Monday, May 2, 2011

Colonel Thet Oo - Chapter 1

(This is a concise translation of Col Thet Oo (a) Thaung Wai Oo’s Autobiography.)

From a Civilian Life to a Soldier Life

It was during third week of April 1966 when I reported at the Army Recruitment Centre on Prome Road at Myenigone in Rangoon for the OTS (Officer training School). That day at about 3 in the afternoon twenty officer cadets including me, on an army Ford truck, left the Recruitment Battalion for the OTS in Hmawbee near Rangoon.

The training had already started and we were the late group of cadets for OTS Intake 36. When we reached OTS the time was almost 5 in the evening. The cadets in their crew-cuts, green singlets, and khaki shorts were falling in for the evening PT and they all loudly cheered at us coming into the compound.

The harsh drills had made their sun-burnt faces really dark and they all looked the same and I could not recognize any of my friends who were there already. The barracks, the cadets and instructors, and the flowering Padauk trees everywhere. I looked at the huge OTS campus blanketed by Paduak fragrances and immediately realized I was at the gate of a whole new world.

And that new world would change  my life forever!

Unforgettable cadet’s life

I was in the First Platoon from the First Barracks and my student number was eleven. My barracks mates were Ohn Kyaw, Aung Ba Yu, Ni Lay Maung, Thein Aung, Tin Thein, Khin Maung Oo, Myint Zaw, Than Aung, Aung Khin Kyaw, Sein Win, Aye Ko, Aung Myint, Aung Zaw, Aung Kyi, Tet Htun, Than Myint Oo, San Myint, Nyo Htun, Ba Hla, Aye Min, Than Myint, San Naing, Aung Thwin, Tin Aung, Soe Win, and Tin Htut Thein.
Mhawbee at top let corner
In our barracks the Student Number-1 Ohn Kyaw was the tallest with the height of 5ft 10inches and the most-muscled man was Zaw Weight (a) Myint Zaw who was former Mr. Mandalay University. He was the biggest man in our barracks and I the smallest. And I got bullied there all the times.

At one occasion a serious argument broke out between me and the whole First Section my   section. Then was just after 3 months into our training and one day we were on our way back from an exercise in nearby Htaukkyant. My section leader had unfairly ordered me to carry the heavy Bren machinegun even though it wasn’t my turn yet.

A Bren with 500 bullets is doubly heavier than a lee-Enfield .303 rifle and I stubbornly refused to follow the order. 

“You guys forcing me to carry the Bren. Now wasn’t my turn and I will not carry the Bren!”
“Thet Oo, Eleven, will you carry the Bren, or not?”

The Section Leader and the rest weren’t happy and they circled me as if they were going to bash me up for refusing to carry the heavy Bren gun. But Zaw Weight who was from the Second Section stood up from where he was and stopped them.

“Hey you men, I’ve been watching you for a while now. Always bullying this small one. You men shouldn’t bully someone younger and smaller than you all. If you men are so brave why don’t you guys try me, come out now!”

Only then they left me alone as they all were afraid of our big Zaw Weight. Later we would get into arguments as before but they never dared to violently gang up on me again. Only now I thought back sometimes and felt grateful to Zaw Weight (now a colonel) again.

Bren .303 GPMG.
Than Myint Oo was another one so close to me in our Barracks. He was a married one from Meikhtila. He applied for OTS just because his wife wanted to become the wife of an Airforce officer. As his and her wish he ended up in the Airforce after OTS. One funny thing about him was he used to fall asleep in the class all the times.

Knowing that the instructors always tried to ambush him by asking him surprise questions in the classroom. Captain Maung Chit was the worst and we all had good laugh at Than Myint Oo whenever he was woken up by Captain Mung Chit’s question and his sleepy answers were all over the place.
Lee-Enfield .303 Rifle.
And one night I also got into a trouble with Captain Chit. That night he was teaching us a lesson on the disassembly and reassembly of Lee-Enfield .303 rifle in the dark. While we were all taking apart our rifles San Myint (I think) from our Section inadvertently let go of the recoil spring and it hit the magazine making a loud enough “khlwan” noise in the silent darkness. Captain Chit heard the noise and immediately yelled at us.

