‘Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.’ — Mother Teresa
My mobile phone rang a few years back when I was chief of defence staff. It’s a number I have not saved. I answered the call. A faint voice of a young child on the other end. “Sir I am 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 who paid the supreme sacrifice out at sea in Point Pedro on 1st Nov 2008.
His wife was four months pregnant when Shantha died. This child never saw his father alive.
“Sir, I have a good news for you. I have passed the Grade 5 Scholarship exam with 165 marks.” The child continues, “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 affects them. In that sense, young Wikum’s achievement is remarkable. Sitting in my office, my mind ran back to 2008.
Our Navy outmanoeuvring and destroying LTTE Sea tiger boats at 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, LTTE Sea-Tigers turned towards their ultimatum weapon out at sea, the suicide boats. Navy response with our small boats Squadrons of SBS and Rapid Action Boats Squadron (RABS) was very effective against this huge Suicide Boats threat.
On 1st Nov 2008 early hours, a Sea battle erupted between Navy and Sea-Tigers off Point Pedro. A number of LTTE Boats were destroyed and Navy also had casualties. Petty Officer KG Shantha from SBS, was commanding the Arrow boat Z-142. He had three more SBS members on board. His boat was fitted with a 23mm gun which they used very effectively against the enemy. (When you fight out at sea there is no cover. Whoever fires effectively first will win the battle.)
By 05.45 AM, KG (Shantha) had all three of his crew injured due to enemy fire. Squadron Commander ordered him to withdraw to the harbour. When he is about to move back, he saw one LTTE boat moving fast towards P 164 (Inshore Patrol Craft) commanded by Lt (SBS) Wickramasinghe. P164 had twelve SBS personnel onboard. By shape and speed, KG identified it as an LTTE Suicide boat. No time to wait. He knew the danger. He decided and acted as per the greatest traditions of SBS, sacrifice own life to protect your senior officer and buddies.
He rammed the LTTE Suicide boat with his craft. Huge explosion! Both LTTE Suicide boat and KG’s boat perished into thin air……
Petty Officer (SBS) KG Shantha was promoted to the rank of Chief Petty Officer posthumously. His wife who was four months pregnant then and informed of her beloved husband’s loss. No funeral was taken place as nothing of his body recovered due to 500 Kg Suicide boat explosion. KG was later awarded Parama Weera Vibushanaya (PWV), the highest Gallantry medal of Sri Lanka. He became one of the two naval personnel awarded with this highest Gallantry medal.
In 2011, 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 late father Commander EP Wickremasinghe of Royal Ceylon Navy/Sri Lanka Navy, former Chief of Staff (Operations) of Sri Lanka Navy.
KG’s Son was admitted to Royal College, Colombo 7. Distance from his home to Royal College was too far for the young child to travel.
On my request, former Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka gave a House temporarily at the new Housing scheme in Mandawila, which eased the burden of long travelling and allowing 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 Partali for the gesture which helped him to do his studies well. I recollect Minister was an Electrical Engineer from Moratuwa University and got the Island’s best results in G C E Advanced Level Examination on Science stream from Kalutara district.
I learnt what is gratitude from this young War Hero’s Son.
I gave him the advice which my father gave me when I passed Navodhaya scholarship in grade Seven in Royal College, Colombo 7.
“Good, better, best – do not rest until your good is Better and better is best”