Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Listening Posts,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

August 27, 2014

The Agony and Ecstasy of Listening Posts–Redux

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Four years ago, when we were on the road to shoot interviews in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and to conduct research at the National Archives and the Marine History Division in the Washington DC area, I wrote only our fourth blog about the making of BRAVO!. That particular edition joined what has become a hefty variety of pieces about BRAVO!, the Siege of Khe Sanh, and the men and women both in the film and who helped make this project a reality. We think a visit back in time to that fourth blog is an appropriate subject for this week’s blog.

08/05/10

While the grackles, the kingbirds, the cuckoos and kites sung and hunted over San Antonio, Betty, Mark Spear and I interviewed and filmed eight retired or former Marines and a former Navy corpsman. As we sat rapt, listening to the emotion gushing like rain water running down a red Khe Sanh trench, one of the repetitive memories we heard centered on listening posts.

Listening posts—rather mundane words for a mundane (most of the time) night duty related to combat activities in a hostile environment. In the Marine Corps, a fire team usually mans (or in my tenure manned) a listening post (LP). Four men and a radio go outside the outfit’s night perimeter to listen for approaching enemy combatants. Mundane, unless the enemy shows up, and then the men in the listening post become pretty much incidental to the good of the bigger unit, the ones they are doing the listening for. And doing their duty as Marines, they may be trapped and killed, maimed, captured, never to get back to lovers and sons, and if they beat feet towards the security of the perimeter, in front of the enemy, they may get shot by their own men because the listening post personnel are often indistinguishable from the enemy. In Bravo! the documentary, the danger associated with LPs will squeeze your gut.

Mark Spear at the 2010 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the 2010 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion
© Betty Rodgers 2010

I recall an LP when the siege was raging. We waited until darkness fell and then crept out the east end of the Khe Sanh air strip finally stopping short of our assigned position. I always felt that we should never go to the same spot time after time. We crawled into the jungle grass and covered up with ponchos so we could read a map with a flashlight if we needed to. Below us, the Song Rao Quan cut a deep ravine as it rushed towards its conflict with the saltwater South China Sea. American jets shrieked over. So rocket and artillery shy were we, we cringed at the sound of the jets as they streaked over us and dropped bombs somewhere to our front. We heard the thunk of mortar rounds leaving the tube. In the dark of the night we spotted aiming stakes—enemy aiming stakes illuminated by some type of red lights. We estimated the position and called in artillery, “Fire mission.” The barrage whistled over us like the jets, but with less basso, more tenor, some alto harmonied in. Below in the Rao Quan River valley, the rounds crashed like they were landing in the next century. The aiming stakes still remained. I essayed that they were far beyond where the rounds landed. I whispered into the radio handset—based on where I thought I’d heard the rounds land—“Up 100 left 100.” The voice of the lieutenant repeated my words. We heard the gun mouths bark the next barrage and again it sung over us and landed far below. The enemy mortars still thunk, thunk, thunked. Somewhere to our rear the crash of a rocket round inside our perimeter. The aiming stakes still glowed in the misty pitch black. I adjusted my estimate, again, missed, and we spent the long night with arty going in and out, like a badminton shuttle cock going back and forth over the net. I don’t think we ever hit the target, though we may have scared the hell out of them, because the aiming stakes’ red lights disappeared. The lieutenant barked at me over the radio about ”What kind of spotter was I?” I pouted most of the night about that and in the morning just before the first light we sneaked back in. Off to the west, between Khe Sanh base and Hill 861, I saw rockets spew off the ground. Seconds later I heard them crash into the far end of the air strip. I might have called in and told them where those rockets had come from, but I was still pouting.

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

An LP wasn’t something you wanted to get sent out on, with all that death waiting in the black of the misty nights. A couple of our platoon big shots, the lieutenant’s radioman and the platoon right guide, both went to sleep on radio watch in the command post. We all were deprived of sleep, our eyelids like trap doors on a sniper’s hole. We couldn’t sleep because of duty’s call or because the NVA hammered us day and night, so I wasn’t surprised that they nodded off. I had a way of going half to sleep when I ended up as the platoon sergeant’s radio operator. I could somehow doze and somehow stay alert enough to call in my sit-reps every fifteen minutes and call out to the listening post and get their sit-reps, too. Being a big shot and then getting sent out on an LP was like a kick in the cojones. Everyone sniggered at you behind your back. I’m glad I never got caught sleeping on radio watch.

