Published on: Wednesday, January 22, 2014
"I was still inside my mother's womb. The Japanese soldiers were on a manhunt and my father was hiding somewhere in the Menggatal hills," said Phan, 65, when met after the commemorative service, at the Petagas War Memorial, Tuesday.
The memorial honours 176 brave Sabahans in then British North Borneo who, led by Albert Kwok, briefly turned the tables on the Japanese invaders in a shock uprising but were let down when reinforcements were slow in coming.
Phan said his father's sacrifice ensured that his mother and three other siblings would live as the Japanese demanded that he surrender or see the whole family killed.
Phan's father's story strikes a chord with many, especially war veterans, who have their own stories to tell about the war which ended more than 65 years ago.
The memorial is located on the exact spot where 176 Sabahan guerillas were massacred on Jan. 21, 1944. Apart from Pearl Harbour, it is one of the few memorials in the world erected at the exact spot where the event happened.
Four of them, including Kwok, were beheaded while the rest were lined up before a ready mass grave and machine-gunned to death. Another group that was remotely linked to the uprising was sent to Labuan as prisoners where many died from diseases.
Only 11 survived and their remains were also brought to the spot to be interned, thus explaining why the number of the dead is more than the original band of 176.
After the war the remnants started holding respective religious ceremonies at the spot yearly to honour the dead and the tradition continued till this day in an official memorial service.
It was led by Special Affairs Minister Datuk Teo Chee Kang, who represented the Chief Minister, placing a wreath at the memorial followed by others - Mayor, Datuk Abidin Madingkir, military and police as well as leaders from Chambers of Commerce.
Various uniformed organisations including former servicemen and women were also present at the ceremony that lasted for about an hour.