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Honour Thine Braves

Honour Thine Braves

Col. Inderesh Kumar Jain (R)

, Thursday, 31 August 2023 (18:44 IST)
I write this with a burgeoning sense of gloom at the continuing denigration and the de’gringolade of the Defence Services of India over time; for any number of reasons, not the smallest of which, I am constrained to say is the principled apolitical orientation of our Defence Services (henceforth Services). The Constitutional framework has been fashioned so that the Services are subordinate to the polity and over the years this has unfortunately translated into a fledgling subservience which has come to stay, I am afraid.  I am not going to apportion blame but I will seek comfort in the fact that if we in India can emulate the emotional and the unfeigned connect that a number of countries exhibit for their men and women in uniform, we would have gained the approbation and the appreciation of our Armed Forces; which are by all accounts the very last resort for us in any kind of an emergent circumstance. Thankfully the trust reposed has always been upheld.

I was overwhelmed as I witnessed the presentation of the Medal of Honour (the highest military honour of the US) on 21 May 21, to a Col Ralph Puckett Jr (Retd), US Rangers, for acts of conspicuous bravery beyond the call of duty, in the Korean War (25 Nov 1950), when he was a newly commissioned Young Officer at the head of a Rangers Company, which had been tasked to capture a hill feature.

The background of the presentation is probably all window dressing, and some may question the fact that how is it that someone in the Administration just woke up after 70 years and decided to honour the war hero. That besides.

I may not be able to capture the grace and the simplicity of the occasion but the humility, the empathy and the informal elegance with which President Biden handled the ceremony left me with my hair standing on end.

The ceremony was held in the White House and amongst present were the US Secretary of Defence, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, the entire top brass of the US Army, the VP amongst a host of members of Congress and the family of the 96 years old Col Puckett. The POTUS came in followed by some AsDC  and having reached the podium waited for the veteran to be wheeled in.

The ceremony began with the proverbial invocation of the blessings of The Lord Almighty, with a simple yet powerful prayer by the Pastor. The President then took over and in his simple down to earth and very unaffected manner spoke by rote. He spoke at length about the family of Col Puckett, of each and every member present including the grandchildren. He then recounted in great detail the action of capturing the hill feature by the then 24 years old Lt Puckett, his acts of bravery, the manner of his injuries, his evacuation by members of his Company from the hill feature, and only then asked for the citation to be read out.

The presentation was simple yet heartwarming and with the South Korean President also present on the dais. The POTUS then invited the family of the veteran soldier on the dais for a photograph, and after everyone assembled, he knelt down alongside Col Puckett, who was ensconced on a wheelchair; on one side and President Moon( South Korea) did the same on the other side.

I recount this only to bring out the authenticity of the President, the genuine respect and gratitude that he exuded for the Services. The body language of all those present clearly radiated the sense of appreciation and their acknowledgement of being beholden to the Services for the nation to enjoy the liberties that it did.

Their message was so stark in its contrast to the sometimes rather ephemeral manner in which the Armed Forces in the Indian context are treated.

It would be presumptuous on my part to hope that some people in the corridors of power here, would have had the time or the opportunity to watch this very simple but dignified and touching ceremony and with it the message of eternal gratitude of a thankful nation.

The writer is a veteran of the Indian Army with almost 36 years in uniform. He has commanded an armoured regiment and has held important command, staff and instructional appointment in the Army.

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