The Journey of Selamat Ginting and the Formation of Giyugun in Sumatra


On December 3, 1943, at the early hour of 5:00 AM, a young man named Selamat Ginting, hailing from Kampung Juhar in North Tapanuli, embarked on a significant journey. Leaving his home, he headed towards Kampung Tigabinanga to meet with friends and continue their trip to Kabanjahe. They were greeted by Nerus Ginting Suka, a prominent movement leader in Tanah Karo, who encouraged them to join the Giyugun (volunteer army) in the East Coast region of Sumatra.

Upon arriving in Kabanjahe, they were transported by military truck to Pulo Brayan, Medan, where the Giyugun selection process took place. This process began with each young man climbing a ladder and jumping into a swimming pool, followed by thorough health checks conducted by a committee comprising both Japanese and Indonesian personnel.

“We were stripped naked, and then everything was examined, for example, whether we had any skin diseases, including the buttocks and genitals, and also the eyes,” Selamat Ginting recalled in his interview with Mestika Zed, documented in Giyugun: The Early Roots of the National Army in Sumatra (2005, p. 49).

After successfully passing a series of tests, Selamat Ginting and 34 other youths were selected and sent to Helvetia Barracks in Pulo Brayan, Medan, for three months of military training. This marked the beginning of their journey as part of the Giyugun.

The establishment of the Giyugun in Sumatra and other parts of Southeast Asia—known in Java as PETA—was influenced by Major General Inada Masazumi’s inspections. As the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Japanese Army for the Southern Area, he conducted inspections in occupied territories and assessed the military defense strength as weak, despite the presence of auxiliary forces known as Heiho.

According to Aiko Kurasawa in Giyugun: Volunteer Army During the Japanese Occupation in Java and Sumatra (2022), Masazumi proposed the formation of the Giyugun to bolster Japanese military strength and mitigate Indonesian dissatisfaction caused by news of Japan granting independence to the Philippines and Myanmar. This proposal was initially rejected but later approved by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who allocated 5 million yen to establish the Giyugun.

The Giyugun was established in four regions of Sumatra: Aceh, the West and East Coasts of Sumatra, and South Sumatra. The formation was met with enthusiasm from movement leaders, religious figures, and nobility in Sumatra, who collaborated with the Japanese to assist in the recruitment and training processes.

Training centers were established, starting with the West Coast of Sumatra in Padang, followed by Aceh in Kuta Raja, the East Coast in Medan, and South Sumatra in Lahat. General requirements for recruits included being in good health, aged 19–30 years, and having some level of education. Training varied in duration from three to six months and included drills, bushido moral education, geography, Japanese language, and weapons usage.

As the war progressed and Japan’s position became increasingly threatened by Allied counterattacks, additional Giyugun training centers were opened, including intelligence units in Palembang and airfield defense units in Karang Endang and Pangkalan Brandan. However, these new units did not involve pilot training but regular Giyugun training.

Tensions with the Japanese military escalated, leading to notable incidents such as the protest by Aceh Giyugun officer Teuku Abdul Hamid Azwar, who led two platoons into the mountains in November 1944. Although forced to surrender, this event highlighted the growing dissatisfaction among Giyugun members. Another rebellion occurred in Pematangsiantar in July 1945, where almost an entire company rose up against Japanese soldiers, only to be subdued by the Kempetai the next day.

The Giyugun in Sumatra was disbanded by the Japanese in late August 1945, unaware of Japan’s surrender and Indonesia’s Proclamation of Independence. Following this, former Giyugun officers played significant roles in the formation of the People’s Security Army (TKR) in Sumatra, with many becoming commanders of TKR divisions.

Despite their contributions, the influence of former Giyugun officers within the Indonesian military gradually waned. By the late 1970s, only a few, such as General Makmun Murod and Lieutenant General Hasnan Habib, held high-ranking positions in the Armed Forces, as noted by Aiko Kurasawa (2022).

The story of Selamat Ginting and the formation of the Giyugun in Sumatra is a testament to the complex and challenging path towards Indonesian independence. It reflects the resilience and determination of those who, despite numerous obstacles, contributed to the fight for freedom and the establishment of a national army that played a crucial role in Indonesia’s early years of independence.