“When A Son Does Not Return Home”

A full-time national serviceman died on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, while taking part in a military exercise in Australia’s Central East Coast. 3rd Sergeant Gavin Chan was guiding an armoured military vehicle out of rocky terrain when it turned over on its side, striking him unconscious. He was evacuated by helicopter to a nearby hospital, […]

via When a Son does not Return Home: Deaths in the SAF — justinnonng

In texting a few friends, getting live press updates and reading accounts about the recent death of NSF Dave Lee, I remembered this post that someone had shared previously, written about another time, another young SAF fallen in the line of duty training.

I have to admit invasive thoughts have crossed my mind recently, upon the realisation that both my brother and I could potentially be mired in a different island miles (or thousands of miles–why do we say miles here? It has a nicer flow than kilometres?) away from home at the same time. I read about Kathy, who died in a Clementi car crash, and I thought, that could happen anywhere, anytime. I attended the wake for Jasmine, who died in a Bukit Timah car crash a kilometre from my house, and I thought, this could be my mother staying away from press and my father handing out books for people to write farewells. Now I read about Dave and I think, this could be my brother.

When I smiled, Justin says in his post of the ceremonial photo all NSFs take, grinning/grimacing in front of a state flag vivid with red and white trying to look as debonair as one can in a tough black-speckled green uniform, I didn’t expect to die in the next few months.

The assumption that our sons come back home safe, he says, is part and parcel of national service. In peacetime Singapore, anything less would be a tragedy.

And it is. Of the three here, none are (were) older than 23. The reality of death has permeated these few weeks, not least because I’m tied up in an article about death attitudes. We are, as a society, still fighting the taboo of death. Death is natural. Death is the only, and proper, end to our trawls through age. But that assumes we reach the end of the road. It assumes we made our way through the trail and, at the rocky end, charged through with our last pump of life–rage, rage//do not go gentle//–what to do when you’re only strolling on the first lap and you fall off a cliff?

They’ll put up barriers where you fell, mark your name in a plaque, send the cameras down to buzz like flies. (Your body had no flies, your body was swept away into white sterility and neatly made up, nestled cleanly into expensive wood, cradled by cleansing fire.) They’ll write stories about your life, but no amount of stories is going to bring you back.


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