Singapore

What we say

There has been a lot of talk about the Laju hijack, following the passing of former president S R Nathan, and the bravery of the 13 men who traded places with the hostages.

For more than 30 years, the specifics were never publicly shared.

And though some of the men are willing to talk now, they do so only to praise their team leader, Mr Nathan, who was then director of the Security and Intelligence Division.

While researching on Singapore's post-World War II days, I found pictures and stories that have not been told for more than 50 years.

These men were involved in many of the security operations. Some had joined the security agencies when Singapore and Malaysia were riddled with communist assassins.

Between 1950 and 1956, there were more than 20 incidents of communist gunmen shooting, stabbing and even lobbing grenades at police officers, Voluntary Special Constables and detectives - many of whom were hurt and killed.

These men donned their uniforms during those turbulent years.

Many of the 13 men on that Feb 9, 1974, Japan Airlines flight to Kuwait had seen frontline action prior.

Retired Lieutenant-Colonel Clarence Tan Kim Peng served with several units including the Malaysian Special Operations Force during Konfrontasi (1963-1966).

Superintendent S. Rajagopal of the counter terrorism unit, Internal Security Department (ISD), was trained to take the bullet while protecting Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew from communist assassins (1959-1960).

And the men continued to be involved in major operations, away from prying eyes and never for self-glorification.

ISD deputy director Seah Wai Toh was involved in negotiating the surrender of four armed Vietnamese who had hijacked an Air Vietnam flight in 1977.

Mr Saraj Din, also of ISD, was involved in the 1991 SQ117 operations in which four Pakistani hijackers seized a Singapore Airlines plane.

Ustaz Abu Bakar, who was a Syariah Court official in 1974, was involved in the rehabilitation of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorists here.

So much of the discourse of Singapore is wrapped around its position as an economic miracle.

But without men and women like the 13 in 1974, there would be no security. Without security, there would be no economic miracle.