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Posts Tagged ‘Bravo! Common Men Uncommon Valor’

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

March 30, 2015

Skipper Ken Pipes Writes About March 30, 1968

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BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes remembers the actions of 30 March 1968 in the following piece that was published, among other places, in October 2014 for the Military Order of the World Wars.

One of the most sobering experiences in life is the responsibility of leading young Marines into the teeth of the enemy knowing that some of them will not come out of it alive. It takes courage, faith, an indomitable spirit, and an unfailing trust in the capabilities of the men entrusted to your care.

Fighting at Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam in 1967–1968, was an ongoing, brutal fight to the death between Marines and soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army. Subsequently, this battle has become the title of a two-hour documentary film, “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor,” produced and directed by Ken and Betty Rodgers. Ken was a member of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines, before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

On 30 March 1968, Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B/1/26) proceeded from the perimeter of the Khe Sanh Combat Base to their pre-designated line of departure located near forward units of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA’s) 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment, 304th (Hanoi) Iron Division. Poised against each other in the coming attack were lineal descendants of one of the most famous divisions involved in the siege against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and elements of the 26th Marines—one of three Marine regiments of the 5th Marine Division that led the assault against Japan’s island fortress of Iwo Jima in February/March 1945.

The attack was scheduled for first light, but it was delayed by heavy ground fog that obscured the entire objective area. As the blinding fog began to lift, our Marines, with bayonets fixed, crossed the line of departure outside the wire of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Immediately upon commencing the assault, the two lead platoons came under extremely heavy mortar, rocket-propelled grenade, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from the 8th NVA Battalion who occupied extensive, well-constructed, mutually supporting bunkers and trench systems.

Under the umbrella of withering fire from nine batteries of Marine and Army artillery that pummeled the flanks of the objective area and created a rolling barrage 50 to 70 meters in front of the two attack platoons, the Marines began breaching the NVA positions. The fight for fire superiority hung in the balance until the attached flame section and combat engineer detachment entered the fray. As their predecessors did on Iwo Jima, these units, covered and assisted by Marine riflemen, began to blind, blast, and burn their way into the NVA fortifications.

For the next four hours, the Marines of Company B, some of whom had undergone 70-plus days and nights of continuing, killing bombardment by NVA heavy artillery, rocket, mortar, and concentrated sniper fire, gained some measure of retribution as they routed the NVA soldiers from their fiercely defended positions. Within the breached positions, our Marine riflemen were literally walking over the dead and dying NVA defenders.

From the moment of close contact until some four hours later when we received the order to withdraw back into the combat base, the fight was hand to hand, bayonet to bayonet, knife to knife, grenade against grenade, and rifleman against rifleman, with the trump card being, as always, Marines using flamethrowers and combat engineers employing demolitions!

It may seem to some readers that this was just another example of a typical seasoned Marine combat unit doing its job. It was not. The Marine rifle company that attacked the NVA that Saturday morning was not the same company that had moved from Hill 881 South three months earlier to participate in a battalion sweep toward the Laotian border, and then moved into the perimeter of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. The continuous enemy bombardment while we were in the combat base had hurt B/1/26 more than any other similarly-sized defending unit, exacerbated by the tragic loss of most of an entire platoon on 25 February resulting from an ambush by a reinforced company from the 8th NVA Battalion.

Most of the Marines in Company B on 30 March had joined during the siege as replacements after the siege had begun. These young men had traveled a hard road including boot camp, skills training at the Infantry Training Regiment, Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton, a flight to Vietnam, reporting in to the 26th Marines, exiting the aircraft at the Khe Sanh Combat Base under fire, reporting for assignment to 1st Battalion, and finally, still under fire, joining Company B. To a rifleman, they had no combat experience at the fire team, squad, platoon, or company level.

As it has always been in combat, if it had not been for the leveling skills of a handful of short-timer leaders, privates first class and corporals, led by an experienced company executive officer, company gunnery sergeant, and outstanding platoon commanders, the execution of this company-sized raid on 30 March 1968 would never have moved beyond our frontline trenches.

As noted by the commanding officer of 1/26 and the S–3 (operations officer) who planned the company raid, “The members of Company B performed individually and collectively in a manner normally expected only of seasoned and combat-experienced Marines.”

I believe that their brilliant feat can only be attributed to their deep and overriding desire to avenge the prior loss of Marines of their company, most of whom they never knew or met! To them and them alone goes the credit for executing, arguably, the first successful company-sized offensive assault outside the wire since the ambush of their mates on 25 February, and for making it such a success!

These Marines totally decimated the 8th NVA Battalion, including the enemy battalion commander and his staff. In so doing, intercepted enemy radio traffic revealed the Marines of Company B killed at least 115 NVA officers and soldiers and wounded an untold number of their survivors.

Skipper Ken Pipes © Betty Rodgers 2014

Skipper Ken Pipes
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Still later, Marines from B/1/26 (none above the rank of corporal) who had participated in the raid, were awarded two Navy Crosses, nine Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, and two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat “V” for valor for individual acts of courage, gallantry, and heroism! Additionally, Marines received over 100 Purple Hearts, with several of these Marines earning their awards for receiving a second and third wound.