The last LP I remember going on was later in the siege and I got a surprise from the lieutenant about how it was to be conducted. My team was going out with a fire team of South Vietnamese Rangers. I rolled my eyes at that one and complained, “They can’t even speak English. How the hell we going to communicate?” The lieutenant told me, “Just get your asses out there when it starts getting dark and go out to those slit trenches at the end of the runway and set in for the night. Like you’re supposed to do.” I whined, “But, the NVA know exactly where that. . .” “Shut up,” he barked, “we know exactly where it is, too, so if something happens we can come out and get your asses. “ I kicked at the red clods in the bottom of the trench and said, “Aye aye.” He said, “And if you have to come in early, make sure you come in first so those Marines down there in Alpha Company don’t blow our Ranger friends away.”

There were four of them. Four of us. We Marines were skinny, half starved, but compared to them we were giants. They were bowlegged and short, wiry, though, and they all had flinty looks in their eyes as we sat in a deep Alpha Company bunker lit up with ten or twelve candles. We were wary of them, the rumors we’d heard about them all being North Vietnamese sympathizers. The way they sneaked glances at us made me ponder why they were wary of us.

After the night went totally black, we sneaked out the gate in front of Alpha Company and bent over like bugs scuffling across the airstrip. We hustled out to the two slit trench fighting holes at the end of the strip. I pointed to the left and the four Rangers slipped in and sat down. I could see what light there was reflecting off their eyes which were as big around as the bottom of a forty-millimeter anti-aircraft round. They sat as still as stones.

We Marines plopped in the other trench and I started whispering the watch schedule, two of us awake, two asleep, two hours on, two hours off. I tried to whisper some orders to the Rangers, but either they didn’t hear me or ignored me. The breeze whispered through the tall elephant grass out to our fronts. All night I imagined, or dreamed, a platoon of NVA sneaking up on us. Their helmets festooned with pieces of grass to hide their passage. They didn’t, though, because the next morning in the false light I elbowed the sleeping Marines on each side of me to wake up. I looked up at the Ranger fire team leader who was glaring at me. He took his right index finger and drew it across his Adam’s apple and then nodded to our front. I made a sign with my thumb for him and his team to get up. We bug-scuffled back in the opposite direction of the enemy to the Alpha Company gate. Me in front so they didn’t shoot the Rangers.

As I said in the beginning of this post, what got me thinking about LPs were the men we interviewed for our documentary.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Nampa, Idaho, on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Lodge. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30, followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. http://www.wyakin.org.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help us reach more people.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

August 20, 2014

Honors for BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara

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Last week BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara was awarded the Congressional Veterans Commendation for the Ninth Congressional District of Indiana. This prestigious award was presented by Congressman Todd Young in a special ceremony in southern Indiana’s Martinsville.

O’Hara was a member of Second Platoon, Bravo Company, before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh. During the Siege, he earned three Purple Hearts. O’Hara then returned to garrison duty where he became a Primary Weapons Instructor training over 120,000 young Marines at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. Back home in Indiana, he became a homebuilder and has been actively and unselfishly involved in local Veterans affairs since 1993.

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!
Photo by Betty Rodgers

Honored alongside Michael were Colonel Shirley M. Ohta and Staff Sergeant Merrill E. St. John. Eligibility for the award is based on the following items. A candidate must reside in Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District and must have served on active duty in the Armed Services of the United States or have been in a branch of the Armed Forces reserve and called up to active duty. Candidates must also have been retired or honorably discharged. Candidates are chosen by a review board comprised of Ninth District veterans.

Congressman Todd Young is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and was a captain in the Marine Corps.

Michael E O'Hara and Congressman Todd Young.

Michael E O’Hara and Congressman Todd Young.

Attending the honors ceremony along with Michael were his soulmate, Maxine Bailey, his daughter, Charlene Folz, and his brother Wayne (also a Marine).

I personally served with Michael in the Third Squad, Second Platoon, of Bravo Company. He was, as Bravo Skipper Ken Pipes calls him, a “gunfighter.” He was a squared-away Marine then and he’s squared-away now.

Congratulations, Michael E. O’Hara, you have made your BRAVO! brothers proud.

Left to Right: Charlene Folz, Michael E O'Hara and Maxine Bailey.

Left to Right: Charlene Folz, Michael E O’Hara and Maxine Bailey.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Nampa, Idaho, on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Lodge. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30, followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. http://www.wyakin.org.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help us reach more people.

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

August 13, 2014

New Honors for the Fallen of Khe Sanh

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We posted a blog in June of this year that pondered, among other things, a firefight that occurred northwest of Hill 881 South on June 7, 1967. Two platoons of Bravo Company, 1/26, were involved in that battle. Before the acrid scent of gunpowder had disappeared, it was clear that Bravo had taken a significant number of casualties.

One of the men killed in that action was HN (Corpsman) Gregory Vercruysse. Last month I heard from Gregory’s younger brother, Dean. Dean and I have traded e-mails about that day, about Gregory, about memory and honor.

