Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Documentary Film,Film Festivals,Film Reviews,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

November 5, 2015

What’s Happened and What’s Up!

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It was a grand day in San Diego when BRAVO! was awarded the prize for Best Documentary Feature at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Co-producers Ken and Betty Rodgers were joined by Bravo Skipper Ken Pipes, his wife Sharon and their family Tim, Sandra, and Connor at the festival for an afternoon screening of BRAVO! before a full theater at San Diego’s UltraStar Mission Valley Hazard Center. Hosted by San Diego newsman and celebrity Bob Lawrence, a Q&A session followed the film. The Rodgers and Skipper Pipes were joined on the panel by Bill Rider of American Combat Veterans of War. Bill was with the 1st Battalion 9th Marines at Khe Sanh and has been a great supporter of the film. During the Q&A, Skipper Pipes delivered a stirring speech about war, memory, family and the events at Khe Sanh.

This award would never have happened had not Tim and Sandra Pipes noticed that the film fest was coming up. They gave Skipper Pipes and Sharon a heads-up and we submitted and are grateful that all the work over the years by all the folks who have labored on this film and all the folks who have supported us financially or otherwise has finally found recognition in the film community.

This entire experience couldn’t have been more appropriate, because San Diego County played a significant part in the story of Bravo Company. First of all, every man in the film deployed to Vietnam from there. It is also the home of the Pipes family, some of the men in the film lived in or were stationed in San Diego County after their service in Vietnam and some of the musical sound track was composed and performed there by the late Harry Partch. What a wonderful Welcome Home.

At the G I Film Festival San Diego: Left to right: Tim Lucey, Skipper Ken Pipes, Sharon Pipes, Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

At the G I Film Festival San Diego: Left to right: Tim Lucey, Skipper Ken Pipes, Sharon Pipes, Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The Film Consortium San Diego and KPBS, the local PBS station in San Diego County, in association with the GI Film Festival in Washington, DC, were the folks who put on the festival, and we wish to thank them for allowing BRAVO! a place of honor. Special thanks to Jodi Cilley of the Film Consortium and KPBS’ Claudine Casillas and Carla Conner for all their help.

A lot of old and new friends met us at the event and we had a great time visiting with them before and after the screening.

We enjoyed viewing some fine films concerning a host of topics about veteran and military life. The films were both short and long, documentary and feature.

BRAVO! friend John Giannini, a Vietnam Veteran and a filmmaker, had three films in the festival. His film about his father, ALDO GIANNINI – SERGEANT – UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS 1943-1946, was awarded the prize for Best Documentary Short. Congratulations, John! You can find out more about John and his films here.

You can find out more about the events at the GI Film Festival San Diego here. Concerning the photo gallery, you’ll find BRAVO! folks in the two Sunday albums.

While BRAVO! was screening at the GI Film Festival it was also screening in Emmett, Idaho, as a benefit for Brave Hearts Idaho. Frontier Cinema of Emmett hosted two screenings with all proceeds going to help fund programs for Idaho veterans who are experiencing financial crises. Thanks to Brave Hearts’ Jim Kern, Heather Paredes of the Eagle Field of Honor, and Frontier Cinema’s Roy Dransfield for all their hard work on these screenings. You can find out more about Brave Hearts Idaho here.

BRAVO! will be shown on the campus of Boise State University on Veterans Day, November 11, 2015. The event begins at 6;30 PM in the Jordan Ballroom in the Student Union Building and will be followed by a discussion with a panel of combat veterans. The screening will be part of Boise State University’s Veterans Week celebration. You can find out more about the week’s events here, and we hope to see you there. Parking for this event is free in the Lincoln Parking Garage on the campus. There will be a person at the Lincoln Parking Garage parking kiosk who will give you the parking code or if you would rather get the code from us, please send along an e-mail to the e-mail account associated with this blog.

The award for Best Documentary Feature at the G I Film Festival San Diego. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The award for Best Documentary Feature at the G I Film Festival San Diego. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

On November 21, 2015, BRAVO! will be screened at the prestigious Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, California, as part of the events surrounding the library’s hosting of the Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of The Vietnam Memorial. The film and related events in Simi Valley can be found here.

On the movie review front BRAVO! just received a great review from THE BOISE WEEKLY’S George Prentice. You can read George’s piece here.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter, spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Film Festivals,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

October 12, 2015

The Humanities and the War in Vietnam

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History, political science, anthropology, psychology, law, sociology, music, literature, film! Plus the Vietnam War!

Last week Betty and I had the immense pleasure of participating in a symposium on the Vietnam War hosted by Dr. Russ Tremayne and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, Idaho, made possible in part by the Idaho Humanities Council.

The symposium was a two-day affair with presentations on the history of the cold war by Dr. Curtis Eaton of the College of Southern Idaho, on the genesis of the Vietnam War by Dr. Tremayne, on the constitutionality of the war itself presented by Dr. David Adler of Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public Policy, on the relationship between Idaho Senator Frank Church and President Lyndon B. Johnson and the conduct of the war by Professor Steven Shaw of Northern Nazarene University , on protest music popular during the Vietnam conflict by Tony Mannen of College of Southern Idaho, and on the Kent State incident where members of the Ohio National Guard shot and killed civilians at a war protest presented by Dr. Ron Hatzenbuehler of Idaho State University. All of this took place on Day One of the symposium.

