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Marshal Arjan Singh was in a league of one

The only officer ever to rise to the topmost post of Marshal, Arjan Singh cut a remarkable figure at ceremonial events, standing tall in crisp blues, medals pinned to his chest.

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Marshal Arjan Singh was in a league of one
Air Marshal Arjan Singh
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Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh, who breathed his last on Saturday, will always be remembered as an iconic war hero in India's military history.

The only officer ever to rise to the topmost post of Marshal, Arjan Singh cut a remarkable figure at ceremonial events, standing tall in crisp blues, medals pinned to his chest.

Born in 1919 in Lyalpur in present-day Pakistan, Singh joined the Indian Air Force in 1938 when he was 19. He was the first Indian pilot to be conferred the Distinguished Flying Cross, a third-level British military honour, in 1944, given his contribution in the Burma sector during World War II.

He played a major role in transforming the IAF into a potent global force after he was appointed the Chief of Air Staff in 1964, thereafter leading the IAF in the 1965 war against Pakistan. He remained at the top position till he retired in 1969 at the age of 50, becoming the longest-serving IAF chief.

The Air Force described his demise as the "end of a glorious era."

A flying enthusiast, he piloted over 60 different types of aircraft — from pre-World War II era biplanes to the more contemporary Gnats and Vampires.

Old-timers say he was somebody who believed in leading from the front. To a question from the political leadership about how long it would take the Air Force to strike back during the 1965 war, he is said to have famously responded: "An hour."

In 1971, he was appointed the Ambassador to Switzerland, and in 1974, the High Commissioner to Kenya. He also served as the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.

In 2002, he became the first Marshal of the Indian Air Force, a rare honour equivalent to the Field Marshal of the Indian Army.

It was in his honour that the IAF last year named the Panagarh air base Air Force Station Arjan Singh.

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