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Archive for the ‘Khe Sanh’ Category

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

October 22, 2014

More on October 1967

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Last week we wrote about the month of October around the Khe Sanh Combat Base. One of the main themes of the blog was that the most difficult thing to deal with was the weather. We don’t think that was the case in the rest of Vietnam. Operations were conducted from north to south searching for both North Vietnamese and Vietcong combat units. Thousands of men and women died on both sides, the troops led by the forces of the United States and those fighting for the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government. The fighting was brutal and the body counts high.

The airstrip at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of David Douglas Duncan

The airstrip at Khe Sanh.
Photo courtesy of David Douglas Duncan

But not at Khe Sanh. For a time and place that saw the savage springtime battles centered around the hills, 861, 881 South and 881 North, the battle action was strangely non-existent in October 1967. Compared to the conflagration of the Siege and associated fights, October 1967 at Khe Sanh was almost Paradise. Leeches, patrols, rain and mist, work parties, slick red mud and too much water were all, in the big picture, little to nothing.

According to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, the men killed in action at the Khe Sanh TAOR in October 1967 were as follows (if you are interested in knowing more about these men, please check out the links to the virtual wall following each name):

On October 13, 1967, Marine Corporal Melvin Sink (http://www.virtualwall.org/ds/SinkMF01a.htm) was killed by friendly fire while leading an ambush off Hill 881-South.

On October 15, 1967, Army Sgt. Charles Baney (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BaneyCL01a.htm), and crewmembers Airman 1st Class Lawrence Berneski (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BerneskiLA01a.htm), Captain Erle Bjorke (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BjorkeEL01a.htm), 1st Lieutenant James Hottenroth (http://www.virtualwall.org/dh/HottenrothJR01a.htm), Tech Sergeant Edward Mosley (http://www.virtualwall.org/dm/MosleyEx01a.htm) and Airman 2nd Class John Snyder (http://www.virtualwall.org/ds/SnyderJH01a.htm) were killed when the C-130 they were either inspectors on or crewing, crashed and burned at the east end of the Khe Sanh airstrip.

On October 30, 1967, Captain James Bennett (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BennettJH01a.htm) died from injuries sustained in the crash of an Air Force O1-E spotter at the Khe Sanh air strip.

Even when the war was quiet, in terms of combat, the dangers of operating in bad weather, in tough terrain, in the light and in the night was dangerous and took the lives of good men and women such as those represented herein…

We look forward to the upcoming screening at the Meridian Library in Meridian, Idaho, at 6:30 PM this evening, October 22.

Also on tap is a screening in Oceanside, CA, 10:00 AM on November 1 at the Veterans Association of North County, 1617 N Mission, Oceanside, CA. Donations go to renovate the VANC Resource Center. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Vanc.events@gmail.com.

Oceanside Screening Info

Oceanside Screening Info

Later in November, a screening will be held at American Legion Post 291, Newport Beach, CA, 215 15th Street, Newport Beach. Screening begins at 10:00 AM on November 15, 2014. Proceeds go to benefit the Fisher House of Southern California.

Please join us for one of these events and please invite your friends.

If you 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 us reach more people.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

October 15, 2014

On October Cruel

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April is the cruelest month . . .

–T. S. Eliot

But October 1967 was pretty cruel for the men of Bravo Company. Or so we thought. It rained. Everything was soaked. We ran patrols in red mud and slick jungle grass. We went on LPs when you couldn’t see three feet in front of you. The same with ambushes. It was a time when everything dripped and leaked and water ran down the trenches like creeks in a flood. Your feet were soaked and wrinkled and if you were lucky you got foot rot and went on light duty. It seemed like everybody was on light duty. For those of us who weren’t, the workload was cruel. Working out in the downpour for the battalion pogues, working on our own trenches, our own bunkers, our own fighting positions. Going on patrols. Running ambushes in the black of night. Listening posts, too. Falling asleep on our feet while standing watch and tumbling into the muddy red water that flowed around our knees.

For the bulk of folks here in the States who don’t know combat, these words call up images that intimate cruel notions.
During October 1967 the company conducted operations on Route Nine. In the drizzly fog. We ran patrols out to the east and to the north. We endured the blast of a typhoon. Then with a gaggle of new men and a new company commander, we humped up to Hill 881. It didn’t rain that day as we struggled up the east side among the remnants of blasted trees and thickets of bamboo.

