Remembering the 1971 war hero – 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal

‘War never ends quietly’ – lines from Hollywood war movie ‘Fury’

An iconic photo of 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal

An iconic photo of 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal

Really war never ends quietly. It claims the lives of soldiers on both ends. Bullets are fired, bomb shells are thrown, battle tanks are exploded on the grassy earth. What later left are just the motionless, bloodied bodies of soldiers. In 1971 Indo-Pak war, India lost several great soldiers like Albert Ekka, Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon and 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal. The tank battle in 1971 war changed the course of history causing a striking defeat to the enemy soldiers. It was the young officer – 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal who struck a terror in heart of enemies through his courage which he displayed till his last breath. His tank ‘Famagusta’ took an aim of several tanks of enemies and destroyed it, giving a striking reply to the invaders. Even though his tank was set on fire, 2nd Lieutenant Arun didn’t move away from the line of action.
He kept on targeting the invaders’ tanks till an enemy’s tank took an aim of Famagusta. Though Arun Khetarpal attained martyrdom in the war, his exemplary courage had caused heavy casualties on enemy’s side.

Born in family of army officers, Arun always aspired to become an army officer right from his childhood. When the war was declared, Arun’s mother bid him farewell with these words – ‘Fight like a lion and don’t come back a coward’. Little did she realize this was her last meeting with Arun. Despite getting the orders to back off from the burning tank, Arun stayed back in his tank and retaliated on the enemies till he became the target of enemies’ tank. In this fierce battle, he destroyed 4 enemy tanks and didn’t allow a single enemy tank to strike back. Though he died in this 1971 tank battle, his efforts brought victory to Indian army.

‘No sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards’ – the lines spoken by Arun Khetarpal during the battle of Basantar

The tank ‘Famagusta’ in which Arun fought has been restored and kept as a courageous memory in Armour school, Ahmedgarh. The tank ‘Famagusta’ is a preserved memento of 1971 war where brave Indians like Arun Khetarpal gave up their lives fighting with invaders. The news of Arun’s death was a shocking blow to his parents, especially to his mother who was waiting eagerly for her son’s return.
He did return, but in form of ashes.

The Amar Chitra Katha book - Paramvir Chakra featured the story of Arun Khetarpal

The Amar Chitra Katha book – Paramvir Chakra featured the story of Arun Khetarpal

The recently published book – The Brave written by Rachna Bisht Rawat is based on Paramvir Chakra awardees. It was this book where I got to know in detail about 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal. The author Rachna Bisht Rawat had interviewed late Arun Khetarpal’s mother in which her mother described about her son despite suffering memory loss. The 81 years old lady told about Arun’s childhood days, his zeal to join army and his love for saxophone. Sadly Mrs Maheshwari Khetarpal, mother of Arun passed away in 2013 before the book ‘The Brave’ was published. Salute to the great mother who gave birth to such a Braveheart who fought till his last breath for the honour of nation.

‘Wars are created by politicians, compounded by bureaucrats and fought by soldiers’ – Quote

Even Brigadier Naser of Pakistan praised Arun’s courage. By matter of coincidence Arun’s father Brigadier M.L.Khetarpal met Brigadier Naser and during the meeting Brigadier Naser revealed that it was he who blew up Arun’s tank in 1971 war. In the Battle of Basantar, The tank of Arun was pitted against Naser’s tank. They fired at each other. Sadly, Arun missed his mark. In this emotional meeting, Brigadier Naser sought the forgiveness of Arun’s father for killing his son.

Such was the greatness of Arun’s courage that even his enemies honoured him. In the 1971 war, India also lost two great soldiers – Albert Ekka and flying officer Nirmaljit Sekhon. It is sad to know that the stories of brave army officers like Arun Khetarpal are not known to younger generation in full detail. Recently Amar Chitra Katha came up with a graphic novel based on Paramvir Chakra Awardees in which story of 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal was featured. Hope someday Bollywood should take an initiative to make a biopic on 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal and showcase the courage of army officers on silver screen.

Though this article is just a small effort to showcase the legend of brave army officer – Arun Khetarpal, I have tried my level best to pay my tribute to this great son of our motherland. Hope this article inspires the young boys to join army.

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