Malaysia’s most decorated war hero Kanang Anak Langkau could have died as a pauper as his military services – helping to liberate Malaya (and later Malaysia) from the communists were not respected as a hero should be until he and few other war heroes made noise complaining that they had been treated shabbily both by the Federal Government and Sarawak State Government.
Their contributions were not financially recognized – not even a sen and their welfare were not taken care of, as compared to financial rewards and other perks given to communist terrorists who surrendered.
The heroes were 21 holders of Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) with 16 survivors. Of the total there are two Chinese army officers, one Bidayuh, one Kayan, one Malay and 14 Ibans. But the majorities in the Armed Forces are Malays, according to a book – Crimson Tide over Borneo. The youngest of the PGB holder is ASP Wilfred Gomez of the Police Force.
There were six holders of Sri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa from Sarawak, and with the death of Kanang Anak Langkau, there is one SP holder in the person of Sgt. Ngalinuh (an Orang Ulu).
Kanang Anak Langkau was the holder of both the SP and PGB. Their contributions were initially not rewarded, not even a sen except they received pensions like other retired civil servants.
The heroes were not even invited to attend national day celebrations.
Angered by the ill-treatment, Kanang even refused ‘Datukship’ offered to him saying he was a poor man and could not afford to receive the title of ‘Datukship’.
Their woes got the attention of the MP for Lubok Antu Jawah Gerang who raised the issue in Parliament some time in 1980s. Approved by the government, a PGB holder was given a monthly allowance of RM300 and a SP holder RM400.
For PGB holders like Sgt Dajai Angie, their allowances were backdated to 1973. (Dajai was given the bravery medal in 1971).
In 2006, a delegation of the heroes from Sarawak met with the Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak and appealed to increase their monthly allowances by RM700.
Instead of accepting their recommendation, Najib who was also the Deputy Prime Minister decided to more than double the increase of the allowance by RM1,600. The issue was brought to Parliament and approved. Thus, a SP holder receives RM2,000 a month, while a PGB holder receives RM1,900 a month.
For his knowledge in Iban traditions and customs, Kanang was later made a Temenggong for the Iban community of Sri Aman division and last year he was conferred a Datukship by the state government.
Kanang passed away at the age of 68 at the Sarawak General Hospital on Thursday morning after complaining of chest pains. He was buried today (Jan 6) with full military honours at the Heroes’ Grave at Jalan Budaya, Kuching.
Meanwhile messages of condolences and sympathy have been received by the family of the late Kanang from government leaders including from Najib Tun Razak and Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Born in 1945 in Julau, Kanang joined the Sarawak Rangers as an Iban tracker in 1962. (He was among those recruited by the late Bennett Jarrow). Sarawak Rangers was then part of the British Army and later absorbed into the Malaysian Army’s Royal Ranger Regiment upon the formation of Malaysia in September 1963.
In an incident in Perak on February 8, 1980 a soldier was killed. Kanang leading a platoon was sent to track the enemy down and destroy them. For eleven days they followed the enemy until they stumbled upon a much larger enemy force.
In the ensuing fight, Kanang and his men killed five communists and with one loss of the side of the Rangers with Kanang himself was shot three times.
Kanang’s battle cry ‘Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban’ (as long as I live, I shall fight) inspired his men and other soldiers to fight to death in the defence of the nation.
For his bravery, Kanang was awarded the nation’s two highest awards Sri Pahlawan Perkasa (SP) and the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) by Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ahmad Shah in June 1981.
He retired as Warrant Officer One (WOI) after serving the army for more than 21 years.
May he rest in peace.