The mist smothers Khe Sanh. Photo by David Douglas Duncan

The mist smothers Khe Sanh.
Photo by David Douglas Duncan

After that, for the most part, the sky intermittently drenched us, then spit on us almost every day, and most nights the dark was invaded by heavy mists. We were sniped at from a ridge to the east. And we patrolled that ridge and sought the enemy. On the days when the sun graced us with its warmth, farther west into Laos, we sat in our fighting holes and watched the North Vietnamese move their war goods. We watched the B-52s pound the ridges and the highways of Laos, the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

But if my memory is correct, those sunny interludes were sparse. For I remember rain.

Rain sluiced off the lips of our helmets. It drizzled off our helmets’ back ends and down our necks. The rain alternated between warm and chill. It got in our beans and franks, it ruined our Lucky Strikes and Old Golds. The sulfur heads of our matches dissolved when we tried to strike them. Inside our boots our feet became harbors for leeches. We cleaned our weapons every evening but the next morning I often had to kick my M-16 bolt open. Rust had seized its innards.

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

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

Down to the east, on the flats of Vietnam, men were dying at places like Gio Linh and Con Thien. But we were soaked and wrinkled like prunes and we thought life was tough. October blew a cruel breath. Or so we thought.

But that was before January 21, 1968, before the beginning of the Siege, when life grew very cruel.

We look forward to upcoming screenings at the Meridian Library in Meridian, Idaho, at 6:30 PM on October 22; Oceanside, CA, on November 1; and Newport Beach, CA, on November 15, 2014. Please join us and invite your friends.

If you 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 us reach more people.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

October 8, 2014

On Medford, Massachusetts; Vincent Mottola and Honoring Veterans

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One of the more gratifying experiences we’ve enjoyed with our BRAVO! encounters is the recognition that is coming to so many of the men who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the outfit’s time in Vietnam. On September 28, 2014, Vincent Mottola was honored in his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts.

Unlike a lot of other wars in which United States armed forces have been involved, the honors and remembrances due the men and women who served in Vietnam have been slow to come.

Regardless of how one feels about the morality or efficacy of our efforts in that war, the men and women who fought and died there, not to mention those who have returned, were not responsible for our government’s choice of wars. They were called to serve and they did, some giving the ultimate sacrifice for, in most cases, something they thought was worth doing.

Honoring Vincent Mottola. Photo Courtesy of Marie Chalmers

Honoring Vincent Mottola. Photo Courtesy of Marie Chalmers

So we are very happy to crow about the honors that are coming now to the men of Bravo who gave up their youth, their naiveté, and in many cases their lives for something they thought was of value.

Below are some photos taken and sent to us by Vincent Mottola’s cousin, the vibrant Boston native, Marie Chalmers. These photos are of the ceremony conducted in Medford, Massachusetts, where Vinnie Mottola was memorialized by having a street corner named in his honor.

Vinnie is one of the veterans to whom BRAVO! is dedicated, thanks to the generosity of the Mottola family. He was killed in action at Khe Sanh Combat Base on February 23, 1968. You can find out more about Vinnie here.

Below are some photos of the event in Medford. Photos courtesy of Marie Chalmers.

This first photo is of the street sign for the newly named corner.

Vincent A Mottola Square

Vincent A Mottola Square

The second photo in this three-photo series is of Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn and the Marine Corps color guard.

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The last is a photo of Vincent Mottola’s family who joined together at the naming of Vincent A Mottola Square.

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Ooorah and Semper Fidelis, Vincent Mottola!

We look forward to upcoming screenings at the Meridian Library in Meridian, Idaho, on October 22; Oceanside, CA, on November 1; and Newport Beach, CA, on November 15, 2014. Please join us and invite your friends.

If you 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 us reach more people.

Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

October 1, 2014

On The Wyakin Warrior Screening in Nampa

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Last Thursday evening, 9/25/2014, BRAVO! was screened to an enthusiastic crowd of more than one-hundred folks at the Nampa, Idaho, Elks Lodge as a fundraiser for the Wyakin Warrior Foundation.

