Last week Betty and I flew into Chicago, rented a car and drove down to Springfield, Illinois, the burial place of our 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. We traveled there as the guests of the Staab Family and to screen BRAVO! at the Hoogland Center for the Arts as part of a Flag Day benefit for the planned Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial in Springfield.
We arrived in town and were met by BRAVO! Marine Tom Quigley, a native son of Springfield who was instrumental, along with PJ Staab and the Staab Family, in making these events happen.
The next morning, Betty and I met Tom at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library where Tom and I were interviewed by local radio personality Jim Leach of WMAY radio. Betty, Tom and I were impressed with Jim’s knowledge of the Vietnam era and the Siege of Khe Sanh in particular. You can hear the interview here: http://wmay.com/assets/podcasts/20140612jlsBravo.MP3.
Later, Betty and I walked down to the Hoogland Center for the Arts where we met with their events manager, Vanessa Ferguson, and checked out the facilities for the screening. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at the First Presbyterian Church and looked at their seven fabulous Tiffany stained glass windows and the pew where the Abraham Lincoln family sat during church services.
During the day, Bruce & Francine Jones and Bruce & Judy Stuckey arrived. Bruce Jones, alias T-Bone, was a radioman for 81 Millimeter Mortars and spent a lot of time on patrol with Bravo Company. Bruce Stuckey was a radio man for Bravo Skipper Ken Pipes. That evening, we all went out for dinner at Saputo’s Italian Restaurant where we were joined by Tom’s wife Nancy and daughter Erin Parsons and her family. If you are ever in Springfield, I suggest you try the fare at Saputo’s. It is rumored that Al Capone liked to dine there, and as we tucked into our ravioli and manicotti and other dishes, I imagined seeing Al parade in with his entourage, all wearing natty summer suits and two-toned fancy shoes, ladies of the night hanging onto their arms.
Also arriving in Springfield later that night was BRAVO!’s associate producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.
The day of the screening, Betty and I and BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, who had arrived early that morning, toured the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum—definitely worth the fees and the time it takes to watch the films, view the exhibits and look at all the memorabilia.
BRAVO! Marines Cal Bright and Ben Long with his wife Joyce, and John “Doc” Cicala who was one of Bravo Company’s corpsmen, arrived that day too. We all met at the Hoogland before the screening and had a moment to visit while Carol, Betty and I worked with the staff to make sure everything was in order.
The very capable A/V tech estimated that over 300 folks came out to donate funds to help build the Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial and to watch BRAVO!. The evening started off with a reception hosted by the Staab Family. Right before the film was shown, Master of Ceremonies PJ Staab introduced all of the Khe Sanh vets in attendance, and we were honored by an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience. I haven’t ever been honored like that since my return from Vietnam in 1968. You must recall that the Vietnam Veteran wasn’t particularly popular back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Somehow we were blamed for our political leaders’ decisions, so the standing ovation was particularly heartwarming. And the ovations didn’t stop there! We were also honored at the end of the film as the credits ran, and yet again before a snappy and informative Q & A session that followed.
The next morning, all of the BRAVO! folks met for a special breakfast and then as some headed home, five us—Michael E. O’Hara, John “Doc” Cicala, Carol, Betty and I—traveled over to the Staab Funeral Home where lines of motorcycles threaded across the parking lots in anticipation of the annual Ride in Honor, a bike run to four of the area’s veteran’s memorials.
I had never been around one of these bike runs—I’ve heard about them—so it was exciting to see all the bikes with their multi-hued frames and the colorful characters who were riding them. Again, the bikers chipped in funds to participate in this event with the proceeds going for the Purple Heart Memorial.
Just prior to the run, PJ Staab invited us to meet his Aunt Catherine, the last of the World War II era Staab generation. We of course said, “Yes,” and followed PJ upstairs to visit with Aunt Catherine for a while. And what a delight! She’s seen the film twice and wanted to meet us.
Then it was off in a roar of engines to the veteran’s shrines, the first being the Oak Ridge Cemetery where the planned Purple Heart Memorial will be built. Also located at Oak Ridge is President Lincoln’s tomb as well as commemorative tributes to the men and women who fought and died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Michael E. O’Hara, Doc Cicala, Bob Cowles, Tom Jones and I made up a detail that placed a wreath on the Vietnam War Memorial.
I have never been a part of anything like the placing of the wreaths, so it was humbling to be a participant. Both Bob Cowles and Tom Jones have been instrumental in getting the Purple Heart Memorial project off the ground. Betty and I first met Bob Cowles, a US Army veteran of the Vietnam War, when he arranged for us to interview Tom Quigley for BRAVO! in 2010 at the Springfield VFW Post. Tom Jones, also a Vietnam Veteran and Navy Corpsman who served with Force Recon, is the author of the novel LOST SURVIVOR about an African-American’s journey to fight in Vietnam.
After placing the wreath at Oak Ridge, we proceeded to travel to the memorials at New Berlin, Spaulding and the National Veterans Cemetery at Camp Butler where we again placed wreaths at each location. We were treated to a poetry reading and to a trumpet rendition of “Taps.” Before departing Camp Butler, the crowd of bikers lined up and hugged and thanked each one of us for our service. It was intimate and humbling for each of us. For a generation of veterans who were pretty much shunned by their country, it is amazing, after 46 years, to be getting some thanks for what we did. We were young then, and wanted to do what was required, and we wanted to do it well.
We finished the day with another trip to Saputo’s, this time with PJ Staab and his lovely wife Ruth. For me it was sausage and peppers with a side of spaghetti. And they got the red sauce right.
Thanks to PJ Staab and the Staab Family, to Jessica McGee, to the Marine recruits who acted as ushers at the screening of the film, to the Hilton for our lodging and the Hoogland Center for the Arts for a screening venue, to all the folks who came to see BRAVO! and to Springfield with its wonderful memorials. And thanks to Carol Caldwell-Ewart and to the men of Bravo and their wives for traveling to participate in this special weekend.
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/.
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