He is hard of hearing and has lost his teeth. Naik Sarup Singh, 105, doesn’t have any medical problem as such. The soldier inside him is still alive. “I never feared, though had a close shave with death several times during the World War II and 1947-48 Indo-Pak conflict. I never got injured in the army,” he says.
On Wednesday, 15 Punjab, which has a history of 311 years and is one of the oldest regiments, reached Chira village in Pinjore to honour its only alive soldier who fought the Battle of Zoji La in the 1947-48 Indo-Pak war.
“I have met my ‘paltan’ after 56 years,” says Sarup Singh. “I am thankful to you,” he adds.
Subedar Satnam Singh handed him an appreciation letter of Commanding Officer of 15 Punjab, Col Vikas Sharma, Rs 25,000 in cash and a trophy.
In his message to his ‘paltan’, Sarup said, “I am honoured. Chardi kalan to all ranks. I am thankful. Khalsa ji ki fateh.”
The battle of Zoji La
On May 11, 1948, the First Patiala (now 15 Punjab) was flown from Jammu to Srinagar for securing Zoji La pass (11,000 ft) through which passed the strategic Srinagar-Leh highway. Sarup Singh was part of the recee patrol. “He went as close as 50mt from enemy positions and weapons. The attack followed and we succeeded. It is because of such people that 15 Punjab is respected,” said Subedar Satnam Singh, who had come on behalf of 15 Punjab. The battle earned the First Patiala eight Maha Vir Chakras and 18 Vir Chakras. It not only evicted the Pakistan Army from the pass, but also cleared the looming threat to the Valley. Furthermore, the battalion continued its advance up to Kargil and linked up with Indian troops arriving from Leh and thus saved Ladakh. 15 Punjab now celebrates Zoji La Day to celebrate the victory. Sarup Singh came home after 18-month-long engagement in the battlefield.
Turns 106 tomorrow
Sarup turns 106 on July 15. Born in 1911, he got recruited in the army in 1941. He was engaged to a girl before the World War II but couldn’t solemnise his marriage and finally got hitched when he was 42. His wife is also fit and is now 86-year-old.
None of Sarup’s three sons could join the army. Now, his grandson Malkiat Singh is aiming to join 15 Punjab.
Sarup retired in 1959 and later worked as a security guard in a cement factory in Pinjore.
“I only trust God. Everything belongs to him. All human beings are a same community.” He is said to have saved the lives of 116 Muslims at Karanpur village in Pinjore when riots broke out after the Partition in 1947. “Villagers wanted to kill Muslim men and violate their women. But I resisted and succeeded,” he says.
He had a gun and gave shelter to Muslims in his house for over a month.
He got late in joining back to unit by 45 days but when he told the reason he was honoured. “Families which migrated to Pakistan later also kept coming to meet him,” said Rajinder Singh, eldest son of Sarup Singh.
Once 45 of his colleagues died but not a single pellet touched him in Java (Indonesia) in World War II. Later during 1947-48 Indo Pak war, Sarup and others from his unit were surrounded from all sides and their ammunition got exhausted.