The audience included ROTC cadets from Boise State University and Northern Nazarene University, veterans of multiple wars, long-standing friends of BRAVO!, and folks from the general public. BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, whose interview for the film was nothing short of electrifying, traveled with his family from Cove, Oregon, to be on a Q & A panel that included Iraq War veteran George Nickel and Vietnam Vet and United States Army chopper pilot Cliff Gaston who pulled two tours in Vietnam. BRAVO! co-producer and co-director Ken Rodgers rounded out the panel.

Emcee Al Heathcock speaking to the audience. © Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography 2014

Al Heathcock speaking to the audience.
© Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography 2014

The event was expertly emceed by Boise-based author Alan Heathcock, whose short story collection, VOLT, is an outstanding look at the agony and ecstasy of being human. VOLT has won many prestigious literary awards.You can find out more about Al at http://alanheathcock.com. Joining Alan on the program was Wyakin Warrior Foundation co-founder and board president Jeff Bacon. Jeff is a cartoonist whose work is published widely, and you can read more about his work at http://blogs.militarytimes.com/broadside/about/. You can also learn more about the Wyakin Warrior Foundation and their important mission at http://www.wyakin.org/.

Panel discussion following the screening of BRAVO!. Left to right: Ken Rodgers, Ron Rees, Cliff Gaston, George Nickel. © Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography 2014

Panel discussion following the screening of BRAVO!. Left to right: Ken Rodgers, Ron Rees, Cliff Gaston, George Nickel.
© Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography 2014

Events like this don’t just happen and we are very proud to shoot an energetic OORAH! to Mr. Ed Willson, the Exalted Ruler of Elks Lodge #1389, Mr. Lawrence Manning and Betty Mallorca of Hill Street Studios/Track 13, Whiskey River Bar and Restaurant, business development professional Mr. Jeff Foster, Thorne Printing and Copy Center of Nampa, and International Minute Press of Boise.

We extend special thanks to Tom Frazee and Nancy Roché of Admagination for the spectacular audio/visual set-up and to Mike and Monique Shipman of Blue Planet Photography for organizing the entire shebang. Mike Shipman is the graphic designer for BRAVO! You can find out more about Admagination at http://www.admaginationstudios.com/622013_ad/and Blue Planet Photography at https://www.blueplanetphoto.com/.

A member of the audience addressing the ROTC cadets at the screening of BRAVO! © Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography, 2014

A member of the audience addressing the ROTC cadets at the screening of BRAVO!
© Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography, 2014

We made a lot of new friends for BRAVO! at this event, and we cherish every single new relationship as we drive onward in our quest to have every American see this film. More of the new friends we gained at the Nampa screening are the staff at Wyakin Warriors Academy headed by Roy Ledesma. Roy was instrumental in rounding up the bulk of the crowd for the screening. Thank you, Roy!

We look forward to upcoming screenings at the Meridian Library in Meridian, Idaho, on October 22; Oceanside, CA, on November 1; and Newport Beach, CA, on November 15, 2014. Please join us and invite your friends.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, left, speaking to volunteer members of the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. © Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography 2014

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, left, speaking to volunteer members of the Wyakin Warrior Foundation.
© Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography 2014

If you 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 us reach more people.

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

September 24, 2014

On Medford, Massachusetts; Nampa, Idaho; and Liberty Lake, Washington

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We are proud to announce an upcoming event in Medford, Massachusetts to honor Vincent Mottola, a Bravo Company Marine who was killed in action at Khe Sanh on February 23, 1968.

Vincent, or Vinnie as his family calls him, had an MOS # of 0351, Antitank Assault Man. We Khe Sanh Marines would have referred to Vinnie as being in Rockets.

Vinnie is being honored in Medford next Sunday, 9/28/2014, at 10:00 at Zero Medford Street. Please consider attending this memorial celebration if you can.

Vincent Mottola

Vincent Mottola

You can find out more about Vinnie Mottola at the Virtual Wall: http://www.virtualwall.org/dm/MottolaVA01a.htm.

