Unsung heroes

Unsung heroes

By Ashwini Wijegunaratne

Event:  1st of July 1994, 3 sailors and including interviewee had fallen into the sea, closer to the Northern waters of India, when their boat had sunk, leaving them stranded for a day.  

The person interviewed:  Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne (Retired)               

Essay 1

Being a President Scout and a Lance Sargent of a College Cadet platoon, I always had a liking for the military. 23 years old and a Sub Lieutenant of the Sri Lanka Navy at the time. A memorable event of the civil war was the Sri Lanka Armed Forces winning the battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on 29th May 2009. A personal memory of the war is when I fell into the sea with 3 other sailors when our boat sunk near the Northern waters to the India- Sri Lanka Boundary line, and survived one night swimming in the sea until support came the next day. The main subject of the event was survival at sea.

On July 1st, 1984 at 1400 hrs. In the northern waters of Sri Lanka near the India-Sri Lanka Maritime boundary line (IMBL). The situation took a turn for the worse. As we started heading towards Sri Lankan waters, the wind and the sea coming from the stern of the boat made the handling of the boat on a steady course extremely difficult After a few minutes, due to the capsize of the boat, waves broke on to the boat, and it started sinking. We jumped off. Others were swimming in various directions. The boat disappeared in deep waters within seconds. The wood floorboards of the boat were floating. I grabbed one wooden floorboard and gathered the others around it. Yes, at first, I was doubtful whether we’d be able to swim the whole night. Though I am a good swimmer myself, I was fearful of the other sailors’ lives; I was determined to take leadership and control the situation.

“Thank God!” “Thank you for allowing us to live in this beautiful world” was all I could say after we survived that death-defining feat. I feel very proud and relieved that I was able to save the lives of the other 3 sailors. One thing I remember about the event and the war as a whole is that your determination is extremely important in such situations. War is always destructive and bad. This incident in particular, however, had a happy ending as we all survived a near-death situation at sea. It taught me and the others the importance of training on the “Survival at Sea”. To summarize, my personal experience with the war, I was happy to survive. It gave me a good reminder of the value of training for officers and sailors of the Navy on survival at sea. I served for 39 years. Joined the Navy as a Cadet Officer in 1980 and retired as Admiral in 2020.

Essay 2

The Civil war lasted almost 3 decades. It was mainly among the Sinhalese and the Tamils in their power struggle to control the country. In 1980 no signs of any war were detected, then in 1983 it slowly started, and the next 20 years which followed made this event unforgettable in Sri Lanka’s history. Both sides fought fiercely to claim power, which caused many casualties from each side.

The (LTTE) who were more advanced than the Sri Lanka Armed forces in many aspects also carried out a series of guerilla attacks: organized, precise and unpredictable. However, in 2005 The Sri Lankan Navy was able to track the enemy’s small boats which housed their supplies, the (SBS) Special Boat Squadron unit commanded by Ravi Wijegunaratane (pioneer) managed to destroy them all excluding 3. July 1st1994, Ravindra and his crew were arriving in Sri Lanka after destroying LTTE small boats found in Indian waters when, unfortunately, their boat sunk, and they had to survive 1 day at sea till relief came.

A recipient of the Weerodara Vibhushanaya (second-highest decoration awarded by the Military of Sri Lanka for individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery of a non-military nature.)

For his bravery to save lives without any concern for himself, my uncle was doubtful of his life while at war as he left behind his wife and only son.

Another incident left my uncle with a permanent bullet which was launched in his shoulder and another while jumping out of a parachute, his both legs broke. Many other soldiers in the forces faced life-threatening experiences too. Ravindra’s event had quite a happy end though, his fellow combats and him a valuable lesson.

The war unfolded as it did as 2 main races in Sri Lanka were each determined to separate and control the island, they’re in their own way, this created a rift between them, thus leading to a long and fierce civil war. The war-affected both races greatly. Finally, after 30 years, the Sri Lanka Armed Forces emerged victorious defeating the LLTE on May 29th, 2009. The soldiers in all forces & units are truly heroes. To give us liberty, they sacrificed endlessly, even their lives. Many survivors have their own stories, some of which shall “never be disclosed to the public” and these secrets will go down with them.