Subsequent to the fighting on 30 March 1968, the company was the recipient of the following from the commanding general of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam:

Officers and men of B/1/26 USMC deserve highest praise for aggressive patrol action north of Khe Sanh on 30 March. Heavy casualties inflicted on bunkers and entrenched enemy forces indicate typical Marine esprit de corps and professionalism. Well done!

Gen William Westmoreland

Just as is the case with their predecessors from Iwo Jima, to a man, the Khe Sanh Marines of Company B remain intensely proud of their 26th Marines heritage! We will always feel we were privileged to serve with Bravo’s young, inexperienced, Marine infantrymen that fateful Saturday morning. We were truly in the company of men who were, are, and will always be, “The Immortals!”

Lieutenant Colonel Pipes was the Officer Commanding Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines, during the Siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, TET, 1968, RVN. Ken and his wife, Sharon, have lived in Fallbrook, California since their retirement from the Marine Corps in 1982. They have been married for 52 years. Ken, Sharon and their sons, Dan and Tim, are all members of MOWW’s MajGen Pendleton Chapter, CA.

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

March 25, 2015

March 30, 1968

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Khe Sanh, Vietnam

30 March 1968. The most vicious battle of the Vietnam War is coming to a close. My Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment will depart the Khe Sanh Combat Base pre-dawn this day. A large percentage of our 120-man company are new replacements as we had been mauled badly on 25 February by the Communist North Vietnamese Army. Nearly thirty Marines had been killed during an unescapable ambush and we were ordered to leave them lie some 800 meters to our front.

It would be five long years before we were told that one of our fellow Bravo Company Marines, Sgt Ronald Ridgeway, whom we thought had been killed that day, was actually captured, and held prisoner, and survived the war.

Today, 30 March 1968, the score will be settled tenfold on what will later be known as the “Payback Patrol,” but at the cost of over a dozen more brave young Marine Warriors.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968.

It begins with overhead artillery and what is known as a “Rolling Box Barrage” with the use of multiple batteries of heavy artillery. After the initial prep fires, the end of the box opens up as Bravo moves in to engage what turns out to be a battalion of Communist troops. Once in, the box closes behind us, trapping Marines and NVA alike inside. It becomes a fight of virulent fury.

To see those young Marines—some of whom only six weeks before had been home with their families—charging machine gun bunkers with their flamethrowers, satchel charges and fixed bayonets is a sight to behold. The Communist troops quickly learn what the Germans had learned at Belleau Wood some 50 years before when the German High Command asked: “Wer sind diese Teufelshunde? (Who are these Devil Dogs?)”

When it seems to be coming to a close, hours later, we begin to pull back, collecting our dead and wounded. We realize what a price we just paid. We have fought a very determined, well-disciplined enemy who will always command our respect as fellow warriors.

When our enemies try to reinforce, it is at that point, as they are bearing down on us, that we come to appreciate those Marines who are part of our “Air Wing,” as the F4 Phantoms scream in at treetop level with their napalm bombs, dropping so close we feel the heat of the inferno adjacent to our positions. As one of the pilots rolls his jet around to the left, we see him give us all a “Thumbs Up.”

Our company commander, Captain Ken Pipes, who is seriously wounded and loses most of his command group, maintains contact with the air and artillery and masterfully coordinates their firepower to our benefit.

After attacking numerous bunkers within the enemy complex, Donald Rash, one of our newest members, lays down on the edge of a bomb crater to cover our withdrawal, knowing full well he will never get up again. That kind of heroism and dedication to one’s fellow Marines brings a whole new meaning to the verse in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

In the end, Bravo would suffer more casualties (56 KIA’s) at Khe Sanh than any other company of the 26th Marine Regiment (REIN). For their valor, they would earn three Navy Crosses, our nation’s second highest award. Only one Marine would live to collect his medal. Don Rash’s mother would be handed a folded American flag along with his Navy Cross.

Michael E. O'Hara.

Michael E. O’Hara.

Ten Silver Star medals and fourteen Bronze Star medals with V for valor were awarded as well. Over two hundred Purple Heart medals were awarded, as many were wounded on multiple occasions. Numerous Navy Commendations were earned, and they contributed greatly toward the entire regiment earning the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation (PUC).

April brought new leadership to the company as many of our officers had been wounded or killed. New men arrived and the wounded were evacuated. Our fallen Marines from the patrol of 25 February’s remains were recovered within days.

It has now been nearly fifty years and those men, those brave young Marines will live in my memory forever. I hope the world will always remember as well.

Where do we get such men? What a privilege and an Honour it was to have served with and to have known them.
Semper Fidelis and may God always hold them in His arms

Michael E. O’Hara, Bravo Company 1/26 USMC 1967-1970

Michael E. O’Hara grew up and continues to live in Brown County in Southern Indiana.

