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Archive for the ‘Khe Sanh’ Category

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,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,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.

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

June 18, 2014

Notes on the Springfield, Illinois Screenings of BRAVO!

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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.

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O'Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O’Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey.
Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

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 scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

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.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

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/.

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.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

June 11, 2014

Remembering June 7, 1967

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As I write this blog, the date is June 7, 2014. Recognition of the date leads me to ponder a June 7 forty-seven years ago.

Not long after returning from Vietnam in April, 1968, I was cruising the streets of my home town with one of my high school friends who looked at me and said, “Rodgers, you could fall in a bucket of manure and come out smelling like a rose.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to that comment but now I remember thinking that, yeah, I’d been lucky in my life.

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

During the Siege of Khe Sanh I was one of the lucky members of Bravo Company. I didn’t go out on the Ghost Patrol and my platoon, 2nd, wasn’t in the first wave of attackers as we assaulted the NVA on March 30, 1968. Yes, I had to deal with incoming and snipers and going out on listening posts at night, but for the most part I was pretty lucky. And yes, I learned to tell where incoming was going to hit by the sound it made leaving the tube and yes I didn’t stick my head up so a sniper’s round could rip the top of my head off, but sometimes you didn’t hear the incoming leave the tube and sometimes you had little choice, you had to stick your head up. So you needed some luck to survive.

Some folks say that luck is only being prepared but in the case of the Marine Corps, you really don’t have any choice about when you get picked to go into action.

I was pretty lucky before the Siege, too, because I didn’t go out on the Bravo Company patrol of June 7, 1967. Two squads from 2nd Platoon went out on a company-minus patrol which we thought would be a routine exercise off the north end of 881 South that morning. The squad I was in was chosen to remain behind and man the lines. I was pretty new to the outfit, so I remember that it seemed like just another day in my tour. Instead of humping the hills outside of Khe Sanh, I’d fill sandbags and stand watch.

It wasn’t long before we could hear activity going on and it wasn’t the kind of activity that you want to hear. Even though I didn’t know a lot of the guys in our platoon very well, I can still remember feeling empty. Empty and a little frightened, too. Our squad leader was monitoring the action on a radio, or trying to, and gave us some confused information about what was going on. It all sounded like a lot of chaos to me. Bravo Company hadn’t been lucky and had walked into a well-planned ambush, or at least that’s what I remember.

A trench line on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of marines.org

A trench line on Hill 881 South.
Photo courtesy of marines.org

Eventually the battle was ended and our men came back in. There was only one problem. We were short 18 Marines and Corpsmen. And I knew some of them.

I had never felt anything like what I felt as I heard the list of names of our dead and saw the blank look on the faces of the men who returned. I knew well enough to keep my mouth shut and not say anything stupid. I wanted to apologize and to sympathize and to…I wanted to reach out to them but I realized that wouldn’t do much good.

The men of 2nd Platoon who didn’t go out on that patrol sat there and talked in hushed voices. Inside, in my guts and my chest, I felt drained, like something had vacuumed my innards. I couldn’t imagine what the men who had been out there felt like. (Later in my tour, during the Siege, I would get firsthand experience.)

One of the things I remember best from that day is my fireteam leader’s reaction to news that his best buddy was KIA. They’d come over from 3/26 about a month before. My team leader was the most stoic man I ever knew but on that day he cried. He didn’t try to stop the tears. He didn’t try to hide them. He let them go and they streamed down his brown face. I wanted to reach out and hug him but we didn’t do that kind of thing back then, or that’s what I believed, anyway.

A few days later we reorganized the platoon and within several weeks we acted like we had forgotten all about what happened on June 7. But we hadn’t. We were just trying to move on, hoping to be lucky enough not to end up like those good men who hadn’t come back from that action.

