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Archive for the ‘Khe Sanh’ Category

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

January 21, 2015

On January 21, 1968, the First Day of the Siege of Khe Sanh

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Forty-seven years ago today the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Unless you were there or have experienced something similar, I am not sure you can understand how shocking, bizarre, frightening it all was. I had been warned and trained, but I was not ready for what happened to me that morning.

I had been in-country ten months and had pretty much convinced myself that I’d get out of Vietnam unscathed. Through the final weeks of December 1967 and the first three weeks of January 1968 we heard from both our company headquarters and through scuttlebutt that the North Vietnamese were going to attack. We were on red alert too much with nothing happening. It made me think of that old tale my mother told me about the “boy who cried wolf.”

I’m not sure that the other men in Bravo Company felt like I did. I don’t recall, but I had convinced myself it was all a bunch of BS. It was BS because I wished it to be BS.

About five o’clock on the morning of January 21, 1968, I was jolted awake by the yells,” Incoming!” I was groggy and managed to shake into my gear and stagger outside. The world was chaos. Flashes and yelling and explosions. The ground shook. I hit the deck and buried my head. Something hit by back. It burned. I yelled, “I’m hit. I’m hit.”

Bravo Company, 1/26 supply tent after the siege begins. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeeley.

Bravo Company, 1/26 supply tent after the siege begins. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeeley.

Someone scraped off whatever was burning through my skin. It was Foster and he laughed. “You’re not hit. Those are clods.” To this day I remember how those clods burned my back and how I knew I was badly wounded. What that taught me was the power of the mind. How you can BS yourself into imaging real things from things that are not real.

I scrambled into my fighting hole. Everything I recall after that is nothing but flashes of memory, bursts, explosions, blood, me shaking. I recall getting my fire team into gas masks and deployed in anticipation of an attack. I recall being in one of our machine gun bunkers, watching out the aperture as the perimeter to our front was pulverized by both incoming rounds and rounds coming out of our lit-up ammo dump.

Someone yelled, “Here they come. Men in the wire.” I looked out there and saw nothing but geysers of mud and rolls of concertina wire and barbed wire mazes built to trip anyone who tried to get through the perimeter. I remember thinking that no one could get through that hell.

I recall Corporal Taylor (I think his first name was John, but we never called anyone by their first names. Well, not never, but rarely.), had a nasty gash on his shin bone from a piece of shrapnel.

I remember someone coming down the line, calling me up to the Platoon CP. I sneaked down there, loaded down with magazines and grenades, flak jacket, helmet, full canteens, M-16. I recall looking through the eyepieces of my gas mask. The world was a funny color. Could have been from dirty lenses or the world really could have been a funny color. The Marines of Second Platoon, Bravo Company, reminded me of prehistoric beetles with their masks and their gear. Warfare is a prehistoric business. A modern business, too.

I remember Lieutenant Dillon telling me that we had lost contact with one of the units on our flanks. He wanted me to locate them and if possible, determine their disposition. I remember inching around the angles of the trench, my M-16 on full automatic, in case I met unfriendlies skulking around in the red mud.

All I met was a trench full of spent rounds that had fallen out of the sky. Most of them looked like stuff from our own ammo dump. Remnants of rounds—105s and 155s and 81s—littered the bottom of the trench. Here and there, Marines lay in the trench. Some were wounded. Some I knew. I recall one whose thigh was shattered by a falling 155 round that had cooked off from the ammo dump. I don’t recall his name even though we’d been in Nam almost the same amount of time and I was acquainted with him. I offered morphine but he told me he’d already injected himself. I told him I’d send help.

I encountered another Marine I knew who had been hit in the groin by white phosphorus. He didn’t need morphine either, but as I hurried away to find help for him (and the man with the shattered thigh) I recall thinking about his gonads and what if they were poisoned (white phosphorus is poisonous) and they had to be cut off and…and…

It bugs me to this day that I can kind of see these wounded Marines in the trench but I can’t remember their names…first or last. Did I really know them? Did I really see that?

What happened after that, I have trouble recalling. Did I find the people I was sent to find? Who was in charge and did I tell them I had been sent by Lieutenant Dillon to re-establish contact? Did I find help for all those wounded men in the trench? Did I imagine this event?

All day long the ammo dump cooked off. As the hours went by, the number of times we heard the cook-off, then looked up to see a trail of smoke shooting up into the sky, then heard the screech or scream or roar as the round approached the ground seemed to slacken. We finally got to take our gas masks off as we assessed the mayhem. I felt like…well, dead.

Burned out tent at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeeley.

Burned out tent at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeeley.

A lot of Marines, Army and other attached personnel died on that day at the Khe Sanh TAOR. Only one man from Bravo Company, as I recall. He was with Headquarters and Supply and was attached to Bravo Company as one of the radio operators. His name was Steven Hellwig. Today, forty-seven years on, I say, “Rest in piece, Lance Corporal Steven Hellwig.” If you are interested, you can find out more about Steven at the Virtual Wall.

