Fifty citizens from the pioneer generation were special guests at last night's National Day Rally.
They were invited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to represent the nearly half a million Singaporeans born before 1950 who helped transform the island from poverty to success.
Right at the start of his two-hour speech in English, and also in his speeches in Malay and Mandarin, he homed in on this cohort, thanking them for their sacrifices in building Singapore.
"Our pioneers were ordinary people who worked together to do extraordinary things. They overcame difficult and dangerous situations to build a sovereign, independent country," PM Lee said. "They always looked to the future and strove to give their children better lives than themselves."
And they were "rugged" just like leaders from former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's generation, who worked all the time and had no work-life balance.
Among pioneers present were former School Health Service director Uma Rajan, 74, who helped start the School Health Programme, and radiographer Ng Hon Weng, 79, from the Singapore General Hospital.
PM Lee also paid tribute to Madam Wong Ah Woon, 87, who worked as a Samsui woman for more than four decades, building Housing Board blocks and familiar buildings such as the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Inviting pioneers in the audience to stand, he thanked them and led a rousing round of applause for them. "This is why we are commemorating SG50 next year: to celebrate the spirit of our pioneers, and to commit ourselves to their enduring values as we make our way forward," he said.
He recalled how he thought carefully last year about how to meaningfully thank the nation's living pioneers, before deciding to focus on health care.
Under the Pioneer Generation Package, citizens aged 65 who became Singaporeans before 1987 receive enhanced subsidies for outpatient treatment, additional annual Medisave top-ups and help with premiums for the new MediShield Life national insurance scheme.
He also spoke of a pioneer who is no longer around - Mr Rahmat Yusak, who died two weeks ago aged 95. In the 1960s, Mr Rahmat drove former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew all over as Mr Lee visited constituencies to rally supporters against the communists.
Addressing Mr Rahmat's son, Mr Mohamed Zulkifli, 59, who sat in the audience, he said: "We will never forget your father ...nor the many pioneers who built Singapore. They boldly wrote the opening chapters of the Singapore Story, and paved the way for their children to do better and write the rest."
This article was first published on August 18, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.