Marines on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of NamViet News

Marines on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of NamViet News

In November of this year, Gregory is to be posthumously honored by the city of Liberty Lake, Washington. Greg (as his brother Dean refers to him) will be memorialized at the City of Liberty Lake’s Fallen Heroes Circuit Course by having a circuit station named after him. First dedicated in September 2013, the course’s stations will all be designated in the name of one of Liberty Lake’s fallen.

This isn’t the first time that a blog we have written about one of the men who served at Khe Sanh has given rise to a member of the family contacting us. We receive queries about loved ones who were killed in action or who were wounded or who managed to get home in one piece but who are now gone.

Sometimes all this blogging and filmmaking and creating art and recording history about the events centered around the Khe Sanh locale gets to be a heavy load. Yet, when it starts to feel like we are spitting into the wind, someone like Dean Vercruysse contacts us about his brother or a cousin and suddenly the importance of what we are doing becomes clear again.

If you are interested in seeking out more about the City of Liberty Lake’s Fallen Heroes Circuit Course, you can find information HERE.

Bravo Blogger Ken Rodgers looking back at you.

Bravo Blogger Ken Rodgers looking back at you.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Nampa, Idaho, on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Lodge. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30, followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. http://www.wyakin.org.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help us reach more people like Dean Vercruysse.

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

August 6, 2014

The War Was In My Throat

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The war was in my throat; the need to shout it out. I thought I’d bust wide open. (1)

In the late 1960s I was asked not to talk about it. It bummed people out. People couldn’t look me in the eye when I tried to explain what happened to me at Khe Sanh.

In the 1970s I got told by veterans of previous wars that we (the men and women who served and fought in Vietnam) were the worst Americans who ever went to combat. My first wife informed me that I hadn’t undergone anything worse than anyone else had. I shut my mouth.

In the 1980s I worked with people who had no inkling that I had been a Marine, that I had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t talk about it, and neither did a lot of my fellow Vietnam vets.

Not that keeping your trap shut is just a phenomenon exclusive to Vietnam Veterans. I think silence about battle is common with all combat vets, no matter what the war.

Regardless, in the 1990s we started to talk about it: our war, our horrors. For me it came out through art. I wrote poems and stories, some fiction, some not; mostly autobiographical at the roots.

I was a witness to what happened at Khe Sanh. Not everything, of course. That would be impossible. Nevertheless, I was a witness and so I have been telling the story of my experience. Story is how humans pass on what we learn about life from one generation to the next. Does that mean that anybody learns from our story? Probably not. If they did, we wouldn’t be fighting war after war after war.

Notwithstanding the fact that we don’t seem to learn any of the human stuff passed from one generation to the next, it is still incumbent on us to tell the story.

Some of the incredible architectural detail inside the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Some of the incredible architectural detail inside the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

While Betty and I were in Chicago screening BRAVO!, we went to visit the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. Several people familiar with the city had told us it would be worth our time to go there, and since the Pritzker co-sponsored our screening there, we were eager to show up and view the photography, the art, the architecture, the library.

The Pritzker has a steady stream of visitors arriving at their doors all through the day and researchers are in the library researching on the computer terminals, watching DVDs, sorting through stacks of books on library tables.

While at the museum, we met the coordinator of the veteran’s oral history project, Mr. Thomas Webb, who convinced me to give an interview, and we scheduled it for the following day. I asked how long it would take, and he said they liked to get a couple of hour’s worth of material.

Preparing for an oral interview at the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Preparing for an oral interview at the Pritzker.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Since I was busy with Chicago, I said I’d give them an hour. I gave them three and one-half hours of war and horror and Marines and life. I could have gone on talking to my interviewer, Mr. Jerrod Howe, but I had things to do. My interview will show up as a podcast on their website later this year.

Mine was interview ninety-six. The previous ninety-five have been veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, and the Middle East Wars of this century as well Bosnia, Somalia, and other foreign conflicts.

I am particularly thoughtful about those World War II vets. When I was a young veteran, I got told that all the men who fought in that war, that worst of all wars, didn’t need to talk about their war. And of course that was humbug. Guadalcanal Diary, From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Thin Red Line, Randall Jarrell’s poems about the Eighth Air Force, the photography that was available to all of us, and Ernie Pyle’s wonderful books about the troops are just a few of the stories that were told about this war. Those examples were mostly veterans telling their stories. And the ones who didn’t talk in 1946 or 1956 and who are still living are giving their histories to the Pritzker’s Holt Oral History Program and hundreds of other regional organizations intent on preserving memories of war.

Let’s face it, war is horrible and in the long run seems pretty senseless, but it’s one of the things that we humans do best, so it is incumbent on us as a species to understand this effort—this social effort—we get involved in quite regularly.

Here in Boise, Idaho, we have several organizations recording oral histories. I’ll bet, if you are a veteran, you can contact such an organization either in your area or elsewhere, and tell your story.

