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Operation Bring Skillie Home
The Parabat Veterans Organisation (PVO) announced its first important mission and that is to complete some unfinished business, now 38 yars overdue.
Andries “Skillie” Human was reported Missing in Action on the night of 4 May 1978.
After a somewhat chaotic evacuation from Cassinga a joint roll-call was held at Ondangwa and Eenhana, the two bases where the returning Parabats were dropped by their helicopters after the battle.
It was found that Skillie was at neither base. During hurried enquiries, it seemed as though the last time he was seen was by the jumper who left the aircraft immediately after him. Henry Moran (RIP) said that he saw Skill hanging motionless in his harness. As they found themselves over the river, Moran took his eyes off Skillie while he attempted to side-slip the river and that was the last time Skillie was seen.
The speculation was that Skillie could have been shot in the air as there was lots of Anti-aircraft shells and small arms fire directed at the paratroopers exiting their planes. He could also have fallen into the river and weighed down with first-line ammo , drowned, or both.
Many of us volunteered to go back to look for him as soon as he was found to be missing, but cooler heads decided that , because no-one saw him on the ground, we didn’t know where to search and the fact that the whole of Angola was in a state on extreme readiness after the raid, it would be suicidal to go back.
Skillie was declared Missing in Action and only declared dead after an agonising two year wait.
This very unsatisfactory set of circumstances has endured for 38 years. Skillie’s wife and daughter have never had the opportunity to visit his grave and his comrades in arms have always felt a sense of unease about the battle that should have been a more joyous occasion to commemorate each year, had they brought all their fallen back.
A happy coincidence has prompted the PVO to now, after all this time, make a strong and determined effort to bring Skillie home.
A recent battlefield tour group visited the now deserted Cassinga base and there they came across an Angolan local.
Luckily the tour group had a Portuguese speaker and when the local was asked whether he remembered the Battle for Cassinga, he replied that he was a small boy then but he did remember finding two bodies in the river after the battle. He described one of the bodies wearing lots of belts which we presume to be a parachute harness. The other body we presume to be that of a fleeing SWAPO soldier who may have drowned.
The local couldn’t remember exactly where the bodies were buried by his father, but we can presume that it was on the river bank near where Skillies stick landed.
To be continued
Operation Bring Skillie Home Pt 2
Now that we have an approximate area and we know that he was buried and not taken by a crocodile, we simply must make the strongest of efforts to do a complete job of narrowing down the search area, finding the right equipment to aid in the search and lastly, find the right amount of men to make an expedition to Cassinga to search and bring back Skillie’s remains.
The hurdles are many. We need to get the cooperation and permissions from Angola and Namibia to both visit and retrieve Skillies remains. We need to obtain DNA samples from Skillie’s daughter. We need to try and find his dental records which will help in quickly identifying the body at the site.
Ground Radar machines and metal detectors are needed as well as people who are trained in their use.There are a hundred and one other things that will need personal commitment from South Africa’s Paratroopers. Naturally, the most important thing after the commitment of the Parabats is money.
If we are to be able to bring Skillie back in time for the 40th Anniversary of Cassinga in two years time, we should begin our research and fund raising now.
The PVO is committed to both and we will keep you all appraised on the progress of both regularly.
The PVO has proposed that this years big fundraiser will be a Grand San Michel function to be held in Johannesburg on 29th Sept 2016.
San Michel Day has been a little neglected of late and this Operation Bring Skillie Home is a terrific way to resuscitate the great old tradition of celebrating San Michel, or St. Michael the Archangel, gatekeeper to Heaven and Patron Saint of Paratroopers.
The PVO is preparing a budget for the expedition and this will be communicated to you soon. In the meantime, anyone who may have contact with commercial enterprises that may be interested in sponsoring anything that will help make the expedition a success, please let us know and we can supply letters of commendation and try and give media coverage to the sponsor.
We have already made a good start in that Manie Grove has donated his profits from tie sales at Sundays Memorial. Dave Barr has also very generously given a large portion of his book sales to the Operation with his characteristic openheartedness. An anonymous infantryman also personally gave a much appreciated donation to the cause at the War Museum on Sunday.
This is a effort that every paratrooper and indeed every South African soldier should be four square behind. It is by no means confined to PVO members and help from all quarters and is welcome.
Lets Bring Skillie Home!