NEW DELHI: He may be just four years away from turning 100, but pride and grit shone through Air Marshal Arjan Singh's wizened face as he walked up the dias to be felicitated by President Pranab Mukherjee to mark the golden jubilee of India's victory over Pakistan in the 1965 war.
As 96-year-old Singh, the only IAF officer to be promoted to the rank of a Five-Star General, walked up to the President with a stick in hand and offered a smart salute, the ceremonial hall at Rashtrapati Bhavan reverberated with a thunderous applause.
Singh, a hero of Indian's 1965 military triumph over Pakistan, was among the war veterans invited to Rashtrapati Bhawan for high-tea with the President. Despite a boycott by a section of ex-servicemen of the programme over implementation of their demand for One Rank-One Pension, several veterans attended the event with their families.
Singh was chief of the Indian Air Force during the 1965 was during which he demonstrated exemplary leadership qualities to defeat the enemy.
As a young squadran leader during the World War II, Arjan Singh was involved in Arakan Campaign against the Japanese in 1944 for which he received Distinguished Flying Cross. He was conferred the rank of Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002 and is the only living Five-Star General after the demise of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw in June 2008.
The ceremonial hall, where Vice President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, BJP leader L K Advani, Defence Minister Manohar Parikar and three services chiefs were present, continued to echo with claps for the veterans for a long time.
Rasoonan Bibi, wife of Company Quarter Master Havildar Abdul Hamid, was felicitated on his behalf. Hamid was part of the fourth Battalion of the Grenadiers and was in command of a detachment equipped with the 106mm recoilless anti-tank gun when Pakistani guns opened fire in the Khem Karan area in Punjab on September 10, 1965.
He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously for his courageous action during the attack.
Zarine Mahir, daughter of late Lt Col A B Tarapore, was also felicitated for the supreme sacrifice made by her father during the 1965 war.
Lt Col Tarapore, a Commandant of Poona Horse, fought great tank battle for six days in September 1965 at Phillora Jassoran and Butur-Dograndi. On September 16, 1965 he was mortally wounded and breathed his last on the battlefield. His courage, fearlessness, determination and daring earned him the Param Vir Chakra posthumously.
It was a proud moment for Asha Rani, whose husband Chaman Lal despite not being in any of the armed forces, was awarded "Ashok Chakra", the highest civilian gallantry medal for his contribution during the 1965 war.
Lal was posted with the Northern Railways during the war. On September 13, 1965, he was performing his duty as a fireman of a diesel-laden goods train which came under attack from Pakistani F-86 Sabre aircraft at Gurdaspur railway station. Showing great presence of mind, lal detached the wagons carrying inflammable material and prevented destruction of others with valuable stores.
His exemplary courage, foresight and self-sacrifice earned him the "Asoka Chara" posthumously.
The President later also interacted with the veterans at the cultural auditorium in the Presidential estate.