Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion.

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States

It was on June 23, 2020 that I received an SMS bearing the sad news that former Police Field Force (PFF) Sub-Inspector Sergeant Ngalinuh Bala had passed away in Miri Hospital.

He was the recipient of Malaysia’s highest gallantry award for valour in combat, the Darjah Kebesaran dan Bintang Kehormatan Seri Pahlawan (SP)

News of his demise immediately brought back memories of 10 years past.

It was on a rainy day, in April 2010 that I was waiting at the former Miri Resident & District Office, for my former Saint Columba Secondary School teacher Mr Freddy Abun (now Pemanca Freddy Abun).

I had contacted him several days before, as I wanted to interview a member of his Kelabit community, former Police Field Force Sub-Inspector Sergeant Ngalinuh Bala.

After meeting up with Pemanca Freddy Abun, he drove me to Kampong Lusut, where Ngalinuh was residing.

In the interview, Ngalinuh spoke of that fateful day on April 29, 1972, 48 years ago, when he and PC Etin Bijam put their lives on the line to save a group of colleagues during an ambush by communist terrorists (CT) along Jalan Ulu Oya.

Ngalinuh, born in Pa Lungan, was at that time a sergeant and platoon leader with the PFF 15h Battalion.

He said: “It was about 1pm and we had left with the three Public Works Department (PWD) staff with a large cache of explosives in their lorry at Mile 14 heading towards the Mubal quarry at Mile 54.

“Two of the PWD staff sat up front with their driver while we sat in the rear with the explosives. Approximately two-thirds of the way into the journey we came under attack.”

The CTs on the hillside had a commanding position as the vehicle was passing right below them, the ambush site.

After the initial attack, all the men scrambled out of the lorry and ran for cover to a nearby bulldozer, left there by PWD personnel carrying out road works.

Ngalinuh continued: “We were cornered behind the vehicle and at their mercy as they rain bullets and threw grenades. Therefore, I and PC Etin Bijam decided we had to counterattack. We coordinated our charge, PC Etim going in one direction and I the other, heading for the CT hideout.

“After making it across the road, we took cover in the undergrowth while closing in on the enemy’s base. We both took turns to give cover to each other while crawling forward. At this stage, the battle had been raging for four hours.”

Coincidentally a platoon of PFF personnel arrived at the scene of the fighting and assisted the men.

However, the 100 odd CTs, who were divided into three sections, one in the main trench and two in subsidiary ambush hideouts, refused to let up.

One section of the CTs tried to finish off Ngalinuh and shot him in the right thigh, but he managed to kill one of their men and they backed off.

The third group of CTs refused to give up but the PFF held their ground and then stormed the enemy stronghold and captured the hideout. The battle lasted five hours.

Ngalinuh added: “We managed to capture three CTs while the others fled. That night we camped overnight at the site of our victory before handing over the captured CTs to a military base.”

He received his award from the Yang Dipertuan Agung in July 1972.

On July 1, 1983, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major and became a Sub-Inspector on January 1, 1991, retiring on December 31, 1995.

He had served the nation well for 34 years in various parts of Sarawak, including Sibu, Miri and Limbang.

Reminiscing, his wife Sina Kilah Atui said that through his stint in the PFF she would silently pray for his safety.

She said: “No matter what worries I had, he had to do his duty to the nation. It was a difficult time for the family.”

She added: “He suffered a stroke in 2001 so we had to remain in Miri because he needed regular treatment at Miri Hospital.”

Said Ngalinuh: “The government took good care of me, but it was important they give due recognition to all servicemen and not only the heroes.

“I have done my best in serving my country and hope the younger generation can learn from our sacrifices.”

It was most decent of the government to accord him a state funeral.

In my opinion, it is never too late to further recognise him and others. An award of Datukship won’t go amiss.

After all, in comparison, some former CTs did rather well after gaining significant assistance and opportunities from the government. Some became titled captains of industry.

On the other hand, many of our ‘Bravehearts’ who were injured or died have faded away into insignificance.

Let us support efforts to recognise and remember their dedication towards safeguarding Sarawak.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.