This narrative of a poignant episode came from Wing Commander Venky Iyer who records, “He had given more to our country than all of us combined.”
The helicopter appeared over the late morning horizon. We were to receive Mr Lachhman Singh Rathore who was visiting our Flight Unit to perform the last rites of his son, Flying Officer Vikram Singh. Only the day before, I had sent the telegram, “Deeply regret to inform that your son Flying Officer Vikram Singh lost his life in a flying accident early this morning. Death was instantaneous.” It was the first time for me to meet and manage the bereaved next of kin, in this case the father of the brave officer.
While most of the desolate family members insist on seeing the body, many a time there isn’t a body to show !! Flying Officer Vikram Singh’s remains were only a few kilos –scrapped from what was left in the cockpit. We had to weigh the wooden coffin with wood and earth. The pilot brought the helicopter to a perfect touchdown. Soon Mr Lachhman Singh Rathor was helped down the ladder. A small and frail man he was, maybe of 80 years, clad in an immaculate dhoti.
As I approached him, he asked in a quiet and dignified whisper, “Are you Venki, the Flight Commander?” “Yes Sir.” “Vikram had spoken to me about you. I’d like to speak to you alone for a minute.” We walked to the edge of the concrete apron. ‘I have lost a son, and you have lost a friend. I’m sure that you have taken great care in arranging the funeral. Please tell me when and where you want my presence and what you want me to do. I’ll be there for everything. Later, I would like to meet Vikram’s friends, see his room and, if it is permitted, visit his work place. I then would like to return home tomorrow morning.” A commander couldn’t have given me clearer instructions.
The funeral, with full military honours, was concluded by late afternoon. After the final echoes of the ‘Last Post’ faded away, Lachhman Singh spent the evening talking to the Squadron Pilots. Vikram’s roommate took him to see Vikram’s room. Lachhman Singh desired to spend the night in his son’s room instead of the guest house we had reserved for him. Early next morning after a tour of the squadron area, my boss took him to his office.
A while later, the staff car took Lachhman Singh to the civil airfield two hours away. As the car disappeared round the corner, I remarked to my Boss, “A brave man he is. Spoke to me like a General when he told me exactly what he expected from us during his stay here. I have never seen a more composed man on such an occasion. I admire him.” “Yes, Mr Lachhman Singh Rathore is a warrior in his own way. He sired three sons and has laid to rest all three of them. His first son Captain Ghanshyam Singh of the Gurkha Rifles was killed in Ladakh in 1962 War. His second son, Major Bir Singh, died along the Ichogil Canal in 1965 in an ambush. His youngest, Vikram Singh, who had the courage to join the Air Force, is also gone now. He had given more to our country than all of us combined.”