In separate news, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, will be screened tomorrow night in Nampa, Idaho, at Elks Lodge #1389, 1116 1st Street. Doors open at 6:00 PM with the screening beginning at 6:30 PM. There will be a $10.00 donation to benefit the Wyakin Warriors Foundation which assists wounded veterans with education and career training. You can find out more about the Wyakin Warrior Foundation at http://www.wyakin.org/. There will be refreshments and a no-host bar and a question and answer session following the film moderated by noted author Alan Heathcock. You will be able to ask questions of
veterans of the Middle East conflicts and veterans of the Vietnam War including men you will meet in the film BRAVO!

Alan Heathcock Photo by Mathew Wordell

Alan Heathcock
Photo by Mathew Wordell

On November 11, 2014, the Liberty Lake, Washington Fallen Heroes Circuit Course will be screening BRAVO! in conjunction with the honoring of Bravo Company Marine Greg Vercruysse, a Navy Corpsman who was killed in action north of Hill 881 South on June 7, 1967. The screening will take place in Liberty Lake’ s Meadowwood Technology Center. See more about the Liberty Lake Fallen Heroes Circuit Course at http://www.llfhcc.org/. You can find out more about Greg Vercruysse at the Virtual Wall: http://www.virtualwall.org/dv/VercruysseGP01a.htm.

Image from the Traveling Wall

Image from the Traveling Wall

More details to follow on the event in Liberty Lake as well as upcoming screenings in Oceanside, California, on 11/1/2014 and Newport Beach, California, on 11/15/2014.

If you 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 us reach more people.

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

September 17, 2014

Alan Heathcock–The Valor of Story: Why the Silent Man Fights Alone

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In anticipation of the September 25th screening of BRAVO! at the Elks Lodge in Nampa, Idaho, we repost a visceral essay by the screening’s Master of Ceremonies, Alan Heathcock. Al is an award winning short story writer and in this piece he muses on Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, his life, and the value of story.

The Valor of Story: Why the Silent Man Fights Alone, by Alan Heathcock

The day was sweltering, the sky a shimmering white. It was July in Hazel Crest, the town where I grew up, in the southland area of south Chicago. I was nineteen years old, working at a public swimming pool. After my shift, I was to walk to a friend’s house a couple miles away. Coming out of a neighborhood, approaching a highway overpass, I spotted a large man on the walkway ahead of me. This road was isolated, and there was no one else around. Growing up in Chicago, I knew not to look people in the eye, knew to change course if it seemed there was trouble ahead. But I knew this guy. I worked the front desk at the pool, knew everybody. This guy was not a regular, but he’d been there. He smiled at me, and I nodded to him.
“Hey little man,” he said. “You got some money I could borrow. My car’s out of gas and I just need a few bucks to get to work.”

Alan Heathcock Photo by Mathew Wordell

Alan Heathcock
Photo by Mathew Wordell

I was no fool. I guessed the man probably didn’t have a car or a job, and for some reason that mattered. “No,” I said. “Sorry, man.”

“Just a couple of dollars,” he said. “I’ll pay you back.”

“I don’t have it. Wish I could help.”

And then, in a blink, he hit me, his huge fist striking the side of my head like a stone on a chain. I fell hard, wheeled in a panic to see him standing over me. I scrambled to get away, but he had my shirtfront and hit me again. His face had changed. His eyes were crazy. I reached into my pockets and thrust the few wadded dollars I had up at him. Then he let me loose. He didn’t run, didn’t look around to see if anyone had witnessed what’d happened. He just walked away.

I walked away, too, holding my busted lip, and just went on to my friend’s house.

I’ve never told this to anyone. Even at the time, I said nothing to my friends, not my parents, certainly not the police. At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal. Or I tried to make myself believe it wasn’t a big deal. These things happened. We all took our turn. In fact, I’d been hit before, hit harder. So I just got on with things, went about business as usual.
The money was not missed. The bruise on the cheek faded. What remained was a feeling. It never went away. I feel it now, writing this essay. An anger pointed at the man who hit me, at the world that created him. Anger at myself for not spotting the potential danger. Shame in being beaten down, in not fighting back, in just giving up the money (though that was the right thing to do). Mainly, I feel a heavy sadness, a profound disappointment in the world of men.

All these years I’ve carried this stuff around inside me, its weight a part of how I slog myself around, wary always of who’s standing on the walkway.

