“If death strikes before I prove my blood, I promise … I will kill death!” These were the words one Indian war hero wrote in his diary before making the ultimate sacrifice. His name was Manoj Kumar Pandey, and this is his story.
The early life of Manoj Kumar Pandey
Manoj Kumar Pandey was born in the village of Rudha in Uttar Pradesh on the 25th of June 1975. According to the website Honourpoint, “Even as a child, he was quite gutsy and would often amaze the elders with his acts of bravery.” Pandey gained an education at Sainik School (Lucknow) and Rani Laxmi Bai Memorial Senior Secondary School. He excelled at sports, notably in boxing and bodybuilding, and was interested in the military from a young age. After school, Pandey joined the National Defence Academy, a training institute of the Indian Armed Forces. When asked why he wanted to join the army, Pandey said, “I want to win the Param Vir Chakra.” This is India’s highest military decoration, along with the British Victoria Cross and the American Medal of Honor. Pandey would ultimately achieve his goal, but it would come at a cost.
After graduating from the academy, the Indian Army commissioned Pandey lieutenant of the 1st Battalion, 11 Gorkha Rifles, on the 7th of June 1997. Less than two years later, a conflict known as the Kargil War erupted between India and Pakistan. Pandey now had a chance to prove himself.
Manoj Kumar Pandey in the Kargil War
The Kargil War was a three-month conflict fought between India and Pakistan in 1999. In short, the Indian military cleared regular and irregular Pakistani troops from the mountainous Kargil district of what was then Jammu and Kashmir. The Indians struggled to dislodge the Pakistani troops with artillery and airpower, so their ground forces had to assault the mountains. The 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, Pandey’s unit, was ordered to move into Kargil’s Batalik sector. On the night of the 2/3rd of July, B Company advanced on the frigid heights of Khalubar Ridge. Pandey, now a captain, led C Company’s Platoon No 5 during the operation.
Pandey’s Param Vir Chakra
On the way, at the height of some 19,700 feet or 6,000 meters, Pandey’s unit came under intense enemy fire from the surrounding heights. With enemies all around, Pandey quickly directed his men to cover. He ordered one section to clear the Pakistani forces to the right while he led an assault to the left. Eager for that Param Vir Chakra, Pandey cried, “Jai Mahakali, Aayo Gorkhali”, and charged into the fray.
Singlehandedly, he gunned down two enemies in their first position and an additional two in their second, clearing them both. At the third, bullets ripped through Pandey’s shoulder and leg, but he proceeded undaunted. Soon, he’d cleared the third Pakistani position, careless to his terrible wounds. At the fourth, more than having proven his blood, a machine-gun burst tore through Pandey’s skull, and he fell to the ground, but not before he managed to clear that final enemy position with a well-placed grenade.
Pandey earned his Param Vir Chakra, but he wasn’t alive to claim it.
While the bullet that struck him didn’t end him instantly, he soon succumbed to his injuries, a man of just 24. Captain Pandey’s bravery and sacrifice were instrumental to the 1/11 Gorkha Rifles’ capture of Khalubar. The following is an excerpt from Pandey’s Param Vir Chakra citation:
“Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey … displayed most conspicuous bravery, indomitable courage, exemplary personal valour, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty of an exceptionally high order, in the face of the enemy and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Army.”
Since his death, India has honoured Pandey in several ways. Sainik School (Lucknow) named their main gate and assembly hall after him, and the National Defence Academy named their science block the “Manoj Pandey Block.” These are just two examples among many.