round faced and always with an evergreen smile. Thibba was a great transport pilot who usually flew AN-32 or Y8 transport aircraft of the Sri Lanka Air Force. His main job was to carry troops and supplies from Rathmalana to Palali Air Base in Jaffna and transport military personnel going on leave from Palali to Rathmalana. He knew the importance of his task and always ensured that every one waiting to go on leave, some after three months would be taken care of. His job started at sunrise from Rathmalana and used to do three or four shuttles, Rathmalana to Palali and back till sunset.

 

There had been a number of incidents where brave Air Force pilots were victims of LTTE shoulder- fired Surface to Air missile attacks at that time, but Thibba and his brother pilots never stopped maintaining the vital air link to the Jaffna peninsula by air.

 

There were no secure road links from the South and sea transport was difficult and time-consuming. Sometimes it would take two days of sea passage from Trincomalee to KKS. So flying even under missile threat was the only viable option to transfer battle casualties from Jaffna to Colombo for immediate medical care. Thibba was exposed to enemy missile threats at least six times per day when landing or taking off his transport aircraft at the Palali airbase. Hundreds of brave soldiers who were severely injured during enemy confrontations were saved, thanks to Thibba. Whether, there is a seat or not in the aircraft, he never left me at Palali and had even taken me in the cockpit a couple of times. He was such a nice person and a true friend in uniform.

 

When I was in the SBS in 90s and flying from one place to another, more frequently to Colombo from Jaffna and back for important meetings/ briefings and debriefings at the Naval Headquarters, Thibba used to tease me by saying I am gaining more flying hours than him as the SBS Commanding Officer. That is Thibba. A Jovial fellow, who had no fear of the constant threat posed by the imminent enemy missile fire.

 

I was once taking the last flight from Palali to attend my son’s birthday. Knowing the importance of my presence with my son and family that evening, to my surprise, a SLAF Jeep was waiting for me to travel to my home from Rathmalana when we landed at the Rathmalana Air Base late on that evening. Thibba had arranged it in consultation with the SLAF Base Commander Rathmalana. That’s how Thibba showed that he cared for his friends. A true friend understands family values!

 

Thibba had three sons named Menuka, Diluka and Chamika. Thibba was not fortunate to see his younger son as he was born in April 1996. They were lovely children and he was so proud of them. One day in 1995, I took a passage from Palali to Rathmalana in his aircraft. After taking off from Palali and when we were cleared from enemy missile threat, he invited me to the cockpit. We were talking of our boys all the way to Rathmalana. My son was of the same age of Thibba’s elder son Menuka. They were four years old at that time. He wanted to teach them swimming as Thibba was also a good swimmer. That’s the last time I met Thibba.

 

On that fatal day, 18th November 1995, Thibba flew his Y-8 aircraft as usual from Rathmalana to Palali with vital defence cargo. He was approaching the Palali airfield at a very low altitude from seaward to avoid enemy missile fire. Terrorists were in a boat, and they targeted Thibba and the aircraft went down into seas off KKS. His co-pilot (Squadron Leader Kumbalatara)

explained later how Thibba tried to land the aircraft on water. He helped his co-pilot to eject from the sinking aircraft, but Thibba died from drowning. His bravery was visible even during the last minutes of his life. His sole intention was to save his brother officer!

 

Time flew fast. My son took up competitive swimming representing Royal College, and he was of the same age of Thibba’s elder son Menuka. One day I accompanied my wife Yamuna to a swimming meet to see how my son performs. My wife was always behind my son, and she explained to me about timings of the event and the tough competition my son was going to face. There were two boys from Ananda College on the starting blocks. Yamuna said they are very good, and they are “Thibbotumunuwe” sons.

 

I silently wept for Thibba. All three sons resemble Thibba. Round face, chubby and strongly build. Thibba was not there to watch his sons perform so well in swimming, the wish that he had as a loving father. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of all the children of our Nation.

When they grew up, Thibba’s elder sons wanted to join the military. Menuka joined the Air Force as a pilot (now deployed in South Sudan UN Peacekeeping mission), Diluka is now serving in the Navy, after four years of basic training in China and Chamika the younger one is

pursuing higher studies. All of them are doing extremely well and if Thibba lived, he would have been still serving in uniform. The void created by his demise to his loving wife and three sons is unimaginable. We will never forget Thibba.

 

 

Chamika

 

 

 

Diluka

 

 

 

Neluka

 

 

 

Thibba

 

 

 

      

 

Nalaka

 

Late Commander Parakrama Samaraweera, WWV, RSP was an outstanding Naval Officer. He studied at Kingswood College, Kandy, Captained the College Rugby Football team, a top athlete and a great basketball player. With a towering height of 6’4” he was a giant. I would say a gentle giant.

 

His friends called him “Nalaka”, I do not know how he got this name. He joined the Navy in 1979 (one year before me) and won the “Sword of Honour” presented to the Best Cadet Officer at the end of one-year basic training at the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee.

When our batch, one year junior to him, met him in the Academy, we were fearful of him due to his height and rough voice, but soon we realized he is a gentle giant.

 

My close association with Nalaka came in the Rugby field. First, he insisted me to take part in Inter Command Rugby tournament to play for the Training Command team. Even though I had very good basic skills on Rugby by attending Mr. Summa Navaratnam’s Rugby training sessions on weekends at the CR and FC grounds (thanks to my late father), I have not played much competitive Rugby at Royal.

 

Nalaka (who was our Captain in Training Command team) insisted that I should pair him as the second row forward in our Training Command team. I obeyed him reluctantly. To my surprise, we played well and clicked well as the second row forwards, and I was also selected to the Navy Rugby pool.

 

Nalaka was very happy. As under trainees at that time we would not get the luxury of being at the Walisara Navy camp with other Navy Rugby pool members. We had to travel by train from Trincomalee to Colombo for matches on weekends and had to return to Trincomalee in the night mail train to be at the Parade Ground by 0730 on Mondays.

I liked the idea, rather than doing cleaning of messes and running around the Naval Dockyard on weekends, this is a much better option to travel to Colombo to play matches on weekends, have a beer after the match, say “Hi” to my mother, sisters and friends and to return on Sunday night. I loved the opportunity and thanked Nalaka profusely for convincing me to play Rugby.

 

Nalaka taught me the first lesson of survival in trying time. We used to get third class train tickets ‘Trinco-Colombo-Trinco’ those days to attend matches. There were no reservations and weekend night mail trains were always very crowded. Before our first trip to Colombo, Nalaka told me “Hey, ! Ensure you carry a newspaper and a towel before boarding the train tomorrow”.

 

I was wondering whether we are going to have a sea bath or a swim after the match, but why a newspaper? At the Trincomalee railway station Nalaka told me, “Bloody idiot! You are going to play a Rugger match tomorrow! Ensure you get some good sleep tonight. When the crowd settle down in the train put your newspaper on the floor in a passage way and sleep. Keep your bag as your pillow, otherwise you will lose it with all your belongings. Don’t look for me. I will be doing the same. I will wake you up when we are reaching the Ragama station”. (We used to disembark at Ragama to go to our Welisara Navy Camp). What a bright idea! I said “Aye aye Sir”, but like an idiot I asked him again, “Excuse me Sir! Why did you ask me to carry a towel?”

 

He was outraged and said “You Bloody idiot! (I deserved it this time) cover your beautiful face with that towel when you are sleeping on the floor. Otherwise, sailors traveling in the train will see you and tomorrow they will report to the Training Commander saying “we saw Cadet Wijegunaratne sleeping on the floor in a third class compartment! Then not only you, I will also be in trouble”. That is Nalaka.

 

With the slight swing of the night mail train moving fast, I had a good night sleep on the floor of a third class compartment, covering my face with a towel and my traveling bag as my pillow. Thanks to Nalaka’s bright survival technique.

 

After matches, Nalaka used to visit his school-time sweetheart, Achini                       (Sudarshani) who was playing Netball at that time and I used to run home. Before leaving, he always ensured that I had a decent meal after a match.

 

Comradeship we built during Rugby seasons was there throughout our career. We both played Navy Rugby together for a number of years. As the Captain of the Navy team, he brought glory to Navy by becoming the Runner-Up team in the A Division Knockout tournament in 1989. It was a great achievement to the Navy team at that time. He was always an elder brother to me.