When I was nine years old, my Grandpa Heathcock sat me up on his lap and told me a story about a time he was working as a foreman for Sinclair Oil. He said he was driving a one-lane road through the oil fields when his truck came nose to nose with another truck. The road was too narrow, the ditches too steep, for either truck to pass or turn around. One of them would have to back up the way they came. My grandpa said he got out of his truck and told the other driver he was trespassing on company land and had to put his truck in reverse. The man refused. I remember clearly my grandpa balled a big meaty fist and told me, “So I hit that man until he went back from where he came.”

For a long time I thought my grandpa was giving me instruction on the nature of man, on how a man has to stick up for himself, sometimes has to fight. But then an interesting thing happened. Several years after his death I was on a fishing trip with my father and brother. I told them the story of Grandpa’s fight on the dirt road. My brother had never heard the story. My father agreed that he vaguely remembered something like that happening, but never recalled Grandpa ever talking about it. After asking around, I came to realize my grandpa had told only me, and that fact changed my understanding of the telling.

I now see that the story wasn’t a lesson at all. It was a burden. I’m convinced that for the same reasons I’d never told anyone about being robbed by the highway, Grandpa had never told anyone about the incident in the oil field. I’m convinced the reason he told me about the incident was compelled by the likewise impulse I have now in writing this essay.

The other night I was granted the privilege of seeing the first cut of Ken Rodgers’ film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, a documentary about the seventy-seven day siege where 6,000 men faced relentless attacks in the Vietnamese valley of Khe Sanh. These were Marines, the toughest of our toughest, the born warriors. These were some of the best-trained, most tenacious soldiers the world has ever known. The film consisted of interviews, with fifteen survivors talking about their experiences during those seventy-seven days and beyond. What was striking to me, beyond their amazing and often terrifying stories of ambushes, of fox-holes filled with bodies, of soldiers lost and alone on a battlefield, of mortar fire that never ceased, was that for the most part the men had kept these stories to themselves. If you were to meet them on the street, or in the grocery store, or down the pew, you couldn’t glimpse the roil of combat still alive inside them.

One of the Marines, a sharply dressed gentleman in a coat and tie, one of the men I’d wrongly supposed—judging him strictly by appearance—had been able to find his equilibrium after the war, said that even forty years after the fact, each and every morning he pulled his legs out from the bed covers, put his feet on the floor, and heard mortar fire. Bombs. Every morning. Secret bombs. Bombs exploding inside him. Bombs silent to the rest of us.

The highest purpose of story is to give voice to silent bombs. I write so that my grandpa’s pain is not lost to the grave. I write about my own fights so that they don’t sit like stones in the depths of my private shame. Even more profound is the document Ken Rodgers has created with his film, not meant to politicize war, not meant as propaganda to bolster the military, to mythologize the soldier. Ken Rodgers simply allowed his fellow Marines to release the truth, muted for too long inside men whose stories are the foundation of the greater human drama that has always included warfare, from the first hurled stones to the H-Bomb. Silence breeds confusion. Silence enables Hollywood’s trite action-figure nonsense to be peddled to the masses. There’s nothing more noble than the voice that finally breaks the silence, even and especially if the message delivered is one that makes us confront the best and worst of who we are. Who we all are. The message Ken Rodgers’ film delivered was not that war was separate from us, made from some government machine, some blueprint drawn up in a windowless room in the basement of the Pentagon, but that warfare comes from us. We are war. It lives inside us. It is not the violence, but the men, in all their bravery and heroism, in all their shame and demons, in all their pride and tears. And in their silence that is silent no more.

Not long ago my mother sent me pages from the diary of a man named Floyd Barker, a great uncle of mine five generations back. Floyd’s writings covered a lot of subjects, family life, marriages and travel and farming, but there was a passage that shook me awake. It reads: “After passing the present site of Brandenburg, Ky., the party was attacked by Indians and those not killed were made prisoners. It is said that one of the Barker boys tried to escape by swimming the river but was killed in the water and his body caught and the heart taken out and broiled and an effort made to compel his mother to eat it. However, this she refused to do.”