Michael graduated in May 1966 and by April 1967 had voluntarily enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

Michael “went for four” and served one tour overseas during the Vietnam war with the 26th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Bravo Company during the “Siege ” of Khe Sanh.

Upon returning to the States Michael became a Primary Weapons Instructor for the Marine Corps 2nd Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton, Ca. Michael was Honorably Discharged on the early release program a year early.

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 41 years having raised five children, nine grand kids and have two great grand children.

Michael is a retired custom home builder and has spent much of his life dedicated to Veterans affairs and in particular to those with whom he served. He is a life member of the Khe Sanh Veterans Organization.

Michael now spends most of his free time with two of his four smallest granddaughters flying R/C airplanes.

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

February 25, 2015

On the Ghost Patrol and a School at Khe Sanh

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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

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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

February 11, 2015

On Warriors’ Hearts and Body Burning Details

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On today’s date in 1968 at Khe Sanh, four men were killed as a result of enemy incoming. None of the men were in Bravo Company, 1/26, but as I read the names of the KIAs I am once again saddened by all those lives lost at that conflict.

That sadness leads me to think about what remains now, some forty-seven years after. Memories remain, and the names on The Wall, and for us who still live, the remnants of death and mayhem haunt us.

For example, at the end of January, Betty and I journeyed to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where I ran into Vietnam veteran Bill Jones. Bill is well known at the Elko gathering for his cowboy poems, but he is also well known for his poems about his experiences as a United States Army soldier in Vietnam.

Bill, along with the late rancher and cowboy Rod McQueary, also a Vietnam vet, wrote a book of poems titled Blood Trails. The poetry in some of Bill’s titles, such as “The Body Burning Detail” and “Heathen Killer,” will sing a haunting memory to veterans. I am going to take the liberty of quoting a few of Bill’s lines here:

From “The Body Burning Detail:”

Twenty-five years later
They burn still.
Across sense and time
The faint unwelcome odor
Rises in odd places.
With a load of leaves
At the city dump
A floating wisp of smoke
From the burning soldiers
Mingles with the stench
Of household garbage.

And From “Heathen Killer:”

Sky Hawks and Phantoms
Climb almost straight up,
Dive and circle,
Drop tumbling silver
Cannisters of jellied fire
That flash in the sun.
We cheer the more spectacular
Rolling orange mushrooms;
The Greatest Show on Earth.
“This,” says Chief,
“Is one crazy white man’s war.”

Bill Jones is a neat and quiet man, polite and unassuming, yet in my visits with him about our mutual combat experiences, I can see in his eyes and hear in his voice the remains of battle. It resides there, PTSD I suppose, and something more, a sadness, a regret, and a hint of the bonds of brotherhood that tied so many of us together during our stints manning the lines, humping the bush, battling the North Vietnamese. The ties that still bind us. You can find Bill and Rod McQueary’s Blood Trails at http://www.abebooks.com/book-search/author/bill-jones-and-rod-mcqueary/.

Those of us who have fought in combat recognize these maladies that have haunted mankind since the beginning of war in our ancient mankind iterations; Soldier’s Heart and Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue and PTSD and Moral Injury.

Also while Betty and I were in Elko, we had the privilege of viewing a documentary film about Native American warriors and how they deal with the wounds of war, the kind that cannot be seen, the kind that are only manifest in the state of the spirit, the depths of the soul.

The title of the film is Healing the Warrior’s Heart and it was created by Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center. Taki knows a number of Native American warriors and has produced a very informative documentary about how some of our native people help with (and they have dealt with these issues for centuries) the wounded warriors in their societies.

The film focuses on men and women warriors from the Blackfeet and Ute tribes, offering a close look at how the tribes deal with issues such as PTSD. Their methods differ quite radically from what the VA and associated organizations typically prescribe for this malady. I will not go into details of the film’s revelations; you can view the entire movie here, on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIuPPSz6gL0. Take the time to check it out; it’s informative and well made.

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

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

What I will say about this film is how I like the notion put forth that a tribe, a clan, a society has a warrior class that is called upon to defend the population of that tribe, clan, society. Furthermore, this notion postulates that the society owns an ongoing responsibility to those who serve in this way, to heal the warriors’ negative reactions to combat and to afford them an ever-present deep respect after they choose to make the journey into war. This idea is endemic with Native American tribes and their methods of dealing with returning warriors seems to be catching the attention of the VA and other warrior related organizations. Again, check it out.

On the screening front:

Mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 15, 2015, at the historic Paramount Theatre. We are delighted to announce that Bravo Company’s Ken Korkow, a Navy Cross recipient and resident of Nebraska, will attend the event with his wife, Liz. 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 Outreach 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 27, 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, 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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why veterans-only courts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 7, 2015

Author Julie Titone Muses on War and Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFC Grady Myers

PFC Grady Myers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

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

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

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

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

December 31, 2014

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

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

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE ABOUT KHE SANH?

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

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?

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

HOW ARE SALES OF LAST STAND AT KHE SANH?

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

Gregg Jones

Gregg Jones

WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?

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

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