As a matter of fact, Thomas Webb at the Pritzker would like to hear from you because they want you to tell them your story. You don’t have to be in Chicago to get that done. They have multiple ways of chronicling oral history.

The interview. Left to Right, Jerrod Howe, Thomas Webb and Ken Rodgers, seated. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The interview. Left to Right, Jerrod Howe, Thomas Webb and Ken Rodgers, seated. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s website is at http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/. You can find out more about the Pritzker’s Holt Oral History Program at http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/whats_on/holt-oral-history-program/stories-service/.

The mission statement for the Holt Oral History Program states:

“… the Holt Oral History Program is dedicated to conserving the unique Stories of Service of the Citizen Soldier—not just high ranking officers, recognizable faces from history, or soldiers who have had their stories told already—but every man and woman, from all walks of life, who has served and sacrificed for our country.”

We are all witnesses to our time. Share what you have seen and learned.

The war was in my mouth, right behind my teeth. It wanted out. (2)

(1) From the short story, “Party,” from the collection of short stories, The Gods of Angkor Wat, Ken Rodgers, BK Publications, 2014, p 137

(2) From the short story, “Party,” from the collection of short stories, The Gods of Angkor Wat, Ken Rodgers, BK Publications, 2014, p 138

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened in Nampa, Idaho on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Club. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30. Screening will be followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit Wyakin Warrior Foundation.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Vietnam War

July 30, 2014

CHICAGO!!!

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We needed help finding the train, what is officially termed the CTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, from Midway Airport into downtown Chicago. We had notions about traveling on the system but really had no idea how you actually got it done. Was it like New York’s subway? Were we going to get held up or witness a shooting and what about the weather? Hot and humid? Tornadoes? Our concerns were initiated by what we see on the national news.

At the airport we found the information desk and the man behind it wore a Khe Sanh Veterans ball cap. He was lean and fit and confident. Betty started our conversation with him by saying I had been at Khe Sanh. We shook hands. What a strong grip he owned and I asked him his unit. His name was Rich, and he served with the Third Battalion, Third Marines. I said, “1/26.” He nodded and then proceeded to explain how one gets from Midway to the Orange Line and from there to the Brown Line. He told us we were going to love Chicago.

Downtown Chicago. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Downtown Chicago.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

And we did love Chicago. The big-muscled hubbub, the Midwest practicality, the friendliness, the food.

We met up with our Internet friends who are now our real friends, the writer and teacher Patricia Ann McNair and her husband, the visual artist and writer Philip Hartigan, and they showed us some of Chicago’s famous neighborhoods and points of interest and we had Vietnamese, German and Italian food. We attended literary events. I even read from my book of short stories at one of the readings and we got to hear Chicago author and professor Eric May read from his new book.

Both Eric May and Patricia Ann McNair are professors at Chicago’s Columbia College. Betty and I visited their writing program offices and were impressed with the faculty and staff we met there.

The buffet at the ULCC screening. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The buffet at the ULCC screening.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We were graciously put up in a grand room at the Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC), where we met former Navy pilot Jan Donatelli, the major force behind the screening event, and the ULCC’s Kathy Hurley whose herculean efforts made our stay and our screening there a tremendous success. We offer our thanks to the ULCC’s executive director of Public Affairs, Mr. David Kohn, who made sure we received a warm welcome when we checked into the hotel.

We were invited to the regular luncheon of Union League’s American Legion Post 758. A big thank you to Post Commander Matt Iverson for making sure we had an excellent meal and reception, and to boot, the post underwrote a significant portion of our travel expenses. They hosted our screening, as well, which included a sumptuous buffet for those who attended.

One of the other major sponsors of our trip was the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. The Museum, housed in a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown, is a cache of American veteran memorabilia, research material, books, movies, photography, and more. At the time of our visit, they sported an impressive exhibit on United States Navy SEALs.

The hall at the Prizker Military Museum and Library © Betty Rodgers 2014

The hall at the Prizker Military Museum and Library
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Mr. Kenneth Clarke, the CEO of the Pritzker, personally greeted Betty and me. While there, we found the copy of BRAVO! which had been donated by the Paddock family, and I gave them an interview for their oral history project. I originally said I was interested in talking for an hour or so about my experiences at Khe Sanh, but ended up reminiscing for three and one-half hours.

A big thanks to Mr. Thomas Webb and Mr. Jerrod Howe of the Pritzker, both for scheduling the time to interview, and for conducting the interview. Jerrod Howe is in the Cinema Arts and Sciences MFA program at Columbia College.

The screening was well attended by old friends and new friends. BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara came all the way from Indiana to share some time with us and participate in the Q & A following the screening.

Another distinguished guest was Tom Eichler, who served during the Siege of Khe Sanh with Echo Company, 2/26. Tom was awarded the Silver Star for some of his actions during the Siege. He is also the president and treasurer of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Both Tom and the association have been strong supporters of our efforts to make and screen BRAVO!.