Another thing I recall about January 21, 1968, was the realization that hot chow, showers, supply tents, and all the other semi-comforts we’d been enjoying at the combat base were gone. They were shredded and we were now in a world of war, real war, not red alerts that meant very little.

Right now I see a machine gunner. I don’t remember his name, either, but I see him crouching on the lip of the trench, his left arm in a sling, his jaw bandaged. Prior to January 21, he’d have been sent off to rehabilitate at the Battalion Aid Station or Charlie Med or down to the rear at Phu Bai. But not now. It’s real war.

So, not that I haven’t been guilty of BSing myself a time or two, but ever since that day, I’ve had a pretty good notion of what can happen to you. How things can end badly even though you wish your hardest that they do not.

Blog author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, Courtesy of Michael E O'Hara

Blog author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, Courtesy of Michael E O’Hara

On the screening front, mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 15, 2015, at the historic Paramount Theatre. Doors open at Noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow at 2:00 PM. Ticket cost: $15.00 advance purchase or at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Mobile Veterans Center and Emergency Veterans Services in Pinal County.

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be screened at the Egyptian Theater in Boise Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will go to benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here.

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 18, 2015; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015; and in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time yet to be determined.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next 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 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

January 14, 2015

On Veterans Courts and Upcoming BRAVO! Screenings in Idaho and Casa Grande, Arizona

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In March and April of 2015, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in a number of Idaho locations as a fundraiser for the Idaho Veterans’ Network and for Veterans’ Treatment Courts. These screenings are scheduled for Boise, Caldwell, Lewiston, Pocatello and Twin Falls.

Before giving some details about the events, we first want to delve into the existence of Veterans’ Treatment Courts. What exactly is happening in this country that would support forming courts specifically for and exclusive to veterans?

First, the thing that should not have to be said, we will state: If we require our warriors to go off and participate in combat, then we have a responsibility to see that they also have every opportunity to integrate back into our society and lead successful, productive lives. Combat causes veterans to experience trauma that often makes that integration difficult. Veterans’ courts are one way in which we acknowledge the fact that combat related trauma is a cost that needs to be dealt with by our society.

Now for some data on veterans of the Middle East conflicts alone, notwithstanding the recognition that a large number of Vietnam Veterans as well as men and women who served in earlier wars also have combat related issues that continue to affect their lives:

-Roughly one in five combat veterans from the Middle East conflicts has symptoms of mental disorder or cognitive impairment including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury.

-Roughly one in six veterans of the current conflicts has substance abuse issues.

Poster for screening of BRAVO! at the Egyptian Theater, march 30, 2015

Poster for screening of BRAVO! at the Egyptian Theater, March 30, 2015

-PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury can lead to mental disorder or cognitive impairment and substance abuse, which can lead to issues with the judicial system.

-There are approximately 2.5 million veterans of the current conflicts.

-A one in five ratio indicates there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 veterans of Middle East wars with mental disorders or cognitive impairment.

-A one in six ratio amounts to approximately 400,000 veterans with substance abuse problems.

Why veterans-only courts?

Veterans’ courts allow for the veteran to appear before judges and court officials who are familiar with the problems brought on by combat-related PTSD and Traumatic Brain Disorder.

The staffs at veterans’ courts link the men and women appearing in their venues with various veteran service groups such as the VA and state organizations that can help them get back on track. They also require the veterans to go to counseling and to undergo drug screening if necessary.

We are pleased to announce that proceeds from the upcoming Boise screening of BRAVO! at the Egyptian Theatre on March 30, 2015, will go to help fund the Ada County Veterans’ Treatment Court non-profit as well as the Idaho Veterans’ Network, both of which help veterans who are taken into the Veterans’ Treatment Court system. Your attendance at this event will provide funding to help defray the costs of transportation, mandatory drug testing, rewards for participation, and other necessities.

To further illuminate the good work being done here in Idaho, we offer the Idaho Veterans Network mission statement: The mission of the Idaho Veterans Network is to help distressed veterans and their families by facilitating peer-to-peer support and guiding them to resources available to them in order to create a veteran population that is capable, confident, and committed to their community.

So please join us for the Boise screening at the Egyptian Theatre on March 30, 2015. Doors open at 6:00 PM with program beginning at 6:45, film at 7:00, followed by a Q & A session from 9:00 to 9:30. Several of the men who are in the film will travel here to be on hand for the discussion, along with other local veterans and the producers, Ken and Betty Rodgers. Master of Ceremonies Alan Heathcock, Boise’s world-renowned author of VOLT, will make the introductions and facilitate the panel discussion.

Tickets may be purchased online as soon as they are available on the Egyptian Theatre’s website.

Come on out, bring a friend or relative, and support the efforts of our Ada County Veterans’ Courts and our Idaho Veterans Network.

As soon as details are available about the other upcoming Idaho screenings of BRAVO!, we will pass them along to you.

