Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay.

— Barack Obama, 44th President of USA

When it was first established, the Buntal Esplanade “hero’s monument” was a sight to behold.
Initiated by Unimas and other government agencies, it was dedicated to commando trooper Rasli Buang — befitting the 22-year-old native of the coastal village of Buntal from the Royal Malay Regiment — who was killed in an operation in Perak on July 6, 1971.

Rasli was involved in a major offensive in the terrorist-infested jungles of the Kinta Forest Reserve under 4th Ranger unit commander Captain Mohana Chandran Velayuthan.

In that operation Chandran and Rasli were killed by terrorists and both received the nation’s highest award for gallantry — the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP) — the equivalent of Great Britain’s Victoria Cross.

After his remains were sent back to Buntal a day after he was killed, he received a simpe burial at the village cemetery not far from his home.

A few years ago, the Malaysian Armed Forces and villagers of Buntal felt that Rasli should have been accorded the respect due to any fallen hero.

Given the fact that he was the only Malay hero among Sarawak’s seven recipients of the SP, Unimas took the lead and the state government allocated a portion of Buntal to be developed as a recreational park dedicated to Rasli.

It was built in the midst of a Casuarina Grove on the coast facing the South China Sea.

It was launched with great pomp and splendor but over the years weather and neglect took over and Rasli’s monument became a forgotten story. On New Year’s Day I visited Buntal, 12 miles from Kuching, and noted the plastic signboard dedicated to Rasli was slowly deteriorating.

I discovered that the signboard was covered with algae and a railing on the pathway leading to the village’s amphitheater has either rotted away or swept away by tidal waves.

It was a sorry sight so I went about wiping off the algae from the signboard to restore some dignity to a young man who gave his life to the country.

Soon, a mak cik who was running a stall in the premises joined me and we wiped off the algae with a rag.

Upon checking, I also discovered that there were also cigarette marks on the plastic covering — possibly the work of vandals. As the son of a policeman and a former secretary of the Persatuan Veteran Keselamatan Malaysia myself, this added insult to injury.

For the record, I must share the names of all the 26 Sarawakians who honoured us wth their sacrifices so that the public will realise that the peace we now enjoy came with a price.

Leading the list of heroes are George Cross recipient Datuk Awang Raweng who recently passed away at the age of 88 and was given a grand send-off.

ASP Menggong Pangit is the recipient of Great Britain’s second highest award for gallantry.

Apart from Rasli, six other Sarawakians received the SP.

Topping the list is Ranger SGT Lenggu China who was killed with five others when they charged into a fusillade of bullets in a communist ambush at Tanjung Batu Babi in Kapit on January 20, 1971.

Despite being caught in a death trap, Lengu shouted the Iban war cry — Agi idup agi ngelaban (I stand to fight to the end) — as all six men faced certain death.

Two policemen, Sgt Ngalinuh Bala and Cpl Itim Bijam, also received the SP after fighting off 50 CTs for five hours at Jalan Oya in 1972.

They were escorting a large cache of dynamite when 50 terrorists ambushed the convoy of Public Works Department staff who had planned to use the explosives to blow up the Police Field Force camp in Sibu.

The fifth SP recipient was Inspector Reggie Deli who killed five terrorists in the Battle of Batang Kemena in Bintulu in 1973.

Sixth is Ranger Sgt Datuk Kanang Langkau, Malaysia’s most decorated hero who won both the SP and PBG in two separate incidents in Malaya.

Police constable Nuing Saling was the seventh SP recipient.

Caught in an ambush, when he ran out of ammunition, he charged at the enemy with his parang and died fighting.

In that incident at Stabau, Nuing’s commanding office Datuk Amar Johnny Mustapha was the most senior member of the Sarawak security forces to be killed in action.

The 19 recipients of the PGB are DSP Robert Graver who was killed during an offensive at Merakai, Kalimantan, during the Confrontation on October 14, 1965. Nine other recipients were Captain Robert Rizal, Sgt Kanang Langkau, Lt David Fu Chee Ming, Cpl Mathew Medan, Bajau Ladi, Sigau Nawan, Sgt Michael Riman, Beliang Bali and ASP Michael Padin in separate incidents in Malaya and Sabah.

Another nine PGB recipients won their awards fighting communist terrorists (CTs) in Sarawak. They included three Rangers — Sgt Mileng Kilong, Cpl Dajai Anggie and Unggek Antin — in one incident where five CTs were killed at Bintangor on October 28, 1971.

Four other Rangers are Lan Gima who killed 13 CTs in Gobilt on March 12, 1971; Sgt Indang Ingkas who killed seven CTs Tanjung Kenyit May 1971 and Cpl Paul Nyopis Noyab who killed a CT commander in an ambush at Tondong on April 15, 1972.

My classmate ASP Wilfred Gomez Malong who killed four CTs in Kanowit on June 20, 1973 at a terrorist camp with 30 communists also received the PGB with policeman Mohamed Salim from Miri.

I end my column with an epitaph to a fallen hero: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. But at the going down of the sun and in the morning, who and what should we remember?”

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.