Since the conclusion of the Rio Olympics, so much has been said and written about our Olympians, who have returned with silver and bronze medals. Yes, they deserve all the accolades and rewards as heroes in an international sports arena.
Let us not begrudge them. They, as well as others who failed to win medals, have made great sacrifices in training over the years with the sole aim of bringing honour to Malaysia.
But I agree with retired Lt. Gen. Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Abdul Aziz that “we should not look at Merdeka from a perspective of gaining but also how we defended it.”
“We shed a lot of blood and lost a lot of heroes to defend this Merdeka,” added Tan Sri Abdul Ghani in his letter published on September 5 in the New Straits Times in conjunction with National Day.
He referred to the long drawn combat against the communist insurgents and intruders of the Indonesian Confrontation.
“Our heroes who gave life and limb to protect the nation had also won medals. They are the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa, Pingat Panglima Gagah Berani and Pingat Tentera Udara.
“For this bravery and gallantry, they are given a monthly lifetime pension of RM2000, RM1500 and RM1000 respectively.
“True, the athletes had shed blood, sweat and tears but we, too, shed blood from wounds, sweated out waiting in ambush and shed tears as we watched the bodies of our fallen comrades being buried. Their wives became widows and children became orphans overnight.”
As a journalist, who had covered security operations in Perak and South Thailand from 1973 to after the signing of the Peace Accord in December, 1989, I know how the veterans feel about the need to continuously remind the young generations of how their determination and sacrifices had brought about the prevailing peace and harmony in the country.
I had tagged along with the members of the security forces in most of their operations. In many cases, I had followed them right to their forward bases in the jungle and shared with them many of their memorable moments.
Those years had made me feel very much a part of the members of the security forces even though I was not their comrade-in-arms.
Although the troops of Commonwealth countries had fought alongside us, our young Malaysian armed forces and police had, very much on their own after “Merdeka”, took over the heavy responsibility of protecting the country.
The dedication and sacrifices of those men and women of all races and religions, many with their lives permanently crippled, must always be looked upon with pride as we strive to mould a united Malaysian nation.
Bearing this in mind, I decided to write a memoir on the Turbulent Years in Perak and as well as a number of commentaries calling for more monuments to be dedicated to members of the security forces and civilians be set up, particularly along the East-West Highway connecting Perak with Kelantan.
Having such monuments located along the highway will not only show a national gratitude to those men and women who had, in spite of a major threat from the communist insurgents, completed the highway and the Temenggor Dam.
It will also give travellers an opportunity to take a break and read about the various episodes of bravery by members of security forces and civilian workers.
It is heartening to note that the armed forces had built a small monument on the western end of the Banding Bridge along the highway.
It does not matter whether the armed forces had taken the cue from me, or on its own. The fact is, a monument, though small, had been constructed to show the nation’s gratitude.
And along the highway, a large granite boulder marks the location of its construction site where the communist insurgents on May 24, 1974, raided and destroyed 39 bulldozers and tractors left at the site over night.
It remains as a grim reminder of the highway and hydro-electric projects, which were completed despite the serious threat.
Many Malaysians, who were born in post Merdeka years, know very little about how close we were to losing our freedom.
“Now I know why my father sent me abroad to study,” a leading local entrepreneur once told me after reading my book – “The Turbulent Years in Perak – A Memoir”.
He said he did not realise the situation posed by the communist insurgents in the country then was so serious that many wealthy families sent their children overseas for their safety.
“Thanks to the security forces, I could return to a peaceful and harmonious country after completing my studies,” he added.
Now, with the threat coming from IS, an Islamic militant group, we are once again turning to our security forces to contain the situation. They have responded with a number of successes.