Upon first reading this, after the momentary shock of it, the brutality of the images making me recoil, I felt a deep connection with Floyd, a comfort. For isn’t this the truth of stories—the one Floyd told, the one my grandpa told me, the stories spoken by those brave Marines in Ken’s film, and my own stories, too—that we find, as almost a surprise though it should be obvious, that we are made of the same stuff, are plagued by the same feelings, are bolstered in that we are as much the same as different and by letting our stories be known, by breaking the silence of shame and anger and sadness, we are connecting with the greater fabric of humanity and from that point forward we are unburdened, made lighter, in simply understanding that we are not alone.

Alan Heathcock lives, teaches and writes in Boise, Idaho. He is the award winning author of VOLT. For more information, visit www.alanheathcock.com.

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 to stay up on our news and help us reach more people.

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

September 10, 2014

Nampa, Idaho Screening to Benefit Wyakin Warriors

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On September 25, 2014, BRAVO!, COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened at the Elks Lodge in Nampa, Idaho. 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.

We are delighted to announce two very special guests for the event: BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, and noted Boise author Alan Heathcock who will be the Master of Ceremonies.

Alan Heathcock Photo by Mathew Wordell

Alan Heathcock
Photo by Mathew Wordell

The Wyakin Warriors Foundation is a local nonprofit that provides a comprehensive education, mentoring, professional development, networking and job placement program for severely wounded and injured veterans. Wyakin Warrior Foundation’s motto is “Battle Tested, Business Ready.”

Wyakin’s goal is to prepare its clients for success. Since September 11, 2001, there have been in excess of fifty-one-thousand seriously injured service members who, when they finally get home, face unemployment rates of up to thirty percent for veterans in the eighteen to twenty-four year age range.

These veterans have been trained to fight and serve our country, but they haven’t been trained to function well in the civilian world. That’s where Wyakin comes in with six major tenets: Financial support, mentoring, professional development seminars, service projects completed by the veterans while they are still in school, networking, and active annual follow-up to monitor the veterans’ emotional, physical and professional status.

Ron Rees Photo by Betty Rodgers

Ron Rees
Photo by Betty Rodgers

Wyakin Warriors Foundation is a veteran-led organization that relies on a wide variety of volunteers to run its
operations.

Please take a moment to learn more about the Wyakin Warrior Foundation at their website: http://www.wyakin.org.

And come on out to the Napa Elks Lodge at 1116 E First Street, Nampa, Idaho, on September 25th and support this event. The Wyakin Warriors need your help.

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 to stay up on our news and help us reach more people.

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

September 3, 2014

Dancing–Redux

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This week the blog revisits a poignant encounter we had at The Wall in Washington DC while photographing the names of deceased Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment.

Bamboo flooring echoes like an old-time wood-floored hallway. The crack of sound rebounds into the corners of rooms and rackets irritatingly when you are trying to film an interview. When the old Marine you are interviewing is nervous and keeps tapping his feet it’s mindful of M-16 fire off in the distance, down in a canyon or a draw denuded of elephant grass and triple-canopy jungle, just raw, red ground pocked by the plague of bomb craters, trenches, and dead snags.

Betty and I found this out the way you usually find things out…the hard way. Right in the middle of an interview, you emerge from the monsoon mist into an ambush of recognition that you didn’t even think about: the need to muffle the sounds the floor makes, or that you need gloves to handle the lights, to keep them from sizzling the fat on your hands. Or from pinching the webbing between the thumb and forefinger, or that you better chat with your subject for a while about the rudiments of interviews so they aren’t in a state of sheer fright when the beams snarl at them and the red light on the camera blinks its message that the interviewee is suddenly naked to the world.

The Wall at night

The Wall at night

And there are other things necessary when you make movies: research—patience, patience, patience—and more research and checking the validity of info, of sources.

This week in Washington, DC, we are doing research at Quantico and the National Archives. We’ve located films and photos and command chronologies and after-action reports and oral interviews conducted during 1968.

And things are moving forward. We will have a final trailer in the coming weeks, and we will then begin the editing process to finish the film.

As my old Marine Corps mate, Michael E. O’Hara, says, Betty and I are pilgrims, pilgrims of the body and the mind, in the realm of movies and film and memories. Across the big flat green eastern United States, roaming around looking for the threads that help it all make sense. The threads of story.

