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E-Mail this column to a friend 'Before he fell he told his men: Don't leave them'

Captain Manoj Pandey, 1/11 Gurkha Rifles: Posthumous Param Vir Chakra winner
  Captain Manoj Pandey's father
Gopi Chand Pandey is the proud father of Captain Manoj Pandey who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra along with three others for his bravery in the Kargil war. Captain Pandey laid down his life on July 3, 1999 in an operation against the enemy in the Batalik sector. The eldest child of the Pandey couple, Manoj was a brilliant student. His love for the motherland became an obsession and he decided to join the army.

His father is over sixty, but looks older. His son has won the highest gallantry award posthumously, but grief overwhelms his happiness.

Gopi Chand Pandey, Captain Manoj Pandey's father:

Right from his childhood, Manoj used to visualise the day he would wear army uniform and fight with the enemy and kill them. He was a fighter from the early days and used to do acts of bravery that astonished most of the elders. He would always dream of doing something unique which would enable him to have his own identity. He was a courageous man and he lived his life valiantly.

He did his initial schooling in a private school in Lucknow. After the 8th standard he joined the Army School. On May 26 last year, he called us and told us he was fine. Three days later we got a letter from him. He was fighting on the Kargil front from the first day. He did not write much in the letter. One thing that he emphasised time and again was that we should pray to God that he and his colleagues succeeded in their mission.

I remember when he went to join army, he was asked why he wanted to be in the armed forces. "I want to get the Param Vir Chakra," he replied. "Is it a toy?" The officer asked. To this he said that he would prove it in the course of his career. And he did win the Param Vir Chakra, but did not live to see it.

We got to know of his death when a major and two other officers visited our house on July 4 in the afternoon and broke the news to my wife and other members of our family. I was not at home at that time. I knew that my son was fighting a war. Somewhere in my heart I used to pray that the battle stops for a while so that my son would come home. But that was not to be and he died on duty.

His mother is in very bad shape. One does not know how long she will survive. He had barely joined the army three-and-a-half years ago. He has attained those heights that most others just long to achieve. We have lost our son. But our life carries on. We will have to live as destined by the will of God. He has got the Param Vir Chakra, but I wish he had been alive to get it himself.

Colonel Lalit Rai on Captain Manoj Pandey:

On July 2 we got orders to clear up some of the enemy positions in Khalabar in the Batalik sector. We travelled for 14 hours on foot and were short of 400 metres from our aim when there was suddenly heavy fire on our column. The fire came from two directions, from the top and other from the side. At that time Manoj was with me and we had barely sixty men with us. We had lots of casualties. We split the men available. Thirty came with me and the rest went with Manoj.

Being the commanding officer I chose the difficult one on the top. I told Manoj to handle the fire from the left. My own assessment was that there would be only two bunkers there. But later we found that there were six sangars. That was the last time I saw this brave officer alive.

Even while he was going towards his mission, bullets were flying past us. He told me not to worry as he would be able to finish his task. Later on the soldiers told me that when he came to know that there were six sangars, he chose four for himself and assigned two to another officer. He had cleared three and was moving towards the last one when he got a bullet in the thigh and one bullet on his shoulders.

The boys told him to relax as he was injured and said they would do the rest. But the officer refused and insisted on finishing off his part of the duty. He threw a grenade to clear the last sangar. There was a gap of four seconds between throwing the grenade before it exploded. There was a spurt of fire and three bullets went through his helmet and hit his head. I later saw the helmet. Before he fell he told his men: Na Chodnu (Don't leave them).

Meanwhile, the other two bunkers had also been cleared. I also reached a little later. I had been hit in my legs. We fought for three days without any food, water or anything before we could move in reinforcements. We could do it because he had done his job.'

Param Vir Chakra winner Captain Manoj Pandey's father and commanding officer Colonel Lalit Rai spoke to Onkar Singh.


Param Vir Chakra winner Captain Vikram Batra

Param Vir Chakra winner Rifleman Sanjay Kumar

Param Vir Chakra winner Havildar Yogender Singh Yadav

The gallant 21: Param Vir Chakra winners so far

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