Respect, salute thy brave soldiers

Date: 20 Feb 2009

Comment:

Respect, salute thy brave soldiers 
Category   Editorial Posted On Friday, February 20, 2009 
A trooper who drew enemy fire in Afghanistan while retrieving a wounded ally has become the first Australian soldier in 40 years to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). On January 15, Mark Donaldson said he had not stopped to think about the danger when he went to rescue a wounded interpreter after a US and Australian convoy was ambushed in southern Afghanistan while fighting a fierce battle with the rebels there.
"I don't see myself as a hero, honestly," the 29-year-old insisted as he received the 96th VC given to an Australian in the 153 years since the award was created. "Every single one of our soldiers who are there serving for the nation are heroes....I'm trained to fight, that's what we do, it's distinct and it's natural, you don't really thing about it at the time. I just saw him there; I went over there and got him that was it."
Unknown to almost everyone at the investiture ceremony, Trooper Donaldson lives with a personal tragedy. He was orphaned almost 11 years ago when his mother, Bernadette Donaldson, went missing, presumed murdered. His father had earlier died of a heart attack.
The Australian Defence Department said Donaldson reacted quickly after the ambush by moving alternate positions to return fire, at one point deliberately attracting enemy fire to give others time to move wounded soldiers to a safety. Soon after the ambush, when coalition forces realized they had left a wounded interpreter behind, Trooper Donaldson returned to cross about 80 meters of exposed ground to recover the man. 
"His movement, once identified by the enemy, drew intense and accurate machine-gun fire from the entrenched positions," said the Victoria Cross citation. The trooper was awarded the VC at a ceremony in Canberra attended by Governor General Quentin Bryce, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull and other senior dignitaries from the cabinet and the services.
Prime Minister Rudd was in no doubt about Trooper Donaldson's status. "Today Donaldson joins the ranks of Australian heroes, and his feat of arms, his feat under fire, now becomes the stuff of Australian legend," he said. Similar sentiments were echoed by others. The Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Houston saluted Trooper Donaldson, in the keeping with the military protocol and said "as the highest-ranking member of the Defence Forces, there has been no current serving VC that I salute until now." 
On his part, Trooper Donaldson donated his VC to the Australian War Memorial so that the younger generation gets motivated to do service to the nation in the time of need without disregard to ones own life. Neil Fletcher, chief curator at the Memorial, was of the opinion that Donaldson's VC would show the country the danger diggers faced in Afghanistan and that most Australians probably don't fully understand how bloody and how dangerous this war is. 
The above illustrates the respect western countries give to their brave soldiers of the Armed forces. Can Indian politicians and bureaucrats emulate the protocol laid down by the British, when it ruled India? Can the Indians follow it in letter and spirit?
It is shameful for the nation to recently witness decorated Ex-Servicemen returning their medals to the supreme commander of the Armed forces President Pratibha Patil for being discriminated from their civilian counterparts.
The Param Vir Chakra (PVC) is the highest gallantry award for officers and other ranks of the Armed forces, for the highest degree of bravery, in the presence of the enemy. The PVC is the post-independence equivalent of the Victoria Cross - Britain's highest medal for gallantry.
The Chakra was established on 26 January 1950, by the President of India, with effect from 15 August 1947, and presently is the second highest award of the Government, after the Bharat Ratna (amendment in the Statute on 26 January 1980, resulted in this order of wearing).
As per protocol, even the senior-most officer of the Armed forces is supposed to salute a serving PVC. However, it is not being followed by the egoist top brass of the present time. How then does one expect civilians will do so?
What to talk of PVC, recall that even the brave Field Marshal was not accorded the honour he deserved at his funeral. Field Marshall Manekshaw, the great hero of the Bangladesh War in December 1971, passed away at the Military Hospital in Wellington in the early hours on 27 June 2008. He was given a State Funeral on 28 June 2008. As a 17-gun salute boomed, Manekshaw was buried in a Parsi graveyard near the place where his wife lay buried. 
The last rites were performed as per Zoroastrian customs. Thousands of people thronged the Wellington Barracks to pay homage to 'Sam Bahadur'. It was homage by the local community, that he had endeared himself to during his 37 years of stay at Coonoor.
Though this great and iconic military personality was given the final salute and laid to rest with full military honours at the funeral, the cold apathy and indifference of the Government was patently evident on the occasion. It is a matter of great national shame that the entire defence establishment, except the Minister of State for Defence, skipped the State Funeral of India's most decorated soldier. Defence Minister A K. Antony, Air Chief Marshall Fali H Major and Navy Admiral Sureesh Mehta were apparently all very much in the Capital, though the Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapur is reported to be away on tour to Russia. 
Antony was busy with his sordid UPA party politics. It is indeed a grim tragedy that the Chief of Air Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff also decided to emulate the `political' example of their boss. They did not think it prudent to attend the funeral of the Field Marshall, who has played such an important role in the evolution and development of the citadel and fortress of the colossal Defence structure the country has today. 
Sadly, the Government of India buried civility at Sam Bahadur's funeral. This is the respect we accord to our brave soldiers. A nation who cannot respect its soldiers cannot think of winning wars.
Dr PK Vasudeva, INFA

 
 
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