Admiral (Retired) Ravindra C Wijegunaratne,* in Island, 14 June 2020, where the title runs “Brave fathers who died for our sons and daughters”
Father’s Day is the day of honouring fatherhood and parental bonds. In Roman Catholic countries, in Europe, it’s celebrated on March 19th, the St. Joseph day. In America, it’s the third Sunday of month of June. So, this year’s Father’s Day is on 21st June, 2020.
Our children, usually send us a greeting cards, on Father’s day. My son, who is 26 years old now, during the last few years, used to take me to my favourite restaurant, to lunch. My wife, Yamuna, would allow me to have two large Bombay Sapphire Gin, with tonic, before we sat for the Sunday buffet. After two drinks, and a delicious lunch, I would sleep, until late evening. That is how I have been enjoying Father’s Day. But, my heart always goes to children of fallen heroes of our country, who are not so fortunate, like my son. They miss their fathers. Some of them have not even seen their fathers. They have only heard about them, from their mothers, relatives and friends.
This incident happened in October last year. My mobile phone rang in the afternoon. It was a number I had not saved. I answered the call. A faint voice, of a young child, at other end; “Sir, I m Wikum, son of Chief Petty Officer K G Shantha. “Yes, Son!” I replied. Late Chief Petty Officer KG Shantha was from elite Special Boats Squadron (SBS), the Naval Commando Unit, and he made the supreme sacrifice, out at sea, in Point Pedro, on 1st November 2008.
His wife was four months pregnant when Shantha died. This child never saw his father alive. “Sir, I have some news for you. I have passed the Grade 5 Scholarship, exam with 165 marks.” The child continued, “My mother wants me to convey this news to you, and all other SBS members.”
“Well done son! All SBS uncles will be very happy with your achievement. Please, visit my office with your mother, this week, after school. I have a small gift for you,” I said. It is always a delightful news to hear our fallen War Heroes Children doing well in their lives. The void created by the loss of their fathers always effect them. In that sense, young Wikum’s achievement is remarkable.
Sitting in my office, my mind ran back to 2008. Our Navy was outmaneuvering, and destroying, LTTE Sea Tiger boats, at a rapid phase, by mid 2008. All their ocean going capabilities were destroyed and littoral battles were intense and deadly. To save their pride and capabilities, the LTTE Sea Tigers turned towards their ultimatum weapon, out at sea – the suicide boats. The Navy response with our small boats Squadrons of SBS and Rapid Action Boats Squadron (RABS), was very effective against this huge Suicide Boats threat.
In the early hours of 1st Nov. 2008, a fierce sea battle erupted between the Navy and the Sea Tigers, off Point Pedro. Several LTTE Boats, and the Navy, also suffered casualties. Petty Officer KG Shantha, from SBS, was Commanding Arrow boat Z-142. He had three more SBS members on board. His boat was fitted with 23mm gun which they used very effectively against the enemy. (When you fight out at sea there is no cover. Whoever fire effectively, first, will win the battle.)
By 0545 hrs, KG ( Shantha) had all three of his crew injured due to enemy fire. Squadron Commander ordered him to withdraw to harbour. When he was about to move back, he saw one LTTE boat moving fast, towards P 164 (Inshore Patrol Craft), commanded by Lt (SBS) Wickramasinghe. P164 had 12 SBS personnel onboard. By its shape and speed, KG identified it as an LTTE suicide boat.
He realised the danger. He decided and acted as per the greatest traditions of SBS, sacrifice your own life to protect your senior officer and buddies. He rammed the LTTE Suicide boat with his craft. A huge explosion! Both the LTTE Suicide boat and KG’s boat perished into thin air….
Petty officer(SBS) KG Shantha was promoted to rank of Chief Petty Officer posthumously. His wife, who was four months pregnant, was informed of her beloved husband’s loss. There was no funeral, as nothing was left of him, due to the impact of the 500 kg suicide boat explosion. KG was later awarded with Parama Weera Vibhushanaya (PWV), highest Gallantry Medal of Sri Lanka. He became one of the two naval personnel awarded with this highest Gallantry medal.
Lt (then) Wickramasinge and six sailors out of twelve on board P164, are married with children. Thanks to Shantha, they survived that day.
In 2011, a house for KG’s wife, and family, was constructed by the Naval Civil Engineering Department, with funds given by former First Lady, Mrs Shiranthi Wickremasinghe Rajapaksa, in memory of her father, the late Commander EP Wickremasinghe.
KG’s Son was admitted to Royal College, Colombo 7. The distance, from his home, to Royal College, was too far for young child. On my request, former Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka gave him a house, on temporary basis, at the new Housing Scheme, in Mandawila, which eased the burden of long traveling and enough time for the child to attend to his studies and extra classes.
When Wikum came to my office, with his mother, to collect his gift, he brought a letter written in his beautiful handwriting, thanking Minister Ranawaka for the kind gesture that helped him do his studies well. Minister Ranawaka is an Electrical Engineer from the Moratuwa University.
I gave him the same advice that my father had given me when I passed the Navodhaya scholarship, in Grade Seven, in Royal College, Colombo 7, in 1974. “Good, better, best – do not rest until your good is better and better is best”
We will never forget these children and will continue support them. They are the children of our Nation. When you meet them, please tell them that their fathers are National Heroes.
- Admiral Wijegunaratne is Former Chief of Defensce Staff