Poster for the screening of BRAVO! in Casa Grande, AZ on 1/15/2015

Poster for the screening of BRAVO! in Casa Grande, AZ on 1/15/2015

Also on the screening front, mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 15, 2015, at the historic Paramount Theatre. Doors open at Noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow at 2:00 PM. Ticket cost: $15.00 advance purchase or at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Mobile Veterans Center and Emergency Veterans Services in Pinal County.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next 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 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

January 7, 2015

Author Julie Titone Muses on War and Writing

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When I drive U.S. Highway 95 through North Central Idaho, I often stop near the top of White Bird Hill. A shelter there overlooks the battlefield where Nez Perce braves tangled with the U.S. Cavalry in 1877 before taking their epic flight toward Canada.

One time, a Montana family was there beside me, surveying the high-country panorama. Two grade-school boys were debating who kicked whose butt in the historic battle. Finally the younger one turned to his mom and asked, “Did we lose?”

An older man who was with them replied. He said: “Everybody loses in war.”

Book cover for BOOCOO DINKY DOW, MY SHORT CRAZY VIETNAM WAR

Book cover for BOOCOO DINKY DOW, MY SHORT, CRAZY VIETNAM WAR

Uncle or grandpa, I don’t know. But I’d bet that man was a veteran. I heard his same weary conviction in the voice of Ken Rodgers when he told me once, “Nobody hates war more than a soldier.”

If you’re reading this, you know Ken served in Vietnam. He and his wife, Betty, created the “Bravo!” documentary about the siege of Khe Sanh, capturing the memories of Ken and the other Marines who survived those 77 hellish days. They travel widely to screen the film.

I know Ken and Betty because I’ve been on a similar journey, giving readings from the Grady Myers memoir “Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War.” The title comes from the way American soldiers pronounced beaucoup dien cai dau, a French-Vietnamese expression that meant very crazy. Off the wall.

I was married to Grady during the 1980s. Like Betty, I was the wife who decided those war memories should be preserved. Besides, as a journalist, I knew a good story when I saw one: A funny, artistic and nearsighted Boise teenager is transformed into Hoss, an M-60 machine gunner who nearly dies in battle.

PFC Grady Myers

PFC Grady Myers

I was the scribe for “Boocoo Dinky Dow.” Grady, a professional artist, provided illustrations. After he died in 2011, I published the book.

I found it satisfying to honor a talented man, the father of my son, by making his experiences part of the Vietnam War literature. “Boocoo Dinky Dow” is in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial archives and Texas Tech’s Vietnam Archive. It has found its way into libraries and veterans’ centers, has been discussed in book stores and living rooms. Grady’s war-related artwork is now in the permanent collection of the National Veterans Art Museum.

Publication did more than end a decades-long book project. It started a personal journey. My life is richer for the torrent of stories coming back at me in return for sharing Grady’s.

I’ve heard stories from Marines, Navy and Army vets. But also from nurses and protesters and USO performers. And COs who were conscientious objectors and COs who were commanding officers. And pilots and submariners, professors and cops. And women who waited for brothers and sons who came back unscathed, at least on the outside. I’ve talked to people forged by war and people broken by it.

Even the stories I don’t hear intrigue me. At “Boocoo Dinky Dow” readings, I’ve learned to watch for the guy at the back of the room, a guy in his 60s. He sits there, arms crossed, maybe nods a time or two. As others in the audience come up to chat, I look over their shoulders and see him head out the door. Can he not bring himself to talk about what he did in the war, having suffered what journalist David Wood calls “moral injury”?

Author Julie Titone and Vietnam Veteran Bill Crist at the National Veterans Art Museum

Author Julie Titone and Vietnam Veteran Bill Crist at the National Veterans Art Museum

Maybe he doesn’t feel worthy of recognition. Or doesn’t think he’ll get it. One combat vet told me, “I don’t want to be thanked for my service. I didn’t want to go. I was drafted.” Two sentences later, he was explaining how he worked hard not to resent Iraq and Afghanistan vets for having been welcomed home by the public.

Mixed emotions and complexity are the hallmarks of this war-story enterprise. How must it feel to have watched buddies die in a war that became a synonym for failure? Last time I Googled the words “another Vietnam,” there were 143,000 results.

I feel plenty of confusion myself. I grapple with the increasing awareness that, in addition to horror and waste, war yields friendship, pride, and the occasional vanquishment of evil. War is a stage for both despicable crimes and crystalline acts of conscience. As Grady’s memoir and the “Bravo!” documentary show, war can inspire art.

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

When Ken told me that “nobody hates war more than a soldier,” he was responding to some angst I shared with him. I was fretting about the fine line that exists between honoring warriors and promoting wars. I didn’t want to step over that line. Frankly, I’m still not sure where it is.

But Ken is right. Most combat veterans fully understand the words that Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe said in surrender. That he was tired of fighting. That he would fight no more, forever.

Julie Titone’s articles and photographs have appeared in regional, national and international publications as well as college textbooks and literary collections. She lives in Everett, WA. To learn more about the authors of “Boocoo Dinky Dow” and to order the book, visit shortcrazyvietnam.com.

