The Gubir tragedy was the first major air disaster involving a Nuri. It was shot down by the communists killing all eleven on board. There were five air crew members in the ill-fated aircraft and I knew four of them. The rest were Army personnel.
I chose to go and pay my condolences to the one nearest to my house first, the co-pilot’s wife. She was also a teacher but she was teaching in a different school. When I arrived at her quarters, there was already a small congregation comprising mostly of the Nuri, Tebuan and other non-flying Air Force wives. (Tebuan was the training aircraft for the fighter pilots then).They all looked grim and solemn and worried. I guess, like me, they were thinking who would be next in line. We were all young, in our early and mid-twenties. Most of the Major’s wives were slightly older than us probably in their late twenties or early thirties. The men preferred their women a few years younger than them during that period. The practice of taking someone older than them for a wife had not set in yet.
The Tebuan aIso had their share of crashes but theTebuan wives had an advantage over us, the Nuri wives. Their husbands could eject when in trouble, where as, ours had to go down with the aircraft. I remember a Tebuan wife once told me that she gave ample warning to her husband to think of her and the children and not try to be a hero and save the aircraft, when in trouble. She made her husband promise to eject as soon as he encountered a problem. I really don’t know whether there was a necessity for the husband to keep to the promise during his entire flying career. He went on to become a one-star general.
She (the co-pilot’s wife) was nowhere in sight when I arrived at her quarters. I was told that she was inside her room with her only child, a daughter. I was also told that she was in her early stage of pregnancy. All that I had rehearsed to say to her had to be put on hold. Then, she emerged, looking sad, dazed, forlorn and lost but otherwise, in complete control of herself. I had expected to see her in tears, grief-stricken to a point she had to be comforted by us. She was perfectly calm. In fact, too perfectly calm for my peace of mind. My wicked mind could not help but wonder whether she truly loved her husband. It was a mean and horrid thought, but for someone who had just lost her husband in such a terrible crash, it seemed impossible to remain so calm and composed. I would have howled the house down and gone hysterical had I been in her place. I just stared at her, open-mouthed and forgot all that I had rehearsed.
I was made to understand that she was still waiting for the official announcement from the Base Commander. She had been appropriately informed of the crash earlier on. She was also informed that all those on board were feared dead. But there was nothing OFFICIAL yet. There were procedures to follow before an official statement could be released. Probably she was still clinging on to the one last fragment of hope that the Base Commander would bring her the good news that her husband had miraculously survived the gruesome crash, although by that time, everyone else knew that ALL had perished.
The Base Commander and his wife finally arrived at a little past nine and went straight to where she was sitting. I sat bolt upright expecting an outburst of emotions. He spoke in low tones and she was seen nodding her head several times. But there were no outbursts of emotions, no crying, nothing. The Base Commander and his wife then made an understandably hurried exit. There were two more families waiting for his official announcement.
Then slowly the crowd began to disperse. I just cannot recall what I mumbled to her but I remember telling her that I would come and see her again tomorrow morning. On reaching home, my husband told me that he was appointed the officer to look into her affairs. Besides the immediate arrangement to have both she and her daughter flown over the very next morning for the burial ceremony, there was her transfer to attend to.
I didn’t have the chance to visit the other two families. We were told to organise ourselves into three groups and each group was advised to visit only one family. Under the circumstances, it was thought best not to have too big a crowd at all the three houses. This was obviously not a fiesta.
The next morning I tagged along with my husband to see her again before leaving for school. My husband had started making arrangements to have both she and her daughter flown over to her hometown where her husband would be laid to rest. We were in for another surprise when we reached her house. She was getting ready to go to school!!! My husband had to convince her that there was no necessity for her to go teaching given the circumstances she was in. Her dedication was praiseworthy but at that time I felt it was strangely odd. My wicked mind started weaving ugly thoughts again. I hated myself for it. I was still fighting hard to banish all evil thoughts from my mind when I bade her goodbye. That was the last time I saw her.
It took me more than three decades, when my husband was writing his book, to unveil the truth behind the strange behaviour that I mistook for disloyalty that night in Kuantan. It was, in fact, a display of both strength and courage befitting of a hero’s wife. The fact that she NEVER remarried although she was made a widow in her twenties, bears testament to the eternal, undying love and loyalty she had for her husband. As far as I am concerned, she is an epitome of the perfect soldier’s wife…
To be continued………..