SINGAPORE - Singapore's Golden Jubilee National Day Parade was special because it celebrated how a young nation overcame all odds to become what it is today, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"It was not just a birthday bash. We were celebrating something far greater," he said at the start of his National Day Rally speech in English on Sunday.
Mr Lee, who spoke after a special performance by Singaporean singer Kit Chan who sang the parade classic Home, said this year's Padang event was a milestone in three ways.
First. it was a celebration of Singapore's resolve to defend itself and to survive over the last 50 years.
Second, it was a testament of how the nation managed to turn vulnerability into strength.
Third, it marked Singapore's journey from Third World to First as one united people.
On the first point, he cited the impressive show of military hardware at this year's parade, including the mobile column made up of 179 vehicles and the 20 F-16s which flew across the Padang forming the number "50".
It all started with just two infantry battalions "in a rough neighbourhood" in the early days of independence, he pointed out.
"But our pioneers were determined to defend ourselves... We built up the SAF," he said.
Within four years, Singapore paraded a few of its units during the National Day Parade (NDP) in 1969.
Some of the pioneer servicemen were back at the NDP this year to kick off the SG50 Vintage Parade segment. They included Col (Ret) Goh Lye Choon, the Second-in-Command at the 1969 NDP.
Others, like Mr Slamat, 78, took part in this year's parade with his son and grandson. Mr Slamat was in the Singapore Fire Brigade, and his son and grandson are now with the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
"Three generations saluting the nation, and we salute them back," said Mr Lee.
This year's NDP also marked how Singapore, which had a weak economy and no hinterland, turned vulnerability into strength, he pointed out.
For instance, the tripartite partners worked hard to create the best workforce in the world, and the Port of Singapore Authority and Changi Airport became the best in the world.
Lastly, the Golden Jubilee NDP was an occasion to celebrate Singapore's journey from Third World to First as one united people, said Mr Lee.
In the early days of independence, the minorities were uncertain of their place in the new country, he noted.
"Fifty years on, we celebrate as one united people," he said. "When the sirens sounded on National Day, we stood and recited the Pledge together."
"What an exhilarating journey these 50 years have been!"