Friday January 4, 2013
Looking back: Kanang the soldier
AT the national Warrior’s Day celebration at the end of July last year in Kuala Lumpur, a pantomime was held showing the valiant battle involving PW 1 (Rtd) Temenggong Datuk Kanang Langkau in Tanah Hitam, Perak, on February 8, 1980.
It was a rare honour for any soldier and, Kanang, who was among the VIPs, sat back and watched solemnly as the actors brought his memories back to life.
“I am mighty proud to have been able to serve the country,” he told reporters later, teary-eyed.
“I cannot be prouder. But this and medals are not the reward I expect for my service to the country. I just want the country to be peaceful and the people happy.”
Born on March 2, 1945, in Nanga Meluan, Julau, Kanang was the fifth of six siblings.
In April 1962, he joined the Sarawak Rangers as a tracker and was eventually attached to the 42nd Royal Marine Commandos before joining the First Battalion Malaysian Rangers.
Very early in his military career, Kanang proved that he was not easily cowed by the enemy. On Gawai Day of 1976, Kanang and his party killed three communist insurgents.
Three years later, as a sergeant of the Eighth Batallion’s intelligence unit, he fought insurgents in Korbu, Perak, for which he was awarded the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) on June 4, 1980.
Then came the battle that would make him a legend. On Feb 20, 1980, Kanang was among 25 soldiers who were ambushed by insurgents at Tanah Hitam. Two members of his platoon were killed and one lost his leg.
Kanang himself was shot three times in the chest and abdomen but he fought on. His bravery spurred the other soldiers on and they killed five communists. It has been said that as he fought he shouted the Iban battle cry: “Agi idup, agi ngelaban!" (As long as I am alive, I’ll fight).
Such was his bravery that on June 3, 1981, he became one of the few people alive to be conferred the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP), by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Kanang finally retired as a First Warrant Officer after a service of 21 years.
Then on Sept 24, 2011, he was conferred the Panglima Gemilang Bintang Kenyalang, which carries the title “Datuk”, in conjunction with the Head of State’s birthday.
Some three years ago, Kanang made the front page of local dailies and for a very different kind of heroism when he rescued a baby orang utan. The warrior revealed that in all his years in the jungle he had never seen a live orang utan until he came across the baby primate in Lingga.
Kanang also did not shy away from controversy when he slammed an opposition leader for allegedly praising communist guerillas in the Bukit Kepong incident.
In the last few years, Kanang — with his head of white hair and warm smile — would be called on again and again to relate his story and he continued to do it with enthusiasm.
“Every time I look at the Jalur Gemilang, I feel a deep sense of sadness mixed with pride. I hope that the younger generation appreciates the peace they enjoy today,” he told reporters during the Warrior’s Day event last year which would be the last time he spoke to the press.