The names of those men:

Lance Corporal James Blaz
Lance Corporal John Chase
Corporal Ronald Crooks
Lance Corporal Ronald Enderby
Corporal Edward Furlong
Private Gale Gotti
PFC Thomas Healy
PFC Kenneth Johnson
Lance Corporal Kenneth Keefer
PFC Steven Millett
PFC Larry Morris
PFC Wayne Pitts
PFC Frank Shovlin
PFC Philip Van Deusen
Lance Corporal Edward Vercouteren
HN (Corpsman) Gregory Vercruysse
Corporal Walter Ward
PFC Larry Worthen

Semper Fi, Marines.

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,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

June 4, 2014

BRAVO!’s Michael E. O’Hara Delivers a Stirring Speech; News on Upcoming Screenings

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara was the guest speaker at the Brown County, Indiana, Memorial Day celebration hosted by Veterans of Foreign War Post 6195. The event was held on the courthouse lawn and Brown County’s fallen veterans of war were honored. Michael O’Hara is an articulate and passionate man who, when he sets out to do something, does it with an eye to perfection. His speech is moving and memorable and does us all proud. You can read Michael’s speech here:

http://www.thisisbrowncounty.com/2014/05/28/welcome-home-vietnam-veterans/.

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo!

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!

On a separate note, as we move into the summer season, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in a number of places. Here’s what we can tell you about future showings right now. We hope you will join us or send an interested friend or relative.

• Springfield, IL – The Staab Family of Springfield presents BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR on June 13, 2014, 7:30 PM, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts located at:

420 South Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois.

The film’s producers, along with several of the men featured in the film, will take part in a Q & A session immediately following the screening. Never before have so many of BRAVO!’s stars attended any one screening. You will meet Cal Bright, John Cicala, Ben Long, Michael E. O’Hara, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers and Tom Quigley. Springfield is Tom Quigley’s hometown. Also in attendance will be the film’s Associate Producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.

This is a free event, but donations will be gratefully accepted for a proposed Purple Heart Memorial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Here’s a link to the radio ad about this event. You will hear the voices of Dan Horton, Steve Wiese and Michael E. O’Hara. Staab Family IN HONOR WEEKEND 060414

Michael O'Hara in Vietnam

Michael O’Hara in Vietnam

• Chicago, IL – Union League American Legion Post 758 presents BRAVO! on July 24, 2014 at the Union League Club of Chicago.
More details to follow.

• Southern California - We are screening the film in Southern California around The Marine Corps Birthday and Veteran’s Day. Specific times, dates and locations to follow.

• If you would like to host a screening 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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Other Musings,Vietnam War

May 21, 2014

Anatomy of a Photograph

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One of the seminal images associated with BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR is a photo provided to us by BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley. When we interviewed nine of the men in San Antonio in July 2010, Mike brought a copy of the image presented below and we knew immediately that it would be an important addition to the film. The men in this photo were in Third Squad, First Platoon of Bravo Company, 1/26.

3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, Bravo, 1/26. Photo by Author Smith Photo Courtesy of Mike McCauley

3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, Bravo, 1/26.
Photo by Author Smith
Photo Courtesy of Mike McCauley

One of the major desires we had as filmmakers was to make sure that as many of the images and sounds as possible were generated during the actual time of the battle. This includes photos, film, video, and oral interviews, so having a photo like this, taken of men who were actually in Bravo Company in that time and place was very important to us. Not only were we interested in the photo being genuine, we were interested in the aesthetic value the picture holds. I say holds because there is something organic to this particular image that captures the sadness, the sorrow, the horror, the stoic courage and the brotherhood experienced by the men who fought at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Marines in the photo are listed below. Please note that in the Marine Corps in the 1960s, you rarely called anyone by their first name. You probably didn’t know their first name. In regards to the “unknown” there were so many men who came and went as replacements-in and casualties-or-deaths-out, that you often didn’t have time to know their names. You may not have wanted to know their names, because that meant you would have to get to know them and you did not want to get to know them because if they were killed you had to deal with the personal grief that ensued as a result of their deaths. Please also note that some of the names may not be spelled correctly since we are relying on memories of over forty years.

Back row, left to right:

Black, Paben, Shockley, Unknown

Front row, left to right:

McCauley (Mike, from the film), Britt (Ted), Sinkowietz, Beamon, Roper and Wiese (Steve). Steve Wiese was the squad leader of 3rd Squad and is also one of the men featured in the film.

