David Sabben (Australian Army), Platoon Commander

Running time
2 min 17 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs

As a young man, Dave Sabben commanded an infantry platoon in Vietnam.


At the age of 21, Dave Sabben was a platoon commander.

"The level of our training, and not only mine but of everyone, was of such a good standard that when action was required we slipped into it, and certainly myself I slipped into it very easily. I was able to focus on the things that I needed to focus on. Your environment closes around you and nothing, in my experience, nothing else matters.

Particularly as an officer. This is what I need to know. I need to know where my troops are. I need to know where the enemy is. I don't need to know how scared I am. I don't need to know that I need a drink of water or something. I'm totally focused on what I need here. I've got my map. I've got my radio. I've got my weapon if I need to fire it."

Dave served with distinction, but the loss of his men was always a terrible blow.

"You don't believe that it's happening. You can see a soldier lying there and there's a flinch and they go slack and that's how most soldiers are wounded. It's not a hysterical flinging of the arms in the air and a double somersault backwards; it's not like that at all. If he's standing up it's like his legs are just cut out from under him. And it doesn't matter whether you knew him or not.

In that split second of witnessing that, you have an image in your head. That guy, he will never hold his kids on his lap. He'll never have a Sunday lunch with mum and dad again. You just sense the loss.

It's been said, probably by someone much wiser than me, that the soldiers win the battles but the politicians win the wars or lose the wars and Vietnam was no different. The politicians sent the soldiers in. We were not very well equipped. We were not very well supported. We won the battles. We lost the war."

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