Left to right: Tom Eichler, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers and Matt Iverson © Betty Rodgers 2014

Left to right:
Tom Eichler, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers and Matt Iverson
© Betty Rodgers 2014

One of the great things about traveling around the country, screening the film, is how old friends show up in new contexts. Betty has known Mr. Donald Hovey for four decades. They met in New England and have remained friends all the intervening years. Donald is a tenor and agreed to sing the national anthem at our ceremony and he did a fantastic job to much applause.

Finally, we wish to thank our Cowboy Poetry friends, John and Judy George, members of the Union League Club and the folks who initiated this BRAVO! debut in Chicago. Also, kudos to Colonel Jennifer Pritzker who helped sponsor our trip to Chicago, and to esteemed Medal of Honor recipient Mr. Allen Lynch for attending the screening. We also wish to express our gratitude to the evening’s emcee, Mr. Bill Wigoda, and to Vietnam War author Julie Titone who helped pave the way for this memorable experience on our BRAVO! journey.

We began our trip to Chicago not knowing what to expect, but we can say without hesitation that we loved the city and the residents there. We hope to return.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.

Film Screenings

July 23, 2014

BRAVO! in CHICAGO!

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Tomorrow night, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in the Crystal Room at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois. Registration will begin at 5:00 PM, with opening remarks at 5:15. The screening will begin promptly at 5:30. A question and answer period will follow the screening from 7:30 to 8:00. On hand for the Q & A will be BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, Khe Sanh Veteran and retired Chicago police officer Tom Eichler, and Co-producers of the film, Ken and Betty Rodgers.

Union League Club of Chicago

Union League Club of Chicago

The event is free but you must reserve a seat by going to: https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com. There will be snacks available and a signature/cash bar with beverages of your choice. Please note, the attire is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

The screening is sponsored in part by American Legion Post 758, the Union League Club of Chicago, and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.

Here are the bios for the folks on the Q & A panel:

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!
Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael O’Hara was wounded three times at Khe Sanh before he returned to the US to finish his enlistment as a Primary Weapons Instructor. After his release from active duty on the early release program, Michael went back to Indiana to become a homebuilder. For more than 20 years, he has been a major force in Brown County, Indiana veterans affairs, owning a big heart for all combat veterans past and present.

Tom Eichler, a Chicago native son, was with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh where he was wounded and awarded the Silver Star for his actions. Discharged in 1968, he joined the Chicago Police Department where he served until his retirement, and remains one of their most decorated officers. He currently serves as President and Treasurer of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association.

Tom Eichler

Tom Eichler

Ken Rodgers is the man who wrote, co-produced and co-directed Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. He recalls standing on the heliport at Dong Ha after leaving Khe Sanh, looking back at the Annamite Mountains where the battle occurred, and thinking, That’s one hell of a story. It took Ken a lifetime as a controller and business manager to find his true calling as a filmmaker and finally tell this story of the siege, the story of his Bravo Company brothers, his Khe Sanh brothers…the story of all Vietnam veterans.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken’s wife Betty Rodgers grew up in a family of veterans with a WWII-era mother who believed in recording veterans’ stories so their sacrifices would be remembered by future generations. After attending Khe Sanh Veteran reunions with her husband, she realized his story and the story of these men would eventually be lost, so she proposed this film…this collaboration with Ken…as a way to preserve Bravo Company’s unique moment in history.

Betty Rodgers

Betty Rodgers

Please join us for this memorable event.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

July 16, 2014

Something of Value

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Bravo Company 1/26 came off of Hill 881 South on July 10, 1967, and went into battalion reserve at the combat base, first at the west end and then into the trenches on the north side of the perimeter. Bravo stood line watch, ran patrols, listening posts and ambushes for the next ten days.

On July 21, Mike Company, 3/26, engaged elements of the North Vietnamese Army northeast of the base and suffered five KIA.
If I was aware of Mike Company, 3/26′s casualties, I don’t recall. When units got hit around Khe Sanh I usually went into a funk; scattered, not focused on cleaning my rifle or gathering the rest of my gear in case we charged into the maw of battle. I would flit from task to task, smoke a Camel, clean part of my weapon, grab some grenades, smoke a Camel…I don’t recall doing any of these tasks.

View  looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

View looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

On the same date, another Mike Company—Mike 3/3—was also out in the vicinity of Mike 3/26 and they, too, took casualties; 11 KIA. Again, I have no memory of that event or the edgy fear that probably gnawed at the back of my brain as I tried to stay focused and not look like I was afraid.