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

December 31, 2014

Author Gregg Jones Blogs About Writing His Book, LAST STAND AT KHE SANH

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The Americans who fought and bled and stood firm at Khe Sanh in 1968 will be a part of my life forever. That’s the payoff I treasure most after writing Last Stand at Khe Sanh. Among the extraordinary people who graced my life during this project were Ken and Betty Rodgers. Their powerful film on the men of Bravo 1/26 was a source of early inspiration for me. At the invitation of Ken and Betty, I’ve put together a Q-and-A about my Khe Sanh literary experience. It draws on questions I’ve gotten from Khe Sanh veterans and readers at large, as well as my personal reflections on this unforgettable journey.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE ABOUT KHE SANH?

I discuss this at some length in the introduction to Last Stand at Khe Sanh. The Vietnam War was a great and tragic event that hung over my childhood. My early fascination with the American Civil War piqued my curiosity about what American soldiers were experiencing in Vietnam. My mother had lost her oldest brother in World War II, and that deepened my interest in the war and the rising human cost of the conflict. I identified with the men who answered the call and served in Vietnam. I always believed that I would have been a grunt in Vietnam if I had been born ten years earlier. When I decided to write a book about Vietnam, Khe Sanh drew me in. It was a high-stakes showdown in the war’s pivotal year, and a dramatic setting for an examination of the American combat experience in Vietnam.

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones

WHAT WERE THE STORYTELLING CHALLENGES YOU ENCOUNTERED IN WRITING A NARRATIVE HISTORY ABOUT KHE SANH?

I knew I would have to limit the scope of the book to the siege months to tell the human story in some depth, but that still meant constructing a complicated narrative that unfolds over four months, from January to April 1968. Another challenge was the fact that the action at Khe Sanh plays out in several different locations: the combat base; Hill 881 South; Hill 861 and 861 Alpha; the Rock Quarry and Hill 64; Khe Sanh village; and Hill 558. Contemporary readers expect a cinematic experience in a work of narrative history, and that entails conveying a story through the experiences of compelling characters. I wanted to turn a spotlight on as many men as possible without overwhelming the reader. It was a constant balancing act. There was one final narrative challenge: Khe Sanh didn’t end with a big pitched battle or a scene like Santa Ana’s soldiers pouring over the walls at the Alamo, or Pickett’s charge crashing against Union lines on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. The closest thing to a dramatic final act at Khe Sanh was the 3/26 assault on Hill 881 North on Easter Sunday, April 14, 1968. But even that wasn’t really the final act: The killing and dying at Khe Sanh continued for another three months, out of the spotlight, before the base was abandoned.

WHAT WERE YOUR MOST REWARDING MOMENTS IN WRITING LAST STAND AT KHE SANH?

It was gratifying to give a voice to men who had not been heard before. I was trying to find a mix of representative characters, from the COC at Khe Sanh Combat Base down to the grunt-level of line platoons on the hill outposts. Obviously, some of the men who populate the narrative of Last Stand at Khe Sanh had appeared in previous books, but many hadn’t. I also was very inspired to tell the stories of men who had lost their lives at Khe Sanh, to put a face on brave and selfless souls who had faded into the mists of history. I wanted readers to know something about the final moments of men like Tommy Denning, Jesus Roberto Vasquez, Joe Molettiere, Eugene Ashley, Jonathan Nathaniel Spicer, and so many others. They deserve to be remembered, as do their comrades who returned from Vietnam.

WHAT WERE SOME OF THE PROJECT’S MORE TRYING MOMENTS?

It took much more time than I expected to identify and correct the errors in historical records and previous books about Khe Sanh, and to reconcile discrepancies in the accounts of eyewitnesses I interviewed. There were a couple of instances where individuals had clearly created embellished accounts to recast themselves as heroes. It took a lot of digging and checking to get it right. Finally, it was painful to have to edit and tighten the manuscript and lose the stories of so many men.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?

With unlimited time and money, I would devote another three years to interviewing Khe Sanh veterans, digging through the archives, walking the battlefield and tracking down NVA veterans. I would spend another year or two writing, fact-checking, proofreading and polishing the manuscript. A publisher’s deadlines never seem to leave enough time for everything that needs to be done.

HOW ARE SALES OF LAST STAND AT KHE SANH?

My editor at Da Capo Press, Bob Pigeon, had very high hopes for Last Stand at Khe Sanh. He loved the finished manuscript, and this fall submitted the book for three major prizes. Leatherneck magazine called Last Stand “a classic,” and scores of veterans have told me that Last Stand captured their Khe Sanh experience better than any previous book. But the fact is that Last Stand at Khe Sanh hasn’t found the “larger audience” that I hoped it would find. The men who fought at Khe Sanh deserve to have their story told, and word of mouth is a powerful force in the history genre. Last Stand at Khe Sanh is still selling, and the paperback edition will be out next spring.

Gregg Jones

Gregg Jones

WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?