Like many veterans of the Vietnam war, or veterans of any war, my experiences in war were visceral: fear, elation, despair, sadness, comradeship; things measured in the pulse beneath the skin on your wrist, the flow of blood hammering through your arteries, the swoop of exultation that erupts from your guts and zooms through the top of your head.

So I was fascinated, yes, even fetched by having my experiences, my emotions, in some manner dissected on a critical, analytical level that came at me from a number of differing disciplines collectively called the humanities.

As I sat there that first day, I thought the only thing missing was the personal aspect of the war. We heard about strategy and legality and history and big, sweeping concepts, but how did any of that speak to the intensely personal events of the war, the death, the trauma, the fear?

The Herrett Center at College of Southern Idaho, site of the symposium on the Vietnam War.

The Herrett Center at College of Southern Idaho, site of the symposium on the Vietnam War.

Then on Day Two, we got it, beginning with a screening of BRAVO! followed by a discussion of the war and its effects on men and women who fought it. And that began a melding of the academic with the visceral, the big picture with the personal, the disciplines of humanities study with the lives of the warriors who survived and those who didn’t.

And that combination, that melding, worked well, and I think it did because film and art (and film is an art), are also disciplines of the humanities that give us a different look at what happened.

The audience was made up of teachers and students and professors and veterans, and this fine mix of folks led to a heady discussion of the war as depicted in the film.

The screening of BRAVO! was followed by a presentation by Shawn Wong on how to teach soldiers to tell their stories. Wong is a novelist and professor of English at the University of Washington. He, along with actor Tom Skerritt, is instrumental in the Red Badge Project, an organization that encourages veterans to write their war experiences. You can find out more about Shawn Wong here and the Red Badge Project here.

The final presentation was made by Iraq War veteran and novelist David Abrams, author of the acclaimed novel FOBBIT, on how the veteran might go about telling his/her war story. You can find out more about David Abrams here.

So the first day was academic and the second was about story…personal story.

It was a heady experience for Betty and me to participate in such a comprehensive and stimulating look at my war.

Thanks much to Dr. Tremayne and his cohorts, professors Shilo Smith and Matt Reynolds. Thanks too, to the Idaho Humanities Council for their part in making this event happen.

On the screening front, check out these three important events! BRAVO! will be screened at the ninety-nine-years-young Frontier Cinema at 127 W. Main Street in Emmett, Idaho, at 3:00 and 6:00 PM on October 18, 2015. Advance tickets are $8 per person by calling (208) 867-9277, or $10 at the door. Seating is limited. All proceeds will go to Brave Hearts of Idaho, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that helps veterans dealing with financial crises.

Also on October 18, BRAVO! will be screened as part of the GI Film Festival San Diego at 12:30 PM. The location is the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center. Admission is $10 general admission and $8 for veterans and active duty military. We are very proud to announce that BRAVO! has been nominated for Best Feature Documentary at this event. Come meet Bravo Company’s commanding officer, Ken Pipes.

On Veterans Day, November 11, 2015, BRAVO! will be shown on the campus of Boise State University as part of the week long celebration of veterans sponsored jointly by Omega Delta Sigma, the veterans fraternity at Boise State, and the university’s Veterans Services Office. The screening will be held in the Jordan Ballroom of the Student Union Building at 6:30 PM and admission is free to the public. There will be a panel discussion with veterans of both the Vietnam War and the Middle East conflicts following the screening. Parking will be available.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall, winter, or spring, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Film Festivals,Other Musings

September 24, 2015

BRAVO! Accepted into the G I Film Festival San Diego

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We have great news to announce! BRAVO! has been accepted in the inaugural GI Film Festival San Diego! Thanks to the Skipper (Ken Pipes) and his son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Sandra, we learned about this film festival and sent in our application. Lo and behold, we are in and scheduled with a prime time slot! What makes us happiest about this is that it couldn’t be more appropriate for BRAVO!’s first film festival, since every man in the film went to Camp Pendleton (San Diego County) for staging to go to Vietnam. San Diego County is where the story begins. And it’s the home of Bravo Company’s illustrious commander. Perfect.


Ken and I will be driving to San Diego for the event. We would love it if each and every one of you could be there, too, but we know some of you cannot. If you ARE able to join us, we’d love to visit with you.

In order to get the attention of folks who could help BRAVO! find a national audience, the most important thing we can do right now is sell out the theater. This gets their attention. There are 200 seats, and anything you can do to help would be deeply appreciated.

BRAVO! will be shown at 12:30 PM on Sunday, October 18. The theater is located very near where last year’s Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion was held. It is located off the 163 freeway in the bottom section of the Hazard Center just off Friars Rd. (7510 Hazard Center Drive, San Diego, CA 92108.)


Here is the link to purchase tickets. There is a discount for veterans and military, as well as members of KPBS public television. Scroll down to BRAVO!, and we encourage you to take a look at the rest of the festival, too.

We will be creating a Facebook “event” which you are welcome to “share.” It’s a great way to help get the word out.

The best part of this wonderful news is that it means more and more people will see and be aware of this story.

A heartfelt thank you to each one of you, in the film or not, for your interest, participation and encouragement in this journey. It has meant everything to us.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 31, 2015

Vietnam in the Battlefield of Memory

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In the 1960s and 1970s,there was the Cold War

There was the Vietnam War

And there were the wars we fought at home.

The older I get the more I find myself seeing multiple sides of the same issue. I am not sure whether that arises from age, education or what.

For instance, I recently ran across a long magazine article in THE NATION titled “Vietnam in the Battlefield of Memory,” written by Jon Wiener who is a professor of history in the University of California system.

