We have always tried to bring attention to our forgotten heroes of our military that the mainstream media fails to do. In this article, we bring a veteran from ‘God’s Own Country’-Kerala, who served with Indian Army and was honored for his service during the Naga conflict.
The conflict between Naga tribe and the Indian Union started when India identified Nagaland (previously known as Naga hills), as the part of India. The Naga rebels, however wanted an independent country and there started the ethnic conflict which still goes on. The rebels resorted to guerilla warfare as it was best suited in the dense forest region. Assam rifles were leading the attack against the rebels with their stations scattered across the harsh terrain.
The year was 1959, Albie D’Cruz, at the age of 22 joined as a Lance Naik with the Assam Rifles unit. It was at the height of Naga conflict. The risk was huge. Guerilla rebels awaited any military convoy and threat level was skyrocketing. He was responsible for Signal communication from his post. this meant he had to update the HQ constantly on the situation over his wireless set.
The unexpected was right around the corner. A group of Naga rebels cordoned a relatively small group of Assam Rifles’ soldiers. Heavy exchange of fire took place. The groups exchanged roles, the soldiers were now the resistance. Ammo and supplies were running low. As the evening dawned, the unit suffered another setback. The wireless units were to be operated using kerosene generators. Albie on his routine update noticed that the kerosene was almost over. Being cut of from the HQ meant imminent defeat. The commanding officer ordered his sub-ordinates to get the kerosene from a nearby depot outside the bunker. None of them even dared to step out of the bunker lest get the kerosene amidst the shover of bullets and arrows.
Albie D’Cruz displayed the epitome of courage and volunteered to get the supply himself. He stepped out of the bunker and with the darkness as his shield slowly paced towards the depot. He single-handedly carried the kerosene barrel back to the bunker and radio contact was established with HQ. On achieving contact, the unit called in for ammo and supplies to be dropped immediately. The HQ acknowledged and supplies were to be air-dropped tomorrow morning.
Next morning a helicopter dropped the essential ammo and supplies. Of two ammo cartons dropped, one fell outside the camp. Once again, the responsibility was Albie’s. In spite of enemy fire, he kept moving not stopping for once and retrieved the ammo container. However, it was too heavy to be carried back by a single soldier. He had to drag the heavy container, sometimes stopping for a quick breath and never ever feared that he is going to get shot down. At last his hardwork and determination paid off. The unit got the necessary ammo and continued to fight off the enemy rebels.
The army echelons were spell-bound by Albie’s valiant act. If the rebels managed to get hold of the unit, it would be huge setback for the Indian government in neutralizing the threat. With backing of China, the rebels had an upper hand in the region but was not enough to keep down the determination of our soldiers.
The valiant effort of Albie was recognized by authorities and in 1962 he was awarded the Ashoka Chakra Class III, (after 1967 known as Shaurya Chakra). He received it off the first president of Sovereign India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too appreciated his efforts for safe-guarding the nation’s interest in hostile environments.
He thus became the first malayalee to be awarded with the prestigious Ashoka Chakra.
Albie D’Cruz retired from active service in 1975 due to health issues and found a job at a telecommunications store in Dubai. He lives his retirement life in the small coastal town of Cheriyathura in Kerala with his wife, Metilda.