“Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it, it flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.” – Author Unknown
The legacy of Kargil heroes is as vast and varied as India itself. Among the many brave hearts who laid down their lives in the inhospitable mountains of Kargil was a man whose actions in the battlefield transcended heroism.
This is the story of that unbelievably courageous soldier, Captain Neikezhakuo Kenguruse.
Fondly addressed as Neibu by his family and friends, and Nimbu Sahab by the north Indian soldiers who served under him, Captain Neikezhakuo Kenguruse was born in Nerhema village in the district of Kohima. A century ago, during Nagaland’s head-hunting days, the village was called Perhema or home of the ones who always fought.
The fiercely independent Naga spirit was a family legacy for Capt. Kenguruse. His great great grandfather, Perheile, had been one of the most respected warriors of the village. Today, there is a mist shrouded monument in Nerhema, dedicated to the warrior’s grandson, an equally brave soldier with a tongue twister of a name.
Neibu’s father, Neiselie Kenguruse, was a grade peon in the government. Deeply religious and anti-war, he initially didn’t want his son to join the army but Neibu convinced him that the honour of serving in the armed forces far outweighed the risks that the job entailed. After graduating from the Kohima Science college, Neibu served as a teacher at a Government High School in Kohima before being commissioned into the Indian Army on December 12, 1998.
In 1999, when the Kargil war started, Capt. Kenguruse was a junior commander in the Rajputana Rifles battalion. For his determination and prowess, he was made the lead commander of the Ghatak Platoon of his battalion. Only the most physically fit and motivated soldiers make it into the dreaded Ghatak platoon that makes up the first wave of Indian Army’s counter forces.
On the fateful night of June 28, 1999, Capt. Kenguruse’s platoon was given the responsibility of taking out a strategic machine gun post held by the enemy on a cliff face, the Black Rock. Heavy gun fire from this position had been hindering the battalion’s progress in the sector for days.
As the commando platoon scaled the cliff, they came under intense mortar and automatic fire from above. As a result, the team faced heavy casualties with Capt. Kenguruse being shot in the abdomen. Undeterred by the injury, he urged his men to carry on with the assault. On reaching the final cliff face, the platoon was halted by a sheer vertical rock wall that separated them from the enemy post.
To ensure that his platoon was able to climb this sheer cliff, he secured a rope for his men but his boots kept slipping on the icy slopes that hung at an obtuse angle. It would have been easy for him to retreat and get medical help but the profusely bleeding Capt. Kenguruse decided to do something incredibly brave.
At a height of 16,000 feet and in the bitingly cold temperature of -10 degrees Celsius, Capt. Kenguruse kicked off his boots. Using his bare feet to get a grip, he somehow climbed up freezing cliff while carrying a RPG rocket launcher with him.
Once on top, Capt. Kenguruse fired the rocket launcher at the seven Pakistani bunkers that stood before him. They replied with a hail of gunfire but he kept firing till he had decimated the bunkers. Two enemy soldiers from a nearby bunker rushed towards him, and he tackled them with his commando knife in hand-to-hand combat. He single-handedly downed two more infiltrators with his rifle before a volley of bullets blew him off the cliff. But his daring act had done enough to ensure that his troops would go on to capture the position.
Once the mission of doing so had been accomplished, his jawans looked down at the dark depths where their beloved commander lay dead, and dedicated the victory to him, crying themselves hoarse,
“Yeh aapki jeet hai, Nimbu Sahab. Yeh aap ki jeet hai.”
Capt. Neikezhakuo Kenguruse was just 25 when he single-handedly neutralized the crucial enemy position before breathing his last. In his last letter to his father Capt. Kenguruse had written,
“Dad, I may not be able to return home to be a part of our family again. Even if I don’t make it, do not grieve for me because I have already decided to give my best for the nation.”
For his unmatched courage and supreme sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the only soldier from the Army Services Corps (ASC) to have received it. His medal citation read –
“He displayed conspicuous gallantry, indomitable resolve, grit and determination beyond the call of duty and made the supreme sacrifice in the face of the enemy, in true traditions of the Indian Army.”
Captain Kenguruse’s death had as much an impact as his life. When his body arrived in Dimapur, thousands lined the road to his village, where he was buried with full military honours. Three decades of insurgency was forgotten as Nagaland united with rest of the country in grief.
Soldiers like Captain Neikezhakuo Kenguruse are not born every day. The sacrifice of this unsung hero, a true son of the Naga soil, must forever be remembered with gratitude by the country he died protecting.