 

In 1995, both of us were Commanding Fast Attack Craft (FACs) in the North. Once I was on patrol and my FAC engines stalled due to an electronic defect and was drifting dangerously towards enemy held Velvettiturai (VVT). I screamed for help and Nalaka came in his FAC and tried to tow me away from the VVT reef. Wind and waves were so strong and his effort was futile and Nalaka’s FAC also started to drift towards the reef dangerously. I shouted, “Sir let go the towrope! Otherwise, we both will run aground!” Angry Nalaka shouted back, “No way! I am not leaving you! We both will die together!” and went inside the bridge to give more thrust to his engines. However, we survived that day to fight another day. The unbelievable comradeship of Nalaka!

 

He got married to Achini and had two sons Samitha and Bhathiya. He was a very proud father. It was always a very pleasant sight to see Nalaka coming for Rugby practices to the Welisara ground sharp at 4 pm, walking from his married quarters, Rugby jersey on his shoulder, boots around his neck, two kids under his armpits and Achini trailing behind him. He was a real family man and set a great example for us.

 

When I was dating Yamuna, he was a great supporter to me. His humble married quarter was always opened for us to meet. Achini ensured that Yamuna always sat next to her when they come to see the Navy Rugby matches.

 

On 18th July 1996 at 1.30 am, LTTE terrorists attacked Mullattivu Army complex. The attack was led by LTTE Leader Balraj. Suicide cadres of LTTE breached the Northern perimeter of the complex and by the first light of 18th July, Mullattivu was falling. Reinforcement troops arrived from Jaffna and Trincomalee in ships and landing craft and SLNS Ranaviru, Commanded by Nalaka was tasked to provide protection to the Sea Convoy that had reached off Mullattivu by mid-day on the 19th.

 

Nalaka provided Naval Gunfire Support from the Southern flank off Alampil for troops to be disembarked at the beach. The landing was unsuccessful. Ships came under heavy enemy attack. Sea Tigers were trying to target the Landing Craft with their low profile suicide boats.

Since the landing was unsuccessful, orders were issued to withdraw. Nalaka and his crew fought valiantly to protect the troop carrying ships and Landing Craft until they clear the critical area.

 

Nalaka’s Gun Boat was hit by an enemy suicide boat, and he lost control of the ship’s steering. His crew fought to the death. There were only two survivors, and they were picked up by a FAC, they said they last saw Nalaka on the bridge firing at the enemy with his rifle. He refused to abandon his ship, like a true Naval Officer, instead opted to fight to the death. We lost him out at sea. His body was never recovered.

 

Achini refused to accept the fact that he was killed in action. She waited for him to come home one day and slowly lost her hopes when years go by. Commander Parakrama Samaraweera was later awarded Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya for his bravery and valour shown in the face of the enemy off Mullaithivu seas. His elder son Samitha collected the gallantry medal from H.E. the President on his late father’s behalf. His two young sons lost their beloved father.

 

Later in their lives, the two sons joined the Navy following their father’s footsteps. Elder Son Samitha, who is studious and silent, qualified as a Navy doctor. The younger son, who is a replica of his father with his height, walk, smile and mischievous acts, joined the Navy as a Logistician and played Rugby for the Navy. The void created by the untimely demise of their father will never be able to fill.

 

 

Bhathiya

 

 

 

Samitha

 

 

 

Nalaka

 

 

 

         

 

My Son

 

My son is Ravindra Sathyajith Wijegunaratne, known to friends as “Ravi Junior” is 26 years old now. His smart, strong and inspiring personality constantly reminds Yamuna and me what is most important in our lives.

 

Fifteen years back, when I was the Defence Adviser and First Secretary of the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi, India, I was packing-up my baggage to return to Sri Lanka on completion of three-year tenure. I was going through my desk-top computer deleting unwanted files. My son (ten years old at that time) extensively used this computer for his school work in New Delhi and to play computer games. I came across an interesting file. It was an essay my son has written as a ten year old student titled “My Summer Vacation.”

 

I will re-produce it here,

 

This Summer Vacation during the month of June, I went to Haridhwar and Rishikish. Haridhwar is an important place for Hindus. ‘Hari’ means God and ‘Dhawar’ means door. So, Haridhwar means door to haven. My father, mother and I were on this tour. We performed Arthi at Haridhwar. ‘Arthi’ means you float oil lamps along the mighty Ganga River. Hindus believe it brings good luck to them. It was a beautiful sight at night as hundreds of lights were floating downstream.

 

Next day was a Sunday. We went to Rishikish. Rishikish is a holy place, and we saw a lot of Hindu priests meditating. My father said he has a surprise for me. He said he has arranged “White water rafting” for me. I was very excited. We tied our rubber boat to the hood of our Jeep and drove along the road up to a staging point for rafting in River Ganga.

 

Our guide and instructor Mr. Kumar met us there. He explained all the safety drills and equipment. I was given a plastic helmet, life jacket and short oar. My father was also given the same. My mother was afraid and refused to go in the boat and she said she will follow us in the Jeep along the river bank.

Mr. Kumar said, if the boat capsized, not to worry and hold on to the oar and to keep legs downstream and float. I was not afraid as I am a good swimmer. My father and I sat on either side of the rubber boat with short oars and our guide, Kumar sat on the back with a long oar to control the boat. We start going down rapids. Kumar used to give commands to paddle or not. He controlled the boat beautifully with his long oar. He was a very experienced instructor. Some places we had to pull hard. I was enjoying white water rafting. Even though it was summer, water was very cold. Kumar said water was cold because it flows from melting glaziers of Himalayan mountain range.

 

We came across our first rapid known as Hilton. Boat tossed up and down. We were drenched with cold water. Kumar controlled the boat with his long oar. I was tired but I was enjoying. When we cleared the rapid, we stopped at the river bank for a rest. Kumar said next rapid is known as “double trouble”. We reached next rapid slowly. Suddenly we gained speed. Rubber boat tossed up and down like a rubber ball in the water. Kumar started to give his Commands for us to pull hard on our oars. It was a real trouble in “double trouble”.

 

Anyway, we passed that rapid also and reached near Luxman Jula, the hanging bridge. Water flows under the bridge very slow in this area, and we enjoyed beautiful sight with mountains and jungle on either side of river Ganga for next two miles paddling slowly. My father started singing Sinhala songs. After singing Sinhala songs, he jumped into cold water and start swimming with the boat. I held him from his T-shirt. We were very happy. Kumar explained about trees and birds you see in this part of India. We took our boat safely to the river bank and pulled it up to the river bank.

 

My mother reached there in the Jeep after few minutes. We have come along the river before the Jeep. I realized white water rafting is very fast. It was an exciting trip in white water rafting. I want to do it again and again. My father said it is his gift to me on Father’s Day. I wished him for being such a caring father.

 

He said next time he wanted to do white water rafting with Children of our Nation. I asked him who are Children of our Nation? He said I will not understand now but will explain who they are when I grow older.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father’s Day Greetings to the Children of our Nation

 

By: Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne, WV, RWP and Bar, RSP, VSV, USP, ndc, psn

Chief of Defence Staff

 

The second Sunday of the month of June is considered as Father’s Day. We all celebrate this special day with our children. On this day I would like to share my thoughts and affection with the children whose fathers sacrificed their lives for our tomorrow and for the peace of this country.

 

This story is about a few of those fathers and their children whom I know.

 

Samantha

 

Twenty-five years ago, in Fort Hammenhiel, Karinagar, two officers and forty-two sailors, all volunteers from the Navy underwent a special training to start a new unit in our Navy known as the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) or the Naval Commando Unit.

 

SBS was formed to fight against LTTE Sea Tigers in lagoons and waterways. I was fortunate enough to command this unit and train my men to be the “Bravest of the Brave” in the Navy. I was a young Lieutenant Commander at that time and my Second-in-Command was an officer more than 12 years junior and younger to me. He was Acting Sub Lieutenant Samantha Waruna Gallage, hailed from Dehiwala, was an excellent swimmer and a fearless fighter. Samantha was also an excellent boat handler and a top marksman.

 

We trained together for three months in the Karainagar lagoon with the intention of taking over boat operations in the Jaffna lagoon from our small detachment at Nagadevannturai.

 

On 2nd November 1993, our naval detachment in Nagadevanthuri and Poonaryn Army Complex came under heavy attack from the enemy. One by one small detachment around the main Pooneryn Army Complex fell into the enemy’s hand like a pack of cards and more than 700 military personnel were trapped in Poonaryn.

 

As there was no possibility to reinforce the besieged Army Complex from the air, Military Commanders decided to sent reinforcement troops through an amphibious landing. My unit SBS, the brand-new Naval Special Force was tasked to carry out the first wave of landing.

