Posts Reflections

The Last Journey for the Man of Peace

Huge crowds were waiting for us at the grounds. There was one floral wreath in particular that caught my attention: It had a card that was signed, “Seventeen necessarily anonymous public servants.” It also caught the attention of other people there, and there was an uneasy feeling among us. People spoke in hushed voices.
I expected the funeral to be held the day after our arrival. However, one of my uncles, U Khant, told me that to arrange a funeral and to build a tomb, one had to apply for clearances, which could take several days. So, Father’s body continued to lie in state at the Kyaikkasan grounds as we prepared for his burial.
Several days before the funeral, I went to visit the site where Father was to be buried, which was at the public cemetery. A couple of government officials met us there. It was a small plot, and I burst into tears when I saw the place where my father was going to be laid to rest. I felt he was being treated with such disrespect. I felt humiliated at having to do so, but put my feelings aside and requested a larger plot. I made the appeal that I would like to move my brother, who had died in 1962 and was buried in another area of the cemetery, to the same site. They agreed.
When I got back to the hotel room, I broke down and said to my husband, “It was a mistake to bring Father back home!” Little did I know what lay ahead?
On December 5, the day the funeral was to be held, we had a traditional Buddhist ceremony. After the ceremony, I was warned that there could be some disturbances; rumors were flying around that Father’s body was going to be seized. I did not know what to think or how to feel. Everything seemed so unreal. I just proceeded to our car and waited there for the procession. It was then that the commotion began.
We were told that student activists had seized control of my father’s coffin. They had stopped the hearse that was meant to carry the coffin; that hearse carried the wife of General Ne Win a few years before and they did not want my father’s body to be transported in the same car. They then took a truck that was loaded with flowers, hurled all the flowers out of the truck, and put my father’s casket on it. My uncles could not stop the students, and had to return to the waiting cars. I became very emotional, and in desperation, I told my uncles I would follow the truck wherever it went. I felt so disturbed that people would snatch my father’s body, and it pained me to not know what would happen to it.
We found out that the body was going to be taken to the Rangoon University compound. We began following the truck, but as we drove, my uncle said it would be better to go back home and wait for news from there. He was worried that we would all be held hostage inside the University. So, we went to my uncle’s house, with no idea what was happening and what would happen. There were so many questions, and no one seemed to have an answer! I felt deeply troubled by the situation.
We waited for news. Finally, we learned that the students had sent a letter to the government demanding a state funeral. They wrote that if the government wouldn’t comply, they would arrange a funeral of their own, in a style befitting a hero such as U Thant. Then, in case the government did not respond favorably, they began to build a “Peace Mausoleum” at the site of the campus’ old Student Union. There was an outpouring of sympathy toward the students by the public, who applauded them for their courage and felt their actions were rightful and honorable. Huge crowds assembled at the University compound, day and night. Incredibly, the Peace Mausoleum was built.
On December 7, the government offered an alternative burial site at the Cantonment Gardens at the foot of the revered Shwedagon Pagoda; but they still would not hold a state funeral. The students were outraged. But we convinced them that the public funeral would be more appropriate, since it was the public who honored my father. That seemed to make sense to them in the moment. Our family’s main concern was that Father be laid to rest, and since the site the government provided was also a revered place, we were anxious for the ordeal to end and for Father, at last, to rest in peace. As a gesture of support to the students, however, my family suggested that they place Father’s casket temporarily in Peace Mausoleum they had built, and that we would all pay our last respects to Father there before transporting his body to the Cantonment Gardens.
On December 8, we all gathered at the University Convocation Hall. Father’s casket was passed from shoulder to shoulder, from the Convocation Hall to the Peace Mausoleum. We knelt and pressed our hands in the Buddhist gesture of kadaw. I was sober and composed, but then I saw something very moving. A young student sitting near the mausoleum was crying. I was so touched that I started to cry and from that moment on, I could not control my tears.

By Myo

Myo Thant aka Michael Tin Hla during my MEHS years graduated in 1964. After graduation, I completed my medical school before I left for US. Currently, I reside in Maryland, retired from my hematology/oncology clinical practice but works at VA Hematology/Oncology clinic part time. My house at MEHS was Judson and I am proud to be a green martian.