Yesterday I awoke early, when the dark still hung from the eaves and leered into my dreams like spirits of long-lost warriors. It was January 21, 2014. Most January 21sts are like that for me…an early awakening, an early rising, coffee and pondering January 21, 1968, the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh.
Here in Idaho it was dark and foggy and the stench of inversion settled into every crevice it could get its stinky fingers into. I thought about the men I served with and where they are now, if they are anywhere, and what they are doing and whether or not I am in contact with them. I thought about the day before the beginning of the Siege, and how it became clear to me that my experience in Vietnam was about to become more violent, and I thought about the night before as Puff the Magic Dragon spit curving arcs of red death at the NVA out in front of my bunker. I thought about the awful shock of being awakened around 5:30 AM on the 21st by a crescendo of terror that shook the ground, and frankly, shook me, too.
Still groggy from sleep, I got my gear and bolted into the trench, and light and fire and noise drove me into the bottom of the trench, on my face. Something thudded into my lower back below my flak jacket. My back and jungle dungarees sizzled and I smelled singed flesh and I wondered if I could move my legs. I started screaming, “I’m hit, I’m hit.”
Steve Foster, who was in my fireteam, scrambled over and began to laugh. Normally you would think that someone who would laugh at another man’s wounds was really weird but if you knew Foster, well… He scraped whatever was on my back and got his face close to my ear and said, “It’s only clods.” And then he laughed some more.
I rose and went to my fighting hole and someone came by and ordered me into the machine gun bunker close by which was manned by wounded men, one with a huge gash in his shin and another with his face bandaged so he couldn’t open his mouth, and his arm in a sling. We watched outside for the enemy to overrun us, but they never came. The gas from the exploding ammo dump, which was close by, forced us to put on gas masks.
It wasn’t much better for the next seventy-seven days. And a lot of those days were worse than January 21, 1968.
For years I kept my memories of that day secret. Only I was allowed access to those terrifying moments that crept up my spine and stopped me in the middle of whatever I was doing. Nobody cared much about what happened to me at Khe Sanh unless they knew me well or were at the Siege or went through something similar. All of us Vietnam Vets were hibernating, I think, until it became cool to have been a veteran of the Vietnam conflict. As long as we let our memories sleep, we were almost the same as being gagged.
But now, the stories are rolling out of us like a river that has finally thawed. We are speaking and we are telling our story, about our war—not our fathers’ war, but our war—which in its own way was as nasty and deadly as any war fought any time or place.
Part of the story of Khe Sanh has been told by Betty and me in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. It is not the only story, by any means, but it is my story and it is the story of the company of Marines I served with and in many ways it is a story that speaks for all Vietnam Veterans and maybe even veterans of other wars.
Marine and BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire Terry Hubert says that our job—Betty’s and mine—is to educate, and we hope that the film educates folks about what Vietnam Veterans went through and what it means to us now. There are messages in the film, it seems, that speak to some universal truths about conflict and humanity.
Part of the way we are educating America about the Vietnam War is by traveling around the country to give screenings. We are getting set to hit the road and travel to my home town of Casa Grande, Arizona, where we will screen the film in the historic Paramount Theatre on February 13 at 7:00 PM. In addition to educating folks, the proceeds from the screening of BRAVO! (entree fee is $10.00) will help fund the Pinal County Veterans Memorial.
If you are in the area, come by and catch a look at this powerful and poignant film. We’d really like to meet you, or get reacquainted if we have already met. You can find out more details about the Casa Grande screening at http://www.paramountfoundation.org/EVENTS.html.
On March 22, 2014, BRAVO! will be screened at VFW Post 1924 in Fallbrook, CA. BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes lives in the area and will be on hand along with Betty and me when we show up to screen the film. More details to come on this screening.
On March 29, 2014, BRAVO! is provisionally scheduled to screen for veterans incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California. As soon as we know more, we will provide the information.
On March 30, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, we will be on board the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, The National Liberty Ship Memorial at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, CA. The proceeds from this screening will benefit the SS Jeremiah O’Brien’s Memorial. Again, more details are to come.
Another way we are trying to educate the public about the Vietnam War is through the sale of DVDs. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.
BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.