The article basically talks about how, originally, the Department of Defense set out to have the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War honor, for the most part,—through events signifying the war’s history as well as educational materials on the conflict—the sacrifice and valor of Vietnam veterans.

A group of individuals who participated in the anti-war events of the 60s and early 70s protested the DOD’s approach to remembering the war and insisted that the memorial should include a “full and fair reflection of the issues that divided our county.” Or what I like to call the war at home. The activists’ approach to remembering Vietnam would include information on the protests and activities of the anti-war movement and less veneration of the war itself.

I do not, in this blog, wish to get tangled up in a rehash of whether the war was right or wrong. Whether the conflict was good or bad often depends on one’s point of view. A lot of my friends and fellow veterans, some who have been ardent supporters of our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, feel that the war was an honorable endeavor and that the results were, among a number of factors, caused by a lack of intestinal fortitude in those individuals here at home who were protesting against the war, as well as the politicians who eventually agreed with the need to vacate Vietnam.

Conversely, a lot of my friends, a few who are veterans, were involved in the anti-war movement and feel that our efforts in Southeast Asia were a disaster. I would add that many of those folks have also been great supporters of BRAVO!.

Jon Wiener’s article points out that after meeting with the anti-war individuals, the Pentagon agreed to scale back its activities on behalf of the 50th anniversary. I suppose this came about as a result of the DOD not wanting to be forced into appearing to agree with the anti-war folks and spending a lot of time and money rehashing all the internal anti-war trauma of the 1960s.

Anti-war demonstration, 1968.

Anti-war demonstration, 1968.

Some anti-war activists, after all these years, still think the war was a mistake, killed millions of Southeast Asians, not to mention all of the Americans killed and wounded. Not only was the war a serious mistake, they believe, but we lost.

What’s more interesting to me is that even after fifty years, we are still fighting the war at home. We are almost allies with the Vietnamese, do massive amounts of business with Communist China, and are engaged with Socialist Russia. We are at some level of peace with these former enemies, yet at home we are still battling the Vietnam War.

Is this unusual? Are we still fighting World War I, World War II, Korea?

I don’t think we are still fighting those conflicts in our aggregate American memory, but as I think about it, we may still be battling over the outcome of the Civil War.

My great-great grandfather and my great-grandfather and a lot of other distant relatives of mine marched up out of Texas and Mississippi and Arkansas and fought for the Confederacy. I recall sitting around the house listening to my sister and mother wrangle about the reasons for the war, the underlying ethical notions, the outcome.

Since we were descended from a Reb clan, I often heard excuses for stuff that maybe we shouldn’t have made excuses for, like slavery and certain aspects states’ rights and the bitter southern reaction to the reconstruction era of 1865-1877.

A lot of the arguments I heard in the 1950s are still in play in 2015 and I think the possibility that we are still battling the Civil War, or our collective memory of it, means that some of those issues I heard around the dinner table are still unresolved.

And that leads me to wonder if one of the reasons we are still fighting the Vietnam conflict is because the underlying issues—or at least what we think they were or what we remember—aren’t really a battle over something deeper, something political and philosophical.

Part of my conundrum is that I can see both sides of the different arguments and I can even agree with some of the tenets put forth on both sides. And not just in terms of our involvement in Southeast Asia, but our involvement in the Middle East and farther away in time, the Civil War.

Back to the Vietnam War; if you are a person who believes that the Vietnam War was a part of the larger scheme of things called the Cold War, then it’s quite possible you tend to think that the Vietnam War was an integral part of the ultimate destabilization of the Soviet Union and in that regards a victory.

If you are a person who fought in Vietnam, you probably think, for the most part, that what you did was an honorable sacrifice for your country.

And if you are anti-war, you probably still think that the war was a horrible mistake that killed millions and was not a victory.

These criteria are not mutually exclusive, of course, because you might be a Vietnam vet who feels his service was honorable and a great sacrifice, personally, while still feeling the war was a huge mistake.

Confederate dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1962. Civil War.

Confederate dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1962. Civil War.

And that leads me to think about how these arguments, philosophically and politically, tend to forget that these things happen to people and whether the war was right or wrong, the fact remains that men and women and children on both sides died, were wounded, were maimed, found themselves unable to view life as they had before the experience. And I think that’s what matters most to me.

Yet the war at home lives on and probably will until everybody who was old enough to have an opinion about it has passed on. But then again, maybe it will refuse to die, like the Civil War, and a hundred years from now we will still be fighting the Vietnam War in the battlefields of memory.

If you would like to read Wiener’s entire piece in THE NATION, you can find it at For Vietnam veterans, a caveat, this article may get your hackles up.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town in fall, winter, or spring, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 5, 2015

On Drones, Ghosts, Facebook and the O-2 Skymaster

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I recently ran onto a spoof written last summer that satirized both Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and Google. In the article, Zuckerberg threatened to have Facebook shoot down all of Google’s drones. The piece, written by NEW YORKER satirist Andy Borowitz (you can read the entire Borowitz piece here), makes fun of the two gigantic social media and Internet companies, but the mention of drones as weapons owned by companies here in the United States got me to thinking about the insertion of drones into our everyday lives, not only as weapons but as tools for more peaceful tasks.

Both governments and businesses are using drones for a number of things. Last fall, while Betty and I traveled in the central California oil patch around Taft, we ran upon a drone hovering about forty feet in the air above the highway. I suspect that drone’s job was (or is) to provide security for the oil fields lining the road that runs north to south.

