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Dave Sekol - United States Navy

During the war, VC tax collectors routinely toured the peasant villages and levied a “freedom tax” in the form or rice of other food.  Then, they transported the goods by river to enemy base camps on shore.  If we saw the same face on the river too often, or if someone had in his possession more supplies than he could account for, we were generally correct in assuming him a tax collector.  That afternoon, the other boat crew stopped a sampan carrying just such a character.  In the two minutes it took us to come alongside, the situation had deteriorated, and everyone was locked and loaded and ready for anything. 

Faced with capture and unnerved by the burst of M-16 fire he’d taken across his bow, the VC tax collector had gone to pieces under questioning and caused all kinds of trouble.  He stood up in his boat and wailed and moaned, gnashed his teeth, tore at his hair and wrung his hands.  Two other men behaved themselves at the bow of the sampan, and a teenage girl sat on a thwart bench.

I’m not sure what happened next.  To this day, I can’t picture exactly how it went down, but in the confusion, the girl reached for something inside the basket on her lap.  Bad move.  Big mistake.  Everyone in the sampan had been told a dozen times not to move, but the little dummy stuck her hand into that basket, and that was all it took for our guys to let go with M-16s on full automatic. 

  • Under constant threat of death, American soldiers became conditioned to react instinctively to any perceived peril.  Dave experienced many traumatic events in which he was an active participant, such as the violent death of another person. 

I’d say it was over in a heartbeat, but I’ll spare you the bad pun. When the smoke cleared – and I mean that literally – seconds passed before the usual afternoon river noises supplanted the ring of rifle fire in my ears.  More seconds passed, then the tax collector collapsed in a heap on the deck of his boat.  This time, his wailing and moaning was not an act.  I looked down at the girl sprawled on her back, her long black hair trailing downstream with the current.  A huge, blood-soaked hole occupied the space that had been her chest. 

The officer in charge of the other boat whistled under his breath and said to no one, “Oh, man, we really messed up this time.  We killed a child.” 

I don’t need to tell you the tension was high on those boats hovering out there in the middle of the Mekong River.  Three Vietnamese, eight navy guys, and just then, nobody could tell the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.  A standoff.  Tragedy looked preservation of self right in the eye, and for a moment, the earth stood still.


1. The Vernon County
2. "Fine, I’ll join the army."
3. Rewarding conformity
4. The LST
5. Freedom tax
6. Interrogating VC
7. Zombie-like
8. Yolanda
9. Dog therapy
10. Anger rush
11. EDMR therapy