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We must preserve and cherish their memory

Text: Péter Snoj | Photo: Kinga Szováthy |  14:55 January 24, 2022

“The Hungarian people will preserve and cherish the soldiers’ memory forever”, said Defence Minister Tibor Benkő in Hejce on 19 January. Speaking at a military honors ceremony, the minister of defence of Hungary underlined that soldiers offer the noblest thing, their own lives for their nation, which is why we must think of them with pride.

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By now, the name of Hejce has become synonymous with the air disaster of the Slovak air force which occurred on 19 January 2006. That day, a couple of seconds after 20:30, an An-24 transport aircraft of our northern neighbor crashed into Borsó Hill in the vicinity of the settlement in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County. Of the 43 persons aboard, the alerted search and rescue teams and the residents of Hejce found only one survivor at the crash site.

To pay tribute to the memory of soldiers who were on their way home from the KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and of the crew of the aircraft, a joint Slovak–Hungarian commemorative event has been held every year since 2006 on the anniversary of the accident. Following traditions, those attending the memorial event first visited the exact location of the crash on Borsó Hill, which is still difficult to access in wintertime. Although nature has healed most of its wounds over the past one and a half decades, the traces of the disaster that took place 16 years ago are still a poignant reminder of the tragedy. The wreaths and candle lights of remembrance were laid there, among others, by Defence Minister Tibor Benkő, Lieutenant General Dr. Romulusz Ruszin-Szendi, Commander of the Hungarian Defence Forces, CSM Zoltán Kaszab, Command Sergeant Major of the Hungarian Defence Forces, Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad’ and General Daniel Zmeko, Chief of Staff of the Slovak Armed Forces as well as by Martin Farkaŝ, the sole survivor of the air disaster. The military honors ceremony took place in almost complete silence in a graveyard established on the 700-meters high hill. These moments of silence were dedicated to the deceased and their memory.

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During the commemoration held at the memorial inaugurated in the center of Hejce in 2007, Tibor Benkő expressed his condolences to the relatives, and told them that the commemorators were standing at the venue of the tragedy broken-hearted and with tormenting thoughts in their minds even after 16 years. As he said, the 42 Slovak service personnel who died there could not live to be proud of what they had done for their country, and for the freedom and prosperity of other nations. “They cannot be proud of this service, so let us be proud of them!”, the minister said, adding that we must preserve and cherish their memory, since soldiers offer up the noblest thing, their own lives for their nation. “There is no other vocation which would make such a noble offer for the homeland”, underlined the minister of defence.

“The Hungarian people will preserve and cherish the soldiers’ memory forever”, said Tibor Benkő. In emphasizing the importance of joining forces and holding joint celebration of the two nations, he pointed out that “it is essential to keep up this cooperation, this joint thinking between us forever.”

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In his speech, Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad’ related the events that took place 16 years ago, pointing out that the residents of Hejce and the Hungarian soldiers had demonstrated exemplary assistance and support back then, and they do so today as well. Defence Mininster Jaroslav Nad’ presented an award of recognition to the residents of the settlement for the so far 16 years of their love and attitude, which was received by Mayor István Lévai.

The commemoration ended with a Hungarian–Slovak ecclesiastical prayer.