Col MM Kapoor had to wait 44 years to come to the country that he had fought to liberate in December 1971.
"I was among the first batch of 106 odd soldiers who entered Dhaka on the morning of December 16 around 10:42am from somewhere near Mirpur," he said.
He recalled how his troops had intercepted some Pakistani phone calls about the plan of surrender in Dhaka and how a high-ranking officer in the Pakistan army laid down his pistol before him on December 16.
"The pistol is still kept in our battalion's mess," he told The Daily Star yesterday at the capital's Palm View restaurant.
Ten of the 27 Indian army personnel, who participated in this year's Victory Day celebration as guests on Wednesday, gathered there to meet freedom fighters with whom they had fought side by side against the Pakistan occupation forces during the Liberation War.
Kapoor was among the over 800 paratroopers who had landed in Poongli Bridge of Tangail on December 11, 1971 to obstruct the 93 Brigade of Pakistani Army that was retreating from the north to defend Dhaka.
He recounted how the airdrop was made during the day, ahead of the scheduled time at night. He explained that airdropping by the day increased the risk of being caught or shot at but their visibility greatly helped to infuse fear in the minds of the enemy who overestimated their exact number. The attack was successful and they thwarted the Pakistan army from advancing towards the capital, he said.
"Even BBC got fooled and reported that six of our battalions landed whereas there was only one, spread over a large area," he laughed, recalling that day.
But what Kapoor's talk mostly highlighted was how positively the local people responded to them.
"We were taught that the moment we'd land we were to say Joy Bangla," he said, adding how the two words worked like magic gathering hundreds of locals who helped them collect their equipment, including ammunition and parachutes.
He saluted the locals' efforts, which helped them to organise themselves quickly and carry out their attack.
The most senior among the 10 war heroes, 89-year-old Maj Gen Rajendra Nath, repeatedly mentioned how the Mukti Bahini helped them immensely. Nath was posted near the border at Krishnanagar in West Bengal.
Referring to the continuous flow of refugees in India through the borders, Nath said all India had wanted was for the refugees to return but Pakistan could not care less.
He noted how India attacked Pakistan as a last resort, only after the latter had carried out an aerial attack on West India.
"It was God's kindness that a large number of the refugees were young people. They were full of life and they wanted to take revenge for the loss of their families, their daughters, their homes," he said, adding the Mukti Bahini had become a vital force in the battle.
Septuagenarian commander VK Raizada was one of the navy officers who had trained the Mukti Bahini. "I was posted in Kolkata in July 1971 and became part of a special team which trained Pakistani [Bangali] sailors running away from the Navy and young boys recruited from the refugee camps to form Mukti Bahini.
"Mukti Bahini had no ships, so we acquired two pilot vessels, Padma and Palash, and turned them into gunboats by installing guns and other equipment to lay mines."
He recounted how the main aim of these vessels was to block the export channel of Pakistan on River Passur at the Mongla Port.
"We laid mines and made sure that no foreign ships passed through," he said.
Then he settled on December 10, 1971, the day the Indian Air Force mistakenly bombed Padma and Palash, killing a number of freedom fighters as well as Indian navy personnel. Thanks to some life jackets they had initially acquired from a merchant ship, Raizada survived. But the memory of that day is still vivid in his mind.