Also on that same day, Bravo 1/26′s First Platoon was out east of the combat base patrolling down Route 9 when they got ambushed. Three men were killed on that patrol: one 81 MM forward observer with H & S Company, 1/26, and two men from Bravo’s First Platoon. Some of the men in our film BRAVO! were on that patrol.

As soon as Second Platoon, my outfit, got the word about First Platoon being ambushed, Sergeant Michael Dede came down the line and told us to gather our gear.

I shared a bunker with a salty Marine who had come over to Bravo earlier in the year from 3/26. He was a short-timer. I do not recall his name. At that moment, he was teaching me how to play Back Alley Bridge and as we played our cards, he was cleaning out my pockets. We were playing for money—Military Payment Certificates—because, as he told me in his clipped Boston accent, if you weren’t committing something of value, then you wouldn’t be at your best.

Dede told us to get ammo, grenades, poncho liner, and other gear we’d need for a helicopter insertion in support of First Platoon. My bunker mate sat back and grinned, and as I tried to gather my gear, flitting like a mosquito from one item to the next, he cajoled me to keep playing the game since there was no guarantee we’d be going anywhere.

I recall him saying, “You know how it is. Hurry up and wait.”

So as I got my gear together and rumors of death and combat circulated like demons among the men of Second Platoon, he collected more and more of my MPC.

Finally, Sergeant Dede came down the line and told us to assemble on the air strip and await choppers to transport us out to assist First Platoon. My bunker mate was so short he didn’t have to go. I can see him, right now in my mind’s view, leaning back on his rack, smiling, his big red mustache and his disheveled shock of red hair implanted in my memory. He was counting my MPC.

We sat on the air strip in the sun. It was hot and we were nervous. Some of us talked incessantly. Some of us didn’t say anything.

I don’t know that I thought about it then, but I think about it now. Something of value. Some MPC in a game of Back Alley Bridge. Some casualties out on Route 9. My young life available to what…be wounded, killed, captured, honored? Something of value, like the lives of those 19 Marines who died in our TAOR that day, and the wounded men, too, whose names we don’t put up on monuments.

Finally, the helicopters arrived and we loaded up and away we went.

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!
Photo by Betty Rodgers

***

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois on July 24, 2014. Sponsored by American Legion Post 758, this event begins with registration at 5:00 PM. The film will be screened at 5:30 followed by a Q & A session with Co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, and Echo Company, 2/26′s Tom Eichler, the president of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Complimentary snacks will be provided and there will be a cash bar with beverages of your choice.

The program will end at 8:00 PM. Reservations are required. To reserve your seats please go to the Eventbrite registration page @ https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com/.

Please note, this event is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall or winter, please contact us immediately.
DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Marines,Vietnam War

July 9, 2014

A True Friend to BRAVO!

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Meet Carol Caldwell-Ewart, BRAVO!’s Associate Producer. You’ve seen the name in the credits, perhaps even met Carol, but we’d like to tell you a little more about her.

Carol was our friend in Sonoma County long before we moved to Idaho and became filmmakers, and was quite interested and encouraging when we decided to tell the story of the Vietnam War through the experiences of Bravo Company during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

In spite of the fact that she works fulltime-plus, has many interests and talents such as editing, business and creative writing, travel, pottery, family and dance, Carol asked what she could do to support our efforts. She believed in what we were doing, and knew we couldn’t do it alone.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

So Carol set forth and developed and managed three separate Indiegogo fundraising campaigns which were all successfully funded. Had it not been for these efforts, and her own personal donations, we would not have had the resources to complete BRAVO!

Once we had all our material gathered and interviews completed, it was time to choose an editor, and Carol played a significant role here as well. We were fortunate to hear from Vietnam veteran and long-time sound and film editor, John Nutt, who was interested in working with us, but we had not met him face-to-face—he lived in California and we are in Idaho. Once again, Carol stepped up. She went to see John for that critical first meeting and subsequently was confident it would be a good match. Sure enough, she was spot on.

Carol joined us at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County when we were there for the final sound re-mix. This was to be the first time she gained a glimpse of the breadth and power of the story she had worked so hard for. She was with us when we screened it to the employees of Skywalker Sound in Lucas’ state-of-the-art theater.

Once the film was ready to be shown to invitation-only crowds, Carol then asked to host one of our very first screenings for our northern California donors. She pulled out all the stops with the location, the food and beverages, and the huge crowd of friends, family and supporters.

Since then, Carol has attended many of our screenings, working in the background to be sure all the details were attended to, and handling DVD sales to enable us to talk with people. She has designed and printed programs, and pitches in to help the hosts when they need it, such as checking sound equipment, arranging food on platters, and directing guests to the venue. She is an excellent spokesperson.

