Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blue on Blue: Part 6(c)

Please read Parts 6(a) and 6(b) before reading this commentary.

A tribute to Second Lieutenant Daryl Loh
8 February 1981 to 26 February 2001

Every Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training casualty touches the hearts of many Singaporeans beyond the immediate family members of the fallen warrior.

Singapore's tiny size, high population density and the acceptance of National Service (NS) as part of life in Singapore mean that the pain felt by the next-of-kin is a shared burden. Many Singaporean households have family members who had served NS and these households feel the sense of loss along with families whose loved ones died while in uniform.

The Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) has never shared the full extent of training casualties in the SAF.

But that should not stop us from appreciating and embracing every casualty as a citizen who died defending the very freedom we all enjoy and sometimes take for granted.

The dry-as-dust MINDEF news releases on SAF training accidents and the aversion of the Public Affairs Department (PAFF) to media coverage of such situations seldom allow fellow Singaporeans to appreciate this fact.

The Loh family has very kindly shared pictures of their late son, Second Lieutenant Daryl Loh, so you'll see him as a naval officer and a son, brother, friend and comrade who paid the ultimate price serving the SAF.

Daryl (seated, third from right, jersey No.1) with the Raffles Institution softball team. His leadership potential was apparent during his school days. He was captain of the team. The boys in this picture would be around 29 years old today, some quite likely married with children.

 Daryl as a midshipman with RSS Endurance, a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) tank landing ship.

2LT Daryl with his hard-earned "bar". It's a proud moment for any SAF officer. He won the Sword of Merit during his MIDS course. Daryl's father tells me that Daryl never got to see this photo as it was given to the family on the day of the funeral.

2LT Daryl's funeral was held on 2 March 2001. His coffin sits atop a 25-pounder gun. The RSN mounted an honour guard to send off one of its own. Daryl's brother, Clarence, holds his portrait. Clarence was so affected by the loss of his brother he stayed away from home for four months because going home brought back sad memories of his only brother. When Clarence enlisted for National Service that same year, the RSN brought Clarence into the Navy Family so it could look after him.
I find the sense of responsibility displayed by senior RSN commanders at the time very heartwarming.

This is what journalists mean when they use the phrase "there wasn't a dry eye in the room".

Former RSN Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Lui Tuck Yew, presents the Singapore flag and 2LT Loh's peak cap to Lawrence Loh, Daryl's father. The Loh family have said RADM Lui's support was exemplary.

No amount of training in a staff college or public relations grooming can prepare senior officers for that golden moment when they will meet the next-of-kin, in the presence of their grief-stricken troops, and must demonstrate the presence of mind to say something meaningful without breaking down.

In my opinion, senior commanders may show they are moved by the moment but must maintain their composure at all cost.

In emotional situations like this, people look up to senior SAF commanders for firm leadership, guidance and moral support. This is when outstanding officers distinguish themselves from the mediocre.


goat89 said...

The then Former RSN Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Lui Tuck Yew's support for Second Lieutenant Daryl Loh, RSN, is indeed examplary. I thank him for that. I would also offer me and my family's, rather late, condolences to the father, Lawrence Loh. We are so sorry.

FIVE-TWO said...

I would like to expand the scope of thinking to those PR now serving. Not being full citizens, it will be even harder for their family to accept such fatalities.

David, the piece your just wrote reads like a celebration of Daryl, his life and his achievements, short as they may be.

Perhaps this is the approach in helping MINDEF come out and face the matter. Realistic training must always carry some level of risks and we as a people have by and large accepted it, although blatant negligence is unacceptable, we all need to learn from the tragic incidents. For those of us remaining we can at least for a brief while celebrate the lives and sacrifices of our unfortunate comrades, rather than ignore or pretend it never happened.