Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for the ‘Khe Sanh’ Category

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

February 25, 2015

On the Ghost Patrol and a School at Khe Sanh

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

For years I wasn’t sure what date it was but I sure as hell could remember what I now know are the events of February 25, 1968. Now we call it the Ghost Patrol, but back then it was only heeled into my memory as the day of catastrophe.

Mark me, I was a lucky man in Vietnam. Even though Bravo 1/26 saw lots of action, I missed most of the face-to-face fire fights. The Ghost Patrol was one of those events I missed. What I didn’t miss was the mental and emotional responses that arose as a result of me being there at Khe Sanh, watching, listening to, the horror of the Ghost Patrol. Yeah, we could see it, kind of, and we could hear it out there and we watched the survivors straggle back in and we knew that there were Bravo Marines out there, dying, being bayoneted, shot, maybe tortured but we couldn’t go out and get them. Some higher-ups put a stop to the company’s attempts to rescue their brothers.

You probably know that United States Marines pride themselves on the fact that they don’t leave their dead and wounded behind. We bring them back. We go get them. But we didn’t go get them. Not until much later when all hopes of survival were extinguished. So for 47 years, we have been—I say we because I suspect the rest of the men in BRAVO! who missed the action on February 25, 1968 feel like me—ashamed, angry, distraught and, yeah, I know you can’t change the past but sometimes the memories of that day are more like the present; the breath of a deadly mist hanging over the sopping sandbags lining the trench; the sound of Hueys firing rockets; bombs and napalm roaring in the ears. The smell of death and cordite. Yeah, shame and anger.

For years I thought we’d left 33 men out there. I don’t know where that came from. Could have been that’s what the unofficial official figure was. When we went back out to get them on 3/30/68, that’s how many I thought we’d pick up. And for years I’d lie awake in the middle of the night with the memory jabbing me to remember those 33 bodies lying out there doing what dead bodies do. Now I know it was not 33, but 27 men left out there. But the numbers belie the real issue: Warrior brothers left to die out there in the aftermath of the Ghost Patrol on February 25, 1968.

Kids at Khe Sanh school

Kids at Khe Sanh school


Pha
On a more hopeful note, I received a message from a Mr. Bill Shugarts who served with the United States Army in Vietnam and who is now a docent with National Park Service at The Wall. Bill is also involved with a group of folks who travel to Vietnam and help out the locals there with schools and housing.

I told Bill I could put up some photos and info on the BRAVO! blog about what he and others are doing in Vietnam with Global Community Service, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Here’s a link to the website for the organization: http://globalcommunityservice.org/.

Here is a notice about one of the schools their work within Khe Sanh and some of the items Global Community Service provided through the donations they received from folks like you and me:

Khe Sanh Library Project’s Phase 2

Students and teachers at Pa Nho School, a satellite branch of Khe Sanh Primary School, now enjoy a computer, a reading table for ten students, ten reading lamps, four outdoor reading benches, a Cassette/CD player, four big bookshelves, and many new books. In December, over 130 young children enjoyed the new items.
Here’s an anecdote from one of the students at Pa Nho School:

I love the bookshelf very much. It is colorful and it has many books. I like reading picture books. And I also love the CD player. I thought it was for playing music but you can also study English, shared Ho A Dinh (age 9).

As I write this, I think about the dichotomy of it all. Ghost Patrol, bayonets, AK-47s, bodies left behind. A school in Khe Sanh, 47 years hence, pencils and CD players, bookshelves. Maybe there is some good to come from all this. Bill says the people he meets in Vietnam love Americans. Maybe some good came from all that. Was it bad, what occurred…or was it just part of being human?

If you are so inclined, consider putting your computer curser on that web link for the Global Community Service organization (http://globalcommunityservice.org/) and send along a donation, large or small, to help the kids in Khe Sanh.

More kids at Khe Sanh school.

More kids at Khe Sanh school.

On the screening front:

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be shown at the Egyptian Theater in Boise, Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Discounted advance tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here at http://www.egyptiantheatre.net/event/2886/?instance_id=28.

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held at the Williams Conference Center at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 27, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, suggested donation of $5.00, and there will be beverages and snacks provided; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015, at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, 6:00 to 9:00 PM; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, 6:00 to 9:00 PM; and in Pocatello, Idaho, 6:00 to 9:00PM.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

February 18, 2015

On Arizona and Veterans

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A light drizzle washed the dust off the day last Sunday and set the stage for a great screening of BRAVO! at Casa Grande, Arizona’s historic Paramount Theatre. A hundred folks showed up and listened to music, looked at art and saw the film.