We are also extremely grateful when we send text off to Carol and ask her to don her editor’s hat (of course, it’s a red one…Carol’s favorite color). We may have struggled and struggled to word something well and just not been happy with it. In a matter of minutes, Carol has reworded it to be exactly what we wanted.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the goody table on the SS Jeremiah O'Brien. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the goody table on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Over these last four years, Carol says she has grown to love the men in the film and admire their courage in telling this story. Yet in all this time, she had met just one other Bravo Company Marine besides Ken. So when she learned there would be a significant number of the men in attendance at our recent screening in Springfield, IL, she decided to travel there to meet them. Carol flew there at her own expense, and knew each face the minute they walked in the room.

Little did each of them know whom they were meeting…this amazing woman who has championed them and their story from the very beginning. She has stood by them and honored them and given a great deal of herself to be sure the film did not languish in some obscure corner. Fortunately over the time Carol was in Springfield, the men did come to know her too.

And so here, on behalf of everyone involved with the film, we would like to express our deepest gratitude for all you have given, Carol, with no expectation of anything in return. We appreciate your warm smile, your keen mind, your generous heart, and your belief in all of us. May you receive the same degree of friendship you give so well.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart and  BRAVO! Marine Mr. Ben Long get acquainted in Springfield, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart and
BRAVO! Marine Mr. Ben Long get acquainted in Springfield, Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois on July 24, 2014. Sponsored by American Legion Post 758, this event begins with registration at 5:00 PM. The film will be screened at 5:30 with a Q & A session with Co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara following the screening. Complimentary snacks will be provided and there will be a signature bar with beverages of your choice.

The program will end at 8:00 PM. Reservations are required. To reserve your seats please go to the Eventbrite registration page @ https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com/.

Please note, this event is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.
If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Documentary Film,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

July 2, 2014

On The Many Faces of Fear and the Quest for Closure

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I recently received a telephone call from a gentleman I met last year at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in Nashville, TN. He reminded me that he had come to the reunion back in September to see if he could find out information about his cousin, Glenn Sanders from Alpha Company, 1/26 who was KIA at Khe Sanh in late June, 1967.

When we met in Nashville, I couldn’t help him because Glenn Sanders was with a different outfit than mine, so I introduced him around to some of the men I knew who were in Alpha 1/26 and that’s the last I knew of him until he called me last week.

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Here’s some background: In the early morning hours of June 27, 1967, the NVA rocketed and mortared the Khe Sanh Combat Base, killing and wounding a number of Marines from 1/26. Later that day, elements of CAC Oscar-3 and the Third Battalion, 26th Marines, first probed and then assaulted Hill 689 southwest of Khe Sanh where the incoming from that early morning was fired.

A number of men were killed and wounded before Hill 689 was secured by the Marines of 3/26. All tolled, the number of men KIA on those days, according to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, was 28.

I was up on Hill 881 South with Bravo Company when all this action took place. We could hear the combat and were on 100% alert while the fighting occurred.

During the dark hours the fog was so dense you could carve it with a K-bar. Jim Richardson from Albany, Georgia, and I manned a bunker on the west side of the 881 South. We whispered back and forth to each other. Jim had been a mortician before enlisting in the Corps, so we probably whispered about death and dead bodies. We did that to keep our minds off what was out there crawling around, intent on killing us.

I recall one instance in particular when we heard something out to our front. The mist was so thick that water dripped off the top of the bunker and down onto the sandbagged parapet at the front of our position. Drip, drip, drip. But what we heard beyond that was more distinct. It was scraping, like maybe someone was crawling up to the concertina wire in front of our bunker. We snapped our M-16s off safe and leaned against the parapet.

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

It happened in less time that it took for one of those drips to leave the moldy green sandbags and fall the foot or so to the parapet below. An enormous rat—he must have been two-and-a-half feet from the end of his tail to the tip of his nose—leapt down on the parapet right in front of Jim and me.

At first I thought a grenade had hit the front of our position. Both Jim and I ducked as the rat slapped the sandbag and still not sure what had hit the parapet, we fell to the deck and covered our necks until we heard the critter scrabble off the sandbags and into the night.

How we had the discipline not to light up the night with our M-16s and send that rat to rodent hell, I do not know. Or maybe it wasn’t discipline at all; maybe we were too frightened to do anything more than react.

We both laughed. We laughed so loud that the platoon sergeant and the squad leader came down the line and hissed at us to shut up.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

The dichotomies and ironies of combat were and are never ending. Down below us at the combat base and out on Hill 689, Marines and Corpsmen were dying. NVA soldiers were dying. And we were up on Hill 881 South giggling that we had been attacked by a rat. And we were so relieved that it was only a rat, all we could do was laugh.

One of those dying men was Glenn Sanders, the cousin of the man who I met in Nashville and who called me last week. He wanted to report that he had made contact with a number of the men in Alpha Company, 1/26, and even though none of them remembered Glenn, they did tell him the circumstances of the attack the early morning of June 27, 1967.

