LAST_UPDATESun, 18 Mar 2018 3pm

Remembering Our Nation's Heroes On Hari Pahlawan

Out of nowhere, a gunshot came from a distance and hit Captain Tong’s left hip.

“I would come to learn later after the incident from my sentry that the enemy was already walking to a claymore mine, but since it was installed improperly, it did not explode," he recounted being shot by a Communist insurgent.

Tong Lye Heng, now a 71-year-old army veteran was reliving the moment when he was fighting the communists in the dense forests of Grik, Perak during the 1970s and nearly lost his life defending his country.

Now a proud member of the newly formed Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans (MACVA), Captain Tong's story is but one of the thousands of wounded and fallen unsung heroes who have put our nation's security first ahead of their personal life.

Throughout the country’s 60 years of independence, the country has survived through many threats thanks to the sacrifices of our warriors, such as the communist insurgency during the 1970s, the Konfrontasi with Indonesia and recently, the invasion of Lahad Datu by the self-styled Sulu Sultanate challenging Malaysian sovereignty over Sabah.

In conjunction with Warrior's Day, Malaysian Digest is putting the spotlight on our brave soldiers have been wounded and to honour those who lost their lives in the line of duty throughout the country’s history.

Veteran Shares His Experience Fighting The Communist During The Emergency

Cpt Tong Lye Heng (left), army veteran and Lt Col Wong Ah Jit, secretary of MACVA.Cpt Tong Lye Heng (left), army veteran and Lt Col Wong Ah Jit, secretary of MACVA.

“I was assigned as the leader for 7th Ranger Platoon in the Sungai Petani camp. The 26 soldiers in that platoon were newly assigned to me at that time, so I did not know them very well.

“The boys who I was familiar with, whom I spent three months in the jungle, were assigned to other posts,” recalled Captain Tong,” who joined the army on 6th March 1969.

On 10th June 1971, his battalion established a base in the forest, and has placed claymore mines and other defenses around the outside perimeter of their base.

After his boys has finished placing the mines and gun placements, Captain Tong decided to conduct some reconnaissance at the south of the base to check whether his boys did them perfectly.

“My sentry actually spotted the enemy much earlier, before the enemy shot me, and he tried to shoot him first with his light machine gun. However, he was panicking, and could not realise that his safety catch was on the ‘Safe’ position and not in ‘Rapid Fire’ or ‘Automatic’ position,” the captain shared his brush with death with Malaysian Digest.

A safety catch is a mechanism in all guns that is designed to prevent accidental discharge of the bullets. When a safety catch is put in the ‘Safe’ position, a gun cannot shoot.

He said he did not know that the soldier he picked as a sentry was an inexperienced soldier, since he was not familiar with the new platoon. Had it been if he was with his old platoon, he would know who would be more suited for sentry and other roles.

“There were two enemy soldiers, one of them saw me first and immediately shot me.

The trousers Captain Tong wore when he was shot on 10 June 1971. The hole in the right is where the bullet hit him in the hip, while the stains near the hole are blood stains from the wound.The trousers Captain Tong wore when he was shot on 10 June 1971. The hole in the right is where the bullet hit him in the hip, while the stains near the hole are blood stains from the wound.

“We only saw two soldiers, but in the thick of the forest, we could not know if there were more of them behind the two soldiers,” he recalled. The communists often send groups of two soldiers as scouting parties to scout the area before sending in the main fighting force.

Captain Tong’s soldiers immediately returned fire and ordered artillery strikes to hit the area around the enemies, while his second-in-command contacted the nearby headquarters and asked for a helicopter to lift the captain out of the forest.

Two hours later, the Nuri helicopter arrived but received heavy fire from the communists. However, an army medic managed to rappel down to temporarily treat Captain Tong, before the helicopter retreated.

“The medic gave me shots of morphine and IV, and that helped save my life,” he said.

After some time, the Nuri helicopter returned to the scene and this time an Alouette helicopter followed as well, to provide covering fire while Captain Tong was being rescued.

“The whole thing was reminiscent to that of the Vietnam War,” said Captain Tong.

He was lifted to Klian Intan and then to a hospital in Penang. He was immediately taken to an operating theatre for an operation. According to the doctor, the bullet missed his spine by half of an inch.

Captain Tong was treated at the Penang Hospital for three months, and then spent a month at the Terendak camp. Four months after he was shot, he returned to the Sungai Petani headquarters to resume his duty. However, he was not assigned to the frontlines and instead handled the administration and tactics of the war effort.

“Later on, I was assigned as an intelligence officer and I helped devise an operation to strike the communists in Gunung Bongsu.

“We managed to kill some communists in that operation,” recalled the captain, who managed to use that chance to strike back at the enemy who almost took his life from that operation.

Captain Tong did not stay long in the army, and was honourably discharged on 9th October 1976. His disciplined life in the army has taught him incredible lessons that have helped him adapt to the civilian life.

Captain Tong's discharge papers. Captain Tong's discharge papers.

“After the army, I joined the plantation industry as a manager. When I was in the army, I had valuable lessons in team management as a captain and head of a platoon.

“That experience translates perfectly to managing a plantation,” he said. After 18 years in the plantation industry he switched places to work in the cargo shipping sector. Now, he runs his own cargo shipping company.

Cpt Tong (right) during a training session in Sungai Petani.Cpt Tong (right) during a training session in Sungai Petani.

Gender Is Not An Obstacle That Would Prevent Someone From Performing Their Duties Honourably

Working in the armed forces is traditionally viewed as a career more suited for men. However, women are given more and more opportunity to participate in the army nowadays, and the Malaysian armed forces are no different in joining the equal opportunity movement worldwide.