 

Landing at an enemy beach is a suicidal task. If you want to see how it looks like, please watch first half an hour of Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film “Saving Private Ryan”. It’s bloody and chaotic. There is no cover for you until you get some cover by crossing the beach area. Enemy obstacles and gun positions will be there to slow down your advance and there is a 90 percent probability of getting killed or injured during this crossing.

 

Orders were issued; Samantha and I were commanding two Inshore Patrol Craft (commonly known as Water Jets) which carried fifteen Commandos each, followed by fiberglass boats carrying six Commandos each. My orders were very clear to Samantha. I told him, that I will land first because I want to assess the situation.

 

Navy Gunboats started bombarding the beach early morning with their 37mm guns, and we were given clearance to do the landing with the lull of heavy gunfire. Our two Water Jets raced towards Poonaryn beach. Two machine guns of enemy started firing towards us and suddenly Samantha increased the speed of his Water Jet and landed first and nullified enemy machine gun position with his grenade launchers.

 

I was very angry with Samantha. My orders were very clear as I told him that I will be landing first. However, I was very happy that he destroyed enemy gun positions in quick sessions with no casualties to us. The landing was successful and we established the beachhead for our landing craft to beach and reinforcements poured in. Rest was history. Poonaryn landing was successful. The SBS was hailed as the “Bravest of the Brave” in the Navy.

 

After accomplishing our given task successfully, we returned to Karainagar that evening to rest and relax. That night I asked Samantha why he disobeyed my orders and landed first. He said with tears in his eyes, “Sir, I was afraid that you would be hit by enemy machine gun fire! I did not want you to get killed”. I told him that he would have had the same fate. He said, “Sir, I can die. That’s not a concern. My father and mother will cry. But, not YOU! You have a wife and a son (my son was one year old at that time).

 

You should live Sir! I want to protect you, Sir! (Ironically, I was the only married person in the SBS at that time.)

 

This was the caliber of officers and men with whom we went to war. We were fortunate Commanders to have officers like Samantha as our subordinates. They were ready to sacrifice their lives to protect us.

 

One day I saw Samantha going through the Navy List. Navy List is a book which denotes the seniority and qualifications of naval officers. I asked why he is referring the Navy List and he said as per the seniority gap between two of us when I become a Rear Admiral, he will still be a Lieutenant Commander. I promised him if I made to Rear Admiral one day, I will take him as my Flag Lieutenant [Aide-De-Camp (ADC)]. He was very happy and he had mentioned this even to the SBS senior sailors.

 

In 1995 Samantha got married to Nishika, a young lady officer of the Navy who was a teacher at our Naval Pre-school. Samantha died in an SBS and Army Special Forces joint operation at Nallathannithuduvai in Chalai, Jaffna on 20th October 1996. His only son, Rumal was only eight months old when he sacrificed his life for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our Motherland. He was awarded the Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya for his valour and bravery during this operation. His wife Nishika died of cancer in 2011, leaving young Rumal alone in this World.

 

Today 25 year old Rumal is following his higher education in Australia. He is missing his father on ‘Father’s Day’. He was always proud of his parents, especially of his father. His family today is the SBS.

Keeping my promise to Samantha, I never took a Flag Lieutenant when I became a Rear Admiral. Even though Samantha is dead, I kept my promise to him. The seat and table of Flag Lieutenant next to my office are kept empty as an honour to my buddy who was ready to sacrifice his life for my protection. As the Navy Commander and now as CDS, a four-star Admiral, I do not have a Flag Lieutenant. I have only Personal Security Officers (PSOs) but not a Flag Lieutenant. Lieutenant Commander (SBS) Samantha Gallage, WWV, RWP and Bar, RSP will remain as my Flag Lieutenant until the day I retire.                                                                

Rumal

 

 

 

Samantha

 

 

 

Samantha

 

 

 

Rumal

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

Bhathiya

 

We studied together at the Royal College. He was two batches senior to me, but we were in the same Royal College Cadet Platoon. He was our cadet Sergeant in 1978 Platoon. Bhathiya was a very cheerful person. He was smart and liked to wear fashionable clothes. When we all were wearing baggy shirts and trousers issued by Cadets Corps, Bhathiya had his own uniforms stitched to his size. Since school-time he wanted to join the Army, and he was very excited about it.  He joined the Army as an Officer Cadet into the first Short Service Commission batch in 1979 and was trained at the Indian Army Officer Training Academy, Chennai and subsequently, joined the Artillery Regiment of Sri Lanka Army.

 

As young officers, we both worked together in Mannar. I was the Officer-in-Charge of an isolated naval detachment in Thalaimannar, and he served in the Brigade Headquarters in Talladi, Mannar. We used to have security meetings every fortnight at the Brigade Headquarters headed by our boss at that time, Brigadier Daya Wijesekara. As the land route from Talimannar to Mannar was not secure, I used to travel by a speedboat. The meeting was usually held on Saturdays. After the meeting my Arty friends, Bhathiya, Roshan, Athula, Bandula (Logistician) and CLI friend (Trinitian) Chandana will approach Brigadier Daya and get permission for me to return to Talaimannar on Sunday. Brigadier Daya handed over the Brigade to then Brigadier Srilal Weerasooriya (who later became the Army Commander and our High Commissioner in Pakistan). We worked very hard as young officers and seniors were very fond of us.

 

So, the evening party on Saturday will start at eight ‘o’ clock after strong warnings from our Battery Commander (BC) at that time Major Thibbatumunuwa (rose to Major General rank later), Major Nissanka Wijesinghe (rose to Major General rank and appointed as the Chief of Staff of the Army), Major VR Silva (rose to Major General rank later) and Major Mahesh Samaraweera (rose to Major General rank later) not to drink too much and not to break glasses. However, after convincing them of good behaviour, the party starts and Old Arrack and beer will flow till late into the night.

 

Those were the good days that we had in 1985/86 in Mannar. The only soft spot of Bhathiya had been his sweetheart Sashi, a Vishakian from school time. He will speak for hours explaining how beautiful she is and his future plans for their married life. When we were fighting LTTE and merrymaking in the Officers Mess in our free time and not very serious about our future, he had plans for his future and wanted to live a happy life.

 

Bhathiya was a prolific reader of Military History. He used to learn about Artillery units of other Armies. He trained his gun crews very well. Apart from looking after guns, he was given an additional task to escort Mannar-Anuradhapura logistic convoys, which he loved to, perform despite enemy landmine threat. He always volunteered to escort convoy in one of the two legs, either from Mannar to Murunkan or from Murunkan to Madawachchiya/Anuradhapura. Whether he is training his gun crews in Thalladi or doing convey duties, he used to wear his uniforms very smartly. His boots were always “spit and polished” and shining like a mirror. His men were very fond of him. He always trained his men to be professionally very competent. He was an exemplary military leader to his men.

 

One of these days Bhathiya will come to my detachment on a holiday. He enjoyed driving his open jeep in Mannar roads. I used to take him to Sand Banks off Talimannar. We leave after sunset in our boats and camp out in the Sand Bank for the night. On a moonlit night, while drinking Rockland Lemon gin with fresh lime soda, (we used to get four bottles of local hard liquor per month on duty-free rate. At that time the most preferred brand was Rockland Lemon Gin), eating deep-fried jumbo prawns, sitting on the edge of the sandbank with feet in sea water, and he will start advising me on the importance of a married life, which was Greek to me those young days. Not like us, he had a clear vision and wanted to live a long and a happy married life.

 

As he got married to Shashi, who was his school time sweetheart and relative, the daughter of Army Commander General Hamilton Wanasinghe, VSV, USP, ndc (who later became CDS and Defence Secretary), he never used this connection to be away from War. Few days after his wedding, he went back to the War front. He was always brave and patriotic.

 

Bhathiya and Sashi had two lovely daughters, Druveesh and Sachini. Much later in service, when I ask about his two daughters, his eyes used to light up and used to say “I am their hero”. Bhathiya paid supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle on 22nd April 2000.

 

I was not able to attend his funeral as I was involved in a special mission in the Eastern area and I asked my wife Yamuna to attend. There were two funerals of distinguished Royalists who had made the supreme sacrifice on the same day at the Borella general cemetery. They are; Major General Percy Fernando of the Commando Regiment and Brigadier Bhathiya Jayathilake of the Artillery Regiment. Both paid supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle.

 

My wife who is considered as a strong lady in the military circles cried for days recollecting how Bhathiya’s two daughters wept during the funeral. She says no child should ever go through such an agony in their life.