Consequently, this man who was searching for clues and information about his cousin’s death has been able to pass on to friends and relatives news about this Marine who didn’t make it out of Khe Sanh. And furthermore, on Memorial Day, 2014, this Marine who was killed at Khe Sanh was honored by the family’s local church. It may be 47 years late, but at least the honoring happened and hopefully those friends and family who remain alive, who knew this Marine, have some kind of closure.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

June 25, 2014

A Beacon for All the Words that Remain Unspoken

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By Don Johnson

2.5 ~ 58,000 ~ 6,000,000 ~ 60,000,000 ~ 250

Numbers, the kind I’ve seen a lot of recently, the kind that makes me realize just how fortunate my number really was.

I’ve seen Bravo! twice now; 2.5 times, to be exact. The .5 was the time I tuned into its broadcast on the local PBS channel, but misread the schedule and tuned in an hour late. That’s a dumb way to watch this moving documentary; it can’t be cut up into pieces. Bravo! must be swallowed whole.

Bravo! doesn’t go down like honey. It’s a bitter pill, but turns into honey later once you get to know the minds and hearts of the veteran Khe Sanh
survivors who were interviewed for the film.

Don Johnson Photo courtesy of Crane Johnson

Don Johnson
Photo courtesy of Crane Johnson

I last saw this amazing and heart-wrenching documentary on May Day, at a showing hosted by our local camera club. It’s a small group, so we were treated to some genuine and rare personal time with Ken and Betty. We’re lucky to have such hometown heroes, and grateful that they could find time for us. Because of the intimate atmosphere, I was able to absorb the events on the screen as if it were being screened only for me. It made a huge impact, and not in the way I expected.

I’ve watched I don’t know how many war movies and documentaries on WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, just like most people my age (63). But this one was different. Although I have a number of friends and acquaintances who served in Vietnam, including old high school classmates, none ever talk about it anymore. I don’t think they ever did, at least with me. So Bravo! is a beacon for all the words that remain unspoken.

A few days after the club screening, my wife and I were on a plane to Washington DC, and Bravo! was still on my heart. I spent a lot of time thinking about the Khe Sanh story, the men interviewed for the film, and what they said. It interested me that they didn’t speak in one voice. Every one of them served heroically beyond imagination, but not one behaved anything like a hero of the movies. I heard, along with the hard descriptions of their life and death situations, their humility and sacrificial love of their fellow Marines, acceptance of impossible circumstance, and surprisingly some tinges of doubt and criticism of the war effort, wondering now, decades later, why they had been sent and how they had been treated on their return. I wasn’t prepared for that. These were real human beings and their honesty floored me.

In DC, we visited all the war memorials on the Mall and around the Tidal Basin. We’d seen them before, but not with Bravo! on my mind. The numbers were overwhelming. 58,000, the number inscribed on the Vietnam Wall. Six million dead Jews named in the Holocaust Museum. Sixty million dead in WWII, 2.5% of the world’s population, causing FDR to say “I hate war.”

I Have Seen War Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

I Have Seen War
Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

It was about that point that I had a poignant realization, that my life could well have taken a different turn but for a certain number. That number was 250, my draft number in 1969. I vividly remember sitting around the TV with my family, as did all my high school buddies, watching the Selective Service lottery being drawn. Some of my friends drew low numbers and went off to boot camp before shipping off to Vietnam. One friend drew a 13 and headed off to Canada; another got a deferment to work in a Portland mental hospital. I drew number 250. I was safe and relieved of having to make any kind of decision to join in a war we watched every night on TV.

The men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment went to Vietnam and suffered the Khe Sanh siege in Ken and Betty’s harrowing tale that will stick with me permanently. It’s not untrue to say that they went in my place because of the random fortune of a number. Bravo! has reinforced my love for those who sacrificed their own safety to allow civilians like me to go on with our lives rarely thinking of war and our warriors. For me, 250 represents the gratitude I haven’t properly expressed.

The Wall Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

The Wall
Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

Thank you, Ken and Betty, and the warriors of Bravo Company for making this film. May it travel far and wide and open the eyes and hearts of peace-loving people everywhere. War no more.

Don Johnson is an Idaho photographer, blogger, and educator who loves to instill the joy of cameras and vision in others. His popular Facebook group, Photo Assignment, is open to anyone interested in becoming a more creative photographer. Don is owner of Arrowrock Photography, co-founder of Sawtooth Photo Pros, and author of his almost-daily blog, Motel Zero.

You can find out more about Don Johnson and his work at:

Facebook Photo Assignment: https://www.facebook.com/groups/photosign/
Arrowrock Photography: http://arrowrockphotography.net/
Sawtooth Photo Pros: http://www.sawtoothphotopros.com/
Motel Zero: http://robinstarfish.blogspot.com/.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.