I had never seen a drone before, that I know of, but I have been paying attention to them a lot more now. As a filmmaker, I could buy one that would allow us to shoot movie footage from an aerial point of view. A quick look at a website curated by someone with the handle, “Droneguy,” lists a whole array of drones available for filmmakers to use. I suppose folks with other goals besides filmmaking might be interested in drones and the ability they allow a user to watch, record, spy. You can get a look at some of these drones at Droneguy’s site here.

It’s kind of creepy thinking about how your neighbor could buy a drone, attach a camera to it and watch what you or anyone else is doing. And not just watching. A few weeks back, some kid apparently attached a gun to a drone, so the potential of attack and defense by individuals and organizations other than the military are very possible.

When I think of drones as weapons, I think about twenty-year-old kids sitting in a command center somewhere in Colorado directing drones to exterminate terrorists in Somalia and Pakistan and Yemen. I imagine those twenty-year-old kids are also directing their drones to act as reconnaissance assets that can help the troops in the field.

Air Force photo of a drone.

Air Force photo of a drone.

We’ve come a long way in the last forty-seven years with the airborne tools we use to help the ground-pounders locate the enemy.

Around Khe Sanh in 1967 and 1968, long before drones, it wasn’t that unusual to see small, manned, fixed wing, propeller driven aircraft fly over the bush looking for enemy movement. One type of plane that operated out of Khe Sanh was the United States Air Force’s O-2A. According to Wikipedia, (, this plane was made by Cessna and owned the moniker, “Skymaster.” The plane was also known as “Oscar Deuce” or “The Duck.”

On January 17, 1968, four days before the Siege of Khe Sanh officially began, the men of Bravo Company, 1/26, watched as one of these Skymasters roared down the runway of the airstrip in an easterly direction, lifted off, seemed to stall and then tumbled out of the sky.

At the time, I recall it reminding me of hunting trips back home in southern Arizona and the way a quail would tumble out of the sky and then crash after I shot it with my shotgun.

The Skymaster fell and slammed into the red mud and dirt right out in front of our position. When I say, “our,” I mean Second Platoon, Bravo Company’s position.

It’s been over forty-seven years since that event and my memory may have veered a bit or grown a tad rusty, but as I recall that day, right after the plane came down, some of us, including me, ran out through the gate in the concertina barriers and the wire traps we had stretched across the terrain. We wanted to see if we could help the pilot.

I remember seeing two men inside. They frantically screamed at us but what they yelled I don’t recall. Maybe we couldn’t hear the particulars although I guarantee you we understood the gist of the situation.

The plane was smoking and burning and it must have been less than a minute when ammunition inside began cooking off from the heat. I don’t know if they were pistol rounds or rifle rounds or something larger, but as the fire grew and the heat burned our faces, we could hear the report of those cook-offs.

There were four or five of us Marines out there trying to liberate those men from that burning death trap. In my recollection two men in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, were part of the rescue party. Those two Marines were Michael E. O’Hara and the late Dan Horton.

But the burning Oscar Deuce was too hot, and we couldn’t get close enough to the doors to open them and then someone, maybe our platoon commander Lieutenant John Dillon, maybe the platoon sergeant Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, or maybe both came and yanked us away from the heat and the cooking off rounds and the imminent threat of that plane exploding.

For years, I’ve been haunted by the image of a man’s face staring at me from behind a veil of smoke, a window, the face screaming, but very little sound in my ears.

We didn’t get those men out and they burned to death. As to the cause, the verdict is mixed. One report indicated the downing of the Skymaster was due to enemy fire, while another said the debacle was not the result of enemy fire.

I don’t recall hearing any small arms fire as the plane lifted off, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. To me, what matters a whole lot more than what caused that plane to go down was the fact that two men died in there, two men whom we could see and hear and could not save. Two men with families and friends were not going home except in a black body bag. And we who witnessed the event are left with the detritus of the memories.

Air Force photo of a Cessna O-2A.

Air Force photo of a Cessna O-2A.

Those two men were the pilot, Air Force Captain Sam Beach, and an observer, Army Sergeant First Class Donald Chaney. You can read more about Sam Beach and Donald Chaney on the Virtual Wall at and

As I write this, I think that the use of drones as a way to spot the enemy might be an improvement over manned aircraft. If that vehicle had been a drone, then I wouldn’t have those memories haunting me, those voices yelling through the smoke, the ghost of that horrified face looking at me through the Skymaster’s windshield and there would be two less names on The Wall.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town in late summer, fall, or winter, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

July 29, 2015

BRAVO! at the Northgate

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Earlier this month, BRAVO! was treated to some pretty special attention in Idaho. Filmmakers Betty and Ken Rodgers were the guests of Maggie O’Mara of Idaho’s KTVB Channel 7, the NBC affiliate in the southwestern part of the state. Maggie interviewed both Betty and Ken, gave them the distinction of Seven’s Heroes, and produced a short piece about the making of BRAVO!.

Later in the week, the Rodgers went on live TV with KTVB’s Carolyn Holly in a segment that included the interview with Maggie. Carolyn wanted to talk about the film, the Vietnam War and about a screening of BRAVO! that occurred at Boise’s Northgate Reel Theater on July 2, 2015. You can see the 3-minute news clip here.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers preparing for interview at Boise's KTVB.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers preparing for interview at Boise’s KTVB.

The screening at Northgate was a fundraiser for Eagle, Idaho’s FIELD OF HONOR and was attended by one hundred filmgoers.

