BURMA FILE

Warriors Publishing Group
11 min readMay 28, 2023

by Dale Dye

“Dale Dye uses words to paint a cinematic landscape. Shake Davis, a larger-than-life character, also possesses a realistic humanity and compassion that is incredibly relatable. It is an incredible read.”
— Keifer Sutherland, Actor, 24

Excerpted from Burma File (Shake Davis Series #10)

Lockhart, Texas

It was over at 0545. He left the bedside where he’d been parked through the night and walked out onto the widow’s walk where they’d spent early hours watching so many flamingo-pink tangerine-orange Texas sunrises. One of those uniquely colorful dawns was just breaking, but there was no joy in this one, no sense of a new beginning. There was only grief, a sense that life as he’d come to know and love it was ended.

She’d gone quietly. No fuss and drama to it. Just a slow halt to her breathing. He didn’t bother to call to Dr. Wheeler, who was puttering around with the coffee maker in the kitchen downstairs. The doc said it was imminent. She was right. Just as she’d been accurate in predicting that this was likely to be Chan’s last day after six long months of battling an aggressive and lethal cancer. Chan had personally made all the arrangements in meticulous detail during that time. Arrangements would shift to autopilot soon as Shake made the first call on her list.

He’d tried to lend a hand with the planning at first, but it was so depressing that he’d eventually left it to her. And while she phoned around town or talked to friends and rela-tives, he walked to the shady spot on the property where just two months earlier they’d dealt with another tragic loss. She’d wanted something simpler for the big dog’s gravesite, but he’d insisted their beloved Bear be memorialized like a fallen soldier with a miniature rifle he’d carved stuck in the ground and bearing the set of dog tags he’d had made for him.

The doctor silently padded by him on the way up as Shake Davis descended the stairs. In a day or two, the old house would be crowded with friends and mourners remem-bering the life and times of Chan Dwyer Davis. But for at least a few minutes on this day, her husband wanted to phys-ically be as alone as he felt. He walked down the slope to-ward the creek and collapsed under the tall pecan tree that shaded Bear’s grave. He’d seen death in all its forms over a lifetime of service in and out of uniform and learned to deal with it. Inside him somewhere was a sort of mental cave, a private little Golgotha where the rock was only rolled away when he allowed it. But this was different. There was no hid-ing from this pain, no stiff upper lip, none of the continue-the-march stoicism he’d always used to mask his emotions. He reached out and laid a hand on the big dog’s marker.

“She’s gone, boy. And I think maybe I am too.”

Moei River, Thailand/Myanmar Border Region

They found the old man clinging to a mossy log, afloat but barely alive. Two fishermen, seining for perch where the river ran wide and deep north of the town, hauled the wizened elder into their boat and motored for the refugee camp to the south. He was in rough shape, dehydrated with running sores on his arms and legs. And not all the damage had been done by the jungle. It looked to them as if the old man had been severely beaten, probably with bamboo canes, likely the handwork of the Tatmadaw, My-anmar’s corrupt military. Or perhaps one of the bandit gangs that waged constant battles for turf and cross-border drug smuggling routes. They didn’t need to question the man and he could not have answered if they did. The only question that needed an immediate answer was whether he would live long enough to reach medical help.

He was hardly the first refugee that they’d encountered and helped to escape a brutal subsistence across the river in Myanmar. The fishermen didn’t understand the politics involved but they knew desperation when they saw it and they’d seen plenty of it among the wounded, sick and brutal-ized people who flocked to the riverbanks to escape into Thailand. The way of the Buddha emphasized compassion and the fishermen could see from the amulet on a leather cord around the old man’s scrawny neck that he was a fol-lower of the path. If he lived, the old man would join thou-sands of others all along the border who lived homeless and hopeless lives depending on the tender mercies of various aid organizations.

A delivery truck driver they flagged down on the road leading south to Mae Sot gave them a ride to the teeming camp and his rescuers carried the old man, flopping between them like a deboned perch, toward a large clapboard structure marked with a red cross. Chesa Ngo rushed to help when the patient was carried in for treatment. As soon as she had cleaned up some of the filth on his face and body, she recognized the old man. He was from her village, an elder and close friend of her father’s. When Chesa was a teenager, and her sister Endra was just a baby, the old man would enchant them for hours, telling stories about trips to famous stupas and educating the girls about Nat spirits that lived in the jungle.