“Hey, did someone lose the spring, who? That noise could be heard from miles away. How many miles, anyone?”

No one dared to answer and we all kept quiet. But Captain Chit yelled at us again.

“Hey, don’t you guys hear what I just asked? Tell me, from how many miles could that noise be heard?”

Thinking that little noise couldn’t be heard from more than 100 yards away let alone a mile I arrogantly said a stupid thing.

“Could be heard from about ten miles, Captain!”
“Son of a bitch! Who said ten miles, who, who?”

He was really angry and tried to find out the culprit by shining his torch light at our faces. But we all kept quiet.

“Who said ten miles? Are you guys not telling me?”

Knowing that the whole section could be punished I raised my hand up and admitted.

“I said it, Captain!”
“Son of a bitch, it was you! Student-11, the youngest and smallest, the laziest and dumbest. You said 10 miles. Come out, come out front. Utter nonsense. How could it be heard from bloody 10 miles? Mother fucking ten miles. Come, come, lift the rifle up and give me 100 squats, now!”

From that night onwards he picked on me for any small thing I’d done wrong. He kept on telling me I was the laziest, dumbest, and most useless in the whole class, and continuously awarding me with hundreds and hundreds of squats, push-ups, and frog-jumps till I graduated.

Recently I met him (now retired Major Maung Chit) and we talked about good old days and we laughed heartily together.


Our Company was Thura Company. There were 162 officer cadets and our intake was OTS 36. At graduation, after nearly a year at the OTS, 17 were posted into the Airforce, 16 into the Nay, and 129 the Army.

One distinct thing is there are many killed-in-actions from our First Barracks. The fallen are Ohn Kyaw (killed in 1969 in North-East War Region), Aung Zaw (killed in Pegu Yoma), San Myint (killed in Pegu Yoma), and Ba Hla (killed in North-East War Region).

Many from our First Barracks also reached the rank of Colonel. Aung Ba Yu (Artillery Division), Thein Aung (Light Infantry Division 44), Than Aung, Myint Zaw, me, and Soe Win.

Nine month long training had three stages of three months each. First stage was Junior Private training, the second Senior Private, and the third was Officer Cadet training. The rigorous training made the fat one thinner and the thin one heavier. At the end I’d gained more than 20 lbs to the body weight of over 100 lbs and stretched more than one inch to the height of 5ft 4in.

There were so many memorable moments during my cadet life and the most memorable one involved one particular lesson about battle tactics, and Cadet Bo Kyi.

The time was almost near the graduation and the lesson was the thorough review of one of the battles army had fought against KNU (Karen National Union) insurgents and lost. The lesson was called “Exercise Wintaloke” and it was about the battle KNU successfully fought near the abandoned Wintaloke Village against the Army Company led by Captain Kyi Maung of IB 26 (Infantry Battalion 26) from Kyaikhto.

Colonel Thura Min Maung the OTS Principal himself had delivered the lecture. By using a scaled sand model of the battleground the battle opening, all the stages of the battle, the ending, the advantages and disadvantages, and the lesson learnt from the battle were explained in details by Col Min Maung. He was such a good speaker and accordingly we were totally into his lecture.

When he reached the point when Captain Kyi Maung was captured alive by the insurgents and taken to KNU Leader Bo Mya someone among us was emotionally affected and he made an audible angry noise. He was Officer Cadet Bo Kyi.

“Don’t get angry now. When your turn comes do not let similar defeat happen. You must fight to win. This is the lesson for all of you.”

That was what Col Min Maung said to us then. And that might be the reason when later in 1980s as Major Bo Kyi on the Dawna Ranges in Karen State our Bo Kyi repeatedly  defeated the KNU insurgents in one battle after another and received field promotions to the rank of Colonel.

Bo Kyi and I came from same small town, went to same school, studied at same university, and were in same OTS platoon. After OTS we had been separated for nearly 20 years but we ended up serving together again in the same army Division.

Two years after I was transferred into the Civil Service he was also posted into the Civil Service as the Managing Director of the Film Corporation under the Ministry of Information and Culture.

Nowadays whenever I drive past the old OTS (now the Training School of Union Solidarity and Development Association), sometimes once or twice a week because of my work, I always fondly remember my days as the young Officer Cadet there.