Jakarta. Aug. 17 is a time to remember Indonesian veterans who have dedicated their lives to their country and who deserve recognition for their commitment.
Douglas MacArthur, the well-known American general of World War II, famously said, "old soldiers never die, they simply fade away." That quote perhaps best describes Lt. Gen. (Ret) Rais Abin, who celebrated his 92nd birthday just two days before the nation commemorated the 73rd anniversary of its independence.
Rais looked very high-spirited when President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo inaugurated him and his former comrades to lead the Indonesian Veterans Legion for the third consecutive time earlier this month.
Born in Koto Gadang, West Sumatra, on Aug. 15, 1926, Rais is a living witness of Indonesia's long struggle for independence.
When he was 14 years old, he had to leave his home village on the slopes of Mount Singgalang to further his education in Java.
After graduating from an agriculture school in Sukabumi, West Java, in 1945, Rais moved to Yogyakarta where he met a group of freedom fighters known as Tentara Rakyat, or the People's Army. It was a call to duty for Rais to join them in the independence struggle. Together, they constituted the beginnings of the Indonesian Military (TNI).
Three days after his recruitment, Rais was tasked as an intelligence officer in an operation to smuggle weapons through Dutch blockades to arm the freedom fighters. And at one time during the war of independence, he was cornered by Dutch patrol boats off Bintan Island, now part of Riau Islands Province, where he was subsequently jailed as a prisoner of war.
Rais was released after the Roem-Roijen ceasefire agreement of May 1949.
He was later stationed at the army headquarters in Tanjung Pinang, Riau, where he was promoted to first lieutenant. After various tours of duty and military training, both in the country and abroad, Rais assumed a position at the army's prestigious command school in Bandung, West Java, where he earned his first star as brigadier general.
"He is one of Indonesia's great soldiers. Now at 92, he still has that military leadership trait. He represents Indonesia's forgotten veterans and revived their spirit. Like Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad, who is also 92, Rais is still fit and active," Dasman Djamaluddiin, Rais's biographer, told the Jakarta Globe.
Dasman, who authored Rais's book "Mission Accomplished," said the retired three-star general is also internationally recognized for his role as the first-ever Indonesian commander to head a United Nations peacekeeping force during the ceasefire following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
"Rais Abin, then major general, had a significant role there that is worth noting. He succeeded Lt. Gen. Bengt Liljetrand as commander of the Second United Nations Emergency Force [UNEF II] in 1973 to supervise the ceasefire between Egyptian and Israeli forces and the redeployment of the two forces to man and control the buffer zones that paved the way for the Camp David peace agreement," Dasman said.
Fourteen nations – Indonesia, India, Australia, Canada, Austria, Finland, Ghana, Ireland, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Poland, Senegal and Sweden – contributed forces to UNEF II.
Dasman also revealed that Rais was a good liaison officer in dealing with the Egyptian and Israeli militaries.
"Though Indonesia and Israel never had diplomatic relations, Rais obtained approval from then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and the Knesset to become the recognized UNEF II commander. It is also interesting to know that Rais eventually met with Shimon Peres in Jerusalem," Dasman said.