Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Patrol’

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

April 9, 2013

News About Screenings in Moscow, Idaho and Sonora, California

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MOSCOW, Idaho

Here’s the info on the screening of BRAVO!, COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR in Moscow, Idaho, on April 19, 2013 at 6:30 PM. Screening is at The Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre at 508 South Main Street, in Moscow. Doors open at 6:00 PM. There will be a panel discussion on aspects of and the nature of war across generations and conflicts. At the screening you will be able to meet the filmmakers, Ken and Betty Rodgers, the film’s principal videographer, Mark Spear, as well as Mike McCauley and Ron Rees, Bravo Company Marines who are in the film.

This screening of BRAVO! is sponsored by the University of Idaho’s Operation Education and English Department, and is free of charge but donations to Operation Education are strongly encouraged. Operation Education assists disabled combat veterans in attaining a college degree. You can find out more about Operation Education at http://www.uidaho.edu/operationeducation.

Thank you to the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre (http://www.kenworthy.org/index.html), Ed McBride and Dan Button of Operation Education, and Kim Barnes and Laura Pizzo from University of Idaho’s Department of English, and Julie Titone for making this screening possible.

SONORA, California

On May 18 (Armed Forces Day), 2013, BRAVO! will be screened in Sonora, California. Below is the notice about the screening and the film from Khe Sanh brother Mike Preston, who is mainly responsible for the screening:

Here is a 2 hour first run movie like you will never see anywhere else, not at any theater, it is shown only privately. This film was made by Ken Rodgers (and his wife Betty), who lived the whole experience with Bravo Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. This is about the 77 day siege of Khe Sanh starting 21 January 1968; the Tet Offensive. It also covers the ill fated “Ghost Patrol” of 25 February and subsequent action in retaliation such as ”The Payback” battle on 30 March which was the only Marine Corps bayonet charge in Vietnam history and the only one since World War 2.

Less than 100 men participated and 19 were KIA . There were over 100 Purple Hearts earned that day, some men having multiple wounds . Other awards were 2 Navy Crosses, 8 Silver Stars , 9 Bronze Stars with “V”, 2 Navy Commendations w/V. One hell of a heroic day!

There are 15 Marines interviewed who are participants in the film itself. These guys are the “been there done that” gang, common men, uncommon valor. This film has a lot of historical significance, being about the longest and biggest battle of the 10 year conflict.

Seating is limited to 400 tickets max. Tickets are $10.00 and are available on line at Vietnam Veterans of America #391 for each of the two showings at 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM at Columbia College. There are also 3 trailers to see from the Bravo website. Just click below. If tickets are sold out and if you show up at the door at show time and there are any no-shows, you will be seated. All email tickets will be ”will-call” at the door. Tickets will also be available at Columbia College: Call Michelle Vidaurri at 588-1505. In Calaveras County, contact Bravo Project chairman Mike Preston @ 795-1864. Tuolumne County, contact Carol Southern at 938-3848.

Please send this to all who may be interested.

Thank you,
Mike Preston

Vietnam Veterans of America #391

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

December 21, 2012

Guest Blogger Ken Frier Muses on BRAVO!

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I find it odd at times when I think back on the Vietnam War and compare it to the wars we have now: The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. The times were bad, the country divided and somehow as opposed to now, the men serving were blamed for the war, even the draftees.

I never served in the military, but was almost drafted in 1970. I was a full-time student and could have received a Student Deferment, but did not; I could have also volunteered but did not. No, I decided to wait out my time and let fate have its way. When I received my lottery number (39), I knew that it was just a matter of time before I would receive a notice for induction from my draft board. As most of you know, it was a nervous time, but somehow I was drawn to the war and knew that whatever happened, that it was my lot in life.

Ken Frier

Once I arrived at the Induction Station in Jacksonville, Florida, the Marine greeting us informed 11 others and me that we would be one of the 10% of the draftees who would be going into the Marine Corps. When I asked the Navy Corpsman the reason, he smiled and said sarcastically, “To replace all of the Jarheads who are getting killed.” I did not want to die, but somehow his words meant to me that I was going to have it the roughest, to be one of the toughest, one of the few, one of the proud. It is for that reason that I have always been drawn to the Marine Corps; they had it the toughest, often had the worst equipment, they could “hack” it, they were the finest we had to offer up and I have felt guilty ever since that August day in 1970 when I failed my physical exam in Jacksonville, Florida.

* * *

In my research for my novel 1968 written under my pen name Kenton Michael, I met Retired Marine Colonel William Dabney who was the Company Commander of India/3/26 and the unit which replaced Bravo/1/26 on Hill 881S in late December 1967. India was similar to Bravo along with countless other Marine units in Northern I Corps of South Vietnam in 1968, in that the men volunteered to be there (except for the few like myself who were drafted). They were scared, resolute in doing their job, griped and complained, and took care of each other. After several initial interviews with Col. Dabney, I determined that he did not fully believe in the reasons for the US being in Vietnam. I asked him, “Why was it you actually volunteered to be a company commander in Vietnam if you did not believe in the reasons we were there?” He paused, then simply stated, “It was the profession that I chose; I did not make policy, I carried it out. Those brave young Marines chose to be there and I believed they deserved a fighting chance to survive and that meant they needed good leadership; that is why I volunteered, no other reason.”

