It is with both sadness and pride that I pen these words of tribute in memory of the late General L. D. C. E. Waidyaratne, VSV USP ndc psc. This great officer and gentleman passed away on December 18, 2001, in India after a brief illness.
General Waidyaratne, who was born on May 16, 1938, was a student of St. Benedict’s College, Colombo. He brought his college much credit as a vibrant sportsman who played First Eleven cricket. He had the rare privilege of playing cricket at Lords, in England. Even after he left school, he never forgot his alma mater. As an old “Ben”, he was a regular visitor to the college.
The General joined the then Ceylon Army on June 26, 1959. He was an alumnus of the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in the UK. On July 28, 1961, he was commissioned to the Ceylon Armoured Corps as a Second Lieutenant, and subsequently became Commanding Officer of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment of the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps.
He was the only officer who commanded four different units of the Sri Lanka Army. Before becoming Commanding Officer of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment, he commanded the Sri Lanka Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the 1st Battalion, Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment, and the 1st Battalion, Rajarata Rifles. This alone proves General Waidyaratne’s calibre.
Having commanded the famous ‘Operation Combine’, which crushed the Southern rebellion in the late ’80s, the General was seen as a path-breaker in the war against terrorism in the North. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General on November 16, 1991, and appointed as Commander of the Sri Lanka Army the same day.
General Waidyaratne’s military career was truly illustrious. Those who knew him cherish their memories of him. It was a great opportunity to serve with him, and I am grateful that I had such a privilege. As his aide-de-camp (ADC), I associated closely with the General. The closer you got to him, the more you realised how far you were, in fact, from him.
He was a proud soldier and sturdy personality. He faced many ups and downs in life, but his charisma was unaffected. He had great inner strength, and he was righteous. Beneath that steely exterior was a heart of gold, and great warmth and affection.
The recently recaptured Pooneryn military complex was the scene of a debacle during General Waidyaratne’s tenure as Commander of the Army. Although a subsequent inquiry absolved him of any responsibility for the Pooneryn failure, this great man took full responsibility and resigned from his post as Commander of the Army on December 31, 1993. This display of nobility was rewarded by the then government, which appointed him as Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Thailand.
The untimely demise of this great patriot and veteran soldier was a great loss to the military arena and the nation. Today’s generation of military officers and the next generation have much to learn from him.
May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.
Lt. Col. Mahesh de Zoysa, RSP