Let us not forget that today, we should acknowledge the contribution of not just military men but the growing number of women joining in the noble task of keeping our country safe and secure from threats to our peace and sovereignty.

Currently, there are around 5,800 female officers and soldiers serving in the Malaysian army.

We contacted Lieutenant Colonel Nur Hidayah binti Abd Rahim, a Farmamedlog Specification and Technical Head Officer in 93 Depoh Perubatan dan Pergigian Angkatan Tentera (Army Medical and Dentistry Depot) located in Wangsa Maju.

Lieutenant Colonel Nur Hidayah binti Abd Rahim.Lieutenant Colonel Nur Hidayah binti Abd Rahim.“During peacetime, my duties include ensuring the management of pharmaceutical and medical equipment is in order, providing medical treatment to soldiers and their families, training new corps members among the armed forces, as well as assisting the civilian healthcare service,” said Nur Hidayah.

On the other hand, during combat, she would be responsible for maintaining the health of the soliders, preventing the spread of disease, treating wounded soldiers and training more corps members.

When asked whether it is challenging to work in a public service that is commonly dominated by men, she said the challenges depend on the tasks that are given.

“In the context of providing medical treatment, gender is not an obstacle that would prevent someone from performing their duties honourably.

“One of my duties is to ensure the readiness of the medical logistics in the army. From my experience, all the tasks and problems that are related to the duty were done admirably, thanks to the collaboration of all officers regardless of men or women,” she commented to Malaysian Digest.

While one may think that as women, any parent would feel worried for their daughters as they join a career that is often associated with extreme physicality and even high chance of death, Hidayah’s case with her parents is not like that.

“My parents are the main reason for me joining in the army, and they supported me all the way,” Hidayah recalled. She joined the armed forces after she accepted a scholarship offered by ATM during her degree study in Pharmaceutical Science at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

On July 2006, after she completed her studies, she graduated with the rank of Captain.

“My parents are positive of the career and self-development that I can learn from joining the army,” she said.

While she has yet to be deployed in any combat zones, Hidayah has served the country in many occasions.

Among such deployment include being part of the Medical Logistics Team during F1 Sepang, helping to develop the pharmaceutical department of Tuanku Mizan Army Hospital during its establishment and collaborating with civilian medical agencies to discuss the pharmaceutical practices in Amalan Farmasi Patuh Syariah (Sharia-Compliant Pharmaceutical Practices).

Today, she is one of the lecturers for diploma in pharmacy at Institut Kesihatan Angkatan Tentera (INSAN) (Army Health Institute).

After serving in the army for more than ten years, Hidayah encourages more women to participate in the armed forces.

“There is a vast career development and opportunity in the army that is worth the commitment.

“Serving in the army as a woman has taught me to not give up easily, and maintain high discipline in terms of time management.

“As long as I am doing my duties in the name of Allah Ta’ala, I would perform them with full responsibility and integrity,” Hidayah concluded.

The establishment of Sel Wanita Tentera Darat (Army Women Cell) has proven the army’s commitment in keeping the welfare and honour of the women that is serving in the public service.

Currently, there are around 5,800 women serving in the Malaysian armed forces.Currently, there are around 5,800 women serving in the Malaysian armed forces.

One Of The Requirements Of Working As A Soldier Is The Willingness To Spend Time Away From Your Families

While we honour our nation’s wounded and fallen warriors, let us know forget that these heroes have families who have carried the burden of knowing that they might lose their loved ones anytime.

The Malaysian men and women who are tasked with our nation’s security are the country’s first line of defence against foreign threats, but sometimes these soldiers also have their own families, in which they are either fathers, brothers or sons.

Wives are usually required to take two roles in the family during their husbands’ absence, as a mother and a fatherly figure to their children.

One of those wives is Kamariah Saamian, who resides in Kelantan.

“My husband is stationed at Kem Batu 11 Tanah Merah in Kelantan. In one year, he will be assigned twice for outside duties that would take him two months each.

“If he is not assigned to any operation, he would be posted at the camp for 12 or 24-hour guard shifts for two to three times a week,” said Kamariah of her husband’s duties.

One of the requirements of working as a soldier is the willingness to spend time away from your families for long periods of time. On the other hand, the families must be able to adapt to the absence of the family’s breadwinner.

“As a wife to a soldier, I have to be independent. Currently we have three children, my eldest is two-and-a-half years old, and the other two are twins who are just born,” she said.

Kamariah had just given birth to her youngest twins ten days prior to her interview with Malaysian Digest.

Since her eldest child is still young and not enrolled in school yet, she would return to her parents’ home in Johor whenever her husband is being assigned for outside operation.

She is currently living in a normal civilian terrace house and not in an army quarters.

Despite being married to a soldier, she does not encourage her children to participate in the army.

When asked about the fact that her husband may lose his life during his duty, she is confident that God knows best for her husband and their family.

“Death is a secret that is known only to God, I will fully let our fates to be decided by the Almighty.

“If fate dictates that my husband dies when he is performing his duty to the country, then I would accept that fate and be proud of his selfless sacrifice for glory of our religion, the nation, and its citizens” said the proud wife.

This year, the national Warrior's Day celebration will be held at the Mines International Exhibtion and Convention Centre in Seri Kembangan to be officiated by prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Over 15,000 veterans of security forces are expected to take part in the event which will also see the launching of the Tabung Pahlawan 2017 campaign in aid of the Malaysian Armed Forces Veterans Association.

In concluding, let us all remember that the peace we currently enjoy for the past 60 years is not easily obtained. It is the blood and sweat of our warriors in the armed forces and the sacrifices of their families that allow us to welcome this coming Merdeka as an independent nation.

-- Malaysian Digest