Ravi Philemon: Edward Go’s death reminds all Singaporeans of the sacrifices and risks that all NSFs bear for us

Ravi Philemon: Edward Go’s death reminds all Singaporeans of the sacrifices and risks that all NSFs bear for us

by Ravi Philemon

Today (13 Dec), Singapore bid farewell to the fallen National Servicemen (NSF) firefighter Sergeant Edward H. Go.

Red Dot United’s (RDU) Chairman and I were at Edward’s wake service last night to pay our last respects to the young hero. The tribute paid by Edward’s family, school friends and pastor touched our hearts.

One of Edward’s uncles told us who were at the wake that the 19-year-old man found inspiration in a quote attributed to Dwayne Johnson, to “always be the hardest worker in the room”.

When asked what his success was, Johnson said that there were no secrets. “Be humble. Be hungry. And always be the hardest worker in the room,” he said.

I saw so much of myself, of how I have lived my own life, in that inspirational quote. Being the hardest worker in the room doesn’t mean working the longest hours, it means working smarter and outmaneuvering the competition, while at the same time seizing opportunities as they present themselves.

From the eulogies shared, I gathered that that was how Edward aspired to live his live. To roll up his sleeves, get into the trenches, and get the work done if he has to, and regardless of if anyone else was doing it or not.

And he did it with a great big smile on his face.

Everyone who talked about the life of Edward, shared about the big smile he always put on his face. And he wore that smile regardless of whatever life threw at him.

Edward’s pastor from Barker Road Methodist Church who shared a few memories of him last night, recalled a time when he went on a mission trip with Edward to Cambodia.

During the trip, Edward lost his wallet, bag and passport in a TukTuk. Edward had to miss the flight back to Singapore with his teammates because he had to wait for a replacement passport. His pastor decided to stay back to accompany Edward.

His pastor said that during the time of great uncertainty, Edward always remained calm. And that in fact, what was uppermost in Edward’s mind was not the loss of his precious belongings, but social justice.

The young 17-year-old Edward, unperturbed by the loss of his belongings, told his pastor that he wanted to use whatever money he had to buy food for the homeless in Cambodia. And that’s exactly what they did before they got the replacement travel document to fly back to Singapore.

But what taught him the lesson to never, ever give up?

Edward’s sister Rachel said that he learnt that very important life lesson at the age of 13, as he was training to get into his school’s basketball team. His schoolmates from Hwa Chong International School shared about how Edward loved basketball, and how although he was a star player, he went out of the way to make sure that everyone enjoyed the game. He kept reminding his teammates that it was a team sport.

Edward always encouraged the weaker players in his school to never give up. He picked up that mantra after failing to make it to his school’s basketball team because of a traumatising personal incident. But then, as he grew a little older, and saw his friends making the school team even when they were not as good a player as he was, he realised that he should not have quit doing something which he really, really loved.

And it was the same after he was enlisted as a firefighter to serve his National Service. Rachel shared that he grew to love his job as a firefighter. And he loved it despite feeling at times that his body was going to crumble. There were multiple times when he wanted to quit. The rigours of the job and the suffocating gear he had to wear as a firefighter made his job very challenging.

But the life lesson he got as a 13-year-old convinced him that he should not quit.

Throughout the one-and-a-half hour wake service of songs, and eulogies, and messages, I realised two things.

ONE – Edward was a person who was loved unconditionally. Loved unconditionally by his parents, Daniel and Helen. Loved unconditionally by his sister Rachel, uncles, aunties, and friends.

TWO – Because of the unconditional love he received from those that surrounded him, Edward learnt to love unconditionally. And he loved regardless of how tough it got. To the point of even giving his life for them.

Edward lived his life by what his God, Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Although Edward lived just 19 years on this earth, he lived a life of purpose. He inspired and touched many lives – even in his death.

Despite such great testimonies about him, I could not shake-off a lingering feeling of uneasiness. And I could not put my finger on what it was until I heard what one of his uncles who flew all the way from Boston to be at the wake asked.


On my way back from the wake service, my wife asked me, “What would you have done if it was our son?”

My son too served his National Service in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). I told her, “I would have shaken the heavens and the earth for an answer.”

It is answers that we need, and it is answers which we should demand.

In the next day or so, RDU will write to the SCDF and to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asking them why a man, who was just 19 years old, was put in such a position. We will make our letter to SCDF and MHA public for the sake of transparency.

Edward’s pastor reminded the people who were gathered at the wake service last night that the death of Jesus brought about radical changes.

Edward’s death should not be for nothing. It too, should bring about radical changes.

As parents, we entrust the lives of our young people (young people who are not even old enough to vote) into the hands of the Government for the sake of defending the country.

The Government should do all it can to not unnecessarily risk their lives.

And to Daniel, Helen and Rachel, I want to say, “Thank you for giving Edward to Singapore and Singaporeans.”

My deepest and heartfelt condolences.

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