I was checking some history on South Africa's Paratroopers when I came across this account written by a South African. I am led to believe that the incident is factual, but you guys would know better as the main participant was an American soldier. I believe that his name is accurate. Judging by the story, it would had to have occured after 1966.
Mr. Given, an American veteran from the Korean War and proud graduate from WestPoint (the prestigious Military Academy of America), came on a visit to
. Due to his lively interest in all things Military, I decided to take him on a guided tour through Tempe Base, home of 1 Parachute Battalion. Mr. Given was very impressed, especially with the shooting range at the South Africa and the standard of the training course at 1 Parachute Battalion. There were a lot of other things that capture his attention and he was ecstatic when we were invited to attend a Military Parade the next day Mr. Given was ready at the crack of dawn and so we duly presented ourselves at the parade ground. The ceremony was very impressive and my South African heart swelled with pride, even more so when I saw that my American guest was also very impressed. Afrikaans was used extensively by all the speakers, therefore Mr. Given could not always understand or follow the proceedings, but his military background enabled him to at least appreciate most of the day. Armour School
Two soldiers were called to the podium. These two troops were seriously injured in an operation in
. The injuries they sustained were so severe that only now, years after they were wounded, were they able to receive their medals. The one soldier was tall, straight and gallant. His dark haired friend was short and very thin due to his long hospitalisation. The two medals were presented and pinned on by the general, after which only the short, dark haired soldier shook hands with the general and saluted him. After the official handing over of the medals, the soldiers did an about-face to return to their places on the parade ground. Angola
During this manoeuvre the tall soldier’s medal fell off. Everyone sat with bated breath. Without thinking twice the general himself moved, he picked up the medal that lay at the soldier’s feet, dusted it, pinned it back on and saluted. Without any visible reaction the two soldiers moved away to their respective places on the parade ground. Mr. Given loudly voiced his displeasure:
“That’s just not done. It’s not acceptable behaviour in military circles throughout the world. Where did you South Africans receive your training?”. Everyone within hearing distance of his remark straitened their backs.
One could actually feel the aggression and displeasure directed towards him and his uncalled for remark radiating from those who overheard it. A plump, unobtrusive woman who sat right in front of us slowly turned around, looked my American guest right in the eye and humbly said in her broken English:
“Sirs, that long man is my boy. He has no arms. Both were shots off in
. He cant’s picks up nothing. The important soldier just wants to help’s him. We is like that in Angola . We help’s” South Africa
That very same afternoon I had to assist Mr. Gavin in obtaining these soldiers names and addresses. Huge bouquets of orange, blue and white flowers and other edible treats were delivered to their houses the next day. The accompanying notes, written in Mr. Given’s American English and my translation thereof read as follows: Mr Given’s note:
“I am so sorry for my uncalled for, unfortunate and unfounded remarks. Thank you for proving to an American the stuff South Africans are made of and the sacrifices they are prepared to make for their beloved country. A much humbled admirer”
My note read: “Thank you brave soldier. Words can never express the magnitude of the gratitude and pride of this Country and its people. Thank you and God bless. Thank you Madam, for the lesson in life you gave Mr. Given and me. Our nation will survive any onslaught when there are people like you who are real pillars of strength for your family and community.” Signed “A humble fellow South African”.
“Are you sure that these good folk will get the full message? The Afrikaans sentences seem so different?”
“Yes sir, hopefully each and every word with the depth of their meaning.”