We’ve been to The Wall twice this trip to take photos and film the names. Last Sunday we went down early while the Park Service was tidying up after the twin revivals conducted by Glen Beck and Al Sharpton. The sun glared and dew coated the grass. A few people moved among the endless plastic bags of trash that lined the paths and walkways.

The wall was damp and looked like it had been hosed off and there was little hope we could immediately take any pictures because each name was coated with tiny bullets of water. I dug out my trusty big blue kerchief and began to wipe the water off the names. I started at panel 35 E with Steven Hellwig and was interrupted from my chore by an earnest young man and woman who asked me how to find names, understand the logic on the wall. Inside, I said to myself , what logic, logic to all this? But I didn’t because there isn’t a logic. I said, “Where you from?”

He smiled and so did she. “We’re from Alabama and we’ve been here for the Beck revival and we thought we’d come pay our respects to some men from our town who served and died.” I expected wild-eyed Beck followers but these people were polite and earnest. I explained how The Wall works and then went back to drying names and worked through the subsequent panels until I was at 46 E on my knees wiping off Gregory Kent and Jimmie Lafon McRae when a short man about my age holding a digital camera knelt next to me and asked if he could borrow my kerchief to dry a name when I was done.

He was tanned and had a hard New England accent. For some reason, I blurted, “Who you looking for?”

“Gregory Kent. He and I ran track together in high school and . . .”

I blurted, “I know him.”

He stared at me. “You know him?”

I hesitated. “I knew him. We served together.” The stare on his face made me think he wasn’t sure he believed me.

I pointed my finger at him like a pistol and went on, “You’re from Boston, right?”

“I live in Florida, but yes, I’m from Boston.”

I looked down and wiped the name again. “I served with him until he was killed on March 28, 1968, with this fellow.” I pointed two rows down to Jimmie Lafon McRae.

He sat back on his heels and looked at me like someone contemplating stabbing a snake.

Panel at The Wall with the names of Greg Kent and Jimmie L McRae

Panel at The Wall with the names of Greg Kent and Jimmie L McRae

I hesitated again and then nodded. “They stepped out of a hooch and were talking along with Ron Exum from Philadelphia. A mortar landed between them and Kent and McRae were killed.” I could have told him that there were shrapnel holes in Kent’s chest that spewed like oil gushers, but I didn’t.

The man said, “My name’s Sully Grasso and, and . . .”

I looked at the names and brushed at them though they were already dry. I thought about Greg Kent, and how he liked to talk about dancing. He said he loved to dance, dance, dance.

Sully Grasso said, “Greg Kent won the state championship and could have gone to the Olympic trials but he joined the Marines instead. I’m here for Glen Beck’s memorial and I want to take a picture and a tracing and I want to write an article . . . this is a miracle.”

I don’t think I believe in miracles but I didn’t tell him that. I just cleared my throat as I looked away. He took my photograph, twice, as I knelt there. He asked my name and the pertinent details of Kent’s death.

I wrote on a piece of yellow-lined paper from my yellow pad the barest of details as I remember them. He went to get something to trace names. Betty and I tried to take photos. Sully came back and took some more pictures and traced the names, Gregory Kent and Jimmie L McRae. Then he walked up to me. Tears swelled in his eyes. I couldn’t look at him. He leaned towards me and I stuck out my hand to shake in order to avoid more intimate shows of emotion, but he pulled me close and hugged me. He said, “God knows my heart and he sent you here to meet me. He knows my heart. I didn’t have any idea about how Greg died and now I know.”

I’m not sure I even believe in God, but I didn’t tell him that. The steps of people walking by echoed off the smooth surface of the wall. A multi-colored wreath stood at the junction of the monument’s east and west wings and an old, scuffed jungle boot stood there by itself, in front of panel 22 W. A red rosebud stuck up from inside the boot. I nodded at Sully and thought about how Kent liked to prance around and dance, his energy exploding out of him, and then he was dead.

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 Joining us for the screening will be BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees. Noted Boise author Alan Heathcock has agreed to be the Master of Ceremonies for this event.

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

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

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

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

August 27, 2014

The Agony and Ecstasy of Listening Posts–Redux

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

08/05/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

August 20, 2014

Honors for BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael E O'Hara and Congressman Todd Young.

Michael E O’Hara and Congressman Todd Young.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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