Remembering a Warrior of Seventh Rangers - Captain Tong Lye Heng
Friday, August 27, 2021
Cpt Tong Lye Heng (left), army veteran and Lt Col Wong Ah Jit, secretary of MACVA.
Out of nowhere, a gunshot came from a distance and hit Captain Tong’s left hip.
“I would come to learn later after the incident from my sentry that the enemy was already walking to a claymore mine, but since it was installed improperly, it did not explode," he recounted being shot by a Communist insurgent.
Tong Lye Heng, now a 71-year-old army veteran was reliving the moment when he was fighting the communists in the dense forests of Grik, Perak during the 1970s and nearly lost his life defending his country.
Now a proud member of the newly formed Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans (MACVA), Captain Tong's story is but one of the thousands of wounded and fallen unsung heroes who have put our nation's security first ahead of their personal life.
Throughout the country’s 60 years of independence, the country has survived through many threats thanks to the sacrifices of our warriors, such as the communist insurgency during the 1970s, the Konfrontasi with Indonesia and recently, the invasion of Lahad Datu by the self-styled Sulu Sultanate challenging Malaysian sovereignty over Sabah.
Captain Tong's discharge papers.
In conjunction with Warrior's Day, Malaysian Digest is putting the spotlight on our brave soldiers have been wounded and to honour those who lost their lives in the line of duty throughout the country’s history.
Veteran Shares His Experience Fighting The Communist During The Emergency
Cpt Tong Lye Heng (left), army veteran and Lt Col Wong Ah Jit, secretary of MACVA.Cpt Tong Lye Heng (left), army veteran and Lt Col Wong Ah Jit, secretary of MACVA.
trousers Captain Tong wore when he was shot on 10 June 1971. The hole
in the right is where the bullet hit him in the hip, while the stains
near the hole are blood stains from the wound.
“I was assigned as the leader for 7th Ranger Platoon in the Sungai Petani camp. The 26 soldiers in that platoon were newly assigned to me at that time, so I did not know them very well.
“The boys who I was familiar with, whom I spent three months in the jungle, were assigned to other posts,” recalled Captain Tong,” who joined the army on 6th March 1969.
On 10th June 1971, his battalion established a base in the forest, and has placed claymore mines and other defenses around the outside perimeter of their base.
After his boys has finished placing the mines and gun placements, Captain Tong decided to conduct some reconnaissance at the south of the base to check whether his boys did them perfectly.
“My sentry actually spotted the enemy much earlier, before the enemy shot me, and he tried to shoot him first with his light machine gun. However, he was panicking, and could not realise that his safety catch was on the ‘Safe’ position and not in ‘Rapid Fire’ or ‘Automatic’ position,” the captain shared his brush with death with Malaysian Digest.
Cpt Tong (right) during a training session in Sungai Petan
A safety catch is a mechanism in all guns that is designed to prevent accidental discharge of the bullets. When a safety catch is put in the ‘Safe’ position, a gun cannot shoot.
He said he did not know that the soldier he picked as a sentry was an inexperienced soldier, since he was not familiar with the new platoon. Had it been if he was with his old platoon, he would know who would be more suited for sentry and other roles.
“There were two enemy soldiers, one of them saw me first and immediately shot me.
The trousers Captain Tong wore when he was shot on 10 June 1971. The hole in the right is where the bullet hit him in the hip, while the stains near the hole are blood stains from the wound.
“We only saw two soldiers, but in the thick of the forest, we could not know if there were more of them behind the two soldiers,” he recalled. The communists often send groups of two soldiers as scouting parties to scout the area before sending in the main fighting force.
Captain Tong’s soldiers immediately returned fire and ordered artillery strikes to hit the area around the enemies, while his second-in-command contacted the nearby headquarters and asked for a helicopter to lift the captain out of the forest.
Two hours later, the Nuri helicopter arrived but received heavy fire from the communists. However, an army medic managed to rappel down to temporarily treat Captain Tong, before the helicopter retreated.
“The medic gave me shots of morphine and IV, and that helped save my life,” he said.
After some time, the Nuri helicopter returned to the scene and this time an Alouette helicopter followed as well, to provide covering fire while Captain Tong was being rescued.
“The whole thing was reminiscent to that of the Vietnam War,” said Captain Tong.
He was lifted to Klian Intan and then to a hospital in Penang. He was immediately taken to an operating theatre for an operation. According to the doctor, the bullet missed his spine by half of an inch.
Captain Tong was treated at the Penang Hospital for three months, and then spent a month at the Terendak camp. Four months after he was shot, he returned to the Sungai Petani headquarters to resume his duty.
However, he was not assigned to the frontlines and instead handled the administration and tactics of the war effort.
“Later on, I was assigned as an intelligence officer and I helped devise an operation to strike the communists in Gunung Bongsu.
“We managed to kill some communists in that operation,” recalled the captain, who managed to use that chance to strike back at the enemy who almost took his life from that operation.
Captain Tong did not stay long in the army, and was honourably discharged on 9th October 1976. His disciplined life in the army has taught him incredible lessons that have helped him adapt to the civilian life.
Captain Tong's discharge papers. Captain Tong's discharge papers.
“After the army, I joined the plantation industry as a manager. When I was in the army, I had valuable lessons in team management as a captain and head of a platoon.
“That experience translates perfectly to managing a plantation,” he said. After 18 years in the plantation industry he switched places to work in the cargo shipping sector. Now, he runs his own cargo shipping company.
Cpt Tong (right) during a training session in Sungai Petani.Cpt Tong (right) during a training session in Sungai Petani.