Absolutely. I became a journalist because I wanted to experience history as it happened. I witnessed some extraordinary history in my thirty years in journalism. When I left daily journalism in 2010 to devote myself to chronicling American history, I dreamed of writing books like Last Stand at Khe Sanh. Getting to know some of the men who fought at Khe Sanh and telling their story has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

Gregg Jones is the author of three critically acclaimed nonfiction books: Last Stand at Khe Sanh, Honor in the Dust, and Red Revolution. He reported from Afghanistan in 2001-02, and has covered insurgencies, revolutions and other major news events on five continents during his four decades in journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe and other U.S., British and Australian newspapers and magazines. He has been honored with numerous awards and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was based in Asia from 1984-89 and 1997-2002.

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

December 17, 2014

News on Big Screening at Boise’s Egyptian Theater

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Betty and I have been involved in a lot of screenings of BRAVO! and one of the salient things I have noticed is how each event is unique. It could be location, audience, weather, technical equipment…whether in the cozy confines of a friend’s home or the superb facilities at George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound.

A week ago last Wednesday evening we screened the film in a different venue at the Ada County Sheriff’s Department in Boise in what has been called a “sneak preview” for folks interested in helping with the screening of BRAVO! at Boise’s Egyptian Theatre on March 30, 2015. The Egyptian is an institution in Boise and a beloved community treasure that screens films, hosts concerts and visiting authors among other events. This March 30 event is a benefit for the Ada County Veterans’ Treatment Court and the Idaho Veterans’ Network.

In excess of fifty folks showed up for the sneak preview of BRAVO! last Wednesday and to engage in a discussion with organizers Norma Jaeger, Christina Iverson and BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers about how they can help promote the screening which will occur on Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. We heard many worthwhile ideas and received big-hearted offers of support.

Inside the Ada County Sheriff's Department prior to the screening of BRAVO! © Betty Rodgers 2014

Inside the Ada County Sheriff’s Department prior to the screening of BRAVO!
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We were joined by Mike Shipman, our graphic designer and a stout supporter of BRAVO!. Boise’s chief of police, Mike Masterson, was there and Heather Paredes who, along with her sister, founded the Eagle, Idaho, Field of Honor. Rick Ardinger, executive director of the Idaho Humanities Council, and Mary DeWalt, director of the Ada Community Library, also came and offered their ideas. In addition to helping with the screening, the Idaho Humanities Council and the Ada Community Library plan to bring author Richard Currey to Idaho as part of Boise’s 2015 Read Me Treasure Valley program. Currey penned the novel Fatal Light about the Vietnam War.

Terry Shotkoski of the Cloverdale Cemetery also attended the sneak preview. Terry is partly responsible for the Living Wall coming to Boise last September. He and his organization are BIG supporters of veterans. We were also joined by folks from the sheriff’s department, the Idaho Retired Law Enforcement Association, two retired generals, and John and Heather Taylor (John is BRAVO! Marine Ken Korkow’s cousin). Folks from the Boise Rescue Mission and from the Vet Center came to see how they can help, along with other great friends of BRAVO!.

Besides the screening in Boise, BRAVO! will also be featured at related benefit events in Twin Falls, Caldwell, Pocatello and Lewiston, Idaho.

We are very pleased to announce that the notable Idaho author and fan of BRAVO!, Mr. Alan Heathcock, will preside as the event’s master of ceremonies. Also coming to Boise for the March 30 screening will be some of the BRAVO! team, as well as several other Idaho authors who have written books about the Vietnam War. Come meet them all!

Inside Boise's Egyptian Theater at a technical check. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Inside Boise’s Egyptian Theater at a technical check.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We are excited about this big event and how we can help folks learn more about the Vietnam War, the personal stories of the people who served, and its long-term costs in human terms. We are also excited to be able to work with all these great Idaho folks and organizations to be able to benefit the Ada County Veteran’s Treatment Court and the Idaho Veterans’ Network.

Also on the screening front, mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 15, 2015, at the historic Paramount Theatre. Doors open at Noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow. We will give you more details about this screening as they become available.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next 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 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

December 10, 2014

On Scuttlebutt

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In last week’s blog I wrote about the letters I sent home to my parents while I was in-country in 1967-68. In preparation for that article, I read each of the letters. I am glad I did because it clarified some events for me (I really did see elephants and coffee trees) and it cleared up some haziness in my memory about the timeline of my tour there.

I also noticed some recurring subjects one of which was “scuttlebutt.”

Scuttlebutt originally was a British nautical term that named a water cask kept on deck for sailors to get a drink of water. Over time, the scuttlebutt became a place for sailors to gather and share rumors or gossip. The term is quite old and was purloined sometime around the turn of the 20th Century to refer to gossip. In the Marines of the 1960s, the term scuttlebutt referred directly to rumors.

In my letters I refer to scuttlebutt in a number of instances and now, with the actual history of events available for comparison, what I thought was going to occur in any given period of time most often turned out to not happen.

Envelope sent from Vietnam by the blogger to his parents. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Envelope sent from Vietnam by the blogger to his parents.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

A few examples of the scuttlebutt going around in 1967-68 with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines follows, as recorded in my letters written at the time. I had not been in the field south of Hill 55 very long when I wrote this on 4/27/1967:

Rumor has it that the first of July or August, we will rotate to Okinawa for a month of training and then we will be sent afloat as an SLF (Special Landing Force) where we will make landings at trouble spots in Vietnam. We will be based out of Olongapo, the Philippines.