 

We were invited to the weddings of both the daughters of Bhathiya last year. We saw the void Bhathiya has created to his loving wife and two daughters with his untimely demise. Pictures of young Bhathiya with Shashi and daughters were flashed during both the Weddings as a tribute to him. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of all the Sri Lankan children. And we shall never forget him, Brigadier Bhathiya Jayathilake, RWP, RSP, IG, our Royal College Cadet Platoon buddy.

 

 

Bhathiya ,Sashi and two daughters

 

 

 

Bhathiya

 

 

 

                  

 

Thibba

 

Squadron Leader Thejananda Thibbotumunuwe, RWP was an Air Force transport pilot, and we used to call him as “Thibba”. He was a distinguished old boy of Ananda College, Colombo and followed his elder brother’s footsteps and joined the Armed Forces (his elder brother was in the Army and I have served under him in Mannar).

 

You will never forget Thibba’s face. He was chubby, round faced and always with an evergreen smile. Thibba was a great transport pilot who usually flew AN-32 or Y8 transport aircraft of the Sri Lanka Air Force. His main job was to carry troops and supplies from Rathmalana to Palali Air Base in Jaffna and transport military personnel going on leave from Palali to Rathmalana. He knew the importance of his task and always ensured that every one waiting to go on leave, some after three months would be taken care of. His job started at sunrise from Rathmalana and used to do three or four shuttles, Rathmalana to Palali and back till sunset.

 

There had been a number of incidents where brave Air Force pilots were victims of LTTE shoulder- fired Surface to Air missile attacks at that time, but Thibba and his brother pilots never stopped maintaining the vital air link to the Jaffna peninsula by air.

 

There were no secure road links from the South and sea transport was difficult and time-consuming. Sometimes it would take two days of sea passage from Trincomalee to KKS. So flying even under missile threat was the only viable option to transfer battle casualties from Jaffna to Colombo for immediate medical care. Thibba was exposed to enemy missile threats at least six times per day when landing or taking off his transport aircraft at the Palali airbase. Hundreds of brave soldiers who were severely injured during enemy confrontations were saved, thanks to Thibba. Whether, there is a seat or not in the aircraft, he never left me at Palali and had even taken me in the cockpit a couple of times. He was such a nice person and a true friend in uniform.

 

When I was in the SBS in 90s and flying from one place to another, more frequently to Colombo from Jaffna and back for important meetings/ briefings and debriefings at the Naval Headquarters, Thibba used to tease me by saying I am gaining more flying hours than him as the SBS Commanding Officer. That is Thibba. A Jovial fellow, who had no fear of the constant threat posed by the imminent enemy missile fire.

 

I was once taking the last flight from Palali to attend my son’s birthday. Knowing the importance of my presence with my son and family that evening, to my surprise, a SLAF Jeep was waiting for me to travel to my home from Rathmalana when we landed at the Rathmalana Air Base late on that evening. Thibba had arranged it in consultation with the SLAF Base Commander Rathmalana. That’s how Thibba showed that he cared for his friends. A true friend understands family values!

 

Thibba had three sons named Menuka, Diluka and Chamika. Thibba was not fortunate to see his younger son as he was born in April 1996. They were lovely children and he was so proud of them. One day in 1995, I took a passage from Palali to Rathmalana in his aircraft. After taking off from Palali and when we were cleared from enemy missile threat, he invited me to the cockpit. We were talking of our boys all the way to Rathmalana. My son was of the same age of Thibba’s elder son Menuka. They were four years old at that time. He wanted to teach them swimming as Thibba was also a good swimmer. That’s the last time I met Thibba.

 

On that fatal day, 18th November 1995, Thibba flew his Y-8 aircraft as usual from Rathmalana to Palali with vital defence cargo. He was approaching the Palali airfield at a very low altitude from seaward to avoid enemy missile fire. Terrorists were in a boat, and they targeted Thibba and the aircraft went down into seas off KKS. His co-pilot (Squadron Leader Kumbalatara)

explained later how Thibba tried to land the aircraft on water. He helped his co-pilot to eject from the sinking aircraft, but Thibba died from drowning. His bravery was visible even during the last minutes of his life. His sole intention was to save his brother officer!

 

Time flew fast. My son took up competitive swimming representing Royal College, and he was of the same age of Thibba’s elder son Menuka. One day I accompanied my wife Yamuna to a swimming meet to see how my son performs. My wife was always behind my son, and she explained to me about timings of the event and the tough competition my son was going to face. There were two boys from Ananda College on the starting blocks. Yamuna said they are very good, and they are “Thibbotumunuwe” sons.

 

I silently wept for Thibba. All three sons resemble Thibba. Round face, chubby and strongly build. Thibba was not there to watch his sons perform so well in swimming, the wish that he had as a loving father. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of all the children of our Nation.

When they grew up, Thibba’s elder sons wanted to join the military. Menuka joined the Air Force as a pilot (now deployed in South Sudan UN Peacekeeping mission), Diluka is now serving in the Navy, after four years of basic training in China and Chamika the younger one is

pursuing higher studies. All of them are doing extremely well and if Thibba lived, he would have been still serving in uniform. The void created by his demise to his loving wife and three sons is unimaginable. We will never forget Thibba.

 

 

Chamika

 

 

 

Diluka

 

 

 

Neluka

 

 

 

Thibba

 

 

 

      

 

Nalaka

 

Late Commander Parakrama Samaraweera, WWV, RSP was an outstanding Naval Officer. He studied at Kingswood College, Kandy, Captained the College Rugby Football team, a top athlete and a great basketball player. With a towering height of 6’4” he was a giant. I would say a gentle giant.

 

His friends called him “Nalaka”, I do not know how he got this name. He joined the Navy in 1979 (one year before me) and won the “Sword of Honour” presented to the Best Cadet Officer at the end of one-year basic training at the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee.

When our batch, one year junior to him, met him in the Academy, we were fearful of him due to his height and rough voice, but soon we realized he is a gentle giant.

 

My close association with Nalaka came in the Rugby field. First, he insisted me to take part in Inter Command Rugby tournament to play for the Training Command team. Even though I had very good basic skills on Rugby by attending Mr. Summa Navaratnam’s Rugby training sessions on weekends at the CR and FC grounds (thanks to my late father), I have not played much competitive Rugby at Royal.

 

Nalaka (who was our Captain in Training Command team) insisted that I should pair him as the second row forward in our Training Command team. I obeyed him reluctantly. To my surprise, we played well and clicked well as the second row forwards, and I was also selected to the Navy Rugby pool.

 

Nalaka was very happy. As under trainees at that time we would not get the luxury of being at the Walisara Navy camp with other Navy Rugby pool members. We had to travel by train from Trincomalee to Colombo for matches on weekends and had to return to Trincomalee in the night mail train to be at the Parade Ground by 0730 on Mondays.

I liked the idea, rather than doing cleaning of messes and running around the Naval Dockyard on weekends, this is a much better option to travel to Colombo to play matches on weekends, have a beer after the match, say “Hi” to my mother, sisters and friends and to return on Sunday night. I loved the opportunity and thanked Nalaka profusely for convincing me to play Rugby.

 

Nalaka taught me the first lesson of survival in trying time. We used to get third class train tickets ‘Trinco-Colombo-Trinco’ those days to attend matches. There were no reservations and weekend night mail trains were always very crowded. Before our first trip to Colombo, Nalaka told me “Hey, ! Ensure you carry a newspaper and a towel before boarding the train tomorrow”.

 

I was wondering whether we are going to have a sea bath or a swim after the match, but why a newspaper? At the Trincomalee railway station Nalaka told me, “Bloody idiot! You are going to play a Rugger match tomorrow! Ensure you get some good sleep tonight. When the crowd settle down in the train put your newspaper on the floor in a passage way and sleep. Keep your bag as your pillow, otherwise you will lose it with all your belongings. Don’t look for me. I will be doing the same. I will wake you up when we are reaching the Ragama station”. (We used to disembark at Ragama to go to our Welisara Navy Camp). What a bright idea! I said “Aye aye Sir”, but like an idiot I asked him again, “Excuse me Sir! Why did you ask me to carry a towel?”

 

He was outraged and said “You Bloody idiot! (I deserved it this time) cover your beautiful face with that towel when you are sleeping on the floor. Otherwise, sailors traveling in the train will see you and tomorrow they will report to the Training Commander saying “we saw Cadet Wijegunaratne sleeping on the floor in a third class compartment! Then not only you, I will also be in trouble”. That is Nalaka.

