Remember me in a silent distant land | Sunday Observer

Remember me in a silent distant land

17 October, 2021
A similar DORA to Preethi’s P452
A similar DORA to Preethi’s P452

From a very early age, I used to maintain diaries. I still treasure them. One day, while we were serving our cadetship at the Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA), my batchmate and close friend , Preethi, asked for my diary and wrote this note on a page which happened to be his birthday. “Remember me when I am gone to a silent distant land”. I never realised the irony of what he wrote until October, 19, 1997, a day like this twenty four years ago. This inscription remains firmly etched in my memory.

Preethi, being a great swimmer who represented college and the university of Colombo, had a dream of joining the Navy since his childhood. He had his entire schooling at Ananda, and like him, a number of his Advanced Level classmates joined the Defence Forces and Police. This trend was mainly due to the influence and the great leadership of Principal G.W Rajapakse.


Rajapakse strongly believed in entrusting meaningful leadership roles to students. During that time, many important functions such as the big matches, annual prize-giving, the sports meets, were organised by the students themselves. The head prefect was the chief guest at these sports meets and he also conducted assemblies. Students were encouraged to participate in all types of extracurricular activities. Sports and cadetting were the most popular extracurricular activities at college and all these experiences gained helped the students to select their respective career paths.

Some of Preethi’s classmates who joined the defence forces and police were Mahesh Senanayake (Former Commander of the Army) Major Geneneral Sudantha Ranasinghe (Director General Disaster Management), Late Major General Jagath Wijethilake (former Rehabilitation Commissioner General), Major General Ranjith Rajapathirana (former Judge Advocate General), late Lt Dushan Perera, Col Sujith Jayasekera, Late Col Sudath Madugalle, Lt Col Vidya Jinadasa, Capt Lalith Jayasekera, Lt Bandula Withanachchi, then from the Navy, Lt Cdr Damitha Vitharana, Lt Udeni Jayathilake, Lt Sanath Dayaprema, late HG de Zoysa, and from the Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Kishan Yahampath (former Director Ground Operations), late Wing Cdr Jayanthalal Thibbotumunuwe, Wing Cdr Devapriya Boralessa, Wing Cdr Razali Noordeen, Sqd Ldr Ajith Dolage and from Police Snr DIG Jagath Palihakkara (Snr DIG - Northern Province) DIG Kithsiri Aponso ( DIG- Badulla District), SSP Ayesh Weerakkody, IP Anura Kithsiri, Prisons Dept TI Uduwara (Commissioner of Prisons - Operations and Intelligence)


Preethi was my batchmate at KDA and we both had several common interests. We both enjoyed listening to old classical songs, doing weight training (our improvised gym was a small store room behind Sir John’s Aquarium), taking evening walks down Borupone Road, and boat rides at Bolgoda Lake. As our batch consisted of 14 cadets, we were housed in a billet for almost two and a half years until we were allocated separate rooms in the Cadet wing. Preethi’s bed was placed in front of mine and I recollect that some nights Preethi wore his PT kit when he went to bed, so that when morning arrived he would have saved time dressing up as he could sleep in the same posture without disarranging his PT attire or bed linen.

Upon completing the university and KDA phase, Preethi opted to join the Navy, along with three of my batchmates Manoaj Jayasuriya (retired as Commander in 2002) Dimuthu Gunawardane (retired as Rear Admiral in April 2018) and Damian Fernando (retired as Rear Admiral in Feb 2018)

After completing training at the Naval and Maritime Academy, Preethi had been engaging in all types of sea battles. His acts of bravery are still reminisced by many with the highest respect. He put the country before him and his bravery and patriotism went beyond wining medals or accolades.

Preethi also served twice as the Troop Commander at the KDA, and after completing his second tenure at KDA he re-joined the sea operations as the Officer Commanding DORA P452.

On the evening before the fateful day, Lt Cdr Manoaj Jayasuriya, Lt Dimuthu Gunawardane and Preethi sailed from the Trincomalee harbour, as directed by the Commander Eastern Naval Area, along with a flotilla of ships and crafts on an offensive patrol to disrupt an enemy movement that was due to take place between Boulder Point and Mullaitivu. Manoj, who commanded the prestigious Fast Attack Craft Fortilla (FAF4) twice in his career after perfecting the art of naval battle, joined this important operation.

Displaying his unwavering tactical leadership so that he could take quick and vital decisions in battle, his presence in the theatre was undoubtedly a morale booster to all the sailors. Preethi was in command of another FAC, P452 and Dimuthu was in command of a Chinese Gunboat SLNS Ranavikrama, to neutralise enemy launching pads. The two gunboats, along with eight Dovras, kept on engaging targets both at sea and on land to prevent this logistic move from happening.


This engagement, which was considered to be one of the bloodiest battles at sea, lasted from approximately 2100 hrs on the 18th to 0330 hrs on the October 19, 1997. It is estimated that at least 100 LTTE terrorists ,including 30 -35 Sea Tigers, had been killed. Two FACs were also damaged and seven sailors were injured, sadly one succumbed to their injuries. Preethi, being a very brave and daring officer, always went close to LTTE crafts to attack them. The officer in command of this fierce offence was Lt Cdr Manoaj Jayasuriya, who had been communicating on VHF to Preethi, “You are very close to enemy craft” and Preethi’s reply was “Roger over”, while he continued to maintain his position.

