22nd October 2000
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War heroes

A gallant comrade

Lt. Nissanka of Gajaba Regiment

By Hiranthi Fernando
In 1993, the 3rd Battalion of the Gajaba Regi-ment was deployed at Pooneryn, a strategic stronghold in the ongoing war. Pooneryn was continuously under threat from the LTTE. A young Second Lieutenant Nissanka who was on duty there as Platoon Commander, acted with immense courage in the face of the enemy attack, sacrificing his life to enable his troops to withdraw with their injured comrades. For his gallant act, Second Lieutenant K.W.T Nissanka was posthumously awarded the Army's highest honour for bravery, the Parama Weera Vibushanaya in 1996.

Lt. Nissanka"On November 11, 1993, at about 1.30 a.m., the LTTE unleashed a sudden and major onslaught on the Pooneryn Camp. The most severe attack was on the security area where Second Lt. Nissanka was in charge of the platoon," recounted Col. Daulagala, who was the Unit Commander at the time and who also wrote the citation for Nissanka's Parama Weera Vibushanaya award. 

"Nissanka's platoon was deployed facing Pooneryn, just outside the town. He commanded his men with the greatest zeal and repulsed the enemy, attacking them with RPGs and small arms. However, the terrorists reorganized themselves and unleashed a second furious attack in the front and rear of the defence line."

Col. Daulagala related how Nissanka moved from bunker to bunker, encouraging his men, paying no heed to the risk to his own life. As the situation worsened, he called for reinforcements from the Battalion Headquarters but it was of no avail, since the HQ was also under attack. Even amidst this severe onslaught by the terrorists, Nissanka managed to engage the enemy leading his men courageously. 

Nissanka's parents: Sad at their loss but proud of his braveryBut around 5 a.m., a bullet hit Nissanka in the thigh injuring him badly. "Displaying bravery of the highest order and dedication to duty, even in great pain, he commanded his platoon with great valour to fight the enemy," Col. Daulagala recalled.

As time progressed though, most of the members of his platoon were either injured or killed in the onslaught. The remaining soldiers were unable to even remove the wounded to places of safety due to the continuous enemy assault. Even then, Nissanka had informed his Battalion Headquarters that he was ready to fight the terrorists until death.

Finally, having seen the enemy advancing towards him, Nissanka decided to give his remaining men an opportunity to withdraw. Ordering them to do so, he unlocked the two hand grenades he had with him and rushed towards the enemy. The hand grenades exploded, killing the terrorists and Nissanka instantly. His gallant action enabled the remaining soldiers to withdraw safely, taking their injured comrades with them.

"There is not the slightest doubt that his main aim was to safeguard the lives of his comrades even at the expense of his own life," Col. Daulagala remarked.

Major Vajira Kariyawasam, who was also at Pooneryn said he was in radio contact with Second Lt. Nissanka almost to the end. 

"He was very close to me. He asked me for support but I was unable to help because we were also under attack." Major Kariyawasam, who was then a Captain, was also injured at Pooneryn and lost an arm.

"I asked him to come over to my side. Although he tried to get across, he was surrounded and could not do so. Some of his men were killed but he sent some of his platoon over to my side. The last he told me over the radio was that the terrorists were very close and he would do what he could. 

"I knew then that he was going to do something dangerous. The platoon members, whom he sent to me related how he exploded the grenades, killing the terrorists and himself."

"It is recommended that 0/61672 2/Lt KWT Nissanka of the Gajaba Regiment, be awarded the Parama Weera Vibushanaya as a reward for his individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery of the most exceptional order in the face of the enemy, performed voluntarily whilst on active service and with no regard to the risks to his own life and security with the objective of safeguarding thereby, the lives of his comrades or facilitating the operational aim of his force," states the citation presented with Nissanka's award. 

Nissanka's parents, K.W. Karunaratne and K.P. Dayawathie live at Pahala Imbulgoda, in Gampaha.

"My son joined the Army in 1990," Dayawathie said. "He passed the GCE O'Level examination well in all subjects but on the day of his A' Levels, he went for the Army interview, missing the exam. 

His father cried when he enlisted. From his schooldays, he had a great desire to join the Army. He was a cadet officer while studying at D.S. Senanayake School. Nissanka trained at Diyatalawa for three months and was later sent to Pakistan too for training."

After Nissanka's death, a colleague of his who had been an eyewitness to the incident, visited his parents and told them of their son's heroism. Although very sad at their loss, the parents are also proud of his bravery. They are grateful to the Army for all the support they have been given. "We received all the compensation and we get his salary monthly," Karunaratne, said. "The Army helps us in many ways. They are even assisting us to put our daughter's child into a school."

The lane they live in was named 'Nissanka Mawatha' in honour of their son with approval from the President and the Pradeshiya Sabha of the area. But the name board was broken four times and they finally gave up and brought it back to their house. They have erected a statue of Nissanka at the Nittambuwa temple, where many other war heroes are commemorated. 

"It is because of their bravery that the rest of us can live," they said.

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