The South Africa Air Force (SAAF) held its first memorial service to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice at Bays Hill outside Pretoria, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the service on Sunday, the Chaplain of the SAAF, Melanie Smit, said it was very special to be able to have the gathering to honour their members again. She said during the last two years, they had lost many of their members to the virus as well as several other colleagues. The SAAF has not provided the numbers of those lost to COVID-19.
So far South Africa has recorded over 100 000 deaths and more than 3.8 million cases.
Smit said this was an opportunity to honour the families who enabled their members to serve their country with dedication, devotion and loyalty.
“As we honour our fallen heroes, we are here to support one another as a family, and we are here to support the families of those who lost their lives.”
In 2021, the aviation fraternity lost two highly experienced retired SAAF pilots – General Des Barker and Colonel Rama Iyer – in a light aircraft crash at Swartkop Air Force Base in Pretoria. They were attempting to land the SAAF Museum’s iconic Patchen Explorer reconnaissance aircraft at the base.
The museum’s Historic Flight operates a collection of classic military aircraft, including the Alouette lll helicopter which dropped rose petals over the Air Force memorial in a final tribute at the service.
As the relaxed COVID regulations have enabled more events to resume, the National President of the Air Force Association (SAAFA) Colonel Mike Louw, observed how important it was for the veterans to be able to gather in person and pay tribute to their colleagues. He said:” Military veterans are inherently social animals and for three years now, since May 2019 when the last memorial service was held, we have not been able to get together to honour the memory of our fallen comrades and those who have lost their lives in the past three years as well. It was a very poignant affair. And also seeing ex-comrades who are still with us.”
This memorial comes at a time when an armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine is making headlines. Louw noted this underlined the need to remember fallen soldiers as they paid the highest price. He said:” Military people do what they have to do, there is nothing personal. After the conflict they become good friends. We have had that experience with the Angolans – our veterans have gone back to Angola and met with the erstwhile enemy.”
The Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, laid the first wreath. This was his first memorial service since taking office in June last year.
Military attaches from among others, South Korea, Burkina Faso and Brazil, as well as representatives of veterans associations such as the South African Legion of Military Veterans and SAAFA also laid wreaths.