Medical aid from the skies

Major General V. Rangaswami of the Army Medical Corps who passed away recently served at one time with a unique unit that in the 1950s won international fame. He won a bar to his Vir Chakra while serving with the unit in the freezing cold near the 38th Parallel in Korea. The unit, 60 Para Field Ambulance, was India's first contribution to an international operation. The 60th was commanded by another with Madras links, Lt. Col. A.G. Rangaraj, who I believe now lives in Bangkok. When 50 Para Brigade was raised in 1941, Lt. Rangaraj was its first Indian officer; he was Medical Officer of 152 Indian Parachute Battalion, one of the Brigade's first constituent units and became the first Indian to make a parachute jump in India. In late 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and the U.N. raised a military force from member nations to support the latter. India refused to get involved in the military conflict but offered medical aid. And 60 Para Field Ambulance was sent. Once in Korea, Rangaraj divided the unit in two, one to serve on the front, the other with the line of communications and to help in civilian hospitals. Conditions in these hospitals were "appalling" and the 60th not only began bringing order and cleanliness out of the filth of chaos but also performed over 1000 major surgeries. To hasten the U.N. Forces' push north, U.N. Command decided to airdrop the U.S. 187 Regimental Combat Team 25 miles northwest of Seoul. The 60th was the only medical unit qualified for airborne operations - and Rangaraj volunteered its services. Rangaraj, Major Rangaswami and Captain N.C. Das were part of the team that jumped with 4000 Americans and over the next week tended more than 400 injured in action, performing many major surgeries. Rangaraj was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, Rangaswami a bar to his award won in J & K, and Das too got a Vir Chakra.Unique honours followed. The Americans awarded the 60th a `meritorious unit citation', the British Minister for War Strachey paid tribute in Parliament "to the very fine work in Korea the unit had done under the command of Lt. Col. Rangaraj", and at a special ceremonial parade in Brigade headquarters in Agra in 1955, President Rajendra Prasad presented the unit a trophy, the first of its kind to be conferred on any unit in the history of the Indian Army. Each U.N. formation in Korea at the time served for just one year. The 60th alone stayed for nearly FOUR years! During that period it helped to care for a fellow Para unit, 2 Battalion (Marathas), a part of the subsequent peacekeeping force India agreed to join - the first peacekeeping operation the country participated in. That battalion too had a Madras connection. For most of its stay the battalion's acting CO was Major Inderjit Singh Gill, whose family's links with Madras dated to when his father was in charge of Vellore Jail; he later became Inspector General of Prisons, Madras Province. Both settled in Madras in retirement. Inder Gill was probably the first Indian to parachute into action - in Greece in 1942.S. MUTHIAH