Eagle’s FIELD OF HONOR is a living tribute, flying six hundred American flags to “show appreciation to U.S. military personnel, including our veterans, who defend our freedoms and preserve the country’s safety.” The annual celebration begins on Armed Forces Day and runs through Memorial Day weekend. You can find out more about the Eagle Field of Honor here.

The BRAVO! crew really enjoyed working with Field of Honor organizers Heather Paredes and Kathy Coburn. We met a lot of great folks at the July 2nd screening, and enjoyed visiting with BRAVO! supporters young and old.

Left to right: The Eagle Field of Honor's Heather Paredes and BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers at the screening of BRAVO! at Boise's Northgate Reel Theaters.

Left to right: The Eagle Field of Honor’s Heather Paredes and BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers at the screening of BRAVO! at Boise’s Northgate Reel Theaters.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town in late summer, fall, or winter, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

America's Middle East Conflicts,Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

June 26, 2015

On Reverence for the Old Breed

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I recently had a conversation with a veteran of the Middle East conflicts about the status of veterans in our country today. This young man is someone for whom I hold a ton of respect, someone who owns the permanent wounds, both physical and mental, as a result of his tours of combat duty.

In effect—and I am paraphrasing here—he told me that today’s veterans have it easy compared to what happened to Vietnam vets, especially when we, Vietnam vets, came home from our war. I am not sure that we had it any more difficult in Vietnam than the troops who have been battling in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I didn’t disagree or agree with him.

Several days later, as I left the house to go on a walk, I considered the idea that we had it worse than the current vets. In terms of our acceptance by the public back home and the recognition that PTSD and TBI are legitimate issues, he is probably right. But that is all ancient history, so to speak.

As I strode beneath the ash trees and the maples and the crabapples and heard the warning cries of the black-capped chickadees, I thought about war and veterans. That led me to consider the wars of the last one-hundred years: World War I, the Banana Wars as Marine Lieutenant General Smedley Butler called them, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I and II, Afghanistan and all the other scrapes and skirmishes that have involved the United States’ military.

That led me to think about how I felt, when I was in the Marine Corps, about the veterans of previous conflicts.

Before pursuing those thoughts, though, I admit to having spent a childhood surrounded by relatives, family friends and school teachers who were Marines. In 1950 one of my first cousins was killed at Chosin Reservoir in Korea. So I already held the idea of Marines in high regards.

Then in boot camp we were inundated with nightly doses of Marine Corps history: Presley O’Bannon, Dan Daly, Smedley Butler, John Basilone, Chesty Puller and other famous Marines. We heard about Belleau Wood and Guadalcanal. Our drill instructors uttered paeans to the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and their gripping heroic battle to stave off annihilation at the hands of the Chinese Army at Chosin Reservoir during the early days of the Korean War.

As I strode on down the walking trail ignoring the barks of neurotic Irish setters and aged Akitas, I recalled, in May of 1968, going to a special training session for riot control–yes we were training to control riots back in 1968. One of the trainers, a Master Gunnery Sergeant served with the 4th Marine Regiment—the China Marines—before World War II began for the United States. At the time he was old and I marveled that he was still in the Marines and I wondered what it was like to have been in China back then and supposed maybe he was with the units of the 4th Marines who were at Corregidor and the pursuant Bataan Death March. Thinking about those things gave me a sense of awe, that I was in the same location with a warrior who had been in places and combat that had reached almost mythological planes. Yes, I was at Khe Sanh, but Corregidor, Bataan?

Smedley Butler

Smedley Butler

Regardless of your feelings about war—hate it, love it—it happens to humans and as such, the total array of human emotion comes into play: love, hate, rage, cowardice, callousness, disdain, on and on and on. People go through horrible experiences and some act above and beyond and others dismally fail or fall short one day and triumph the next, and as they soar and/or fail, the environment that compels them is monstrous in ways that those who have not fought in battle cannot imagine. And I revered that Master Gunnery Sergeant for what I supposed he went through.

Similarly, later, when I was stationed at 36th Street Naval Station in San Diego, working in the Brig, one of our brig wardens was a Chief Warrant Officer, a weapons specialist known as a Gunner. I don’t recall his name but I can see him in my mind’s eye. Old, to me back then at the ripe old age of 23. The Gunner was quiet, not like I thought he ought to be, loud and commanding. If I recollect correctly, he had been with Chesty Puller at both Guadalcanal and Chosin Reservoir. I believe he was Chesty’s Sergeant Major at Chosin.

There I was, working with a man who’d been with Chesty, at two of the Marine Corps’ salient history-making battles. And I revered him so much that I didn’t ask him about all that history. I was reluctant to approach him. He may have felt about his experiences in those places like I felt about Khe Sanh and at that time I really didn’t want to talk about what happened at Khe Sanh.

I suspect that one of the reasons we were indoctrinated during boot camp on the heroics of past Marines was to perpetuate the mythology of the Corps, but it also was intended, in my opinion, as a possible way to stiffen our backbones should we, as Marines, and later as men, encounter the kind of horrible events that precipitated the actions that made Basilone and Butler and Chesty, and all the other Marines who are enshrined in the Corps’ pantheon of heroes, heroes.

Years after I left the Marine Corps, I ran into Marines who served after I did, and they told me that the Siege of Khe Sanh had already become memorialized in Marine Corps lore. They told me that when the Drill Instructors held their nightly historical indoctrination of recruits, Khe Sanh was spoken of with reverence and the men who fought there were heroes, too.