 

With the slight swing of the night mail train moving fast, I had a good night sleep on the floor of a third class compartment, covering my face with a towel and my traveling bag as my pillow. Thanks to Nalaka’s bright survival technique.

 

After matches, Nalaka used to visit his school-time sweetheart, Achini                       (Sudarshani) who was playing Netball at that time and I used to run home. Before leaving, he always ensured that I had a decent meal after a match.

 

Comradeship we built during Rugby seasons was there throughout our career. We both played Navy Rugby together for a number of years. As the Captain of the Navy team, he brought glory to Navy by becoming the Runner-Up team in the A Division Knockout tournament in 1989. It was a great achievement to the Navy team at that time. He was always an elder brother to me.

 

In 1995, both of us were Commanding Fast Attack Craft (FACs) in the North. Once I was on patrol and my FAC engines stalled due to an electronic defect and was drifting dangerously towards enemy held Velvettiturai (VVT). I screamed for help and Nalaka came in his FAC and tried to tow me away from the VVT reef. Wind and waves were so strong and his effort was futile and Nalaka’s FAC also started to drift towards the reef dangerously. I shouted, “Sir let go the towrope! Otherwise, we both will run aground!” Angry Nalaka shouted back, “No way! I am not leaving you! We both will die together!” and went inside the bridge to give more thrust to his engines. However, we survived that day to fight another day. The unbelievable comradeship of Nalaka!

 

He got married to Achini and had two sons Samitha and Bhathiya. He was a very proud father. It was always a very pleasant sight to see Nalaka coming for Rugby practices to the Welisara ground sharp at 4 pm, walking from his married quarters, Rugby jersey on his shoulder, boots around his neck, two kids under his armpits and Achini trailing behind him. He was a real family man and set a great example for us.

 

When I was dating Yamuna, he was a great supporter to me. His humble married quarter was always opened for us to meet. Achini ensured that Yamuna always sat next to her when they come to see the Navy Rugby matches.

 

On 18th July 1996 at 1.30 am, LTTE terrorists attacked Mullattivu Army complex. The attack was led by LTTE Leader Balraj. Suicide cadres of LTTE breached the Northern perimeter of the complex and by the first light of 18th July, Mullattivu was falling. Reinforcement troops arrived from Jaffna and Trincomalee in ships and landing craft and SLNS Ranaviru, Commanded by Nalaka was tasked to provide protection to the Sea Convoy that had reached off Mullattivu by mid-day on the 19th.

 

Nalaka provided Naval Gunfire Support from the Southern flank off Alampil for troops to be disembarked at the beach. The landing was unsuccessful. Ships came under heavy enemy attack. Sea Tigers were trying to target the Landing Craft with their low profile suicide boats.

Since the landing was unsuccessful, orders were issued to withdraw. Nalaka and his crew fought valiantly to protect the troop carrying ships and Landing Craft until they clear the critical area.

 

Nalaka’s Gun Boat was hit by an enemy suicide boat, and he lost control of the ship’s steering. His crew fought to the death. There were only two survivors, and they were picked up by a FAC, they said they last saw Nalaka on the bridge firing at the enemy with his rifle. He refused to abandon his ship, like a true Naval Officer, instead opted to fight to the death. We lost him out at sea. His body was never recovered.

 

Achini refused to accept the fact that he was killed in action. She waited for him to come home one day and slowly lost her hopes when years go by. Commander Parakrama Samaraweera was later awarded Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya for his bravery and valour shown in the face of the enemy off Mullaithivu seas. His elder son Samitha collected the gallantry medal from H.E. the President on his late father’s behalf. His two young sons lost their beloved father.

 

Later in their lives, the two sons joined the Navy following their father’s footsteps. Elder Son Samitha, who is studious and silent, qualified as a Navy doctor. The younger son, who is a replica of his father with his height, walk, smile and mischievous acts, joined the Navy as a Logistician and played Rugby for the Navy. The void created by the untimely demise of their father will never be able to fill.

 

 

Bhathiya

 

 

 

Samitha

 

 

 

Nalaka

 

 

 

         

 

My Son

 

My son is Ravindra Sathyajith Wijegunaratne, known to friends as “Ravi Junior” is 26 years old now. His smart, strong and inspiring personality constantly reminds Yamuna and me what is most important in our lives.

 

Fifteen years back, when I was the Defence Adviser and First Secretary of the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi, India, I was packing-up my baggage to return to Sri Lanka on completion of three-year tenure. I was going through my desk-top computer deleting unwanted files. My son (ten years old at that time) extensively used this computer for his school work in New Delhi and to play computer games. I came across an interesting file. It was an essay my son has written as a ten year old student titled “My Summer Vacation.”

 

I will re-produce it here,

 

This Summer Vacation during the month of June, I went to Haridhwar and Rishikish. Haridhwar is an important place for Hindus. ‘Hari’ means God and ‘Dhawar’ means door. So, Haridhwar means door to haven. My father, mother and I were on this tour. We performed Arthi at Haridhwar. ‘Arthi’ means you float oil lamps along the mighty Ganga River. Hindus believe it brings good luck to them. It was a beautiful sight at night as hundreds of lights were floating downstream.

 

Next day was a Sunday. We went to Rishikish. Rishikish is a holy place, and we saw a lot of Hindu priests meditating. My father said he has a surprise for me. He said he has arranged “White water rafting” for me. I was very excited. We tied our rubber boat to the hood of our Jeep and drove along the road up to a staging point for rafting in River Ganga.

 

Our guide and instructor Mr. Kumar met us there. He explained all the safety drills and equipment. I was given a plastic helmet, life jacket and short oar. My father was also given the same. My mother was afraid and refused to go in the boat and she said she will follow us in the Jeep along the river bank.

Mr. Kumar said, if the boat capsized, not to worry and hold on to the oar and to keep legs downstream and float. I was not afraid as I am a good swimmer. My father and I sat on either side of the rubber boat with short oars and our guide, Kumar sat on the back with a long oar to control the boat. We start going down rapids. Kumar used to give commands to paddle or not. He controlled the boat beautifully with his long oar. He was a very experienced instructor. Some places we had to pull hard. I was enjoying white water rafting. Even though it was summer, water was very cold. Kumar said water was cold because it flows from melting glaziers of Himalayan mountain range.

 

We came across our first rapid known as Hilton. Boat tossed up and down. We were drenched with cold water. Kumar controlled the boat with his long oar. I was tired but I was enjoying. When we cleared the rapid, we stopped at the river bank for a rest. Kumar said next rapid is known as “double trouble”. We reached next rapid slowly. Suddenly we gained speed. Rubber boat tossed up and down like a rubber ball in the water. Kumar started to give his Commands for us to pull hard on our oars. It was a real trouble in “double trouble”.

 

Anyway, we passed that rapid also and reached near Luxman Jula, the hanging bridge. Water flows under the bridge very slow in this area, and we enjoyed beautiful sight with mountains and jungle on either side of river Ganga for next two miles paddling slowly. My father started singing Sinhala songs. After singing Sinhala songs, he jumped into cold water and start swimming with the boat. I held him from his T-shirt. We were very happy. Kumar explained about trees and birds you see in this part of India. We took our boat safely to the river bank and pulled it up to the river bank.

 

My mother reached there in the Jeep after few minutes. We have come along the river before the Jeep. I realized white water rafting is very fast. It was an exciting trip in white water rafting. I want to do it again and again. My father said it is his gift to me on Father’s Day. I wished him for being such a caring father.

 

He said next time he wanted to do white water rafting with Children of our Nation. I asked him who are Children of our Nation? He said I will not understand now but will explain who they are when I grow older.

 

 

 

 

 

Father’s Day Greetings to the Children of our Nation

 

By: Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne, WV, RWP and Bar, RSP, VSV, USP, ndc, psn

Chief of Defence Staff

 

The second Sunday of the month of June is considered as Father’s Day. We all celebrate this special day with our children. On this day I would like to share my thoughts and affection with the children whose fathers sacrificed their lives for our tomorrow and for the peace of this country.

 

This story is about a few of those fathers and their children whom I know.

 

Samantha

 

Twenty-five years ago, in Fort Hammenhiel, Karinagar, two officers and forty-two sailors, all volunteers from the Navy underwent a special training to start a new unit in our Navy known as the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) or the Naval Commando Unit.