“He’s a tough old bird.” The doctor on duty, a jaded realist volunteer from Australia, finished his initial examination and prescribed a rehydration regimen plus broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment. “Bit of a waste given his age, but I reckon we should do what we can after what he’s been through. I’ll look in on him tomorrow…if he survives the night.”

Chesa was left to clean and treat the wounds, scrapes, cuts, and abrasions that covered the old man’s body. She silently prayed for him to live so that she could get some news of her family. It had been nearly two years since she spoke with her sister, an unexpected international call on a borrowed cell phone. Since then, Chesa heard nothing but worrisome reports of continued violence by roving bandit gangs and brutal raids by the Tatmadaw attempting to stamp them out of Karen tribal territories. Other refugees reported that her village was lately unmolested. But it’s Myanmar. And that means it is only a matter of time.

Chesa Ngo, a registered nurse working for the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, spent the rest of the day recalling myths of her childhood, asking the old man’s Nat spirits to intercede in his recovery. She knew it was silly, but she felt better for doing it. After dinner she called her husband, who was in Bangkok on a business errand, to tell him about the old man and her hopes that he’d have information about her family when he was recovered enough to speak. Walter was skeptical and cautioned her once again about getting overly involved in problems she could not solve.

And then she went down to the river the Thai’s called Moei and her people knew as Thaung Yi. The jungle was dark and impenetrable along this stretch of the water. She knew from her childhood that the jungle hid all sorts of dan-gers. Lots of jungle predators these days were human. She ached to get her family out of Myanmar. His parents would probably refuse. They were old fashioned, hard-headed, and yet remained optimistic that things would get better in their native lands. Her sister was another story. Endra deserved a chance like her older sister got years ago.

She understood that what she and others were doing for refugees here in Thailand was not nearly enough and likely would never be unless the situation in Myanmar’s tribal lands changed radically. Her husband and others poured money into the effort, but that largess barely covered neces-sities for the flood of people who crossed the border every day. Here at Mae Sot, Walter’s generosity kept Thai or Burmese staff paid, but they mostly did maintenance or other scut jobs. Any necessary medical procedures — and there were plenty of those every day among the refugees — had to be performed by a handful of qualified doctors or nurses on staff at Mae Sot. And there were never enough of those, most of them here on short-term volunteer assignments.

It was often makeshift cut-and-paste medicine, constantly short of everything but sick or injured patients, but the refugees in this camp were mostly her people. Chesa was a Karen, the only one she knew that managed to escape village life. And there was a lot of blind luck involved in that, some of it due to international aid organizations who recognized an exceptional child. Or missionaries who funded her opportunities when they came.

And Chesa counted herself lucky to have met Walter Ngo when she was studying in America. Walter was Vietnamese born and had an abiding interest in his native land, even if it was only economic these days. He became a very rich and successful man over the years. There was not much he could do personally for the citizens of his native country, so Walter threw money at it. He was a businessman first and only a grudging part-time philanthropist, so he made huge investments in Vietnam through his Lancer Technologies empire which produced videogames and other consumer technologies with native Vietnamese labor and skill.

Myanmar was a different story and a much more personal one for Chesa. Her people needed more than jobs or a boost to the national economy. They needed help just to survive, to escape the brutality and corruption that tainted life for everyone in Myanmar outside a small circle of tycoons and tyrants in Yangon. And that would take more than her time and Walter’s money.

It was two days before the old man was recovered enough to speak. Chesa was smiling brightly when she brought him soup and tea, anxious to pump him for information. He began to weep as soon as she sat down beside his cot. “My girl, my little girl,” he groaned with tears streaming down his face. “You must be brave. The news from our home is terrible…”

Chesa sat quietly as the old man told his story, her stomach churning and her throat constricted, trying to hold back her own tears. About a week ago — the old man wasn’t sure about date and times — a band of cutthroats had surrounded the village. They were looking for young women to kidnap and sell to brokers who procured Bamar women to work in Thailand’s brothels and bars. Endra, now a beautiful and blossoming teenager, and three other young village women were prime targets. Chesa’s parents tried to fight back to protect Endra. It was the last act of parental courage they performed. A bandit killed them both with his machete. No one else in the village was willing to challenge the fate of the kidnaped women after that. The bandits took the women along with anything else they fancied. The old man followed for a day, looking for a way to rescue the village women. Perhaps he would find a Tatmadaw or police unit that he could trust. But he saw no one in authority while following the bandits. They caught him stalking their camp one night and beat him severely, leaving him for dead when they departed heading for the Thai border at dawn. There was some more mumbling, mostly about how the old man made his way to the river and rescue, but Chesa barely heard any of that.