And as time goes on, I suppose, the men and women who served in Vietnam will be viewed in an even more heroic light as our stories continue to be told. Bravo Marines like the men in our film will be viewed as icons of heroism instead of the losers we were thought to be by so many of our fellow citizens back in the late 60s through the early 90s.

Newer waves of Marine veterans have emerged from combat in places like Beirut in 1982 and the Gulf War in the early 90s and of course, the Middle East wars of this century, and as the century rolls on, there will, unfortunately, be more wars in which we will undoubtedly fight, and as the years go on, those new Marines will hold the old ones in awe. And the mythology will be enriched and the list of heroes will grow. It won’t make any difference whether the wars are good or bad as judged later, the men who fight them will go on to endure nightmarish events that will automatically log them in the small brotherhood called Warrior.

Make no mistake, there will be wars. More wars in the Middle East as we deal with a resurgence of Islamic culture and there will be battles in Asia as those countries flex their muscles and who knows, Africa and South America and Europe. People say the Europeans are cured of the centuries of conflict that racked the continent, but folks die and the collective memory of World War I and World War II also loses the intimacy of horror that dies with the individuals who lived through those conflagrations. There will be war in Europe.

Chesty Puller

Chesty Puller

And we will be involved. Good war or bad war, we will have our young people involved, and as each generation of warrior grows older, they will become the new generation of the revered veterans.

My young friend and his fellow warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan will be known for fights in Fallujah and Ramadi and Sangin and Dehaneh. They will be revered. They will be called heroes. They won’t see themselves as such, but they will be remembered as heroes.

On July 2, 2015, at 7:00 PM, BRAVO! will be screened as a fundraiser for the Eagle Field of Honor in Eagle, Idaho. The screening will be at Northgate Reel Theater at 6950 West State Street in Boise. Tickets are $10.00 with all proceeds going to the Eagle Field of Honor. Sponsored by Lithia Ford of Boise. For more information contact Heather Paredes at or Betty Rodgers at Telephone: 208-861-7309 or 208-340-8324.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, or winter, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

June 3, 2015

On the Vietnam War and History Students at Boise High School

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Several weeks back, I spent a day screening segments of BRAVO! and talking about the Vietnam War and war in general with high school students in Mrs. Sandie Waters’ Boise High School history classes.

Over the years I have spoken with high school students about various subjects including creative writing, poetry and Vietnam, and except for one instance I have been impressed with the interest of the students in the subject matter discussed and in the reception they have afforded me.

In the last decade, public schools and schoolteachers have taken quite a rhetorical beating from large segments of the American public. The complaints I have heard run from no discipline in the schools, to no history being taught in the schools. It’s very common to hear from other Vietnam vets how the school systems in America don’t teach anything about Vietnam. Another common type of complaint runs around the notions that teachers are not motivated, aren’t knowledgeable about a particular subject matter and don’t seem to care whether or not they help students get educated. And kids have no respect for anything but what’s happening now. That’s another one I hear a lot.

Ken Rodgers speaks at Boise High School

Ken Rodgers speaks at Boise High School

I have been pondering this over the last year or two, this business of competence in the schoolroom. I was educated in a public school and my wife Betty was educated in a public school and I feel both of us are fairly cognizant of what goes on in the world. When I point that out to folks, some say, “Well, that was back when schools were run right.”

Two of my granddaughters have been or are now being educated in public schools and both of them are excellent students, and I think at least some of that excellence must reflect on both their teachers and their schools.

For the record, my experience with Mrs. Waters’ students was inspiring. They were prepared to ask great questions about BRAVO!, the Vietnam War, and war in a more general sense. The questions ran the gamut from specifics like, “What did you eat?” “What was the weather like?” “What were the people over there like?” “Were you frightened?”

We talked about weather and cobras and leeches and 782 gear and living with rats for bunker mates. We talked about the siege of Khe Sanh and about death and injury and corpsmen and the monsoon. We talked about incoming and fear and what it was like to return here and deal with public opinion in 1968. They were really interested in that. They knew quite a bit about the history of the war. They knew where Vietnam was on the map. Some of them have already signed up to go into the military and others plan to pursue military careers. One young man desires to be an interpreter in the United States Army. In concert with his plan, he is already learning to speak both German and Arabic in addition to his other studies.

Some of the kids in those classes probably have no plans to serve our country in a military uniform. I was lead to that conclusion based on some of the questions they asked. “What do you think about war?” “Were all the deaths in Vietnam worth the results?” “Do you think it right that we are fighting in the Middle East?” “Do you believe in war?”

As I fielded those questions I found the profundity of the queries to be troubling. I am a man who generally tries to keep his opinions about this kind of stuff to himself. I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation, whether to hem and haw or whether to leap right in.

I hate war. I told them that. I told them that I love peace more than almost anybody. I told them that my job in Vietnam was search and destroy; to kill people. But I also told them that history is replete with humans killing each other and over the long run of millennia, most societies engage in war. Often it is offensive, often it is defensive, but nevertheless, it’s one of the things we have done and we do right now. I told them it’s one of the things that we as a species do best.

Most of these kids managed to maintain expressions that hid what they thought about the things I said, but I do know that when each of the six classes was over, a number of them approached and thanked me for talking to them and for serving the country.

