Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon is the only Indian Air Force warrior to be decorated with the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest award for gallantry.
Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was born in the village of Isewal Dakha in Ludhiana District of Punjab. Sekhon hailed from an army background as his father Tarlochan Singh Sekhon was a flight lieutenant. He was commissioned as a Flying Officer in the Indian Air Force in 1967.
Flying officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, PVC. He was the only person from Indian air force to be awarded the Param Vir Chakra. It was his quick response and a brave fight that resulted in the abortion of the enemies’ bombing run on Srinagar airfield in the course of the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, he was serving with the No. 18 Squadron, “The Flying Bullets” of IAF, flying the Folland Gnat fighter aircraft centred at Srinagar. On 14 December 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by six Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabre jets of 26 Sqn from PAF base Peshawar. Flying Officer Sekhon was on readiness duty during that time. When the first aircraft attacked, Sekhon rolled for take-off as No 2 in a two-Gnat formation, with Flt Lt Ghumman in lead, just as the first bombs were falling on the runway. The Leader, Flt Lt Ghuman, lost visual with his wingman just after take-off and remained out of the fight leaving Sekhon to handle the muddle all by himself.
Sekhon took off regardless of the danger from the enemy jets which were strafing the runway. Fighting alone, he managed to hit two of the enemy air-crafts in an intense dogfight. He secured hits on one aircraft and set another on fire. By now the other Sabre aircraft came to the aid of their hard-pressed companions and Flying Officer Sekhon’s Gnat was again outnumbered, this time by four to one.
Even though alone, Flying Officer Sekhon engaged the enemy in an unequal combat. In the fight that followed, at treetop height, he almost held his nerves but was eventually overcome by the sheer weight of numbers. His aircraft crashed and he was martyred.
These were taken from the official gazette notification 7Pres/72 published on 29th January 1972.
The sublime heroism, supreme gallantry, flying skill and determination above and beyond the call of duty displayed by Flying Officer Sekhon in the face of certain death have set new heights in Air Force traditions
For his extraordinary gallantry, the Republic decorated Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, posthumously, with the Param Vir Chakra, the only air warrior to be elevated to the highest wartime pedestal.
It was not his day, yet he made it his own.
The Param Vir Chakra citation reads as follows:
FG OFFR NIRMAL JIT SINGH SEKHON
18 SQUADRON 10877 F(P)
Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was a pilot of a Gnat detachment based at Srinagar for the air defence of the valley against Pakistani air attacks. From the very outbreak of the hostilities he and his colleagues fought successive waves of intruding Pakistani aircraft with valour and determination, maintaining the high reputation of the Gnat aircraft. On 14 December 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by a wave of enemy Sabre aircraft. Flying Officer Sekhon was on readiness duty at the time. Immediately, however, no fewer than six enemy aircraft were overhead, and they began bombing and strafing the airfield. In spite of the mortal danger of attempting to take off during the attack, Flying Officer Sekhon took off and immediately engaged a pair of the attacking Sabres. In the fight that ensued, he secured hits on one aircraft and damaged another. By this time the other Sabre aircraft came to the aid of their hard-pressed companions and Flying Officer Sekhon’s Gnat was again outnumbered, this time by four to one.
Even though alone, Flying Officer Sekhon engaged the enemy in an unequal combat. In the fight that followed, at treetop height, he almost held his own, but was eventually overcome by the sheer weight of numbers. His aircraft was shot down by a gunfire of one of the Sabres and he was killed.
The sublime heroism, supreme gallantry, flying skill and determination above and beyond the call of duty displayed by Flying Officer Sekhon in the face of certain death have set new heights in Air Force traditions.
Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon is remembered for his gallantry and statues of him have also been erected in many cities in Punjab.
A marine tanker built in 1985 was named Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, PVC.
Legacy and depictions in popular culture
A statue in tribute of Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was erected at the district court of Ludhiana (first erected at Samrala Chowk,Ludhiana) in the courtyard next to the flag pole. A decommissioned Folland Gnat fighter is part of the memorial and serves as a gate guardian.
His statue along with a decommissioned Folland Gnat fighter has been placed in the Indian Air Force Museum, Palam.
AajTak Video Describing the Heroism of PVC FG Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon
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A great and bold officer, a lesson for inspiration, Salute to brave, Honour to brave ______Indian Air Force