According to Mike McCauley, this photo was taken by Author Smith who was killed in action in what has come to be called the Payback Patrol which occurred on March 30, 1968. According to Steve Wiese, Author Smith was KIA while overwhelming a NVA machine gun bunker. You can read more about Author Smith here: http://www.virtualwall.org/ds/SmithAC03a.htm.

Mike McCauley

Mike McCauley

Of the other men in this photo, Ted Britt was also KIA on March 30. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his actions on that date. According to Ted Britt’s Silver Star citation:

While reorganizing to continue the attack, his squad was suddenly pinned down by hostile mortar and machine gun fire. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Private First Class Britt alertly pinpointed the primary source of fire and unhesitatingly left his covered position to assault the automatic weapons emplacement. Fearlessly moving across the fire-swept terrain, he reached the fortified bunker and, delivering a heavy volume of accurate fire, killed four enemy soldiers and silenced the hostile fire. Continuing his determined efforts, he launched another attack against an enemy fighting hole, and while boldly advancing, he was fatally wounded.

You can read Ted Britt’s entire Silver Star citation here: http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=23309.

Photography is a way for us to record the present so folks can understand what was happening at a given moment. Photography is journalism but it is also art that allows us to acquire the visceral, personal knowledge that can’t always be given us in words. We feel the moment, the subject, the place.

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

This photo of the men in Third Squad, First Platoon, Bravo 1/26 gives us a peek at the time and the place and the sadness, again, of the Marines of Khe Sanh. That peek is related to the aesthetic power photography holds. The image is in black and white and captures the mood of the men at the siege. Somehow, that array of grays and blacks and whites reveals messages to us.

The faces in this photo are gaunt and mildly disturbed. The men you see are young, none of them over twenty years old. Fear has aged them. They are not happy yet they seem determined. They are a team, a brotherhood, and they are not creations for a Hollywood film. Some of them are not coming home and they may know that. Some of them were probably wounded soon after this photo was taken. Some of them were killed later at Khe Sanh, as well as after Bravo 1/26 moved south. Some of them are probably trying, right now, to forget what happened to them and their comrades at Khe Sanh.

And some of us remember and feel we have…and I emphasize the “have”…to tell the story of what happened at Khe Sanh, to the men of BRAVO!, to all women and men in all wars, and this photo, with its real men, its real heroes, plays a critical role in helping us create the narrative.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, 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 we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

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

May 7, 2014

On Art and War

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We have art in order not to die of the truth.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Betty and I recently returned from a trip to California where we screened BRAVO!. On our way back to Boise we stopped in at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden outside Weed, California, to look at the sculptures. The work exhibited here is the brainchild of a group of veterans from the Weed area who got together in 1988 and brought in sculptor Dennis Smith to create the work. Dennis Smith is a Marine who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Left to right: Ken Rodgers and Sculptor Dennis Smith. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Left to right: Ken Rodgers and Sculptor Dennis Smith.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

The sculptures at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden are beautiful depictions of the human form as we might view it: engaged in war and yet at the same time reacting to the atrocities of war, or suffering from the aftermath. They are thought-provoking, expressive, and evocative of something more difficult to discover, the “Why” of war and it’s aftermath.

POW-MIA by Dennis Smith. Photo © Ken Rodgers 2014

POW-MIA by Dennis Smith.
Photo © Ken Rodgers 2014

In Smith’s sculptures there is a distinct conflict between art and war. Humans often thrive on conflict, on the junction of fear and redemption, good versus evil. We want conflict in our novels, in our movies, in our visual art. We say we don’t like conflict, yet we crave it on more than one level.

Some of our finest art is based on the never ending conflict between us. Consider Stephen Crane’s novella, The Red Badge of Courage, or Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. These stories are verbal works of art that capture the pure energy, the agony, the ecstasy of war and humanity’s propensity for creating war and conflict.