Another shot of Ken Rodgers at Boise High School

Another shot of Ken Rodgers at Boise High School

Furthermore, Sandie Waters is a keg of dynamite. As you talk to her, you can feel all that energy, the excitement she brings to her work every day. Some folks tell me that teachers are overpaid and don’t work very much. That’s not what I saw. I saw dedication and preparation. I saw a teacher who commands the respect of her students. Students from a wide variety of ethnic groups and interests. What was happening in those classes when I was there was the business of education, query and curiosity.

I don’t know much about all the other school systems in this country. Some of them are undoubtedly a mess. By virtue of the number of towns and districts and cities we have, there are bound to be failures. But I bet, if we look closely, the majority of school systems are like the ones I have visited and the bulk of the instructors are like Mrs. Sandie Waters. And at least in Boise, Idaho, these students are learning about the Vietnam War.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 15, 2015

The Thunderbolts

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I don’t recall much about the Marine who recruited me into the Corps in the summer of 1966. A lot of men who served with me know the names of their recruiters, but I only recall a hazy image of a rawboned, hardened man who piqued my interest by advising me that the Corps was tough and to make it a young man had to overcome a series of obstacles, and the difficulty of those obstacles limited the number of men who would eventually call themselves Marines.

My recruiter was right about the challenges of becoming a Marine, especially the overcoming of the obstacles that bar one from becoming part of that fraternity of men who can call themselves Devil Dogs.

An upshot of being part of the Marines is an attitude that as a Marine, you served with the best. Not one of the best, but the absolute best. And for me, it followed that all other services were generally inferior to the Marine Corps. I learned to call men and women who served in the Army “dogfaces,” men and women who served in the Navy “squids,” “swabbies” or “ducks.” Folks who served in the Air Force were “fly boys” or “wing-wipers.”

Even if you were in the Corps, if you worked in supply or chow or the armory, you were a “pogue.” If you were in the Marine Air Wing, you were, once again, a “wing-wiper.”

When I joined the Marine Corps, my recruiter guaranteed me a spot in the Air Wing if I went in for four years. By the time I finished my recruit training, when they told me I was to be a grunt, I had no desire to raise hell about not being made a “wing-wiper.” By then I was indoctrinated. I was—and indeed wanted to be—in “the best.” My service at Khe Sanh reinforced my opinion about the ranking of services. The men I fought with were the best. No doubt in my mind.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, right, visits with Thunderbolt pilots.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, right, visits with Thunderbolt pilots.

Yet though we, the Marines of Khe Sanh, withstood the onslaught of North Vietnamese Army fury for over seventy days, it would be naive not to give credit to the people who supported us. The pilots and other warriors who bombed the enemy to our front, who supplied us, who worked in the rear to make sure the necessary supplies and ordnance were available . . . the men and women who did that were “dog faces,” “ducks,” “wing-wipers” and “pogues.”

I believe that without the efforts expended by those folks on our behalf, I very well could have been either dead or locked up in an NVA prison camp.

Nevertheless, over the ensuing years since surviving my time in Vietnam, I have on too many occasions referred to “dog faces” and “swabbies.”

And it wasn’t just a one-way pejorative harangue from Marines towards other services. I’ve been called “sea going bell hop” and “jarhead” more instances than I care to count. My father, who was a top sergeant in the Army, took every chance he could to derogate Marines. Often he called them “gyrenes” coupled with any one of a number of expletives that I will not mention.

But true to all that is existentially Jarhead, I laughed at all those pejoratives and interpreted them as loving nicknames that the lesser warriors of the world employed to name the finest.

With that as background, last week, BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, BRAVO! supporter and Navy pilot Leland Nelson, Betty and I ventured down to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho, where we had the honor of screening BRAVO! for the pilots, navigators and support personnel of the United States Air Force’s 389th Fighter Squadron, the Thunderbolts.

We met a number of pilots and navigators and weapons officers, and I must say, these young warriors were mighty impressive. They gave us a look at some of their jet planes, the F15E Strike Eagles, one of the Air Force’s more successful fighter-bomber aircraft.

The jets our warriors fly into harm’s way are so high tech that the people asked to fly and maintain these planes need to be smart, tech-savvy, and own nerves of steel. At the speeds these weapon systems fly, split second decisions are the name of the game and those who participate must be physically fit and mentally sharp.

The folks we met at Mountain Home, from my observations, seemed to own all the necessary skills to fly the F15E, plus they are funny, curious, polite and driven to serve the nation.

I don’t really care if one hates war or loves it or ignores it, the young folks we have operating these high grade weapon systems, be they F15E or stealth weapons or tanks or choppers, are worthy of our respect and admiration. They don’t make policy for this country. They aren’t politicians or generals. They are the folks who do the deed when called upon.

And all of us who journeyed down to Mountain Home couldn’t have been more impressed or prouder of these “kids,” as I like to call them.

These “fly boys” and “fly girls” are a special breed of folks who are willing to put their lives on the line and do so at high speeds.

Driving home, I decided to stop referring to our servicemen and women as “Squids” and “Dogfaces” and “Wing-Wipers.”
They deserve to be called warriors.

Christina Iverson, a big friend of BRAVO! and one of the folks responsible for the film’s great reception in Idaho served with the Thunderbolts prior to mustering out of the Air Force. She had this to say about the 389th Fighter Squadron: “The best life lessons for me were while I was assigned to the 389th Fighter Squadron: Thunderbolts. Hard job, good people.”

