'He was like a brother I never had'
In a historic barn located near Litomysl, Mike Cassen, 68, leaned on his cane and tearfully looked at clippings and photos about his cousin William J. Seykora.
Cassen was a cousin to Seykora, who was killed in Vietnam 50 years ago, on April 27, 1968.
Cassen also served in Vietnam and currently suffers
from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event such as warfare.
The reason Cassen was in this barn on Saturday, July 29 was because he and other family members, plus friends gathered to renew the memory of Seykora, 20 years old upon his death in the jungles of Vietnam.
Seykora was killed instantly by a rocket.
Ramona Ptacek, eldest sister of Seykora said family only gathered on Friday, July 28 to share memories of Bill. Vietnam veterans and other friends of Bill were invited to share memories at another gathering on Saturday, July 29. “Many of the young kids here today never knew Bill and it was a time for us to further introduce the character of who he was,” said Ptacek.
Both remembrance gatherings were held at the Leo Seykora farm, located just south of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Litomysl. This small farming community can be found about nine miles northwest of Blooming Prairie.
“He was like a brother I never had,” Cassen said as he paged through photos andclippings of his cousin Bill.
Cassen said he and Bill spent a lot of time together in their younger days on the farm. Bill was the third child of eight in the Seykora family. Cassen said he also became very close to Seykora’s parents, Walter and Lillian Seykora.
Soon after learning his cousin Bill’s death on April 27, 1968, Cassen enlisted in the U.S. Army and served four years, including two tours in Vietnam.
Cassen said he dedicated his military career to cousin Bill. “I always felt guilty coming home from Vietnam, and Bill didn’t,” remarked Cassen.
He shared his feelings with Bill’s mother Lillian. He was told by her, “Sit down and we are going to settle this once and for all,” Lillian told Bill. She brought out many personal items of Bill and showed them to Cassen. “We laughed and cried and at that time I realized God has a plan for everyone,” Cassen continued.
As cousins, Mike and Bill lived only two to three miles apart. “Bill’s parents saw something in me that drew me to them as an extended family,” Cassen reasons. He now resides in Meriden, just west of Owatonna.
While in Vietnam, Cassen served in reconnaissance, an area that exploited his military talents as a sharpshooter. He said there were two occasions when he should have been killed. “I was no good in school, quit school and joined the Army,” Cassen tells. “It seems like I excelled in the Army,” he said.
Cassen was attached to the First Infantry armor division. After his first duty in Vietnam, Cassen was ready to return home but was told by his captain that he was going but not home and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division on the Cambodian border.
Cassen was one of the first authorized to serve in Cambodia where his unit built a fire base at Katum. The Special Forces Camp was a former U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) base northeast of Tay Ninh in southern Vietnam. Bill served in North Vietnam near the Cambodian border. The base frequently received artillery and mortar fire from the Viet Cong and Peoples Army of Vietnam leading to it being nicknamed Kaboom.
Cassen was part of a twoman recon mission, selected because of his ability to shoot. During his time in
Vietnam, Cassen said he was scared but did what he had to do to survive. “Anybody who says they were not scared while in Vietnam, is crazy,” he said.
Continuing to look at military items of Bill, Cassen said “it hurts a lot.” He said his time in the military was one he thought would make him or break him. “Everything happens for a reason,” he said.
Why was the United States fighting in Vietnam and was the Vietnam War necessary? Cassen answers that question, saying man has been fighting throughout history. In Vietnam, there has been war since the 1930s. “We stepped in to stop communism,” stated Cassen.
“A lot of people hated what they were doing in Vietnam but in your body you have a feeling to want to serve your country,” he said. He believed that was how Bill felt, too. It’s been a long healing process for veterans of the Vietnam War and many remembered Bill on this special observance day made possible by the Seykora siblings of Bill.
Joe Wacek, a close friend of Bill’s, said he enlisted in the Army the same time as Bill, and both did basic training at the same time.
Wacek said there is not a day that goes by when he doesn’t think of his friend Bill. “This is a time of sharing remembrances and paying tribute to the short life he had,” Wacek commented. Following a short flag ceremony, veterans had a chance to reacquaint with old friends. “Mike, you old son of a gun, you’re still as ugly,” Wacek teased Cassen.
It was 50 years ago when William J. Seykora left this Earth but it seemed just like yesterday as his family and friends wrapped arms around one another once again.