8th October 2000
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No one told him - he knew what had to be done

In this new series on war heroes, Hiranthi Fernando profiles Cpl. Gamini Kularathna who was awarded the first "Parama Weera Vibushanaya" medal 

In July 1991, a young soldier from the Sinha Regiment earned the gratitude of the nation. Cpl. Gamini Kularathna, later known as 'the hero of Hasalaka', saved the Elephant Pass camp at the cost of his own life. In recognition of his heroism, he was posthumously awarded the 'Parama Weera Vibusha-naya', the highest honour for bravery in the Sri Lanka Army. 

Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne, Military Spokesman who was then Battalion Commander of the 6th Battalion, Sinha Regiment, recalled the events that led to Cpl. Kularathna heroic act. "Our Battalion was under the Second Division commanded by the late Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa. Our task was to defend Elephant Pass, the gateway to Jaffna from the mainland. At about 4.30 a.m. on July 10,1991, the LTTE started attacking the Elephant Pass complex with mortars and heavy machine guns. Within the first ten minutes, the camp's second in command, Major Lalith Buddhadasa was injured. With sunrise, the assault was halted."

Efforts to evacuate Major Buddhadasa failed since the helicopters could not approach the camp due to the heavy anti-aircraft machine gun fire. "We then understood the gravity of the situation," Brig. Karunaratne continued. "Meanwhile, Prabhakaran announced that he had commenced the 'Mother of all Battles' that would clear the military barrier enabling people to move freely from North to South."

Heavy fighting continued on the nights of the 11th and 12th . The LTTE used an armour-plated bulldozer to clear the well constructed defences of the garrison - even pulling down a huge Tamarind tree with this machine. 

On the 13th night, the LTTE attacks commenced around 7.30 p.m. "It was evident that this was the main assault," the Brigadier said. "I was at the command post. It was pitch dark and we had to fight with available weapons. The LTTE was trying to overrun the base of the camp and I was told that the bulldozer was coming down the road. We had no answer. The bulldozer knocked down a stout bunker made of sleepers at the entrance to the camp. Very heavy fighting ensued. It was a hand to hand battle. People were coming in behind the bulldozer. But all of a sudden, the bulldozer was immobilised and the assault ceased."

The next morning, Brig. Karunaratne went to see the enormous machine that had nearly destroyed their defences. He then learned what had happened to the bulldozer, from Rifleman Roel who had been an eye-witness to the incident. Roel described the fierce battle that was going on when the bulldozer started moving towards them. Kularathna was then guarding a bunker with Roel. Suddenly, Kularathna slung his gun round his shoulder, took two grenades in hand and went behind the bulldozer. Amidst enemy gunfire, Roel saw him scale the ladder at the back and then heard the explosion. The grenade he flung into the bulldozer had exploded, killing him and the four terrorists inside it. The bulldozer hit a building and halted. When the situation stabilised, Kularathna body was found in the middle of the road. His bravery had immobilised the monstrous vehicle, saving the camp and his comrades. "Kularathna was a very quiet man," his former commanding officer said. "No one directed him to undertake this task. He came forward - voluntarily." 

Cpl. Gamini Kularathna was from a humble family in Hasalaka, near Mahiyangana. He was the second son in a family of six children. Born on September 22, 1966, he joined the Army in August 1987, six months before his Advanced Level examination. His father had died in 1981 and his mother worked on a paddyfield to earn a living.

"My son fared well in his studies as well as in sports," his mother Y.G. Juliet said. "He was a good boy. Before he left for school in the mornings, he would help me in the paddyfield. We did not have our own field, but cultivated one on a shared basis. I used to do casual labour in the fields to earn a living. I had three younger sons and a daughter still schooling. Gamini said if he joined the Army he could help me educate his younger brothers and sister." 

"On July 15, 1991, an officer from the Pallekelle Army camp came to tell us about my son's brave deed," his mother recalled. 

Cpl. Gamini Kularathna was awarded the "Parama Weera Vibushanaya" on October 10, 1991. It was the first medal awarded. 

In the days immediately following the reports of Kularathna heroic act, a Hasalaka Gamini fund had been opened by the Dinamina newspaper of the Lake House Group. 

However, Col. Anura Perera, Centre Commandant, Sinha Regiment said Kularathna mother had told him they had not received any money from this fund although nine years had passed since it was set up. 

When The Sunday Times inquired, the Lake House Group's Company Secretary Mr. Jayaratne, said he had recently received a letter from the Army along with a copy of a letter from Gamini Kularathna's mother in this regard. 

The money is available in the account and can now be withdrawn by Kularathna mother Juliet. 

Juliet now receives her son's salary, which has been her main source of income, apart from her meagre earnings. This has helped her to carry on with her life. 

"The Army arranged for the compensation and insurance payments with no trouble to us," she said gratefully. "President Premadasa also built this house for us." Juliet still has a young daughter and son living with her. Her daughter has applied for a clerk's job in a government department and her son, who has obtained his heavy vehicles driving licence hopes to get a job as a bus driver. 

However they have not been successful in finding employment yet. Juliet's main concern now is that her two younger children should find some employment, a wish Cpl. Gamini would no doubt have shared. 

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