I normally don’t live in the past, but sometimes you have to share your story with others, not to bring back bad memories, but to honour those men (although they were only 18 – 19 years old), and who have earned my respect. This is not about who was right or who was wrong, or who has told the best “war story”. This is only a small portion of what we went through on the 25 February 1988. I apologise to all the names I used without their consent, and I also apologise for the names I have not used. This is my story (I wrote this last year), dedicated to the people who lost their lives on the 25 February 1988.
“The attack on Tumpo 1 was done by 61 Mech. The AA troop of 62 Mech (or what was left of it) joined up with 61 Mech. Capt Jean Roux was the troop commander and I was the 2IC. During the attack, we were a tactical distance (Taktiese sprong) behind the tanks and Inf. We were quite wide spread due to the formation and the terrain, so we could not see all vehicles. We came under fire from enemy artillery, which was quite accurate, and we even though there might be a fire controller on our side. It was a hot as hell with a lot of smoke dust, noise and radio clutter around us. The call came through " Hendricks is weg". At this stage own forces were retreating, so I “lost” it a bit ( as only a young captain would do), as he was supposed to be with his vehicle. After a few swear words and shouting, the reason for the call became obvious, and with me the closest to Hendrick's vehicle, I moved the 50 meters forward. Getting there, I saw him lying on his back with the SAM missile next to him. The question might be asked what Hendricks were doing outside his vehicle at that stage. Well, doing his job, and trying to engage the Mig's with a missile. He was very eager to bring down an enemy aircraft. Keeping in mind that we were still receiving incoming art fire, there was no time to hang around there. I remember jumping from my own ratel and with the help of the medic and the other guys, lifted his body onto my ratel, behind the turret. We also left the missile there, as we were unsure what shrapnel damage the missile had, but did remove the trigger mechanism. Again I was not sure if it was the SAM 7/14/16 as we had all three missiles. Looking at the earlier photos, I suspect he had the SAM 14. I think we wrapped his body in a groundsheet. He had a shrapnel would to the back of his head. As he was the driver of his ratel, I jumped into his ratel and drove it for a few 100 meters away from the incoming fire. There somebody took over his vehicle and I drove with his body to A Ech , Commandant Loubcher. I remember looking behind the turret at his body, not understanding the real impact of what has just happened. At the A esc we lowered his body of the vehicle, and somebody wrapped a body bag around him. I think the guy that was standing next to him, who was not wounded but saw everything, was also casevaced. Driving back to the battle group was a very scary and reluctant experience as we all experienced the realities of death and war. I think it was quite natural for everyone to shed a tear that night. Thinking back to that day, even after 29 years (This year 30), I can still remember it as if has happened just now.
The second incident I remember as well. Not sure if it was the same day, or a bit later. I was sitting in the turret of the ratel with binoculars, watching the Migs (as long as you could see them, you knew where they will bomb). We again received incoming art or mortar fire, and somehow I jumped inside the ratel , closing the hatch . The mortar landed around 5 meters away from us, with a a deafening explosion, lots of dust and smoke. The ratel was a bit "shaken" . There were guys in front of the ratel , and on the other side of the ratel. An engineering troop ( he had white hair and looked like an unshaved poodle) was screaming "die f*kkers het my raakgeskiet". Again , the medic load the guy in the ratel and we had to get him to a medical post. We got stuck on sawn off tree stumps, and with a push of another vehicle we were on our way with no idea where the Medical Post was. On the way there, a Mig bombed an ammunition truck full of mortars and other ammo, which was exploding all over. Close to that was another ratel who needed a jump start, so we had to make a stop there before the Migs came back, and use the burning ammo truck as a reference. We slaved the other ratel in quick time, and followed a general instruction back to the medical post. It was quite late in the afternoon when we dropped of the casevac at the medical post, using very little Portuguese to ask directions from unita. At the medical post we (or someone else) bumped into a lonely dead tree, which almost fell on our vehicle, luckily without any further "death / injury by tree" incidents”
The above happened 30 years ago, but I still relive it as if it has just happened. Tomorrow I will have a cold one on Bdr Hendricks and celebrate the friendship of “brothers in arms”.
Poena van Heerden – Facebook