As the nation celebrates its 66th Republic Day — a day of patriotism and honour, of achievements and courage — former servicemen in the City took a trip down memory lane to share some of the Republic Day celebrations that are etched in their lives. Dotted with anecdotes and milestones, these chapters enrich the celebrations yet again.
Major General (Retd)MC Nanjappa
I remember taking part in the Republic Day Parade of 1965 in New Delhi when I attended it as part of the NCC contingent. We had free training camps in the military school in Bengaluru.
In Delhi, we camped at the Army Parade Ground. We used to practise daily starting at 4 am. In the afternoons, we were free. On January 23 we had full rehearsals. On Republic Day, it was a moment of pride marching in front of the President and the Prime Minister.
We used to march till Red Fort. There were no security concerns then and people used to sit on rooftops and perched on trees watching us. I can never forget that.
In 1991, when I was a colonel posted on Shahjahan Road in Delhi, I was able to watch the Parade once again. I remember going early in the morning to get the front seats. There was again no security problem.
Later on, I also remember watching the beating retreat. It was wonderful to see the bands of three services perform to perfection and these form part of my fond memories.
Major General (Retd) KS Venugopal
My memories of Republic Day go back to 1992-1996 when I was in the Rashtrapathi Bhavan on ceremonial duty. The flag-hoisting duty was ours. A young officer would hoist the flag and I had to ensure that it was done in the right manner. In fact, there is a certain way that the flag has to be folded with flowers placed inside.
We had to dry the flowers the previous day. Fresh flowers could not be used. There used to be huge preparations before the Republic Day. On the big day, I remember standing next to India Gate and ensuring that everything was observed in the right way.
Yet another unforgettable Republic Day was that of 1997. I was then commanding the battalion at Kupwara in Kashmir. It was a remote area. In fact, it was in 1996 that a battalion was permanently stationed here. Once we were stationed there, we realised that nobody there, not even the children, knew the National Anthem.
They didn’t know what Republic Day meant. It was a tremendous effort to explain to them and teach them the National Anthem. We adopted some of the villages and even taught the teachers national anthem. We recorded the anthem and made them listen to it. At the end of it, they learnt it and became so interested in Republic Day celebrations that they happily volunteered in the entertainment programmes as well.
Air Commodore (Retd) VS Govindarajan VM
When I recollect my memories, I remember the activities I was involved in on two Republic Days. The first one was in 1995, when the announcement was made that I had won a presidential award.The award announcement had come the previous night. We were preparing for an operational exercise to launch battalion level airborne assault.
I, as the commanding officer of para troopers training school at Agra, was pleasantly surprised for the recognition by a presidential award of Vayusena Medal (VM) for the operational activities in the previous year, where my officers and men had worked and we had succeeded with professional courage to develop the intensive air drop procedure on AN32 aircraft.
Yet another memorable R-Day was in 2001 when, I was commanding the Air Force station in Chandigarh when Gujarat earthquake took place. We were in the middle of a ‘badakhana’ with our air warriors, when I got a call from the Western Air Command to launch relief sorties by IL76 and AN32 aircraft.
We launched the aircraft in record time. The district collector was equally responsive to provide the relief items. Many of our Air Force brethren and their families were also affected. The air field was not fully operational due to earthquake. But the pilots from Chandigarh did an exceptional work.
I was really proud of my men and officers who manned the station all night on January 26. The aircraft had just completed the Delhi R - Day flypast and were returning to base, when the task was given to us in Chandigarh. These Republic Days stand out in my memory.
(As told to Anupama Ramakrishnan)