The interesting thing to me about the art was that it was all performed and mostly created by veterans. I think the creation of art is a potent tool in helping veterans who suffer from PTSD and TBI to analyze and handle these war-caused maladies.

The screening of BRAVO! was a benefit for the Pinal County non-profit, HOHP (Honoring/Hiring/Helping Our Heroes of Pinal County) that works to assist veterans with all types of issues: homelessness, veteran health benefits, education, housing. You can find out more about HOHP at https://hohp4heroes.org/site/home.

Two enthusiastic ladies selling tickets to the Casa Grande screening on 2-15-2015. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Two enthusiastic ladies selling tickets to the Casa Grande screening on 2-15-2015.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

The event, besides featuring music, art and film, also had silent and live auctions to raise funds for HOHP, and a lunch was served. All of the efforts spent on putting this event together and all of the items auctioned and eaten came about as a result of the fine volunteer folk of Pinal County.

Joining us in Casa Grande was BRAVO! Marine, Ken Korkow, recipient of the Navy Cross for his actions on the Payback Patrol of March 30, 1968, at Khe Sanh. Ken was joined by his wife Liz and friends and members of the extended Korkow family. Ken talked to the folks at the screening about his efforts to help veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Thanks Ken and Liz for all you do for veterans and for BRAVO!

A big Oooorah! goes out to Debby Martin of the Paramount Theatre and all of her wonderful volunteers for their work in making the venue an accepting place to hold such an event. Kudos, too, to Palmer Miller, veteran’s case-worker for Arizona Congressional District One. Besides emceeing this event, Palmer, a 23-year veteran of the United States Army, was responsible for creating a lot of the art on display.

We have been invited back and have worked with Debby and Palmer now on four different screenings at the Paramount and all have been a unique and big success. We saw a lot of old friends and made some new ones and we wish HOHP all the best in their efforts to help the veterans of Pinal County, Arizona.

BRAVO! Marine Ken Korkow addressing the crowd at the 2-15-2015 screening of BRAVO! in Casa Grande, AZ. Photo courtesy of Sharon Miller

BRAVO! Marine Ken Korkow addressing the crowd at the 2-15-2015 screening of BRAVO! in Casa Grande, AZ.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Miller

On the screening front:

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be shown at the Egyptian Theater in Boise, Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here at http://www.egyptiantheatre.net/event/2886/?instance_id=28.

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held at the Williams Conference Center at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 27, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, suggested donation of $5.00 and there will be beverages and snacks provided; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015; at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, time yet to be determined; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, 6:45 PM; and in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time yet to be determined.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

January 28, 2015

On Memory, Leeches and Hill 471

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

January 28th at Khe Sanh seems to have no place in my memory. Several Marines were killed that day by incoming but I don’t remember anything about it. That’s one of the things that bugs me about enduring the siege. I have great gaps in what I remember.

The American educator and philosopher, John Dewey, said: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.”

If I think about that quote it leads me to conclude that today, based on my recollections as I write this, my heart’s desire must be that the bulk of my memories of living the Siege be hidden. Am I off base to make that claim? And yet so often I still find myself struggling with trying to remember what happened there.

Memory of the siege comes in spurts. Thinking of day one, I remember that horror. I also remember the listening posts, work parties, standing watch, eating chow, but not when they happened. I recall some conversations, some battles, and other isolated moments during my time there.

I remember watching the ARVN’s 37th Ranger Battalion move in front of us sometime around January 28. I remember how I felt having them out there. I remember thinking that if they got overrun and retreated to our lines, we would probably have shot them all. They were Vietnamese. Good guys or bad, we thought they all looked alike. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with those memories. Being overrun. Killing my allies because they looked like my enemy.

I remember the fall of Lang Vei, and the many days where we received in excess of a thousand rounds of incoming. I remember lying in the trench as the shells battered battered battered the red ground. The kaplunk they made when leaving their tubes. It was creepy suddenly realizing that the round was on its way by the time you heard that kaplunk. And there was the whistle or the scream or the roar they made coming at you. Messengers singing a deadly song aimed at me.

I remember feeling like I was in a little cocoon and all the world around was shaking and rattling and attacking that cocoon. The cocoon wasn’t safe, but it was all I had. What became critical was my ability to stay within my own mind—the last bastion of protection, the kernel, the essence of who I was. That cocoon.

