The Singapore flag soared over the Safti Military Institute yesterday as Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel past and present reunited for a grand parade, five decades after the force's formation.
Viewing stands at the SAF50 Parade were packed with some 3,500 spectators from the SAF, including 500 pioneers who saw the force through its early years.
Some came in wheelchairs, others with limps and canes. But as the State and Regimental Colours were paraded past the stands, they sat up a little straighter, or rose to their feet, hands raised in proud salute.
Major (Ret) Leong Kwai Wah, 74, said: "It's nice to come back here, to the home of the officers, and it's an honour to be invited."
The bus ride past the Pasir Laba Camp - where his former training ground, the old SAFTI, once stood - stirred up memories of his days in the SAF.
The retired air operations and communications officer joined the SAF in 1966 as part of the first batch of officer cadets. He retired more than two decades later, in 1988.
He was on the front lines during Konfrontasi, when Indonesia opposed the formation of Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part.
But what he recalled most, and fondly, were his training days.
"We were sometimes punished for nothing, made to run up and down Peng Kang Hill," he said with a chuckle. "It gave us a good sense of loyalty and determination. It was a lot of hard work. I'm sure today's SAF, with the new 3G SAF, will definitely be one of the best."
There were a series of firsts at the SAF50 Parade, which was officiated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. An SAF Day parade has been held annually on July 1 since 1969, but this year, with Singapore and the SAF celebrating golden jubilees, saw the grandest parade yet.
Aside from inviting pioneers for the first time, a trio of helicopters carrying the Singapore flag flew over the parade in another first, followed later by a flypast by five F-15SG fighter jets.
The Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, led the crowd in reciting the SAF Pledge, and a minute of silence was observed for personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty.
The parade also paid tribute to Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23, aged 91. Pictures of Mr Lee were shown on a screen on the parade ground, accompanied by a narration of Mr Lee's support for the development of the SAF and a strong defence.
Later, PM Lee presented the 1st Commando Battalion, which won this year's Best Combat Unit award, with the State Colours. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen presented 28 Best Unit and Best National Service Unit awards.
Earlier, over 650 NSmen and employers from over 350 companies attended SAF Day ceremonies around the island, pledging to protect Singapore's independence.
Said Captain (NS) Chen Fuwei, the Navy's NSman of the Year, who has volunteered to extend his reservist stint: "There's a bit of sacrifice, having to forgo work opportunities, spending some time away from my family ... But I'm not alone in this. There are many more thousands of servicemen working hard, day and night, to keep the country safe. This camaraderie and sense of purpose and unity spur me on."
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'Special parade for SAF's 50th year'.
This article was first published on July 2, 2015.
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