 

SBS was formed to fight against LTTE Sea Tigers in lagoons and waterways. I was fortunate enough to command this unit and train my men to be the “Bravest of the Brave” in the Navy. I was a young Lieutenant Commander at that time and my Second-in-Command was an officer more than 12 years junior and younger to me. He was Acting Sub Lieutenant Samantha Waruna Gallage, hailed from Dehiwala, was an excellent swimmer and a fearless fighter. Samantha was also an excellent boat handler and a top marksman.

 

We trained together for three months in the Karainagar lagoon with the intention of taking over boat operations in the Jaffna lagoon from our small detachment at Nagadevannturai.

 

On 2nd November 1993, our naval detachment in Nagadevanthuri and Poonaryn Army Complex came under heavy attack from the enemy. One by one small detachment around the main Pooneryn Army Complex fell into the enemy’s hand like a pack of cards and more than 700 military personnel were trapped in Poonaryn.

 

As there was no possibility to reinforce the besieged Army Complex from the air, Military Commanders decided to sent reinforcement troops through an amphibious landing. My unit SBS, the brand-new Naval Special Force was tasked to carry out the first wave of landing.

 

Landing at an enemy beach is a suicidal task. If you want to see how it looks like, please watch first half an hour of Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film “Saving Private Ryan”. It’s bloody and chaotic. There is no cover for you until you get some cover by crossing the beach area. Enemy obstacles and gun positions will be there to slow down your advance and there is a 90 percent probability of getting killed or injured during this crossing.

 

Orders were issued; Samantha and I were commanding two Inshore Patrol Craft (commonly known as Water Jets) which carried fifteen Commandos each, followed by fiberglass boats carrying six Commandos each. My orders were very clear to Samantha. I told him, that I will land first because I want to assess the situation.

 

Navy Gunboats started bombarding the beach early morning with their 37mm guns, and we were given clearance to do the landing with the lull of heavy gunfire. Our two Water Jets raced towards Poonaryn beach. Two machine guns of enemy started firing towards us and suddenly Samantha increased the speed of his Water Jet and landed first and nullified enemy machine gun position with his grenade launchers.

 

I was very angry with Samantha. My orders were very clear as I told him that I will be landing first. However, I was very happy that he destroyed enemy gun positions in quick sessions with no casualties to us. The landing was successful and we established the beachhead for our landing craft to beach and reinforcements poured in. Rest was history. Poonaryn landing was successful. The SBS was hailed as the “Bravest of the Brave” in the Navy.

 

After accomplishing our given task successfully, we returned to Karainagar that evening to rest and relax. That night I asked Samantha why he disobeyed my orders and landed first. He said with tears in his eyes, “Sir, I was afraid that you would be hit by enemy machine gun fire! I did not want you to get killed”. I told him that he would have had the same fate. He said, “Sir, I can die. That’s not a concern. My father and mother will cry. But, not YOU! You have a wife and a son (my son was one year old at that time).

 

You should live Sir! I want to protect you, Sir! (Ironically, I was the only married person in the SBS at that time.)

 

This was the caliber of officers and men with whom we went to war. We were fortunate Commanders to have officers like Samantha as our subordinates. They were ready to sacrifice their lives to protect us.

 

One day I saw Samantha going through the Navy List. Navy List is a book which denotes the seniority and qualifications of naval officers. I asked why he is referring the Navy List and he said as per the seniority gap between two of us when I become a Rear Admiral, he will still be a Lieutenant Commander. I promised him if I made to Rear Admiral one day, I will take him as my Flag Lieutenant [Aide-De-Camp (ADC)]. He was very happy and he had mentioned this even to the SBS senior sailors.

 

In 1995 Samantha got married to Nishika, a young lady officer of the Navy who was a teacher at our Naval Pre-school. Samantha died in an SBS and Army Special Forces joint operation at Nallathannithuduvai in Chalai, Jaffna on 20th October 1996. His only son, Rumal was only eight months old when he sacrificed his life for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our Motherland. He was awarded the Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya for his valour and bravery during this operation. His wife Nishika died of cancer in 2011, leaving young Rumal alone in this World.

 

Today 25 year old Rumal is following his higher education in Australia. He is missing his father on ‘Father’s Day’. He was always proud of his parents, especially of his father. His family today is the SBS.

Keeping my promise to Samantha, I never took a Flag Lieutenant when I became a Rear Admiral. Even though Samantha is dead, I kept my promise to him. The seat and table of Flag Lieutenant next to my office are kept empty as an honour to my buddy who was ready to sacrifice his life for my protection. As the Navy Commander and now as CDS, a four-star Admiral, I do not have a Flag Lieutenant. I have only Personal Security Officers (PSOs) but not a Flag Lieutenant. Lieutenant Commander (SBS) Samantha Gallage, WWV, RWP and Bar, RSP will remain as my Flag Lieutenant until the day I retire.                                                                

Rumal

 

 

 

Samantha

 

 

 

Samantha

 

 

 

Rumal

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

Bhathiya

 

We studied together at the Royal College. He was two batches senior to me, but we were in the same Royal College Cadet Platoon. He was our cadet Sergeant in 1978 Platoon. Bhathiya was a very cheerful person. He was smart and liked to wear fashionable clothes. When we all were wearing baggy shirts and trousers issued by Cadets Corps, Bhathiya had his own uniforms stitched to his size. Since school-time he wanted to join the Army, and he was very excited about it.  He joined the Army as an Officer Cadet into the first Short Service Commission batch in 1979 and was trained at the Indian Army Officer Training Academy, Chennai and subsequently, joined the Artillery Regiment of Sri Lanka Army.

 

As young officers, we both worked together in Mannar. I was the Officer-in-Charge of an isolated naval detachment in Thalaimannar, and he served in the Brigade Headquarters in Talladi, Mannar. We used to have security meetings every fortnight at the Brigade Headquarters headed by our boss at that time, Brigadier Daya Wijesekara. As the land route from Talimannar to Mannar was not secure, I used to travel by a speedboat. The meeting was usually held on Saturdays. After the meeting my Arty friends, Bhathiya, Roshan, Athula, Bandula (Logistician) and CLI friend (Trinitian) Chandana will approach Brigadier Daya and get permission for me to return to Talaimannar on Sunday. Brigadier Daya handed over the Brigade to then Brigadier Srilal Weerasooriya (who later became the Army Commander and our High Commissioner in Pakistan). We worked very hard as young officers and seniors were very fond of us.

 

So, the evening party on Saturday will start at eight ‘o’ clock after strong warnings from our Battery Commander (BC) at that time Major Thibbatumunuwa (rose to Major General rank later), Major Nissanka Wijesinghe (rose to Major General rank and appointed as the Chief of Staff of the Army), Major VR Silva (rose to Major General rank later) and Major Mahesh Samaraweera (rose to Major General rank later) not to drink too much and not to break glasses. However, after convincing them of good behaviour, the party starts and Old Arrack and beer will flow till late into the night.

 

Those were the good days that we had in 1985/86 in Mannar. The only soft spot of Bhathiya had been his sweetheart Sashi, a Vishakian from school time. He will speak for hours explaining how beautiful she is and his future plans for their married life. When we were fighting LTTE and merrymaking in the Officers Mess in our free time and not very serious about our future, he had plans for his future and wanted to live a happy life.

 

Bhathiya was a prolific reader of Military History. He used to learn about Artillery units of other Armies. He trained his gun crews very well. Apart from looking after guns, he was given an additional task to escort Mannar-Anuradhapura logistic convoys, which he loved to, perform despite enemy landmine threat. He always volunteered to escort convoy in one of the two legs, either from Mannar to Murunkan or from Murunkan to Madawachchiya/Anuradhapura. Whether he is training his gun crews in Thalladi or doing convey duties, he used to wear his uniforms very smartly. His boots were always “spit and polished” and shining like a mirror. His men were very fond of him. He always trained his men to be professionally very competent. He was an exemplary military leader to his men.

 

One of these days Bhathiya will come to my detachment on a holiday. He enjoyed driving his open jeep in Mannar roads. I used to take him to Sand Banks off Talimannar. We leave after sunset in our boats and camp out in the Sand Bank for the night. On a moonlit night, while drinking Rockland Lemon gin with fresh lime soda, (we used to get four bottles of local hard liquor per month on duty-free rate. At that time the most preferred brand was Rockland Lemon Gin), eating deep-fried jumbo prawns, sitting on the edge of the sandbank with feet in sea water, and he will start advising me on the importance of a married life, which was Greek to me those young days. Not like us, he had a clear vision and wanted to live a long and a happy married life.

 

As he got married to Shashi, who was his school time sweetheart and relative, the daughter of Army Commander General Hamilton Wanasinghe, VSV, USP, ndc (who later became CDS and Defence Secretary), he never used this connection to be away from War. Few days after his wedding, he went back to the War front. He was always brave and patriotic.