Christina Iverson, BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire. Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography

Christina Iverson, BRAVO! supporter.
Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography

A big Marine Corps OOORAH! to Air Force Major Staci “Rio” Landers for setting up this event.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 1, 2015

After the Siege

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The Siege of Khe Sanh ended for me the moment I got on a CH-46 and flew to Dong Ha. As far as I can recall, that happened around April 4, 1968. As the big bird swooped off, I looked back at Khe Sanh and began to let the notion that I had survived soak into my soul. I was gone.

I hopped flights from Dong Ha to Phu Bai to Danang to Okinawa to El Toro and finally to Arizona on April 11. No more killing. No more hiding in a hole. No more whiz bang smash crash kaboom from incoming; except in my dreams.

As I traveled from the war to home and then from bar to bar to bar in the United States, I fought like hell any attempts to wonder about what was going on at Khe Sanh. I read the papers every morning and read the daily death tolls but I had already managed to jam a metaphorical arm’s length between the Khe Sanh Combat Base and me.

The last few days in Khe Sanh I’d promised Alvarado that I’d contact his uncle as soon as I returned and I promised Jake the Snake I’d send him a fifth of Chivas Regal and I suspect I promised a lot of other things to the men I fought with. But as soon as my legs steadied on the tarmac at El Toro, I let all the promises drain out of me along with a ton of the tension that tied my neck in knots.

I immersed myself in the glory of home, my buddies, the alcohol, and the women, not that I could get close to them or anyone, family or otherwise. But I tried to forget it all and I for sure didn’t wonder what was happening at Khe Sanh.
For me it was kaput, finis, dead, over.

American warrior on Hill 471.

American warrior on Hill 471.

But it wasn’t. Men were still being killed and maimed at my old homestead. Besides the warriors still trapped inside the combat base and surrounding hills, elements of the 1st and 3rd Marine Regiments and the United States Army’s 1st Air Cav, in what was named Operation Pegasus, were driving up Route 9 in an attempt to relieve Khe Sanh.

On April 6 while I was in Phu Bai turning in my gear at the battalion rear, Marines and Corpsmen from Bravo 1/26 and Delta 1/26 went out on a patrol and picked up the remaining bodies of the Bravo Company men who were killed on February 25.
On April 6 through April 8, Marines from 2/26 were moving off of Hill 558 to drive the enemy from the field and were engaged in three days of vicious combat.

On April 13, two days after I got home, Felix Poilane, the French national whose family owned one of the coffee plantations at Khe Sanh, was killed in a plane crash while coming back to Khe Sanh. That day, I was already running around with my old college roommate drinking cases of Coors.

On April 14, Operation Pegasus was complete and Operation Scotland II began, and the main breakout by the Marines of Khe Sanh started.

In Operation Scotland II, elements of the 26th and 9th Marines began to drive into the surrounding country and maul the North Vietnamese Army. 1/9 hit Hill 689. Marines from 3/26 assaulted Hill 881-N, which had always been a symbol of the North Vietnamese Army’s ability to battle toe-to-toe with us.

While all this fighting was going on, I was boozing it up on Cinco de Mayo in Nogales, Mexico, and traveling to Phoenix to hang out in honkytonks. Then I was with 5th Battalion Recon at Camp Horno, and all the time, for me, Khe Sanh was over.
Later, while I was rappelling on San Clemente Island and running along the beach at Camp Pendleton, the Marines were still fighting and dying at Khe Sanh.

On June 18, Operation Charlie began with the abandonment of the Khe Sanh Combat Base a primary goal. To get this job done, more Marines died. Khe Sanh was destroyed by our own forces.

On October 9, 1968, a ceremony was held at Khe Sanh—or more specific, the base’s remains—to memorialize the men who died defending the place. By the time of the Khe Sanh ceremony in October, I had been transferred to San Diego to begin a year of . . . even though I was still a Marine . . . living somewhat like a civilian.

After the Siege ended, over 600 Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force personnel perished in Operations Pegasus, Scotland II and Charlie. That number is much larger than the number of men who died during the Siege itself.

To be honest, in the back of my mind, while I lived my stateside life, I knew men were dying over there. But I was trying to stuff all those thoughts and the memories they led to. But some encounters made it impossible to hide from the recollections of my time at Khe Sanh.

Casualties on Hill 689.

Casualties on Hill 689.

For instance, one of the men I served with as a radio operator at Khe Sanh was stationed with me at San Diego. We had shared a bunker for over a month during the Siege. In San Diego we never spoke of our time in Vietnam. I suspect he was doing the same thing I was, trying to bury the recent past. But every time I looked in his face, his weary eyes talked to me about the days and nights spent cooped up like rats, the times we went outside the wire and assaulted NVA trenchlines.

I was also stationed with a Marine who was an engineer with the unit that blew up the Combat Base during Operation Charlie. One night he described to me the action, explosion by explosion. It all made me sick with disgust.

All those men who had died before, during, and after the Siege . . . thinking of them made me think, what a waste. Those brave and frightened men who died during the relief and the breakout, men of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 26th Marines, 3rd Recon, and associated support units, pilots and flight crews. Seabees and Corpsmen and pilots and air crews from the Navy, pilots and air crews with the Air Force, pilots, air crews, special forces and ground-pounders with the United States Army. People like the photographer Robert Ellison, killed while serving as a civilian photojournalist. All the ARVNS and the local Bru montagnards who fought with us and died. Yes, it all made me sick with disgust.

I think a lot of fellow Vietnam veterans still battle memories of their time in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. For their sake, I hope the sacrifices made on both sides accomplished something beyond the death and despair.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at