By Cecelia Alphonsus and Batrisyia Jay
Let’s be honest, whenever Merdeka Day comes around for most of us it is a celebration of yet another Malaysian public holiday. But for those in our military who have served our nation or who are still serving the country, Merdeka Day isn’t a day that is taken lightly.
Selangor Journal had the honour of talking to four amazing patriotic Malaysians who shared with us a little about their experiences in the service and their hopes for the new Malaysia after the recent change in the political landscape of the nation.
While patriotism may be the idealistic reason why we think one would enlist in the army, the truth as we uncovered talking to our patriots is actually quite different. For Major Tan Pau Son, the prospect of free education was what attracted him to enlist.
“Education is the most important thing to Chinese people,” says Major Tan. “It is so important that my grandmother actually went all the way to Malacca from Johor Bahru to obtain my birth certificate so that I could go to an English-medium school.”
Major Tan Pau Son
When he was 15, Major Tan was selected and accepted into Form 3 of the Federation Military College (FMC) in 1959, now widely known as the Royal Military College (RMC). “Honestly speaking I had no idea what FMC was all about. They were going around recruiting people by saying they’ll be giving free education, free books, free exam fees and even a RM20 allowance, I was attracted by that,” Major Tan admits.
The FMC was established specifically to prepare young Malaysians to become Officers in the Malaysian Armed Forces and leaders in both the Malayan Civil Service and corporate sectors,” Major Tan explains. Therefore, it came as no surprise when he was selected for Officer Cadet training in 1963, and was then placed into the 7th Intake Regular Commission category. A year later, Major Tan was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps or Kor Lengkapan, Angkatan Tentera Malaysia. In the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF), he served in Singapore, Sarawak, Pahang and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).
Major Harjit Singh Rendawa
For Major Harjit Singh Rendawa, enlistment was a less than voluntary affair and more of something he couldn’t object to. “I was working for RTM from 1969 to 1970, and my brother was in the Malaysian Air Force at the time, he asked me to join as a volunteer reserve. I did and then during the Emergency we were recruited to serve.” Major Harjit was soon selected for the Officers Training program at the Royal Military College (RMC) in 1973 and shortly after that selected for advanced training at the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurs(RMAS) in the United Kingdom.
While at Sandhurst, Major Harjit’s outstanding performance won him two awards. The first award, the ‘Nigeria Prize’, was for the best overseas student while the ‘Putra Feisal’ award, was awarded to the best student in the study of war and world affairs.
“I love the army, there’s no other institution that I would’ve worked for, and even if you had given me a second chance I would still choose to serve the army.”
Major Mohammed Khair bin Parlan
To serve was essentially why Mohammed Khair bin Parlan or affectionally known as Major K enlisted. He recalls how as a young boy of seven, he saw the army swoop into his village in Sg. Kandis to help during a terrible flood. As the son of a ketua kampung service was already ingrained in him and he saw the army as a means to serve a greater good.
During his service in the RMAF, Major K was part of the Rajang Area Security Command. He was also part of the unit that formed the 10th Parachute Brigade, or more commonly known as 10 Para. The 10 Para is an elite airborne brigade-sized unit within the Malaysian Army that is tasked with being rapidly deployed inside or outside the boundaries of Malaysia. 10th Para is the key element of the Malaysian Rapid Deployment Force or Pasukan Aturgerak Cepat (PAC).
Lieutenant Colonel Carol Loo
The trailblazer though is Lieutenant Colonel Carol Loo who was part of the pioneering batch of female army recruits. She quietly, without telling her family applied for the army out of curiosity after seeing an advertisement in a local newspaper. She was attracted to the pay and perks of the job. Her father objected when he found out just as she was about to be commissioned and ordered her to return home. But she refused as she had already survived the gruelling training and wasn’t about to give it all up. Eventually she became the nation’s first Chinese lady officer to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
“Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by men, every course I took I would be the only lady there, but life has to go on.”
“I would always be given the highest position and the toughest job to do, but this is to test whether we ladies can take on the job and posts,” says Lieutenant Colonel Loo. “We were the pioneers you see, if we can’t do it, there won’t be any hope for the subsequent batches of women.”
When they enlisted it is likely that they didn’t really know what was in store for them, not realizing that there could be incidents that would test their mettle or create memories that would forever be etched in their mind like this incident Major Harjit recalls when he was stationed in Sarawak.
“I had a friend who worked as a grass-cutter in the base, we would have drinks together daily while I would tell him of my day’s work,” says Major Harjit. “One day, our base was attacked by the Communist. We managed to kill a few of them and when the shooting ceased I was shocked to see my friend’s dead body amongst those we shot.”
“I had no clue that he was one of the communist party leaders.” Apparently on the eve of the attack, his friend was trying to convince him to take the following day off. “He didn’t want me to be in the crossfire you see, he really was a good friend of mine,” he says sadly.
For Major K, his baptism of fire was when a soldier ran amok on the base shooting at everything in sight. While everyone else was afraid of approaching the armed soldier, Major K literally took the bull by its horns and calmed the soldier down and disarmed him.
“He would have shot down his commanding officer if I hadn’t done that. I wasn’t thinking of myself or my safety, all that mattered was that the officer had to be tamed down.”
Although they are no longer on active duty, our patriots are still very much involved in ensuring that younger generations of Malaysians continue to serve the nation through the armed forces.
“I am living proof that you can achieve great things in the army,” says Major Tan. “All that I am today is because of the opportunities I had to study in the army, and what I am proud of the most, out of all my work, is the setting up of MACVA (Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association).” Major Tan wants nothing more than for the younger generations to be more exposed and open to joining the armed forces. He hopes that the new government and the media can play their part in reaching out to all Malaysians regardless of race to consider a career in the armed forces.
“We never experienced racism when I was in the army. I used to makan nasi from the same plate as my Chinese and Malay friends,” says Major Harjit. “The army is built on customs and tradition, when you compromise customs and tradition, which is the backbone of the armed forces, it’ll be lopsided.” This is the unwritten rule, says Major Harjit, one that he feels should be ingrained within every Malaysian.
“For me, integrity and honesty are the most important fundamentals of a soldier.”
Major Harjit currently serves as the Deputy President of MAFSVA (Malaysian Armed Forces Sikh Veterans Association). “I was among the pioneer members of this organisation. The inception was on Remembrance Day in November 2015, when the British decided to honour the Sikhs who had made great sacrifices since World War One.
Major K hopes that the new Malaysia will now be a nation that is respected and our military to be multiracial and recognised by military forces of the world. “For this to happen, all races must work together to defend our country. We need to start working for Malaysia as Malaysians.”
Lieutenant Colonel Loo also hopes that new government will appeal to the youngsters, especially the non-Malays, to join the armed forces. “As an officer who is responsible for recruiting young Chinese into the armed forces, I like to appeal to the parents. Come listen to our talks and be more open to encourage your children to join.”
“Women are now moving into areas once monopolised by men. Push the negative thoughts aside, the military is a profession you will never regret.”
On this our 61st Merdeka, it is indeed a turning point for our nation and as our patriots have shared, it is high time we come together as bangsa Malaysia to ensure the continued freedom of our country. Not just from the invasion of foreign powers but from the invasion of elements such as racism that will rip the fabric of this nation if left unchecked.
When we are all finally just Malaysian, loving my Malaysia would be easy.