 

Bhathiya and Sashi had two lovely daughters, Druveesh and Sachini. Much later in service, when I ask about his two daughters, his eyes used to light up and used to say “I am their hero”. Bhathiya paid supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle on 22nd April 2000.

 

I was not able to attend his funeral as I was involved in a special mission in the Eastern area and I asked my wife Yamuna to attend. There were two funerals of distinguished Royalists who had made the supreme sacrifice on the same day at the Borella general cemetery. They are; Major General Percy Fernando of the Commando Regiment and Brigadier Bhathiya Jayathilake of the Artillery Regiment. Both paid supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle.

 

My wife who is considered as a strong lady in the military circles cried for days recollecting how Bhathiya’s two daughters wept during the funeral. She says no child should ever go through such an agony in their life.

 

We were invited to the weddings of both the daughters of Bhathiya last year. We saw the void Bhathiya has created to his loving wife and two daughters with his untimely demise. Pictures of young Bhathiya with Shashi and daughters were flashed during both the Weddings as a tribute to him. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of all the Sri Lankan children. And we shall never forget him, Brigadier Bhathiya Jayathilake, RWP, RSP, IG, our Royal College Cadet Platoon buddy.

 

 

Bhathiya ,Sashi and two daughters

 

 

 

Bhathiya

 

 

 

                  

 

Thibba

 

Squadron Leader Thejananda Thibbotumunuwe, RWP was an Air Force transport pilot, and we used to call him as “Thibba”. He was a distinguished old boy of Ananda College, Colombo and followed his elder brother’s footsteps and joined the Armed Forces (his elder brother was in the Army and I have served under him in Mannar).

 

You will never forget Thibba’s face. He was chubby, round faced and always with an evergreen smile. Thibba was a great transport pilot who usually flew AN-32 or Y8 transport aircraft of the Sri Lanka Air Force. His main job was to carry troops and supplies from Rathmalana to Palali Air Base in Jaffna and transport military personnel going on leave from Palali to Rathmalana. He knew the importance of his task and always ensured that every one waiting to go on leave, some after three months would be taken care of. His job started at sunrise from Rathmalana and used to do three or four shuttles, Rathmalana to Palali and back till sunset.

 

There had been a number of incidents where brave Air Force pilots were victims of LTTE shoulder- fired Surface to Air missile attacks at that time, but Thibba and his brother pilots never stopped maintaining the vital air link to the Jaffna peninsula by air.

 

There were no secure road links from the South and sea transport was difficult and time-consuming. Sometimes it would take two days of sea passage from Trincomalee to KKS. So flying even under missile threat was the only viable option to transfer battle casualties from Jaffna to Colombo for immediate medical care. Thibba was exposed to enemy missile threats at least six times per day when landing or taking off his transport aircraft at the Palali airbase. Hundreds of brave soldiers who were severely injured during enemy confrontations were saved, thanks to Thibba. Whether, there is a seat or not in the aircraft, he never left me at Palali and had even taken me in the cockpit a couple of times. He was such a nice person and a true friend in uniform.

 

When I was in the SBS in 90s and flying from one place to another, more frequently to Colombo from Jaffna and back for important meetings/ briefings and debriefings at the Naval Headquarters, Thibba used to tease me by saying I am gaining more flying hours than him as the SBS Commanding Officer. That is Thibba. A Jovial fellow, who had no fear of the constant threat posed by the imminent enemy missile fire.

 

I was once taking the last flight from Palali to attend my son’s birthday. Knowing the importance of my presence with my son and family that evening, to my surprise, a SLAF Jeep was waiting for me to travel to my home from Rathmalana when we landed at the Rathmalana Air Base late on that evening. Thibba had arranged it in consultation with the SLAF Base Commander Rathmalana. That’s how Thibba showed that he cared for his friends. A true friend understands family values!

 

Thibba had three sons named Menuka, Diluka and Chamika. Thibba was not fortunate to see his younger son as he was born in April 1996. They were lovely children and he was so proud of them. One day in 1995, I took a passage from Palali to Rathmalana in his aircraft. After taking off from Palali and when we were cleared from enemy missile threat, he invited me to the cockpit. We were talking of our boys all the way to Rathmalana. My son was of the same age of Thibba’s elder son Menuka. They were four years old at that time. He wanted to teach them swimming as Thibba was also a good swimmer. That’s the last time I met Thibba.

 

On that fatal day, 18th November 1995, Thibba flew his Y-8 aircraft as usual from Rathmalana to Palali with vital defence cargo. He was approaching the Palali airfield at a very low altitude from seaward to avoid enemy missile fire. Terrorists were in a boat, and they targeted Thibba and the aircraft went down into seas off KKS. His co-pilot (Squadron Leader Kumbalatara)

explained later how Thibba tried to land the aircraft on water. He helped his co-pilot to eject from the sinking aircraft, but Thibba died from drowning. His bravery was visible even during the last minutes of his life. His sole intention was to save his brother officer!

 

Time flew fast. My son took up competitive swimming representing Royal College, and he was of the same age of Thibba’s elder son Menuka. One day I accompanied my wife Yamuna to a swimming meet to see how my son performs. My wife was always behind my son, and she explained to me about timings of the event and the tough competition my son was going to face. There were two boys from Ananda College on the starting blocks. Yamuna said they are very good, and they are “Thibbotumunuwe” sons.

 

I silently wept for Thibba. All three sons resemble Thibba. Round face, chubby and strongly build. Thibba was not there to watch his sons perform so well in swimming, the wish that he had as a loving father. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of all the children of our Nation.

When they grew up, Thibba’s elder sons wanted to join the military. Menuka joined the Air Force as a pilot (now deployed in South Sudan UN Peacekeeping mission), Diluka is now serving in the Navy, after four years of basic training in China and Chamika the younger one is

pursuing higher studies. All of them are doing extremely well and if Thibba lived, he would have been still serving in uniform. The void created by his demise to his loving wife and three sons is unimaginable. We will never forget Thibba.

 

 

Chamika

 

 

 

Diluka

 

 

 

Neluka

 

 

 

Thibba

 

 

 

      

 

Nalaka

 

Late Commander Parakrama Samaraweera, WWV, RSP was an outstanding Naval Officer. He studied at Kingswood College, Kandy, Captained the College Rugby Football team, a top athlete and a great basketball player. With a towering height of 6’4” he was a giant. I would say a gentle giant.

 

His friends called him “Nalaka”, I do not know how he got this name. He joined the Navy in 1979 (one year before me) and won the “Sword of Honour” presented to the Best Cadet Officer at the end of one-year basic training at the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee.

When our batch, one year junior to him, met him in the Academy, we were fearful of him due to his height and rough voice, but soon we realized he is a gentle giant.

 

My close association with Nalaka came in the Rugby field. First, he insisted me to take part in Inter Command Rugby tournament to play for the Training Command team. Even though I had very good basic skills on Rugby by attending Mr. Summa Navaratnam’s Rugby training sessions on weekends at the CR and FC grounds (thanks to my late father), I have not played much competitive Rugby at Royal.

 

Nalaka (who was our Captain in Training Command team) insisted that I should pair him as the second row forward in our Training Command team. I obeyed him reluctantly. To my surprise, we played well and clicked well as the second row forwards, and I was also selected to the Navy Rugby pool.

 

Nalaka was very happy. As under trainees at that time we would not get the luxury of being at the Walisara Navy camp with other Navy Rugby pool members. We had to travel by train from Trincomalee to Colombo for matches on weekends and had to return to Trincomalee in the night mail train to be at the Parade Ground by 0730 on Mondays.

I liked the idea, rather than doing cleaning of messes and running around the Naval Dockyard on weekends, this is a much better option to travel to Colombo to play matches on weekends, have a beer after the match, say “Hi” to my mother, sisters and friends and to return on Sunday night. I loved the opportunity and thanked Nalaka profusely for convincing me to play Rugby.

 

Nalaka taught me the first lesson of survival in trying time. We used to get third class train tickets ‘Trinco-Colombo-Trinco’ those days to attend matches. There were no reservations and weekend night mail trains were always very crowded. Before our first trip to Colombo, Nalaka told me “Hey, ! Ensure you carry a newspaper and a towel before boarding the train tomorrow”.

