Major Sudhir Walia died fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir on August 29, 1999.
He was 31.
Just a month earlier he had led his elite commando infantry unit -- the 9 Parachute Commandos -- on an assault on Zulu Ridge in the Kargil war.
The Pakistani troops had begun their pullout from the Kargil region by that time but some invaders remained on the Zulu top at a height of 5,200 metres in the Mushkoh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
On July 25, 1999 -- a day before Vijay Diwas or Victory Day which commemorates the end of the Kargil war -- Major Walia and his team captured Zulu Ridge. Thirteen enemy soldiers were killed. There were five casualties on the Indian side.
For his valour and leadership in the face of the enemy Major Walia was recommended for a Vir Chakra, India's third highest award for gallantry in battle. His battalion was called the bravest of the brave for the recapture of the ridge.
A few days later, when General Ved Prakash Malik, Chief of the Army Staff, arrived in Srinagar to review the situation at the corp headquarters, he met Sudhir briefly before he went into the meeting.
Two years before the Kargil war, Sudhir Walia had reported to his office in New Delhi as his aide-de-camp. That morning in Srinagar he was wearing the Viet Cong cap that was given to them on an official trip to Vietnam, remembers General Malik over the phone from his home in Panchkula, Haryana.
"Why did you go on the mission without proper acclimatisation, I asked him [about the attack on Zulu Ridge]," recalls General Malik, "He laughed and said -- 'Sir, I'm a pahari [hill dweller], I don't need to be acclimatised.'"
Major Sudhir Walia's story is one that will make you proud.
As a child he walked to school which did not have a uniform because its pupils often could not afford one. He sat on the floor on a coarse mat and first told his mother he wanted to join the army in class II.
Every day on his way to school he saw other children in smart red uniforms going to some other school. He liked the bright colour and asked his father why couldn't he go to a school like that.
'The children of my officers go to that school, you can only go to such a school if you study very, very hard,' explained Rulia Ram to his son.
Sudhir did just that.
In class V, he went to Jalandhar in Punjab to appear for an entrance test for admission to military school. He cleared the test and secured admission to military school in Sujanpur Tira, 40 kilometres from Banuri village, where his family lives.
The school had been inaugurated by India's sixth President, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, and was created to train its students for a career in the armed forces.
One of its other students was Sanjeev Jamwal who many years later would lead a brilliant assault in Kargil to recapture the highest point on Tololing Ridge alongside Captain Vikram Batra, the courageous soldier honoured with India's highest gallantry award for action in Kargil.
On finishing class X, Sudhir Walia passed the exam for the National Defence Academy and was called to Bangalore for an interview.
He asked his father for Rs 2,000 for the long trip. Rulia Ram gave him Rs 3,000.
The family had no friends or relatives in Bangalore. The military school sent an escort with the boys who had been called for the interview, easing Rulia Ram from the anxiety of his young son's journey.
On arriving at Bangalore station, fourteen-year-old Sudhir washed his face, got dressed on the platform and went straight to the interview.
Four days later he sent a telegram to his parents. 'I have passed -- Sudhir.'
At the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla, he was smaller built and physically weaker than many of his other batchmates.
"He fell behind initially, but caught up with the rest quickly," says his father, sitting under several framed pictures of his son in his living room.
During his school holidays, Rulia Ram had taken him for English tuition. He knew his son had to know the language well. It would groom him for life ahead.
The tuition teacher was a kind man who knew Rulia's Ram's financial situation and tutored Sudhir free of charge.
As time went by, Sudhir's English improved immensely, and the opportunities that he earned due to his merit lit in him the desire to excel first at the NDA and later at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun.
At his passing out parade at the IMA, Sudhir led the contingent.
Sitting in the audience with his family, Rulia Ram knew his son would make him proud.
The Indian Army was engaged in one of its most important overseas missions when Sudhir Walia graduated from the Indian Military Academy as an officer of the 3 Jat Regiment in 1988.
Seventy thousand Indian troops were sent to Sri Lanka to enforce peace between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Lieutenant Sudhir Walia was one of them.
India withdrew its troops in 1990 and lost 1,157 soldiers on that peacekeeping mission.
