Ereveld Kembang KuningWednesday, December 09, 2015
“I was nine years old when the Japanese executed my father right in front of my mom,” said seventy-nine year old John Leihitu to me at a Dutch war cemetery at Kembang Kuning, Surabaya. That morning, together with his wife and two relatives, he came from The Hague, The Netherlands to visit the grave of his father, Domingus Petrus Leihitu.
Of all the Dutch war cemeteries of Ereveld I had visited, the one at Kembang Kuning, Surabaya was the most memorable one. This was the first time I got the opportunity to talk with someone whose family member were buried in that honorary grave.
The encounter with John was some sort of coincidence. I came to the grave to see the monument erected to honor those who lost their lives in the battle of Java See when the Japanese military attempted to invade Java in 27 February 1942.
Instead of taking pictures of the grave, I decided to sit in a gazebo built to receive the guests and had a pleasant conversation with Bapak Soekarjono, the caretaker of the grave, and the family of Leihitu.
“My father was a sergeant major in KNIL (Royal Dutch Indies Army), an Ambonese who was loyal to the Dutch.” John started talking. “He was stationed in Ambon, Moluccas Islands when the Japanese military invaded the Dutch East Indies.” His eyes, looking far to the sky were wet with tears. For a moment, he didn’t seem to be where he was.
Then, he continued. “My father had to cope with a dilemma. In the early 1943, an Allied submarine infiltrated Moluccas islands and stopped at Haria Bay. The KNIL officers were offered to flee to Australia to escape the Japanese military detention on one condition; no family members were allowed.”
“My father refused the offer, because he knew that the Japanese would kill his wife and children if he decided to flee. He was later captivated by the Japanese and sent to military prison.”
John didn’t tell us the details how could his father be beheaded right in front of his mother. He just remembered that his mom said not all executed prisoners were died right away after being slaughtered. Some of them were dying on the ground before finally passed away. Well, every time I visited Ereveld, the first thing came up in mind was the atrocities of Japanese military during the war.
I started to explore the grave and walked toward the monument of Karel Dorman. It was said that of thousands of casualties of the battle in Java See, only one body was found and later buried in this Ereveld. It was the body of B.H. Hagendijk, a sailor. The rest of the dead were buried down under the sea, along with the ships.
On that monument, fifteen bronze plaques carved with the names of the victims were placed to honor the 915 sailors who didn’t return from the battle. And right in the center, there was another plaque carved with the head of Karel Dorman, the commander of Dutch fleets who defended Java from Japanese military invasion.
It seemed to me that this Ereveld at Kembang Kuning was dedicated to honor those who fought in the sea during the World War Two. Not only in the battle of Java sea, but also another battle that broke out to defend the Dutch East Indies territories from the Japanese invasion.
It was no wonder if a few weeks before my coming to this place, a high rank officer from The Royal Dutch Navy visited this place to honor those sailors who lost their lives in defending the colony.
I didn’t take much photos during this visit as it was Saturday, so the grave would be closed in the early afternoon, and the heat coming from the sun had practically burnt my skin. Even the gardeners were not able to green the grass no matter how much water sprayed from sprinklers put all over the graveyard.
Before leaving the grave, I walked to one section where many Ambonese soldiers and civilians were buried. I tried to find the grave of Domingus Petrus Leihitu. It was not hard to find it as it was the only one with fresh flowers put by his son this morning.
I stood for a while in front of the white cross and started to whisper: “may God rest your soul …”