Bravo Company was located just south of Hue on May 8, 1967 when I sent this:

The engineers are building a 20 mile road to a hill southeast of Phu Bai. We will act as security. The country is “virgin.” The only Marines in there have been reconnaissance Marines. When we get to the hill, we will secure it and set up there.

On June 22, 1967, nowhere near the “virgin” country (we never went on that road-building operation), I wrote this from Hill 881 South west of the Khe Sanh Combat Base:

Rumor also has it that we shall be rotating to Phu Bai and then Okinawa in the next couple of months. I also hope that that is one rumor that comes true.

On September 1, 1967 I wrote:

By the 15th the battalion is supposed to be in Phu Bai. From there who knows? Maybe to Okinawa.

Ken Rodgers, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

I never made it to Okinawa until I rotated back to the States when my tour of duty was up. I never made it to Olongapo either.

The thing that gets my attention now is how the scuttlebutt usually had us going somewhere away from the war, to a place with women and food and beer. I am not sure if that’s the result of my own wishes—how I interpreted the rumors—or if it was a unit-wide desire. I suspect that my comments in the letters are a result of both my own optimism and the hopefulness of the unit in general.

I do know that one of the things that kept me going over there—that might have helped me stay alive—was my optimism, my hopefulness. The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said: “Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”

During the siege, the world we inhabited was miserable, more than miserable, yet we laughed, we hoped, we dreamed of home.

I think all those references to being someplace other than where I happened to be, the misery of days of rain, the attacks by legions of leeches, the constant work and little sleep, the horror of the Siege of Khe Sanh, were nothing more than attempts to be optimistic.

I say “nothing more,” but as I think about it, that staying optimistic was a key thing in me staying alive. Since I had something to hope for, it made me work harder to stay alive.

My old buddy Joe Skinner who was a Marine Corps officer at the end of World War II once told me, “Hope is one step from despair.” When he told me that, I laughed hard. It’s true. When the jaws of despair are gnawing on you, whispering in your ear that all is folly, hope and optimism are the things that help keep you going, help keep you alive.

The 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson said it well:

# 254

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

On the screening front, mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona on February 15, 2015 at the historic Paramount Theater. Doors open at noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow. We will give you more details about this screening as they become available.

We are also pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

December 4, 2014

On Letters Home

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I found them in an old blue binder, one of those flimsy ones with a cheap vinyl cover. All the letters I sent to my family while I was in the service from 1966 through 1969. I had no idea my mother had kept them. As I re-read them, I was surprised by a number of things: back then I had very poor penmanship although it was much more legible than it is now; I initially wrote in cursive, something that one sees very little of these days; I was naive at the beginning of my Vietnam tour, cynical and somewhat bitter at the end; except for several letters sent berating the anti-war protesters back home after we Khe Sanh defenders got infamous on the covers of Time and Life and Newsweek, for the most part, I shined my parents on about what was going on in the places I was located in Vietnam.

An envelope I used to write my parents while I was in Vietnam. © Ken Rodgers 2014

An envelope I used to write my parents while I was in Vietnam.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote on March 28, 1967, the day I got to Danang, Vietnam:

“Instead of getting 3-4 weeks of jungle training in Okinawa, we got 60 hours of shots, blood donating, plus work parties. We got here at 3:30 this morning via Continental Airlines. We’ve just been sitting around in the filth and heat and humidity–getting sticky and dirty…”

Or this from November 17, 1967:

“I got a new pair of jungle boots today–my other pair, 5-1/2 months old, were literally falling apart at the seams.”

On January 8, 1968 I wrote:

“By the time you receive this letter I should have only about 90 days left in country.”

On February 26, 1968:

“A newsman from NBC got my picture the other day. Look for my flick on TV.”

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

On March 10, 1968, I wrote a diatribe, what I described at the time as “podium pounding” that included deleterious comments about the North Vietnamese and about the war protesters at home. Some of the more plain vanilla narrative from that letter follows:

“…we aren’t sitting around waiting to die, we are sitting around waiting for the time we can go home because we are alive and are going to live because it takes more than 16,000 (the real number of NVA was closer to 40,000)…idiots to beat 5000 (the real number of US personnel–USMC, Navy, Army, Air Force and South Vietnamese allies was closer to 6000) Marines face to face…”

As I read these letters I reflected on how long it took for letters to get delivered from my family and friends to me while I was at Khe Sanh, and vice versa, how long it took for mine to get home. It usually took weeks for correspondence to get from back-in-the-real-world (as we called it) to me in the bush. Oftentimes letters and packages got lost. Mail was our lifeline from the “real world.” It helped keep our morale up, helped stiffen our spines.

