We are privileged to have a true-blue Guyanese hero living amongst us! Few individuals are honoured with this title. This brief article expresses my feelings and genuine love and respect for this man. I have known him for over 60 years, both from a personal as well as a professional viewpoint.
Our relationship started in an unlikely scenario. In the early sixties, I was an apprentice mechanic at our national airline – British Guiana Airways. Roland was an airline captain at the time and flew seaplanes from the ramp at the Ruimveldt seaplane base. He was the first Guyanese Captain to fly for the airline. I remember this tall, good-looking guy in his uniform who exemplified the vision of an airline Captain.
Roland was always smiling and courteous to everyone and making people laugh. My buddy and I were working in the sheet metal bay near the Grumman Goose on the seaplane ramp. One day when his flight was delayed due to a radio problem, Roland came into the bay to escape the hot sun. We got to talking, and we told him that we both wanted to be pilots.
He spent the next half hour talking to us about flying and asked if we wanted to learn to fly. That was the start of an incredible journey for me (and my best friend) and this giant of aviation history in our country. He was my first flight instructor and convinced me to get my commercial pilot’s license. I achieved my pilot’s license in Canada. I flew single-engine airplanes over the bush for several years when I returned home.
I then joined the national airline, and over the next decade, I flew with Roland on countless flights throughout the interior of Guyana and then in the Caribbean as part of Guyana Airways’ cargo operation. Flying with Roland was a special treat. He allowed me to fly in the left seat, usually reserved for the Captain, while he sat in the copilot’s seat.
Here are my comments about Roland DeSilva. He was the most talented pilot I have ever flown with on any aircraft! I never had a moment’s fear when flying with him in some of the worst weather conditions our country offers. He wasdecisive and knowledgeable about every type of aircraft in which we flew. He gave me good instructions, and I always enjoyed his great advice in the cockpit. He is the epitome of a great aviator! Calm, cool, and collected…always.
Just before achieving my promotion to Captain in 1969, Guyana suffered a series of challenges to our country, one internal conflict and one border incursion.
The government called on the pilots at GAC to assist the Guyana Defense Force with the military action that was necessary. The pilots were then classified as Majors! Major Roland De Silva distinguished himself in not only these two events but also assisted with the planning and actual participation in multiple sorties for the GDF.
Thanks to his ingenious and intrepid skills, Roland was responsible for the success of the GDF in quelling the Suriname encroachment into the New River triangle of Guyana. For this and his other heroic efforts, Roland was awarded the Cacique of Valour, the only Guyanese to receive this prestigious honour.
Unfortunately, late last year, Roland was struck by Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), which has turned his life and his family’s life into survival mode. His mind is still as sharp as ever, even though his body has suffered from the debilitating effects of ALS.
Captain Roland DeSilva has left giant footsteps in Guyana’s aviation history. A letter signed by 45 of his friends, GDF colleagues, and pilots was sent to the President’s office requesting that a commemorative stamp be commissioned for Roland. The President agreed that our national hero deserved this special honour and approved the stamp. We are hopeful the stamp will be available in a short period of time. A first edition of a new stamp is the dream of any stamp collector, and this one will be extraordinary!
My friend and mentor for my entire aviation career – You are my hero! A justly deserved title.
Dave Rohee – Airline Pilot (Retd)
July 7th. 2023