Two of Tony Hermon's front-page stories on security and defence
Tony Hermon, once defence correspondent of The Straits Times, and later a news editor at Balai Berita, died peacefully at the age of 71 at his home in Subang Jaya, Selangor, on Saturday.
A family friend said Tony had received treatment for his heart condition on Thursday after complaining of breathing difficulties. He died while resting in his chair on Saturday. He is survived by his wife and four children, Andrew, Gordon, Sandra and Jennifer.
Funeral services will be held at 10am today at his home, No. 44 Jalan USJ 2/5K, Subang Jaya. (Details: 03-5632-8295)
A personal memoir by Gobind Rudra
Tony Hermon was defence and political correspondent of The Straits Times in the 1960 and 1970s before he became a desk man, first with the New Straits Times and then as news editor of the Malay Mail.
As a desk man, he suffered from the intense knife-in-your-back politicking of the times, being posted to the wilderness in Penang for a spell before returning to Balai Berita on the NST news desk, as metropolitan news editor with the City Desk, and then back to the Malay Mail as news editor, from which post he retired in the mid-1980s.
In his days as security and defence correspondent, Tony covered the discussions leading to the creation in 1971 of the Five-Power Defence Arrangement, the alliance responsible for the joint air defence of Malaysia and Singapore.
Security matters in those times largely involved Commonwealth forces, meaning the military services of Britain, Australia and New Zealand (or ANZUK) and Hermon covered the many meetings resulting from Britain's military pullout from the Far East.
Among the major stories which rolled smoothly out of Hermon's Remington was a front-page lead on the Air Force wanting to buy the supersonic Mirage III fighter jets built by Dassault of France, to replace the subsonic Sabre jets of Korean War vintage donated by Australia.
The Mirage III, then also flown by the RAAF, had made its reputation after having destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground and in the air during the Six-Day War of 1967, the Sinai campaign, and over the Golan Heights.
Malaysia's air force, then led by fighter jock Sulaiman Sujak, wanted a hotshot fighter and the hottest fighter then was the Mirage. They had to settle instead for the Northrop F-5E, the "Freedom Fighter", a supersonic but lightweight fighter favoured by the US government for export purposes for its comparatively unlethal capabilities.
Though Tony's story was denied (and carried in a one-paragraph filler), he would always insist in private conversation that his story had been accurate and that political pressure had resulted in the decision being changed.
The Northrop purchase was later to figure in US Congressional hearings on corruption and bribery of foreign governments in US military export sales, and to legislation outlawing the payment of bribes overseas to secure arms deals. The F-5E deal also figured in a Malaysian court case involving low-level air force personnel, at which Sulaiman Sujak was a witness for the prosecution.
Tony Hermon's defence and security stories were written before the Official Secrets Act came into being in 1972. Given the way it has been used since, you might think it was actually the Official Protection of Defence Contract and Sales Commission Secrets Act, and you wouldn't be far wrong at that.
Last month, defence ministers of "South-East Asia Command" (if I may call it that) marked the 40th anniversary of the quiet alliance, the one for which Tony Hermon had helped to play nursemaid. It came at the end of Bersama
Shield 2011, a five-month-long exercise over Malaysia, the South China Sea, and Singapore, involving the three armed services of the five countries in their annual war games.
Though he had since gone on to spreading the good word, Tony Hermon would have loved to have been there at BS11, with a borrowed portable typewriter in place of his bulky desktop Remington (or was it a Royal?), a wide grin creasing his face at familiar sights and faces, and many a quiet word over a quiet whisky or two.
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