Palampur’s braveheart finds mention in former Army Chief’s book

General VP Malik calls Major Sudhir Walia’s death a personal loss

Ravinder Sood

In his book “From Surprise to Victory” on Kargil war, General VP Malik, who remained the Chief of the Army Staff (India) from 1997 to September 2000, has devoted a full chapter to the brave soldier of Palampur — Major Sudhir Walia, who was also his ADC (Aide-de-camp) and a devout soldier who sacrificed his life while fighting militants in J&K.

General Malik wrote despite being injured in a militancy operation, Sudhir Walia opted to join his unit, which was fighting in Kargil in 2000. He wrote how Walia played a key role in planning, coordinating and overseeing the military operations during Kargil War that enabled India to evict the Pakistani intruders.

Major Walia was decorated with the Sena medal  for gallantry on two separate occasions for combating militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Malik says when he was excelling in his career, the Kargil War commenced and Major Sudhir Walia requested him to give him posting in Kargil with his unit to fight intruders. Malik “acceded to his request and sent his most fearless and valiant soldier to the battle area of Kargil”. In fact, Major Sudhir was at that time recovering from injuries, and his team recaptured the Zulu Ridge. After the Kargil War ended, his team was assigned the duty of fighting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

After the end of Kargil War on July 26, 1999, the Army was on high alert to deal with any eventuality. Major Sudhir Walia and his team of daredevil commandos disguised as militants were carrying out the task of searching the hiding militants, who could pose a serious threat to the security forces.

On August 29, 1999, Walia with a squad of five commandos was on a “Search and Destroy” mission in the dense jungle of Hafruda Forest in Kupwara district of J&K. The squad suddenly chanced upon a well-camouflaged hideout having 20-odd terrorists.

Major Sudhir quickly organised his team and attacked the hideout. Leading from the front and showing rare courage, Major Sudhir killed half-a-dozen militants single-handedly. However, during the process, he sustained gunshot wounds in the stomach. Though he was unable to move, he continued to give orders to his team until they eliminated all suspected militants. He allowed himself to be evacuated only 35 minutes after the operation ended. He was airlifted to the Army base hospital, but he succumbed to the injuries en route.

General Malik discussed in his book how Major Sudhir Walia was given the nation’s highest peace-time gallantry award, “Ashok Chakra” for his outstanding gallantry, unyielding spirit and supreme sacrifice. Major Sudhir Kumar Walia belonged to Palampur, which is also called the land of brave soldiers. Bravehearts like Captain Vikram Batra, Major Somnath, who were given the highest gallantry award of the country — PVC— posthumously, and Captain Saurabh Kalia, too, belonged to this place. 

Major Sudhir Walia is a second generation Army man born in a military family of an Army veteran Subedar Major Rulia Ram Walia. Major Sudhir always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father. General Malik has highlighted in his book that he pursued his dream right from his childhood days and his school up to Sainik School, Sujanpur Tihra (HP), which succeeded him in his efforts. Consequently, he cleared the NDA in his first attempt and joined the prestigious academy.

Walia graduated from Indian Military Academy (IMA) in 1988 and was commissioned into 4 JAT of the famed Jat Regiment. Soon after commissioning from IMA, he joined the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. They were sent on a peace mission under the Indo-Sri Lanka accord by the Government of India . After he returned from Sri Lanka, he was moved to the 9 Parachute Commando regiment, which is a special force of the Indian Army that specialises in mountain operations. Major Walia and his unit, 9 Para (Special Forces), known mainly for their daredevil covert operations, undertook numerous operations in J&K. In Kashmir, the Special Forces operators of the Indian Army often roamed in militant disguise, hunting for terrorists by locating their hideouts. Major Sudhir was posted twice in Siachen area and also served as the ADC to the former Army Chief, General Ved Parkash Malik. In 1997, Major Sudhir Walia was sent to the United States for a specialised course and also got the rare honour of speaking at the Pentagon during this mission. Known as ‘Rambo” in the Indian Army, he was called ‘Colonel’ by his peers in the course, who had come from 80 other countries.

Excerpts from General VP Malik's book on Kargil War 'From Surprise to Victory'

“In the performance of his duties, I found Sudhir always very alert, responsible and mature. He was well-read and took interest in all types of books. Off parade, he was full of life. He had a good sense of humour and enjoyed company. During his last Lohri with us in the Army House, he sang many Hindi, Punjabi and Himachali songs. In fact, he could sing in several languages. A bachelor, he was reticent about his family. Gradually, we learnt about his father, who had retired from the Army as a Subedar and his mother, whom he was very fond of. He had a physically handicapped younger brother, and a sister studying in college. Being the eldest, he felt responsible for the family and, being 30 years of age, was in no hurry to get married. He told us that he might do so after his tenure with me. Gradually, like other ADCs, he became a member of our family. Being the oldest and senior most, he felt responsible and would guide other ADCs in the office and at home. He spoke less to me but would chat more easily with my wife. He travelled with us very often, within India and abroad..... .....When the Kargil war started, Sudhir had finished his tenure with me and asked to be sent back to his unit fighting the war. Not wanting to break laid down norms or his spirit, I let him go. The Army House gave him an affectionate send-off.

A few days later, I saw him in Srinagar. His Para Cdo Team had reverted to anti-militancy operations in the Valley. He had come specially to see me.... I asked him about his attack on Zulu Ridge without any acclimatisation. He smiled and said: "Sir, you know I am a Pahari. I do not need acclimatisation," with a smile. I told him not to break such rules again. Three days after my return to Delhi, while eating breakfast, on a sudden impulse, I rang up Lt Gen Krishan Pal, GOC 15 Corps. I told him to be careful in employing Sudhir and his team. Sudhir was a brave and overenthusiastic lad who would volunteer for every challenging mission. We should not allow him to take risks day after day. My wife could not believe what I had done. I had never said such a thing earlier for anyone. Exactly a month after Kargil, my wife and I were returning a visit to one of the martyrs' bereaved family. In the car, I received a phone call informing me that, while leading an assault on a terrorist hideout in Haphruda Forest, Sudhir had been fatally wounded and died before he could be evacuated to the hospital. He and his buddy Naik Kheem Singh had surprised the terrorists deep in the jungle. They had killed nine terrorists. It was a daring action, led all the way from the front. Sudhir was recommended for, and received, the Ashok Chakra, the highest gallantry award in peacetime. On August 29, 1999, the nation lost a gallant and a specially gifted soldier. My loss was personal.”

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