Preethi, having successfully attacked one of the enemy clusters during the attack, was then hit by a high calibre gun (likely to be an RCL mounted on the bow of an enemy boat) which immediately immobilised him, paving the opportunity for two enemy suicide boats to speed towards his boat and ram it, sinking the craft within seconds approximately 3.5 nautical miles off Kokilai. By this time, under fierce attack from the SLN flotilla, the enemy was forced to abandon its logistic move and return, leaving behind two offensive clusters of the enemy.

Preethi was one of the best swimmers and displayed his energetic personality both at college and at the university of Colombo. As the incident occurred quite close to the seashore, Manoaj and Dimuthu continuously searched the area voluntarily for the next 24 hours, hoping to find and recover Preethi, as well as his crew members. But in spite of their valiant efforts there was no sign of Preethi. Two days later they found the bodies of all who were on board P452 except Preethi.

Preethi was posthumously promoted to the rank of Lt Commander after he was considered to have been killed in action.

Preethi lost his mother Rohini Subadra Mapalagama during our 1st year at KDA in 1982. His father Col P.V. Pathirana was the former Commanding Officer of 3rd Gemunu Watch during the JVP insurgencies in 1988-89, and though his father was a highly respected senior army officer Preethi never ever used his father’s position to his advantage. He very seldom even mentioned his father’s profession, that’s the Preethi we all knew.

Preethi was the eldest of his family of three sisters, Buddhini Narmad Pathirana (Manager, PriceWaterhouseCoopers PWC) Indika Damayanthi Pathirana (MTV Channel Director) and youngest Harshini Sriyangika Pathirana (Verners Law Firm)


Preethi met the love of his life Dayani Panagoda at KDA, when she was a lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Preethi was the Troop Commander. Their friendship blossomed to be a lifetime partnership when they got married on 26th Oct 1995.

Other officer instructors at KDA during that time were Lt Manoaj Jayasuriya, Capt Nandana Senadheera (former Security Forces Commander East retired as Major General in Nov 2017, present Chairman Ranaviru Seva Authority) Capt Anil Kulasooriya (retired as Major in 1999) Lt Ruwan Wanigasurita (former Security Forces Commander Jaffna, retired as Major General in April 2020) and Flying Officer Chanakkya Senaratne (retired as Group Captain in 2011).

They were all great friends. At the time, Capt Nandana Senadeera was the only married officer, and he used to bring his own home cooked lunch. His newly wedded wife, Reka, always packed a big lunch packet for Nandana to share with other officers, but Manoj Jayasuriya and Preethi used to finish it all even before breakfast.

Preethi’s wife Dr Dayani Panagoda is a policy specialist with experience engaging every segment of Sri Lankan society, Dayani has had a long career of formulating, implementing and sharing women, peace and security policies. Currently, she is serving as a Director / Senior Technical Specialist for Global Communities, her extensive career integrates the training of professionals, women leaders and students on the role of women in social cohesion and sustainable peace. Dayani’s expertise as an Attorney at Law is an immense strength for Devi Balika, as she was unanimously appointed as the Co-President of Devi Balika PPA. I am sure that Preethi will be happy and proud of Dayani’s deep commitment and passion that she has devoted for the betterment of our society.

Another relative of Preethi’s I remember very well is his Gemunu Bappa. After our 2nd interview on Officer Quality Test (OQT) at Rock House Camp, Modera, Preethi dropped a few of us near the Wimaladharma clock tower in his uncle’s beige Peugeot 504. His uncle was very fond of Preethi and he was an uncle to all of us. We affectionately called him Gemunu Bappa as well. We were all waiting for Preethi’s uncle to visit him at KDA, as he used to bring a car full of shorteats and fruits for all of us. Before he could reach Galle Road, whatever he brought had vanished. Gemunu Silva was an engineer by profession a former Air Force officer, Squadron Leader, soft spoken and a true gentleman. He was married to Preethi’s mother’s younger sister, Suneetha.

He was another brilliant product of Ananda College and University of Peradeniya. He implemented many landmark projects in Sri Lanka. As Sri Lankans, we have benefited from his farsighted projects, such as raising the Maligawa Buddha statue, Golden Roof (Ran Viyana) for the sacred Dalada Maligawa, restoration of many ancient Stupas like Jetawana Dagaba, Abhayagiriya, Mirisawatiya, and installation of flood lights at Kettarama International Cricket Stadium. Preethis’ uncle passed away in July 2021. He was one of the attesting witness at Preethi and Dayani’s wedding as well.

My last meeting with Preethi was two months before his final battle on that fateful day, at one of the leading electrical fittings showroom at Bambalapitiya, where we both were searching for energy saving bulbs. He invited me to his place upon his next vacation from Trincomalee but that never became a reality.

As an Intake we lost a wonderful comrade, one of the nicest friends with very noble qualities, his sisters lost an adorable brother and Dayani lost her companion, which is unbearable and irreparable loss.

Preethi, you made the supreme sacrifice to make a better place for all of us. We deeply miss you, and are so proud to have known you. Just as you wrote in my diary, I will remember you Preethi when you have gone to that silent distant land.

“Those we love don’t go away. They walked beside us every day. Unseen, unheard but always near. Still loved, still missed and very dear.” - William Penn

May you rest in peace my gallant friend, and may your journey through Sansara be short.