Fallen Hero Comes Home

by: Sharief Khan

Courtesy of the Guyana Chronicle - March 8, 1997.

HOLDING aloft black flags of mourning and clutching posters of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Guyanese turned out in their thousands yesterday afternoon and last night to pay tribute to their fallen warrior and hero as he returned home form his final battle.

A mournful chant filled the air form the huge crowd around State House in Georgetown as the convoy accompanying his flag-draped casket ended the last lap of the journey from the Timehri International Airport.

Bearing their fallen Commander-in-Chief in the Army truck, the sides open to public view, were members of the Guyana Defence Force, sombre in their ceremonial red berets, white tunics and green trousers.

In the truck for the procession from Timehri to Georgetown, the late President's son, Dr. Cheddi Jagan Jnr. sat with three of the Army bearers at one end of the casket, two at the other end.

Behind them in the convoy were the fallen hero's wife Janet and their daughter Nadira Jagan-Brancier, their daughter-in-law Nadia and son-in-law Mark Brancier, and the couple's five granchildren.

It was a moving final return home for the indefatigable Guyanese national warrior who had dedicated his life to the betterment of the ordinary people and the Guyana he loved so deeply.

And a grateful nation is showing a deeply-felt tribute.

The tears were hard to come in the open up to the hour of his final return home.

But the black flags of mourning are everywhere and as the Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC) Boeing 757 twinkled is landing lights in a darkened western sky, the afternoon sun peeping out from behind sombre clouds, the tears began to flow.

The black banners strung out on the tarmac side facade of the Timehri Airport, 15 black flags hanging on blue painted poles on the northern boundary at the runway area, reflected the mood.

Women hugged and patted each other, tears flowing as the jet in the colours of the national flag touched down at 4:58 p.m. It was from the same tarmac on February 15, at about ... [fax transmission unclear]...the medical evacuation that took the President, stricken with a serious heart attack at State House the night before, to Washington where he spent 21 days int he Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the most critical battle of his life and which turned out to be his last.

At 1:23 a.m. Thursday he breathed his last, 16 days before his 79th birthday and the nation was thrown into mourning.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds, sworn in as President at 6:30 a.m. Thursday and his wife Yvonne, led the official airport party to receive his predecessor's body.

Government ministers, members of the diplomatic corps and thousands of others were there for the arrival that began the Guyana farewell for the country's most renowned national leader.

Commanding the 96-member guard of honour by the Joint Services which marched on to the tarmac to the beat of black-draped drums at about 4:05 p.m., was Major Alonzo Hartley of the GDF.

They stood there, facing west and as the jet piloted by captain Knox and Captain Russel Edun appeared in the distance, the band took up a solemn strain.

The aircraft taxied east, took a slow arc to the north, then west and north and the engines went into a mournful whine as it nosed east and parked southeast.

The mobile steps were moved into place and President Hinds led the welcoming delegation to the reception area on the tarmac at the bottom of the stairs.

Mrs. Jagan was the first out to be greeted below.

Calm, composed, an epitome of dignity, she hugged her way down the line of dignitaries, including leading Government and party comrades.

As she made her along the stretch, a muffled 21-gun salute went up in tribute to the late President as his casket was lowered form the aircraft and on to the Army truck that would lead the cortege to the city.

Fellow longtime stalwart of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) she and her husband helped round some 50 years ago, Mrs. Philomens Sahoye Shury, burst into tears as they clasped each other in a silent, close moment of sad togetherness at the loss of a comrade.

Other female party members wept openly in the moment as thousands outside and around the tarmac area shared the agony.

Well-known amputee William France was among others hugging Mrs. Jagan on the tarmac, offering condolences at her and the nation's day of grief.

And soon it was time for Dr. Jagan's last farewell at Timehri from where he had journeyed and returned countless times in his incessant lobby for the betterment of his country.

[Fax transmission unclear]...the thousands along the way picked up the chant as the cortege wended its way to Georgetown.

One distraught woman, clutching a black flag on a stick summed it up as her leader's body passed her way: "The hero has gone..."

Dr. Jagan's final return home began on a cold, windy Washington morning yesterday attended by U.S. President Bill Clinton's special representative, Assistant Secretary of State for Caribbean and Latin American Affairs, Mr. John Hamilton and other colleagues form the U.S. Administration.

It was a "simple but beautiful" ceremony, Mrs. Jagan said.

The departure ceremony was held indoors at the Andrews Air Force Base because of the weather and Hamilton said it was to bid farewell, on behalf of the American people, to "a foremost statesman of the Caribbean region during the last half century."

Noting that President Jagan was a "guiding force in Guyana's national life and politics for over 50 years", he said the Guyanese Head of State was "one of those rare leaders for whom the promises of the political campaign became the obligation of his government, who put the interests and concerns of his people - the working poor especially - above all other considerations."

"He was a creative and principled humanist who sought innovative solutions to the problems of economic distribution.

"He brought the same humanity and forgiving nature to his conduct of foreign relations asa he practiced in domestic and national affairs.

"The Unites States was proud to have developed the strong bonds of confidence and mutual respect that characterized our relations in recent yeaars. We shared a common commitment to the democratic government for which President Jagan labored and which he embodied.

"We extend our heartfelt sympathy to you and your family, Mrs. Jagan, and to the people of Guyana. Our prayers are with you as you accompany President Jagan on his last trip home to Guyana."

Agriculture Minister, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud, in the delegation which flew to Washington yesterday morning to accompany the fallen President back home, in remarks at the ceremony on behalf of the Guyana Government, the Jagan family and the Guyanese nation, thanked the hospital stafff, President Clinton, the US Government and [.....] for the care and concern for Dr. Jagan.

He said Guyanese were moved by the American special interest, care and consideration in their hour of need.

In what members of the Guyanese delegation said was a moving and emotional tribute, Dr. Jagan's son recalled the last hours with his father in the hospital......


In an article faxed from Washington, Safraz Waseem Ishmael, who was at the farewell ceremony, said "I witnessed the tears of strong men who none would have thought were capable of such a great show of emotion. . . the event was dignified and our well-dressed soldiers and members of the Government present, made me feel even more proud to be Guyanese. Most of the delegation wore black arm-bands while others wore buttons with Dr. Jagan's picture."

He said Dr. Jagan Jnr was "moved to tears as he read a poem he had written for his dying father."

Ishmael reported that the U.S. Air Force band did a beautiful rendition of Guyana's National Anthem as five cannons gave a 21-gun salute as members of the U.S. Marines and Navy delivered the President's casket to the GAC jet.

He said that as the aircraft began moving towards the runway, the U.S. military personnel gave the late Guyanese President "on final salute and marched off the field."

"It was indeed a very emotional day and tears flowed even from U.S. personnel moved by the ceremony. As the GAC jet rose into the cloudless, blue sky, I said a silent and final goodbye to the man who has inspired not only myself but my entire nation."