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With Vietnam traveling wall coming, North Collins man remembered by friend, author

“David Briggs’ death hurt me deeply,” said author and Vietnam veteran John T. Senka.

On Nov. 23, 1968 U.S. Army Specialist David Briggs of North Collins was killed when members of his battalion entered a Vietnamese base camp.

“They were on patrol and basically they underestimated the strength of their enemy,” Senka said.

Senka, a native of Arkport, N.Y., remembered Briggs’ actions and friendship as part of a book he wrote in 2004 titled “Wounded Body – Healing Spirit.”

Briggs will be remembered as part of a moving Vietnam wall traveling memorial that will be at Newell-Faulkner American Legion Post 880, 2912 Legion Dr., Eden between July 18 and 22.

The friendship between Briggs and Senka began in October of 1968.

“I came into the country about mid-October and he was killed in mid- to late-November,” Senka said.

Senka said when they hit what was known as “the field,” the pair were introduced.

“We’ve got a guy here from New York,” Senka said he was told. “That’s Dave Briggs.”

Although Arkport, which is near Dansville, is a couple of hours away, the two soldiers discovered they had more in common than just fighting the Vietnamese on the battle field.

“I had come to find out, he knew Arkport,” Senka said.

According to Senka, Briggs knew some people from Arkport from his days as a student at Williamsport College. They were friends of Senka as well.

Briggs and Senka also discovered at one time they dated the same girl.

Although the friendship was shortlived, it is one that has lasted with Senka for a lifetime.

“He had just become the Captain’s (Carl Winters) radio operator,” Senka said of Briggs about the job given to him just before his death.

The pair joked that Briggs’ new job meant that he made it. Later that day, about two-thirds of the C Company 4th Battalion Ninth Infantry had been either killed or wounded in the invasion, with Briggs and Winters the first ones killed.

“(Briggs) was the first guy I really got to know in our unit,” Senka said. He was also the first one he knew who was killed.

“He was a very well liked young man,” he said.

In December of 1968, Senka was sent out of Vietnam as he was the only person in his battalion to survive.

He spent about six months in the Army’s hospital.

It was during that time Senka began to feel the symptoms of what would later be known as post traumatic stress disorder, something he said at that time was not diagnosed. Senka also later dealt with clinical depression as well and as he worked his way through the issues, he made a vow to himself.

“If I ever get through it, I was always going to write a book about it,” Senka said.

During his six months in the hospital following his stint in Vietnam, Senka said he did not pay much attention to his problems, because he witnessed soldiers who faced severe medical trauma. He believed his problems were not as bad, and since there was no name for what he was dealing with at that time, he decided to just try and ignore it.

Since getting help for PTSD and clinical depression, Senka said he is doing much better,

“I might have had three or four other episodes (since getting help) that aren’t as severe,” he said.

It has been nearly 44 years since Senka and Briggs had their final conversation. But their brief time together in Vietnam has left an indelible mark on Senka’s life.

Senka remembers getting a visit from Briggs’ parents.

“They brought my daughter Debbie a doll,” Senka said.

When they came, he said they were in disbelief that David was really dead because they never had a chance to see their son again.

“His casket had been closed,” Senka said.

Briggs’ parents asked Senka if he saw their sons’ body, but Senka told them he never viewed the body because it was too painful.

At his Arkport residence, a tree carving depicts a sentinel guard in his Army outfit.

It is part of a plan to create a memorial to Vietnam veterans.

It is a work in progress but something that Senka believes is important as he remembers the soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve and protect their country.

And on a tab on a bench near the tree carving is the name, David Briggs.


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