 

I was wondering whether we are going to have a sea bath or a swim after the match, but why a newspaper? At the Trincomalee railway station Nalaka told me, “Bloody idiot! You are going to play a Rugger match tomorrow! Ensure you get some good sleep tonight. When the crowd settle down in the train put your newspaper on the floor in a passage way and sleep. Keep your bag as your pillow, otherwise you will lose it with all your belongings. Don’t look for me. I will be doing the same. I will wake you up when we are reaching the Ragama station”. (We used to disembark at Ragama to go to our Welisara Navy Camp). What a bright idea! I said “Aye aye Sir”, but like an idiot I asked him again, “Excuse me Sir! Why did you ask me to carry a towel?”

 

He was outraged and said “You Bloody idiot! (I deserved it this time) cover your beautiful face with that towel when you are sleeping on the floor. Otherwise, sailors traveling in the train will see you and tomorrow they will report to the Training Commander saying “we saw Cadet Wijegunaratne sleeping on the floor in a third class compartment! Then not only you, I will also be in trouble”. That is Nalaka.

 

With the slight swing of the night mail train moving fast, I had a good night sleep on the floor of a third class compartment, covering my face with a towel and my traveling bag as my pillow. Thanks to Nalaka’s bright survival technique.

 

After matches, Nalaka used to visit his school-time sweetheart, Achini                       (Sudarshani) who was playing Netball at that time and I used to run home. Before leaving, he always ensured that I had a decent meal after a match.

 

Comradeship we built during Rugby seasons was there throughout our career. We both played Navy Rugby together for a number of years. As the Captain of the Navy team, he brought glory to Navy by becoming the Runner-Up team in the A Division Knockout tournament in 1989. It was a great achievement to the Navy team at that time. He was always an elder brother to me.

 

In 1995, both of us were Commanding Fast Attack Craft (FACs) in the North. Once I was on patrol and my FAC engines stalled due to an electronic defect and was drifting dangerously towards enemy held Velvettiturai (VVT). I screamed for help and Nalaka came in his FAC and tried to tow me away from the VVT reef. Wind and waves were so strong and his effort was futile and Nalaka’s FAC also started to drift towards the reef dangerously. I shouted, “Sir let go the towrope! Otherwise, we both will run aground!” Angry Nalaka shouted back, “No way! I am not leaving you! We both will die together!” and went inside the bridge to give more thrust to his engines. However, we survived that day to fight another day. The unbelievable comradeship of Nalaka!

 

He got married to Achini and had two sons Samitha and Bhathiya. He was a very proud father. It was always a very pleasant sight to see Nalaka coming for Rugby practices to the Welisara ground sharp at 4 pm, walking from his married quarters, Rugby jersey on his shoulder, boots around his neck, two kids under his armpits and Achini trailing behind him. He was a real family man and set a great example for us.

 

When I was dating Yamuna, he was a great supporter to me. His humble married quarter was always opened for us to meet. Achini ensured that Yamuna always sat next to her when they come to see the Navy Rugby matches.

 

On 18th July 1996 at 1.30 am, LTTE terrorists attacked Mullattivu Army complex. The attack was led by LTTE Leader Balraj. Suicide cadres of LTTE breached the Northern perimeter of the complex and by the first light of 18th July, Mullattivu was falling. Reinforcement troops arrived from Jaffna and Trincomalee in ships and landing craft and SLNS Ranaviru, Commanded by Nalaka was tasked to provide protection to the Sea Convoy that had reached off Mullattivu by mid-day on the 19th.

 

Nalaka provided Naval Gunfire Support from the Southern flank off Alampil for troops to be disembarked at the beach. The landing was unsuccessful. Ships came under heavy enemy attack. Sea Tigers were trying to target the Landing Craft with their low profile suicide boats.

Since the landing was unsuccessful, orders were issued to withdraw. Nalaka and his crew fought valiantly to protect the troop carrying ships and Landing Craft until they clear the critical area.

 

Nalaka’s Gun Boat was hit by an enemy suicide boat, and he lost control of the ship’s steering. His crew fought to the death. There were only two survivors, and they were picked up by a FAC, they said they last saw Nalaka on the bridge firing at the enemy with his rifle. He refused to abandon his ship, like a true Naval Officer, instead opted to fight to the death. We lost him out at sea. His body was never recovered.

 

Achini refused to accept the fact that he was killed in action. She waited for him to come home one day and slowly lost her hopes when years go by. Commander Parakrama Samaraweera was later awarded Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya for his bravery and valour shown in the face of the enemy off Mullaithivu seas. His elder son Samitha collected the gallantry medal from H.E. the President on his late father’s behalf. His two young sons lost their beloved father.

 

Later in their lives, the two sons joined the Navy following their father’s footsteps. Elder Son Samitha, who is studious and silent, qualified as a Navy doctor. The younger son, who is a replica of his father with his height, walk, smile and mischievous acts, joined the Navy as a Logistician and played Rugby for the Navy. The void created by the untimely demise of their father will never be able to fill.

 

 

Bhathiya

 

 

 

Samitha

 

 

 

Nalaka

 

 

 

         

 

My Son

 

My son is Ravindra Sathyajith Wijegunaratne, known to friends as “Ravi Junior” is 26 years old now. His smart, strong and inspiring personality constantly reminds Yamuna and me what is most important in our lives.

 

Fifteen years back, when I was the Defence Adviser and First Secretary of the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi, India, I was packing-up my baggage to return to Sri Lanka on completion of three-year tenure. I was going through my desk-top computer deleting unwanted files. My son (ten years old at that time) extensively used this computer for his school work in New Delhi and to play computer games. I came across an interesting file. It was an essay my son has written as a ten year old student titled “My Summer Vacation.”

 

I will re-produce it here,

 

This Summer Vacation during the month of June, I went to Haridhwar and Rishikish. Haridhwar is an important place for Hindus. ‘Hari’ means God and ‘Dhawar’ means door. So, Haridhwar means door to haven. My father, mother and I were on this tour. We performed Arthi at Haridhwar. ‘Arthi’ means you float oil lamps along the mighty Ganga River. Hindus believe it brings good luck to them. It was a beautiful sight at night as hundreds of lights were floating downstream.

 

Next day was a Sunday. We went to Rishikish. Rishikish is a holy place, and we saw a lot of Hindu priests meditating. My father said he has a surprise for me. He said he has arranged “White water rafting” for me. I was very excited. We tied our rubber boat to the hood of our Jeep and drove along the road up to a staging point for rafting in River Ganga.

 

Our guide and instructor Mr. Kumar met us there. He explained all the safety drills and equipment. I was given a plastic helmet, life jacket and short oar. My father was also given the same. My mother was afraid and refused to go in the boat and she said she will follow us in the Jeep along the river bank.

Mr. Kumar said, if the boat capsized, not to worry and hold on to the oar and to keep legs downstream and float. I was not afraid as I am a good swimmer. My father and I sat on either side of the rubber boat with short oars and our guide, Kumar sat on the back with a long oar to control the boat. We start going down rapids. Kumar used to give commands to paddle or not. He controlled the boat beautifully with his long oar. He was a very experienced instructor. Some places we had to pull hard. I was enjoying white water rafting. Even though it was summer, water was very cold. Kumar said water was cold because it flows from melting glaziers of Himalayan mountain range.

 

We came across our first rapid known as Hilton. Boat tossed up and down. We were drenched with cold water. Kumar controlled the boat with his long oar. I was tired but I was enjoying. When we cleared the rapid, we stopped at the river bank for a rest. Kumar said next rapid is known as “double trouble”. We reached next rapid slowly. Suddenly we gained speed. Rubber boat tossed up and down like a rubber ball in the water. Kumar started to give his Commands for us to pull hard on our oars. It was a real trouble in “double trouble”.

 

Anyway, we passed that rapid also and reached near Luxman Jula, the hanging bridge. Water flows under the bridge very slow in this area, and we enjoyed beautiful sight with mountains and jungle on either side of river Ganga for next two miles paddling slowly. My father started singing Sinhala songs. After singing Sinhala songs, he jumped into cold water and start swimming with the boat. I held him from his T-shirt. We were very happy. Kumar explained about trees and birds you see in this part of India. We took our boat safely to the river bank and pulled it up to the river bank.

 

My mother reached there in the Jeep after few minutes. We have come along the river before the Jeep. I realized white water rafting is very fast. It was an exciting trip in white water rafting. I want to do it again and again. My father said it is his gift to me on Father’s Day. I wished him for being such a caring father.

 

He said next time he wanted to do white water rafting with Children of our Nation. I asked him who are Children of our Nation? He said I will not understand now but will explain who they are when I grow older.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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