Ethiopian War Heroes honored in Washington DC
Special Report by the North America Organizing Committee to Honor Ethiopian Heroes | September 15, 2009
Committee announces plan to erect a monument in memory of the tens of thousands of the former armed forces who gave the ultimate in defense of Ethiopia’s unity
WASHINGTON - Several hundred Ethiopians over packed the hall of Trinity Church located at 6000 Georgia Ave, NW, Washington, DC. They were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 2009 honorees of the event, Brig General Tesfaye Habte Mariam and Brig General Kassaye Chemeda.
Inside the hall, a huge banner over the podium reads: Ye Jegnotch Mishit (Evening of Ethiopian Heroes). Large poster-size, colorful photos of the heroic Generals, Tesfaye Habte Mariam on the left side and that of Gen Kassaye Chemeda on the right hand side, in full military uniform, are embossed on the banner. At the entrance, two large posters are placed on the wall. The writings are in gold on a black background. They are tribute to and representative list of Ethiopian Heroes who gave the ablest leadership to the former armed forces, those who died while heroically fighting in the eastern and northern fronts in defense of Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity. Among those listed, there are names of those members of the armed forces who are still alive. These are representative names from the Army, Airforce, Navy, and the Police commando forces of the former Ethiopian armed forces.
In the entrance area too, members of the former armed forces and members of the organizing committee dressed in jet black suits, white shirts and red tie were greeting and sitting Ethiopians coming to attend the event. Other members of the committee were displaying on a table of items prepared for the occasion, including books written by both generals, Ye Tor Meda Wullo (Reminiscences of the Battlefield) among others.
Artist Tamagne Beyene, the master of ceremony for the occasion, formally announced the arrival of the two heroes amidst rounds and rounds of applause of Ethiopians who came for the occasion. Dinner was followed by a speech by Ato Brehanu Wolde Selassie, the chairman of the Association of the former Ethiopian Air force (AMFEA) and the chairman of the North America organizing committee to honor Ethiopian Heroes. He welcomed General Tesfaye Habte Mariam, and General Kassaye Chemeda, the honorees of 2009. He then explained about the aim and purpose of the non-profit and non-political committee composed of the Association Former members of the Ethiopian Air force (AMFEA), Ethiopian Veterans Association (EVA), and prominent artists and Ethiopians. He stated the importance and the need for nurturing and further developing the culture of recognizing and honoring Ethiopians who give much for their county and people while still alive, especially all those who put their life in line of great danger to defend the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. He recalled the successful event organized by the committee in 2008 to honor Brig. General Legesse Tefera, the air force pilot who fought heroically during the Ethio-Somali war of the 70s, earning him the highest medal for his heroism.
Ato Brehanu continued that the committee’ selection of the three honorees for this year, which includes Militia Ali Berke along with Gen Tesfaye and Gen Kassaye, was due to their superior contributions in line of duty and in defense of Ethiopia’s unity and territorial integrity in both northern ad eastern fronts during the 70s and 80s . That they were selected for this years’ event among thousands of others with equally superior heroic deeds in line of duty. He mentioned the fact that the two generals have made significant contributions to tell the Ethiopian people about the stories of heroic sacrifices made by the former armed forces in order to defend Ethiopia from both external and eternal challenges posed to the country’s unity and territorial integrity.
The chairman of the committee also mentioned the unsuccessful but much effort exerted by the committee to locate the whereabouts of the third honoree, Militia Ali Berke and facilitate his travel to the USA for the occasion. Ato Berhanu said that the committee would work hard to encourage historians and others to write about the exemplary gallantry of the former armed forces so that they are recorded in the annals of history and passed on to generations of Ethiopians yet to come. He concluded by announcing the committee’s grand and long term plan, at an appropriate time, to erect a monument in Ethiopia in memory of the tens of thousands of Ethiopians who laid their precious life while heroically fighting in defense of Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity from challenges posed by external and internal forces.
Following a moving poem read by Maj. Kifle Abocher, among the ablest artists who served in the former armed forces, Ato Ayalkibet Teshome, a member of the organizing committee read the biographies and contributions of General Tesfaye Habte Mariam, Gen Kassaye Chemeda, and Millitia Ali Berke. Artist Tamagne read a brief biography and introduced Brig. General Wubetu Tsegaye to present the special award to both General Tesfaye and General Kassaye, both of whom served under his command. Brig General Wubetu Tsegaye is a decorated war hero and one of the ablest leaders of the former armed forces and an officer who rose from Battalion commander as a Major to a Brig General and the commander of what was then known as the second revolutionary army (SRA) in the northern front during the 80s for close to fifteen years. While members of organizing committee lined up in straight lines at both the left and right sides of General Wubetu, General Kassaye and then General Tesfaye came forward, gave military salute and received their awards from Brig Gen Wubetu Tsegaye. The awards presented to both are embossed with the letters “Le Mayiresa Wulleta, “For a great deed that shall never be forgotten”.
