Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
“Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking;
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.”
– Walter Scott
Arjan Singh, Marshal of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and India’s oldest, five-star ranked air force officer, died at 7.47 pm on Saturday, September 16, after suffering a heart attack. He was 98.
The last rites of the war hero were performed with gun salute and fly past at Brar Square in Delhi’s Cantonment area on Monday. The Indian Army gave a 17-gun salute to the Marshal.
A military legend, Arjan Singh became the first and only officer of the Indian Air Force to be promoted to five-star rank as Marshal of the Indian Air Force, equal to the army rank of Field Marshal. This was in 2002.
Born on April 15, 1919 in Lyallpur, Punjab (now in Pakistan), Arjan Singh entered the distinguished Royal Air Force College at Cranwell at the age of 19 and graduated as a pilot officer the following year.
Possessed with a zest and passion for flying that didn’t end until he retired in 1969, he flew over 60 different kinds of aircraft during his time in the IAF.
He proved his valour during the Second World War, when he faced the Japanese Army while serving as a pilot officer in the British-Indian forces in Burma (now Myanmar). He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for “fearless and exceptional” service in 1944.
Arjan Singh served as the IAF’s Chief of Staff during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his leadership and his service to the nation during the war.
When he was Chief of Air Staff, the IAF acquired supersonic fighters, strategic reconnaissance aircraft, tactical transport aircraft and assault helicopters, many of which are still in service today.
After his retirement from the Indian Air Force in 1969, Singh served the nation as an ambassador to Switzerland in 1971, and as High Commissioner to Kenya in 1974. Later, he also became the Lt Governor of Delhi, in 1989.
Arjan Singh’s death is a huge loss for India and marks the end of an era.
As the saying goes, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Air Marshal Arjan Singh dedicated his life to a cause bigger than any individual – that of the security of India and Indian democracy, and in that he became one of the nation’s tallest and greatest heroes.
“Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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