One day, early on, I was lucky enough to survive a near hit. The thing that was branded into my memory right then was the sound I heard when that round left its tube, how it sounded on its way to greet me.

I learned to listen for the sounds of those rounds. 120 MM and 130 MM and 152 MM pieces banging away at me sent me not-so-subtle messages that they were on the way. Funny, thinking about that now: that as they intended to kill me, they also warned me. It was like a game, with weird rules. We’re going to kill you, but with that in mind we’re going to help you out. We’re going to send you a message.

I must have gotten pretty good at hearing those warnings because I’m still alive. That ability to sense where incoming rounds would hit and a healthy dose of luck saved me.

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Right this moment I wish that something would have saved my memory. Was my experience there so fraught with fright, so laden with the horrors that man can deliver to man that I have to forget it?

It’s funny, yet much of what I do recall is some of the more mundane events at Khe Sanh, especially before the siege ever began, before it was even a possibility.

If I don’t recall anything about January 28 nor 29, 1968 when a team of Army personnel and some of their Bru cohorts (Bru were local montagnards who often fought with US forces) went out towards Hill 471 and got into a nasty dustup with the NVA, I do remember Hill 471 from an earlier encounter.

In late May of 1967 we went out on a company-sized operation towards the high ground around Hill 471 when the Khe Sanh TAOR still had vegetation that wasn’t blasted to smithereens. Hill 471 was covered with trees. We approached the summit and 3rd Platoon ran into some NVA and shot and killed one. Then we called in air strikes. I recall sitting on the edge of a bomb crater watching A-4 Skyhawks, F-4 Phantoms and F-8 Crusaders swoop down and drop bombs, strafe with cannons and machine guns, and shoot rockets. It was up close and made my heart hammer and the big basso whine of shrapnel winging through the sky sounded like the song of hell. Big chunks of bomb landed all around us and hissed when it hit in damp spots in the bottoms of craters.

That operation is where I met my first leech. Didn’t notice it until it was the size of my thumb. Maybe that’s because they were the size of pencil lead when they latched on and hard to see. I didn’t know what to think and all the old Vietnam salts laughed at me.

That’s where I saw my first bamboo viper, too. Corporal Fritsche and I chased it through—you guessed it—the bamboo, but it eased away like life leaving a wounded man. Besides Fritsche, I remember a lot more names from that time than during the siege: Ward, Blankenship, James, Poorman, Little John, Deedee, Pacheco, Carswell, Callahan, Fideli, Steinhardt, “Fearless” Bosowski, Enyart, Bowers and Lens.

We patrolled around Hill 471 and set up a perimeter for the evening. I recall sitting on top of a ridge most of the night on watch, unable to drift into sleep watching for the NVA to creep between the trunks of trees and slither out of the bamboo thickets to our front. But they didn’t come.

More than once I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t have a shrink hypnotize me and take me back to relive every second of my time at Khe Sanh. I wonder if the hypnotism shouldn’t be taped and transcribed. But as I think about it, I always decide not to do that. I think there may be a good reason why my memories of a lot of my time at Khe Sanh are subdued, hidden, masked.

The American writer John Irving said, “Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you – and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!”

All my Vietnam events are filed away, I suppose, and available to show up if prodded by something…a dream, the way a tree looks in winter, its fallen leaves, the way its naked branches fling shadows on a bank of snow. Or the sound of a truck running down the highway, the rumble trapped against the sides of a retaining wall, the rap rap rap. Or a white bird soaring over a field of snowy corn stubble. The sound of a gun.

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

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

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 18, 2015, time and location to be determined; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015, at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, time yet to be determined; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, time to be determined; and in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time yet to be determined.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

January 21, 2015

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

January 14, 2015

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why veterans-only courts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

January 7, 2015

Author Julie Titone Muses on War and Writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFC Grady Myers

PFC Grady Myers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

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

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

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

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

December 31, 2014

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE ABOUT KHE SANH?

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

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?

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

HOW ARE SALES OF LAST STAND AT KHE SANH?

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

Gregg Jones

Gregg Jones

WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?

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

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

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

December 17, 2014

News on Big Screening at Boise’s Egyptian Theater

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

December 10, 2014

On Scuttlebutt

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On September 1, 1967 I wrote:

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

Ken Rodgers, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson said it well:

# 254

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

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

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

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

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

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

December 4, 2014

On Letters Home

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

Or this from November 17, 1967:

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

On January 8, 1968 I wrote:

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

On February 26, 1968:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, please contact us immediately.

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.