KUCHING: The remains of the 21 Iban trackers and Sarawak Rangers arrived here safely at 1.15pm yesterday to mixed feelings among the family members and relatives who have been waiting anxiously at the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) hangar.
Flying together in the RMAF Charlie 130 aircraft to accompany the jars containing the remains were a number of senior army officers and several Sarawakian army veterans.
As the jars were being carried out from the plane to a pre–assembled long table, they received the final salute from the long line of military officers and personnel.
A ‘miring’ ritual led by Warrant Officer 1 (rtd) Temenggong Kanang Langkau was performed to welcome the fallen heroes home before the family members and guests had the opportunity to pay their respect.
It was when they were paying their respect that the atmosphere suddenly turned sombre with most people present shedding tears over the fate of the fallen heroes. It was a lively affair in the beginning.
Many of them could not withhold their emotions and were crying out loud while others wept silently but with tears running freely down their cheeks.
A daughter of one of the homecoming trackers, Catherine Kupa Unggat @ Karina Abdullah, 64,
said no word could describe how she felt seeing the remains of her late father finally being brought home.
Her father, the late Unggat Ujom from Baleh, Kapit, died on Sept 7, 1955 and was buried at the Batu Gajah Christian Cemetery in Ipoh, Perak. She was in Primary 1 then.
“The last time I saw my late dad was when I was still in Primary 1. He left to the then Malaya as a tracker and after that he never returned home – until today.
“He may be back in a completely different form but to me it is as if he is coming home alive. It is really a great relief for all of us because all these while we were only told that he was killed in the war but none of us have seen his grave.
“At least now we, the children and grandchildren will be able to visit his grave at the Heroes Cemetery here,” she said.
She said that her father left behind four children – three daughters and a son – but one of the daughters had died while a brother was now bed ridden.
Another sibling, Marilyn Lawas Unggat, 59, meanwhile said they were very grateful to the government for bringing back the remains of the Iban trackers and Sarawak Rangers who were buried elsewhere.
“We are pleased that their sacrifices to the nation and its people are recognised and we hope that they will be forever remembered for that,” she said.
Buga Dempi said he was only seven years old when his father Dempi Berain was killed in Singapore in December 1955 and was buried at the Kranji Military Cemetery in the republic.
“I am his only child and I think I was about five when he joined the force (Iban tracker) and died after two years in service. While I am saddened that he got killed in the war I am also proud that he died defending the country. I am greatly relieved that his remains are now home at last,” said Buga.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu who represented the state government to welcome the fallen heroes was obviously filled with sorrow and was also lost for words.
Also present at the RMAF hangar yesterday were Minister of Social Development and Urbanisation Tan Sri William Mawan, Assistant Minister of Rural Development Datuk Gramong Juna, Assistant Minister of Environment Datuk John Sikie Tayai and First Division Army Infantry Commander Major-General Datuk Awie Suboh.
After the ritual was done and enough time was given to the family members to give their respect to their loved ones the jars were then taken to the First Division Camp at Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Edruce here where they would be kept overnight and would be reburied at the Heroes Grave in Jalan Budaya today.
The remains of Lance Cpl Ungkok Jugam were earlier exhumed from the Christian Cemetery in Alor Star, Kedah, that of Pte Jaweng Jugah and Pte Unggat Ujom from Batu Gajah Cemetery in Ipoh, Perak, Pte Utang Engan, Pte Bulan Kasau, Pte Kelambu Gadong and Pte Rejab Bagi (Cheras Road Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur), Pte Ungap Utut, Pte Nyambik Pasang, Pte Kumpang Tinggi and Pte Letan Kusing (Kamunting Road Christian Cemetery in Taiping, Perak), Pte Manit Cheling, Pte Entap Tulu, Pte Nyantau Juna, Pte Mat Akit, Pte Adrian Tandang, Pte Empati Dugu and Border Scout Utot Tangang (Terendak Military Cemetery, Melaka) and those exhumed from the Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore were the remains of Pte Janggak Inkoi and Pte Dempi Berain.