The plaque set up to honour Nicoll Highway collapse hero Heng Yeow Pheow pays tribute to an extraordinary man. Mr Heng, a foreman, died 10 years ago when he chose to stay in a dangerous, unstable pit to help his workers escape. That the plaque is on a bench at Tampines Tree Park appears as a pedestrian location to some. But Mr Heng, from all accounts, was not a pretentious man and most likely he would have wanted to be close to ordinary people in death as in life. Hero Heng left Singapore a nobler place than he had found it. For this, people like him deserve lasting recognition. A bench in a park, humble though it is, can help to impart his story to those who use the park now and for years to come.
There are other social heroes like him, who also deserve to be honoured. They exemplify the best that Singaporeans as a people are capable of. The more citizens know about their lives and values, the stronger will be their influence on and appeal for the Singaporean public.
The patriots and heroes of peacetime are especially important. Greatness in the face of adversity in war is remembered because of the enormity of conflict and the scars that it leaves on the social fabric. Peacetime courage is more elusive. But just as war teaches subsequent generations the value of peace, greatness in peace should impress on the young, in particular, the need to not forget that, in the final analysis, certain values are worth defending with life and limb.
Hence, the importance of seeking different ways to mark such contributions. Memorials could be linked to permanent installation artworks or to little corners of peace and quiet in the city. A dedicated website can also help to compile all their stories and serve as a useful aid to social memory in the virtual world.
This article was first published on June 22, 2014.
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