When she couldn’t bear any more, she sat and sobbed silently. The old man tried to comfort her with talk of karma and fate, but Chesa Ngo had lived too long among Americans who believed fate was something that could be adjusted, altered, or avoided with a lot of effort and a little luck. Her mother and father were gone, the old man had seen them hacked to death with his own eyes, but Endra was probably still alive. She was too valuable for the bandits to sacrifice. That gave Chesa some hope and a goal. She started working on it immediately. She called Walter in Bangkok and told him the story and her plan to cross into Myanmar and pick up her sister’s trail. If she hurried and brought along a few of the tough men available in the Mae Sot camp, she might be able to rescue Endra before her sister was sold into a sordid existence that would ruin her life.

Walter Ngo was adamant and forbid her to cross the border. As soon as he wrapped up his affairs in Bangkok, he promised to fly to Yangon and spend whatever was necessary to mount an official search. He’d get the authorities on the case no matter what it cost. That was a good plan for Walter who still believed in things like law, order, and justice. Walter didn’t understand that sex trafficking was so pervasive in many areas of Myanmar, that the authorities tended to ignore it, especially if there was profit in it for them — and there usually was.

He didn’t know what his wife knew about the brutal sex trade. He didn’t frequent the Thai bars, clubs, and brothels filled with exploited Burmese women who had no future beyond the next trick or the next dose of drugs that kept many of them chained beyond any hope of a normal life. Walter’s money wouldn’t buy much more than platitudes and promises in Yangon. If Endra was to be saved, it required quick and effective action.

Chesa had some personal cash, funds she squirrelled away for certain things she needed or wanted without having to ask Walter. That bought her three guides from among a raft of ready volunteers at Mae Sot. She’d picked what she thought were the most capable of the lot. Two because they were former Tatmadaw soldiers and had guns hidden in the jungle. One because he had a semi-reliable truck and claimed he knew most of the trafficker’s routes from personal experience.

They’d been on a series of rutted, overgrown back roads for just two days when the ambush hit them near the Irra-waddy River. Two of her escorts were killed without ever firing a shot from their weapons. The third man disappeared into the jungle chased by bandits. She was spared mainly be-cause she was sleeping in the bed of the truck when the bandits struck. And because they quickly discovered they had another female for the auction block.

A one-eyed man seemed to be the leader of the bandits. She heard him called Pak by several of the men who all seemed to have some sort of military organization. He took Chesa Ngo’s cell phone and passport before his men shoved her away from the crippled truck and marched her along a jungle path that led to a rough bamboo enclosure. There were five captive women inside the rickety enclosure, all starving and half-naked.

One of them was Chesa’s sister.

About the Author: Dale Dye is a Marine officer who rose through the ranks to retire as a Captain after 21 years of service in war and peace. He is a distinguished graduate of Missouri Military Academy who enlisted in the United States Marine Corps shortly after graduation. Sent to war in Southeast Asia, he served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1967 through 1970, surviving 31 major combat operations.Appointed a Warrant Officer in 1976, he later convert-ed his commission and was a Captain when he deployed to Beirut, Lebanon with the Multinational Force in 1982–83. He served in a variety of assignments around the world and along the way attained a degree in English Literature from the University of Maryland.

Following retirement from active duty in 1984, he spent time in Central America, reporting and training troops for guerrilla warfare in El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica.Upset with Hollywood’s treatment of the American military, he went to Hollywood and established Warriors Inc., the preeminent military training and advisory service to the entertainment industry. He has worked on more than 50 movies and TV shows including several Academy Award and Emmy winning productions. He is a novelist, actor, director, and show-business innovator who now lives happily in Lockhart, Texas with Julia and Molly — spouse and dog respectively. He keeps trying unsuccessfully to retire.

Pre-order Burma File HERE.

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