That rare and emotionally touching moment brought tears to many who were present. It continued when Gen Kassaye Chemeda took the stage. Gen Kassaye stated that he willingly joined the then Ethiopian army during the time of the Emperor to serve and for love of the symbol of our nation, pointing towards the standing Ethiopian flag next to him. He told the audience that he never expected that he and the rest of the former Ethiopian armed forces, who served the country through thick and thin as professional soldiers and officers, would get the chance to be remembered and given such recognition and honor during his life time. He related the suffering he had to endure since his two years of imprisonment after the aborted attempt to oust Col Mengistu in 1989. Gen Kassaye was also a victim of the current regime which put him in prison for another eight months after the fall of the Derg regime.
Gen Kassaye concluded his brief speech by telling the crowd that all the demoralizing stigma and labels he carried along with the rest of the former Ethiopian armed forces for the past so many years has been completely washed in that historic day organized to honor and cerebrate Ethiopian heroes. Thus, expressing his deeply felt gratitude for the committee and the hundreds of Ethiopians present at the occasion. Then Brig General Tesfaye took the stage. He too spoke briefly emphasizing that he is a soldier through and through and whenever he was called upon, he has served the Ethiopian people as a professional soldier. He then recounted three stories, among many other stories yet to be told, as illustrations of the former Ethiopian army’s heroism which defied the known and practiced military science all around the world. After expressing his enormous joy for being able to be present in an occasion of such honor , General Tesfaye recalled that it was exactly on Sept 12, thirty years ago that he was awarded the highest medal for heroism, Ye Hibretsebawit Ethiopia Woder Ye Lelew Jegna Medaliya. He stressed that he considers the current award given to him one that is beyond any expression, calling it Ye Woder Woder Yelesh moment for him.
Dressed in uniform and the Red Hat of the Airborne, Artist Tamagne Beyene took the stage again, announcing to an applauding and amused audience the next program of showing two special documentaries he produced for the occasion. The two films showed among the most dramatic moments in the lives of the two generals, including the tragic story of a successful but enormously costly breakthrough led by General Tesfaye at Nakfa, in one of the most difficult rugged terrain and stronghold of the then Eritrean rebels. Against all odds, General Tesfaye, then a Captain and his airborne battalion, undertook one of the rarest heroic missions by volunteering to be sent in response to the 15th battalion's telegram of appeal for support and dropping from an airplane at more than 2000 meter height. A heroic feat that defied the normal practice and unheard of in modern history of Airborne missions anywhere around the world. That mission was undertaken in order to support and save the encircled and embattled 15th battalion at Nakfa led by Maj. Mamo Temtime. The film also depicted the tremendous heroism and determination of post humus Lt. Colonel Mamo Temtime, the commander of the heroic 15th battalion, who led his men to withstand and put up the toughest resistance in the face of the bloodiest encirclement and onslaught by a much superior enemy force at Nakfa for several months, until he was wounded and while fighting to the last bullet. The short documentary prepared to honor General Kassaye showed his enormous contributions starting with his heroic role as a commander of a Tank Battalion that made significant contribution of crushing and ousting the Somali invading forces out of Ethiopia’s territory.
Upon the conclusion of this part of the evening program, an applause and hurray filled the hall, an expression of approval for work well done as tribute to the heroes by Artist Tamagne. Artists Desalgen and Aregahen Worash continued entertaining the huge number of Ethiopians in the hall with patriotic songs until about 2:00 AM in the morning.
Saturday night event got coverage by the Voice of America. Many members of the media in the Washington DC area were also present. Also present were members of various civic groups such as Gasha for Ethiopia and many others. Ethiopians from all walks of life, young and old, woman and men, were present. Many young Ethiopians as far away as Minnesota, Cincinnati, Ohio, New York and other states came to be part of this great event as well.
(Photos: Courtesy of Photographer Tewodros Mekbib)
The following list of names is prepared to serve as a symbol of hundreds of thousands unnamed others, who died in line of duty and as well as alive. These are outstanding leaders and heroes, both alive and dead, from the former Army, Navy, Air force, and the police forces. This is just representative list of heroes from Generals to line officers, from NCOs to privates of the former Ethiopian armed forces
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