Photo of part of a letter I wrote my parents on March 28, 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. By this time I was trying printing my words as a way to make my letters more legible. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Photo of part of a letter I wrote my parents on March 28, 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. By this time I was trying printing my words as a way to make my letters more legible.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

Now, troops overseas can communicate almost instantly with the folks back home. Besides the old method—the mail—one can telephone, email, Skype, video teleconference and instant message. Same results, I think, but the immediacy of it all, I suspect, makes those direct contacts pretty common should a warrior choose it to be so.

Back in my day, you could go to Danang and wait in line in the middle of the night to call home. I only knew of one or two Marines who took advantage of the service. Most of the time I was mired in the bush and Danang was a long ways off, and when in Danang I was going somewhere, to a school or on R&R or to raise some hell at China Beach.

Think about how it must have been for Caesar’s legionnaires back in 53 BC. Correspondence must have taken months, if it happened at all, and once a warrior tromped off to Gaul, he may never be heard from again.

For most of us, family ties are strong and the memories of home and thoughts of returning there are a powerful bond that help Marines keep their spirits up and allows them to function whether it be on watch, on a work party or in battle.

While we fought in Vietnam, our loved ones needed our letters. We needed theirs.

On the screening front, we are pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

November 26, 2014

Last Memorials

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November is a thoughtful and busy time for veterans of the United States military. Celebrations, parades, reunions and remembrances occur from big cities to small towns up and down and all across the country.

While a large number of the Men of BRAVO! were in San Diego with the Khe Sanh Veterans group participating in Veterans Day ceremonies, in Liberty Lake Washington, former Navy Corpsman Greg Vercruysse was being honored with a memorial at the Liberty Lake Fallen Heroes Circuit Course.

The mayor of Liberty Lake and Greg Vercruysse's mother cutting the ribbon for the ceremony honoring Greg. © Dean Vercruysse 2014

The mayor of Liberty Lake and Greg Vercruysse’s mother cutting the ribbon for the ceremony honoring Greg.
© Dean Vercruysse 2014

I have written to some extent about Greg and the other men of Bravo Company who were killed and wounded on June 7, 1967 in an ambush off of Hill 881 South, so return readers to this blog are familiar with Greg’s story as well as what occurred to the other twenty men who were killed in that action.

With that in mind, I am not going to belabor the memory anymore except to state that what happened at Liberty Lake on 11/11/2014 was a fine example of the honors that have belatedly come to a lot of veterans of the Vietnam War.

Former Bravo Company Corpsman John Kerr being interviewed by KREM-TV. © Dean Vercruysse 2014

Former Corpsman John Kerr being interviewed by KREM-TV.
© Dean Vercruysse 2014

Also remarkable to me was the fact that Navy Corpsman John Kerr, also with Bravo Company at that time and Greg Vercruysse’s buddy, traveled across the country to Liberty Lake to honor Greg’s memory along with Greg’s mom and brother and respectful citizens of Liberty Lake.

You can read more about the event at http://spokanevalleylibertylake.kxly.com/news/news/143231-liberty-lake-honors-sailor-killed-vietnam or watch a well-produced news report from TV station KREM here.

Navy Senior Chief Spinden and former Staff Sergeant Bob Wiese were instrumental in honoring Greg. © Dean Vercruysse 2014

Navy Senior Chief Spinden and former Staff Sergeant Wiese were instrumental in honoring Greg.
© Dean Vercruysse 2014

The pictures in this blog post of the Liberty Lake event are courtesy of Greg’s brother, Dean Vercruysse.

Semper Fidelis from the men of BRAVO! to the Vercruysse family.

On the screening front, we are pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this spring or summer, 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Vietnam War

November 19, 2014

On Sweet Pacific Breezes and Film Screenings, Reunions and Survival

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This past week the BRAVO! team spent the week at the Khe Sanh Veterans annual reunion at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, California.

We met again with men who served with Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment before, during and after the Siege of Khe Sanh. We also met new friends and old friends from other outfits and shared stories, memories, tears and laughs.

Every year these events get more intimate and emotional for us. The ties that bind the survivors of any crisis are strong and can only be severed by death. This is very true for the men who served during the Siege. For those of us who endured the horror of that prolonged battle, the bonds of comradeship are stout. As one looks across a room full of veterans of that action, he knows that the people sitting out there, even if he does not personally know them, all understand the lifelong tensions and anxiety that simmer down inside.

One of the most exciting things that happened to us at the 2014 reunion was being joined by our family. Son Jim and his wife Norma, along with their daughters Justyce and Jayden drove over from Casa Grande, Arizona. Daughter Sarah and husband Baruch along with their daughter Isadora came in from Seattle, Washington. We were all present at the reunion banquet when Justyce, who received a scholarship from the Khe Sanh Veterans Association, was recognized by the scholarship committee chair, Dan Fisher.

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long © Betty Rodgers 2014

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Thanks to Tom Eichler, John Pessoni and the rest of the leaders of the Khe Sanh Veterans for all their hard work in putting the event together. Now, next year, on to Savannah, Georgia.