In more recent literature, Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn and Nick Warr’s Phase Line Green are fine examples of stories written about the Vietnam War that expose the depth and breadth of war and humanity’s experience in that conflict.

And it is just not in story and sculpture, but in poetry, too, such as the Vietnam War poetry of Bruce Weigl and Yusef Komunyakaa. As an example of war poetry, check out the piece that follows by First World War British Officer Siegfried Sassoon. I like how it mixes the beauty of lyrical poetry with the horror of war:

Hero

‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she’d read.
‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.

(Siegfried Sassoon, “Hero,” from the website: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/hero/.)

Another example of art applied to war in the form of poetry is Brian Turner’s “Here Bullet,” about the horrors of the war. Turner served in both Bosnia and in Iraq.

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

(Brian Turner, “Here, Bullet,” from the website: http://www.brianturner.org/poetry/.)

What about other examples of visual art? Below are two paintings created from events that occurred during the First World War. The initial painting, titled “Gassed,” is by the famous British artist John Singer Sargent, and the second, titled “A Battery Shelled, 1919″ is by Wyndham Lewis. Both of these paintings depict the horrors of war via the beautiful tools of the painter, the tools of the mind, the memory and the painter’s genre.

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

(John Singer Sargent, “Gassed,” from the website: http://ind.pn/RksGnw.)

A Battery Shelled, 1919 by Wyndham Lewis

A Battery Shelled, 1919 by Wyndham Lewis

(Wyndham Lewis, “A Battery Shelled,” from the website: http://bit.ly/1mwza0q.)

The horrible glories that arise when art and war combine can also be portrayed through photography as in the following photo of Khe Sanh shot by the famous photographer, David Douglas Duncan, whose images are featured in BRAVO!.

Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

Having participated in war, I think something aesthetic intrudes into our minds as we retch at the carnage that man heaps on man. I think that is one way we can come to terms with all the horror: through the art that depicts it.

On a quiet night in the war zone, nothing is quite as arresting as the sight of Snoopy, or as some of us called it, Puff, firing at the enemy:

Puff the Magic Dragon

Puff the Magic Dragon

(An AC-47, Puff, from the website: http://cherrieswriter.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/when-puff-ruled-the-night-the-birth-of-gunships/.)

Or the terrible beauty of napalm dropped on human beings:

Dropping Napalm

Dropping Napalm

(Napalm dropped on Vietcong targets, from the website: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/photoessay.htm.)

Or the sight of concertina wire etched against muddy terrain:

Concertina Wire

Concertina Wire

(Concertina wire, from the website: http://bit.ly/1o0mAWF.)

I just finished reading the late war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s book about World War II, titled Brave Men. Pyle generally had a no-nonsense style of writing and describing, but when he really tried to get at the essence of how we kill each other in combat, he waxed poetic in a way that takes us away from the lists and statistics and into the human aspects of war, and not just the horrible, but the sublimely beautiful. Here is an excerpt from Pyle’s book that, to me, shows what I am trying to get at:

From the scattered green leaves and the fresh branches still lying in the road. From the coils of telephone wire, hanging brokenly from high poles and entwining across the roads. From the gray, burned-powder rims of the shell craters, their edges not yet smoothed by the pounding of military traffic. From the little pools of blood on the roadside, blood that had only begun to congeal and turn black, and the punctured steel helmets lying nearby…From the scattered heaps of personal gear around a gun. I don’t know why it was, but the Germans always seemed to take off their coats before they fled or died.

(Ernie Pile, from: Brave Men, Grosset and Dunlap, NY, NY, 1943 and 1944, Pp 309 and 310.)

I began this blog with a quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche that implies that we need art so that the truth of what we are doesn’t kill us. As horrible as war is—and believe me, anybody who has fought in one understands the essence of pure horror—we need to depict, portray and ponder how combat and its associated mayhem fit into who we are; and how can we best do that but through the beauty and truth we attain through art?

With that in mind, if you head in the direction of Weed, California, consider stopping in at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden to see some of BRAVO! brother Dennis Smith’s beautiful sculpture that contemplates our horrible human endeavor, war.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. 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.