Over 300 years after Don Michael De Fonseka took part in the siege and capture of the Portuguese occupied Jaffna Fort, another family member saw active duty in the present war in the north, this time with the elite commando regiment of the Sri Lanka Army.
Janaka Francis Sean de Fonseka (Jani) was the third in the family of Col. Ian de Fonseka and Tilaka de Fonseka ( see James Fretz Family Tree). Jani had his entire education at St. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia and excelled in all sports activities. He was a member of the College Swimming, Water Polo, Hockey and Rowing teams. He represented the College at the Sixth Asian Rowing Championships, held in Hong Kong in 1984.He captained the College Basketball and Badminton teams and was awarded College Colors in Basketball. He represented Sri Lanka at Basketball in the Under 20 age category, in 1981.
Jani also excelled at Rugby Football and was awarded College Colors in Rugby Football in 1983 and 1984.He represented the College at Rugby in the Gratian Trophy Rugby matches in 1983 and 1984. Jani was also an excellent long distance runner, securing first place in all three long distance events – 1500,3000 and 5000 meters, at the College Inter-House Sports Meet, in 1983. In 1984, he was adjudged “Best All-round Sportsman of the Year”.
Jani was also a Scout and an Altar Boy, while at the College and he went on to become a House-Prefect of the College, towards the latter part of his school career.
In 1987 he followed in the footsteps of his father and joined the Sri Lanka Army. He was admitted to the Army Training Center of the Sri Lanka Military Academy (Diyatalawa) in July 1987 (Intake 28-Alpha) and passed out in June of 1989 as a 2nd Lieutenant.
While at the Academy, Jani earned the distinction of becoming “Junior Cadet Under-Officer” – an exceptional Officer rank awarded to a trainee/cadet.Upon completion of his training, Jani was selected to serve with the Armed Corps, to which the best trainees were traditionally posted. Jani however, opted to serve with an elite fighting unit and joined the 1st Commando regiment (Commando intake 17). Once again, he underwent further training to pass out as a Commando and won the trophy awarded to “The Best Commando”. The photograph on the left shows him receiving this award from the then Northern Commander of the Army, General Denzil Kobbekaduwa.
Jani was also adjudged “The Best Pistol Shot” at the Inter Regiment Novices Pistol Shooting competition in 1989, where he represented the Commando Regiment in the “Practical Pistol-firing” category.
During his period of service with the Commando Regiment, Jani underwent extensive training in specialized fields such as Anti-hijack and Hostage Release, V.I.P Security, Amphibious Assault etc. In 1990 Jani underwent training at The Infantry Training School in Belgaum, India ,where he successfully completed the “Commando Officer Training Course (Intake-169)”.
At various times, Jani served in different capacities – from being in charge of security for the then Prime Minister, Hon. D.B. Wijetunga, to being in charge of the Anti-hijack and Hostage Release Team, based at the Katunayaka International Airport.
Preferring to be at the heart of the action, Jani seized the opportunity to serve with the ‘Delta Group” of the Commando Regiment, who founded the “Delta Patrol” – an elite unit of volunteers from within the Commando Regiment, operating chiefly behind enemy lines, in small groups, in the North and East. Jani served with this elite unit until the time of his demise. Jani was killed in battle in the morning of the 15th of July, 1991, at Janakapura, Welioya in the Mulaithivu district, while on a “search and destroy “mission. He was felled by a shot to the head, while attempting to recover the body of a fallen colleague. He was 26 years old at the time. Jani was posthumously promoted to the rank of Captain. During his career in the army he was awarded the highly coveted “Ranasura Padakkama ” among others. This medal, which is awarded for “distinguished service in the face of the enemy”, was re-awarded to Jani subsequently. Jani was also the recipient of a ‘Purnabhoomi’ award.
The “Capt. Janaka Francis Sean De Fonseka (RSP) Memorial Gymnasium ” at the 1st Commando Regiment, in Ganemulla, is but a small part of the legacy that Jani has left behind.
Text and images from Indika De Fonseka