While we were at the reunion, we slipped away to screen BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR at American Legion Post 291, Newport Beach, California. While the calming Pacific breezes wafted over the sailboats berthed at the pier outside the post, an earnest audience of seventy-plus people saw the film. Among the attendees were BRAVO! Marines Skipper Ken Pipes, Ben Long, Ken Korkow, Mike McCauley, John Cicala and Tom Quigley. Also there were other men who served with Bravo Company, Jim Beall and Charles McIntire. Area residents Ray and Barbara Doyle and Robin Zimmermann who contributed both music and expertise to the film came and visited with us and watched BRAVO!

A big shout-out to Tony Arrigo, Jim Kaylor and Roger Henry who worked hard to make sure the event came off without a hitch.

Something about the contrast between balmy southern California weather outside and the intense representation of the violence, agony and redemption depicted inside during the screening of the film seemed to make the day more poignant.

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann. © Betty Rodgers 2014

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Aside from the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion and the Newport Beach screening, BRAVO! was featured in an outstanding news feature by reporter Matt Burke in The Stars and Stripes which serves the United States’ military community worldwide. You can read the article here.

http://www.stripes.com/news/special-reports/vietnam-at-50/the-bloody-battle-of-khe-sanh-77-days-under-siege-1.314627

Up next for the BRAVO! team, back to Idaho for a battery recharge and plans for screenings in March 2015 to coincide with the first year of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and for Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter or spring, 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

November 12, 2014

On Rosie the Welder and Other Folks Who Served Our Country

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I used to travel to Sonoma County, California, back in the early seventies and it seemed to me the place seethed with hatred of our war efforts in not just Vietnam, but all over the world. In my mind, the place was anti-war, anti-Vietnam, and in some cases anti-me.

I don’t think I’m the only person who felt that way. Parts of Northern California have earned a reputation as anti-military, anti-war.

Nevertheless, Betty and I moved to Sonoma County in 1990. Was it anti-war? Maybe. For a lot of folks. Did I care? Hard to say. Mostly I kept my nose to the work stone and spent my time living, keeping my war experiences held close and not for public consumption.

Tom Croft, emcee for the 14th Annual Sonoma County Tribute to Our Veterans. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Tom Croft, emcee for the 14th Annual Sonoma County Tribute to Our Veterans.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We moved from California after living there for 15 years. After our move, we began to travel, to write, to photograph and make a film about the Siege of Khe Sanh. The genesis of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR has led us across the country, Massachusetts to Texas, Idaho to Rochester, Minnesota. Fallbrook, California and Vista, California and San Francisco.

Last week we were back in Sonoma County where we were guests at the Sonoma County Tribute to Veterans Celebration. Eight hundred folks—some veterans, some not—attended the luncheon and panel discussion.

This tribute has been going on for 14 years. When we lived in Sonoma County, I’d heard about it. But Sonoma County, in my mind, was a place that didn’t have much truck with warriors. I was wrong.

Sponsored by a number of local Sonoma County Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs and emceed by our friend, Navy Corpsman Tom Croft, this event is one successful model for, in my estimation, how an homage to veterans tribute should look.

Vietnam War Army medic Ezbon Jen proctored a panel of veterans who talked about their war experiences. I (Ken Rodgers) served as a representative for the Vietnam War. Retired Army Colonel Pete Peterka, who first fought in World War II as a Marine, represented WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Regan Masi, a United States Air Force vet, represented the post-9/11 conflicts. Phyllis Gould spoke to the audience as one of our country’s original “Rosie the Welders” during World War II.

Out in the crowd, I saw uniforms on bent bodies that spoke to me of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge. I met Vietnam vets who ride their motorcycles all over the west to funerals for Vietnam vets. I met a former Navy pilot whose father was a colonel of Marines who spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s allegations against loyal American citizens. The Commandant of the Marine Corps eventually asked for this colonel’s resignation and got it, and now the colonel’s son has carried on the family tradition as an ardent spokesman for Veterans for Peace.

I once thought that Veterans for Peace were men and women who, because they were for peace, were against those who fought in war. But in my recent experience, I don’t think that’s the case. They just want peace and who doesn’t? No one hates war like a man or woman clamped in the teeth of fright as he or she is compelled to kill his or her enemy.

Panel Members, left to right: Phyllis Gould, Regan Masi, Colonel Pete Peterka, Ken Rodgers. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Panel Members, left to right: Phyllis Gould, Regan Masi, Colonel Pete Peterka, Ken Rodgers.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

And so, last week it was very gratifying for me to see the nearly 800 folks collected together to honor veterans of many wars. And in a place that has had a reputation for not liking or supporting veterans.

You can view a short YouTube clip of Ezbon Jen interviewing Ken Rodgers @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyvcD-XMSWY.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Newport Beach, California, this Saturday, November 15, at 10:00 AM. American Legion Post 291 will host the screening at their facility located at 215 E. 15th Street, Newport Beach. Your $10.00 donation at the door will benefit the Fisher House of Southern California which offers shelter and support for veterans who are dealing with a medical crisis. Come out and see this profound film and support the Fisher House.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter or spring, 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.