In commemoration of the  first year anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing, we share a memory by Salleh Sariman on his personal encounters with the late Mr Lee during the aftermath of the bombing of the MacDonald House which claimed the lives of three people and injured at least 33 others in 1965. This is his story.

Although this event took place in Jakarta, Indonesia, it had something to do with what happened back home. Remember the MacDonald House bombing? Much had been written about it so I will continue after the two Indonesian marines were hanged in October 1968.

MacDonald House bombing during Konfrontasi. Picture Credit:
Ministry of Culture

When the bodies were brought back to Jakarta, an organised demonstration by a few hundred students sacked the Singapore embassy and the residences of our diplomats. The Ambassador then was P. S. Raman (my former boss when he was head of Radio & TV Singapore, now Mediacorp) who went through the harrowing experience but held on. However soon after, he had a heart attack and was brought back to Singapore.

The Ambassador post was filled nine months later by Lee Koon Choy. He had the difficult task of normalising and preparing for this visit. This was my first of many assignments covering PM Lee’s oversea visits. My reporter was James Fu who also doubled up as PM’s Press Secretary. I was briefed by my superiors of the cool, if not hostile reception that can be expected. After five years the Indonesians had not forgotten about the hanging of the two marines.

arrArrival at Kemayoran Airport

I was young and inexperienced in the affairs of state but I expected PM to do or say something to pacify our Indonesian hosts. On arrival at Kemayoran Airport the reception was warm and cordial. The diplomacy crafted out by Ambassador Lee and his Indonesian counterpart was listed first in the official itinerary. It was the visit to the Kalibata Hero’s Cemetery. There PM laid wreaths on the graves of the generals who were slain in the 1965 Communist Coup. Immediately after he was seamlessly escorted to the nearby graves of the two executed marines, PM scattered flower petals on the graves. 

saThen PM Lee scattering flower petals on the graves of Indonesian marine commandos Osman bin Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun bin Said

For most Indonesians, especially the majority Javanese, what PM did pacified the soul of the deceased marines. The Indonesian press and public welcomed that solemn graveside gesture. For both countries the bombing episode had come to an end. Indeed PM Lee and President became good friends.

Salleh Sariman story first appeared here on the Singapore Memory Project portal.

This memory is shared in commemoration of Lee Kuan Yew. 


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