LT. COL R. VISWANATHAN

Story of a leader who led the operation on Tololing top to lead the unit of 18 Grenadiers

MISSION: During Kargil War of 1999,Lt. Col. R. Viswanathan went up the heights to recover the bodies of three of his men. He captured three bunkers but was shot in the groin and thigh. He died while being evacuated.

The letter was to the point. “I am proceeding to an unidentified destination. It could be dangerous.” It was written by Lt-Colonel R. Viswanathan to his wife Jalaja on June 2 but never posted. It still reached her, on June 6 along with the bullet-riddled body of her husband.

Lt. Col. R Viswanathan was on a leader’s mission. Three of his men lay dead on the windswept slopes of the Tololing ridge and he had to get them down. It was the least a gallant officer could do. Leading his troops on the night of June 2, Lt. Col. RViswanathan crawled up the ridge on his stomach under heavy enemy fire. It was the same old story: the intruders were up on the top, well ensconced in bunkers with their LMGs blazing in the still night. He captured three enemy bunkers before bullet injuries on the thigh and groin stopped him. First aid didn’t help and as his troops were trying to get Lt. Col. RViswanathan back to Drass, he died on the way.

Lt. Col. RVishwanathan, 39, should have been at home if the Kargil operation had not taken place. He had planned to reach Kochi on June 4 to take his wife and two children back to his base on June 21. Lt Colonel Vishwanathan, who did his schooling at Kochi, was commissioned in 1981 after completing his training at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, and the IMA, Dehradun.

He had served with the Indian PeaceKeeping Force in Sri Lanka and later with the UN Peace Keeping Force in Angola. A classmate, Captain Srikumar said Lt. Col. RViswanathan was a very dedicated person prepared to take any risk.

The phone rang on the afternoon of June 3 at the house of Viswanathan’s father V. Ramakrishnan in Kochi. “I was told that my son was no more,” recalls Ramakrishnan. The news changed their lives. Jalaja till today declines to meet the hundreds of well-wishers who stream in to offer condolences. Ramakrishnan on the other hand gives the visitors the details of his son’s life — helped by Viswanathan’s daughter Anjali. “It is Angola periyappa,” she says when Ramakrishnan tries to recall the place other than Rwanda where Viswanathan had worked as part of the UN Peace Keeping Mission. The family says it is overwhelmed by community support. The local school has offered Viswanathan’s children admission, the state Government has promised a memorial and Rs 5 lakh, and the army museum at Jabalpur wants to display his uniform. As Ramakrishnan lovingly takes out a uniform his wife Kamal asks if this was the one he was wearing when he died. “No, no. How many times have I told you? That uniform is riddled with bullet holes. This is another set,” he said proudly.

Lt Col R Vishwanathan was the highest ranking officer killed in the Kargil conflict. As the second-in-command of the battalion, Vishwanathan need not have gone to the higher altitudes where the actual fighting was taking place. However, when reports came into base camp of a company having been trapped by the enemy, he volunteered to lead a rescue team. Climbing the sheer cliff at night, he and his men attacked the enemy under the cover of darkness. Vishwanathan killed five of the intruders before being shot himself.

Desh expresses her deep regards for the brave hearts of 18 Grenadiers and the second in command of the unit who made supreme sacrifice to ensure the safety of their dear motherland on the day when we lost them….

(Sources: various articles available in internet)

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