Today is the 9th of March, 2013. It is officially 16-years since the tragic accident of Exercise Swift Lion in New Zealand. It has been 16-years since Ronnie, the Gun Commander and Yin Tit, his gunner were killed in a freak accident in what should have been the crowning glory of their National Service Careers.
Although 16-years have passed, the memory of what I did on that day remains very fresh. You could say that I was fortunate not to be there first hand. I was in the battery that was waiting to go out to New Zealand. National Service was winding down and I guess you could say we were supposed to just mark time. Then, this incident took place and many things in our lives changed.
Suddenly National Service became serious. As they always say, it’s easy to be a hero in a simulation – it’s a different story when you have to attend a funeral of a friend you knew to be only a good guy. I’ve often described this as the last days of innocence that we had. The funerals that we had to attend suddenly woke us up to the reality that life was unfair. I knew Ronnie well enough. He was one of those chaps who would follow instructions to the letter. He was one of those who would go out of his way to help the most inconsiderate of us. He was dedicated to his job. Despite all of that, it was he who had to die.
That incident simply didn’t make sense. Although the Committee of Inquiry has released its findings and officialdom has done its best to give us a sensible explanation of what happened, I still don’t understand why this good natured soul of all people had to have his life cut short.
I remember being unable to cry for a friend who deserved more than my tears. If anything, I was angry at a system that didn’t seem to give a shit for the life that was lost. From where I stood in Khatib Camp on that day, officialdom was more concerned with getting me to endorse a weapon system than it was about two young lives that had been cut short. It happened so suddenly that I’m not sure how many of us had time to be sad. It took me a good six-months and an unhealthy dose of vodka to be able to properly mourn a friend.
Sixteen years have passed. Most of us have built careers and families. Time has dulled the shock and pain from that incident. We have moved on with our lives. I believe that this is something that this is something that would have made Ronnie and Yin Tit happy.
Yet, there’s a part of me that won’t let go of these memories. For me this was the last days of my innocence. It was the time when I saw the worst in a system obsessed with perpetuating itself. It was the moment when I saw the best in people who found a way of reaching out to you.
Now, as I write this, I remember the moments that I was fortunate enough to share with Ronnie. I’m grateful that I’m blessed with good friends. I’ve loved intensely and been loved intensely. Yes, things could be better but they could also be worse. I wish I could tell my friend that I miss him and that he was here to share the highs and lows of growing older. It’s been sixteen-years since that terrible day. Now the anger and the pain have gone. I just miss a friend who deserved so many of the blessings life has.