Sudhir made a mark for himself with his skills in jungle warfare. On his return from Sri Lanka, he moved to the 9 Parachute Commando regiment, the Indian Army's unit for unconventional warfare.
9 Para is one of the Indian Army's four special forces and specialises in mountain operations.
He served two six month stints on the Siachen Glacier -- the highest and harshest of all battlefields at a height of 6,300 metres and excelled in high altitude warfare.
Two years before he was killed, he was selected from amongst the best of India's commandos and sent for a specialised course to the United States.
As a soldier, the farthest Rulia Ram had gone was standing watch over India's international borders.
But his son had travelled from his village to "The Pentagon -- he went and spoke over there," says his father swelling with pride.
Many times, while Sudhir was away at the front or in America, Rulia Ram sat on his verandah and thought of the days he had walked 15 miles to get to work.
His son had made it all worthwhile.
Major Walia's photograph at the Pentagon hangs among many other photographs of his on the walls of his home.
'Colonel' was the nickname given to him by his peers who had come from 80 other countries.
When the six-month course ended, Major Walia -- the only Indian in the group -- had topped it.
By the time he was deputed as aide-de-camp to the chief of army staff, he had amassed considerable battle experience and was twice decorated with gallantry awards for combating militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
"He set an example and inspired young officers," says General Malik who admired his competence, maturity and his ability to lead from the front. "In fact, his name for ADC was suggested by an officer who was junior to him."
When the Kargil war broke out Major Walia was on deputation to the army chief. His battalion, 9 Para, was fighting the enemy and Sudhir was desperate to get to the battlefront.
He had all the experience, had been trained for that kind of warfare and when the country needed him most, he was bound to a desk at army headquarters in New Delhi.
'Sir, please allow me to join my battalion,' he requested the army chief. General Malik gave him permission and Sudhir once again found his name amongst India's best warriors when he recaptured Zulu Ridge.
When the Kargil war ended, 9 Para was assigned to fight terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
Major Walia opted for anti-terrorist operations and led his men into every mission with exemplary valour.
'I won't die in an accident or die of any disease,' he would often tell his mother, 'I will go down in glory.'
The end came just the way he wanted it to be.
On Sunday, August 29, 1999, a month after the Kargil war ended, his team was ordered to demolish a terrorist hideout in the thick Haphruda jungle in Kupwara district.
Major Walia had threaded through the forest the whole night, but the enemy remained elusive.
In the morning as he went past a stream, he spotted toothpaste foam by the edge of the water. He knew the terrorists were within striking distance and stealthily caught up with them.
In a daring combat action he killed nine of the 20 terrorists, but was critically wounded when a bullet ripped through his stomach. He could not move but continued to command his men till they vanquished the enemy.
'Only after 35 minutes when the fighting stopped he permitted his own evacuation,' reads the citation in his home.
After the fighting stopped Sudhir was taken by a military helicopter to the army x-ud. "He could not make it," says his mother, wiping her tears with the dupatta covering her head. "He passed away en route."
For his mother Rajeshwari Devi, Sudhir was the perfect son, a boy who would sleep on the floor and iron her clothes when he was home. How many sons would do that?
On Republic Day 2000 Subedar Rulia Ram stood in front of the President of his country to receive the Ashok Chakra, India's highest award for battle in peacetime, on his son's behalf.
While the citation was read out, he stood quietly and erect, remembering his son.
His younger disabled son -- who now looks after the gas agency the government offered the family after Sudhir's death, and his daughter -- now married -- had stayed home with their mother.
As the short narration concluded, the former soldier slapped his shoes and raised his right hand in a handsome salute to the President.
"I only helped him climb the first rung," Subedar Rulia Ram's voice wavers with emotion, "the rest was all his own hard work."
A few yards from their welcoming home in Banuri is a square dedicated to Major Sudhir Walia.
It's a spot Sudhir had passed by many times. As a little boy holding his father's hand, as a decorated officer of the Indian Army, as a martyr draped in the nation's flag.
Today, the location tells the amazing story of a subedar's son who rose from the floor of a village school to become one of the brightest officers of the Indian Army.
It's a story that is sad, yet inspiring, making you proud.
That is what heroism is all about.