19-Gun Salute for Prime Minister Modi
By Geeta Goindi
Arlington, Virginia, June 6, 2016 – Prime Minister Modi began his Washington visit on a solemn, powerfully symbolic note, by laying wreaths at the Arlington National Cemetery which serves as the final resting place for many of the nation’s greatest heroes, including over 300,000 veterans of every American conflict – men and women of the United States Armed Forces who sacrificed all.
With US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter by his side, Modi placed wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial honoring India-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla (1962-2003) and the six other crew members lost in the science mission.
The event began with a 19-gun salute to Prime Minister Modi, followed by musical renditions of the national anthems of India and the US – all set against a scenic backdrop of the nation’s capital.
On hand were: Indian Foreign Secretary Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar; Indian Ambassador Arun K. Singh and his counterpart US Ambassador Richard Verma; Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs in the State Department; Mr. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy, and other senior Embassy officials; Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams; NASA officials; tourists and visitors; and a sizable contingent of press and media persons.
Surrounded by family members of Kalpana Chawla, Prime Minister Modi paid a touching homage to the late astronaut. Chawla’s husband, Jean-Pierre Harrison, clad in an embellished jacket of Gujarat, Modi’s home state, presented books on his late wife, including a biography written by him, to the prime minister.
Modi also interacted with NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and her father, Deepak Pandya, warmly inviting them both to visit him in India.
Later, Williams told journalists, “All of us are very honored that he took time to come and acknowledge the shuttle catastrophe and the deep cooperation that we have with India in space”.
Remembering Chawla, Williams said, “She was a great friend, a mentor and someone you can always sit down and have a cup of tea with. Great person!”.
Modi is the third Indian prime minister to visit the Arlington memorial after Jawaharlal Nehru (1949) and Indira Gandhi (1966).