It seemed a morning like any other, but Mohd Yunus Abdullah could sense that something was amiss.
He was at his station in Kem Gubir, Kedah that morning. The air was still, several figures were pacing back and forth around the camp, some kept looking at their watches.
“Something is about to happen,” said Mohd Yunus who felt anxious then.
Then suddenly there was an explosion above, the deafening noise sent every soldier within the vicinity into combat mode.
“Our helicopter has been gunned down!” yelled one of Mohd Yunus’s comrades. Above them, a Nuri helicopter that was on a special mission to hunt down communists was spiralling down towards Kem Gubir.
Helicopter fuel was pouring down from above them like rain. Every one of the commandos in the helicopter was shot. Fortunately, none of them died.
“Usually, a Nuri would circle around slowly before landing. When we saw how that Nuri spiraled out of control, we knew that something was wrong,” said Mohd Yunus as he recalled the harrowing experience that took place on April 19, 1976.
The helicopter was one of the 10 Nuris involved in the special operations.
“We found 52 bullet holes on the helicopter caused by the communists,” said the 68-year-old ex-serviceman.
Although it happened 39 years ago, the retired sergeant remembered like it was yesterday. This was because he lost his left leg later in the day. He had to have it amputated from the knee down after it was blown off by a communist booby-trap.
‘No friends down there’
Mohd Yunus was placed in the Seventh Battalion Royal Malaysian Rangers after undergoing training in Port Dickson in 1970.
After the helicopter was gunned down, he was among those assigned to confront the enemy.
At the time, all the army units in Kedah had been assembled in Kem Gubir for a major operation. They were ready to be deployed as soon as the internal security authorities obtained information on the large communist hideout at the Malaysia-Thailand border.
The village was said to be where the then leader of the Malayan Communist Party, Chin Peng, resided. Gubir was one of the districts in Kedah that turned into a communist bastion during the Emergency.
“Before we were deployed there on the Nuri, several bomb strikes were launched on the enemy positions to cripple their defences.
“Along with 18 members of my platoon, I moved towards the communist camps on April 20. I still remember our instructions then. “There are no friends below, only foes,” he recounted.
Although the warning slightly unnerved them, the platoon members strengthened their resolve to fight against the enemies of the state.
Full of booby-traps
“I could die or survive this. Those were my thoughts as I descended from the helicopter into the area next to the enemy camps. At any time the communists could have spotted us and shot us,” he said.
The platoon led by Lt Ratnam then approached the camp, treading carefully as there were numerous booby-traps set up around the camp.
However, Mohd Yunus, who at the moment was walking ahead of the troop, had to pause to consult his leader for directions.
“You have to consult the officer in charge whenever we approach a crossing, even if you are in front.
“I remember the incident vividly. It was noon and it happened so quickly. As soon as I received instructions to turn right, my left foot felt like it had stepped on something strange. Something exploded and I was thrown into the air.
“As soon as I recovered, I saw that my shoes were missing. My left heel had cracked and split into two, but it wasn’t bleeding much,” he recalled.
Although he was in horrific pain, he tried to move his left leg but found that he could not. It was then that he realised that he had lost his left leg for good.
“When something like that happens, the rest must remain silent. They cannot approach their comrade. That is the rule.
“This is to prevent the rest from walking into a trap. We have to wait a few minutes before approaching the victim, because in those few minutes we will be able to spot all the booby-traps in the area that would have surfaced due to the impact of the explosion,” he explained.
Although he accepted his fate, Mohd Yunus who was only 27 then, admitted that he was worried about how the tragedy would affect his parents.
“It was only after four days after being hospitalised at the Penang Hospital that my parents came, as they had not received the news earlier.
“My father cried, and I asked why. He said that he was so proud of me for having to sacrifice my limb for my country,” he said, sobbing.
He was fitted with a prosthetic leg upon recovery, but was still too traumatised to walk. More than a year passed before he was able to let his right foot touch the ground, even though that was not the affected leg.
“I tried all kinds of tricks to boost my courage and finally overcame my fear. After that, I was transferred to Kuala Lumpur and appointed as a public relations officer in the Defence Ministry where I served until my retirement in 1992,” he said.
Six days after Mohd Yunus stepped into the booby-trap, another Nuri was gunned down in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve in Gubir. It was on its way to send aid to soldiers running booby-trap ‘cleaning’ operations at a communist camp.
The incident took the lives of 11 members of the security forces.
“This is part of our sacrifice for the country. This is why it angers me to see youngsters loitering about, taking drugs and wasting their youth.
“They are the country’s future. That is why I encourage them to join the security forces to defend our country. If they won’t, then who will?”