He was in first mobile column in 1969

Retired Colonel Goh Lye Choon will be aboard a main battle tank in the mobile column this year.
Retired Colonel Goh Lye Choon will be aboard a main battle tank in the mobile column this year.PHOTO: MIKE LEE FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

TANKS were test driven around a golf course to ensure their stability in the lead-up to the first mobile column at the National Day Parade (NDP) in 1969, recalled retired Colonel Goh Lye Choon.

"By the time 18 tanks went through, the course was beyond recognition," he said.

But the "top priority" at that time was national security and not sports, he noted.

Now 74, he took part in the mobile columns in 1969 and 1972.

This year, he will be aboard a main battle tank for his third appearance in the vehicle procession. The tank is one of the 177 military and Home Team vehicles on display at NDP 2015.

Back in 1969, there were just 18 tanks, crewed by 36 men.

But to the army veteran, who retired in 1993, the 1969 display was a significant showcase of what Singapore could do.

"We needed to show strength... to show that we were capable of defending Singapore," he said.

"Singapore at that time was a bit unstable, we were not sure how we were going to survive. But with the 18 tanks, we demonstrated to Singapore the confidence and strength of our defence."

He was a platoon commander during the Confrontation, a period of hostility between Malaysia and Indonesia from 1963 to 1966. Singapore was part of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965.

He recalled the preparations for the mobile column.

"We had only 11/2 months to prepare for NDP and we had to put rubber pads on the tracks, so we didn't damage the roads."

While he retired more than two decades back, he keeps up with new developments by building tank models and learning about them.

The father of three and grandfather of four exercises daily to stay healthy.

This Aug 9, he will don his old army uniform as a member of the pioneer generation.

He is grateful to be invited to take part in this year's mobile column.

"It's a privilege... It was unexpected for me, but I was very delighted. I'm very happy that I can be useful to this generation."

LIM YI HAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline 'He was in first mobile column in 1969'. Print Edition | Subscribe