* * *

To meet Ken Rodgers through email by chance, and to see the documentary BRAVO! has touched my soul. Growing up in Tampa, Florida, I knew Dennis Baptiste whose older brother, Michael, was in the “Ghost Patrol” and was one of the men left to the elements after dying on February 25, 1968. I have thought many times of the fear that those men in that patrol felt when they knew they were cut off, seeing their fellow Marines falling all around them, the loneliness, the hopelessness, fearing they would never see their loved ones again. Then what it must have been like for the survivors of Bravo Company to sit there day in and day out getting pounded by the relentless NVA artillery and rocket fire, knowing less than a 1000 yards away lying there were the bodies of their brothers and the NVA who ambushed them. (As a side note, the Baptiste family was briefly given hope that the body of Michael might be someone else when one of the Ghost Patrol Marines who was supposedly buried in the mass grave in St. Louis, PFC Ronald Ridgeway, stepped off the plane as a freed POW in 1973, but to no avail.)

Ken Rodgers told me he was not a hero; he was not correct. Col. Dabney of India/3/26 told me every Marine who endured Khe Sanh was a hero. From the constant fear of incoming, to the fear of being overrun as the French were at Dien Bien Phu, to the lack of proper food and sanitary conditions. Surviving Khe Sanh meant as I said while waiting for my physical exam, being a US Marine meant you could “hack” it. BRAVO! tells the story of these everyday Marines who were just common US men who found themselves in a dire situation who displayed uncommon valor; no different from the men of Iwo Jima and the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.

Semper Fi,

Ken Frier

Ken Frier is a 5th generation Floridian who attended the University of South Florida and pursued a career with the United Stated Postal Service. He now lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia, where he is working on his second novel. You can find out more about Ken’s novel 1968 here or here

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

April 5, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Cal Bright

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Bravo! Marine Cal Bright introduces himself.

I was born and raised on a farm in Parma, Michigan, until I joined the Marines at the age of 17 and went to boot camp at San Diego. From there, went through BITS and AIT then got to Viet Nam the first part of January, 1968, just turned 18. Went to Khe Sanh directly after getting to Nam and joined 3rd Platoon (Lt. Jaques), Bravo Company, 1/26 Marines.

During the month of February, while I was already at Khe Sanh, my dad sent me my draft notice. Dang ARMY drafted me since I did not report to my local draft board for my 18th birthday.

I did various details such as filling sandbags, burning crappers, LPs, guard duty, etc. I had no idea while on my first sandbag detail, that I would get buried under a ton of debris. We were in the process of rebuilding a 106 MM recoilless rifle pit when we took a direct hit that buried all of us. Fortunately, none of us were injured or killed.

Cal Bright as a young Marine

On one of my LP (listening post) details, I was out and the only contact with our
rear was a strand of wire that was hand-held by a fellow Marine. We would tug the wire for a Sit Rep (situation report). During my watch the wire got tugged and pulled almost out of my hand. Talk about being scared shitless, I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to pull on the wire so I just lay there until daylight. As I proceeded to crawl back in the daylight, I discovered my wire had been broken or cut (not sure which) and there were several footprints and mounds of dirt shoveled. It had been a night that the NVA had crawled in behind me and were in the process of digging a trench up to our wire. I am glad that I did not tug or pull on the wire, for it would have given my position away.

My first patrol will be one that I’ll NEVER forget. It was February 25, 1968, which became known as the Ghost Patrol. I have no idea how it was possible but I was not hit or wounded on it even though I found out afterwards that I went crawling and running through one of our mine fields from the opposite direction (from the enemy side) without touching off a round. I have lived with guilt to this day since so many of us died in the Ghost Patrol.

My next patrol was on March 30 (pay-back time).

I have turned my experience of combat into a positive, by contributing in other capacities.

I transferred from Bravo Company and went to S2 and worked with Kit Carson Scouts for the rest of my tour. We went on many patrols and ambushes in places I can’t remember and some I’m not willing to report about. On returning to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 1969, I did a tour in Gitmo Bay (Cuba).

After getting out of the Marines for a couple/three years, I joined the Air Force Reserve for the next twenty years along with being hired by the Federal Government. During this stint, I was activated for Desert Storm and got as far as Ft. Hood, Texas, before being deactivated.

While working for the Federal Government, I was transferred to a section for Emergency Essential Personnel due to my previous military experience. I eventually ended up doing four Southwest Asia tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. I worked for the DoD/DLA as a Customer Support Rep. I was tasked to train, supply and equip the local security forces, as well as supply and equip our own military including NATO forces. I was deployed there for just under three years.

Cal Bright at his interview for Bravo!

I feel that God put me on this earth for a purpose and serving our Federal Government in one capacity or another was His way of keeping me on the straight and narrow.

Since I wasn’t allowed to go back overseas because of being diagnosed with skin and prostate cancer, I retired in June of 2010.

For the past few years I have been rebuilding my 1984 Corvette and have it almost completed. It is a 383 Stroker putting out just under 450hp. I enjoy hunting, fishing, cooking on the grill, camping, dates with my wife Debbie and enjoying all of our grandchildren (all sixteen of them).

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

March 29, 2012

On Fix Bayonets and Payback

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I spend most of my time working on the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. As I do, my memory of experiences during the Siege of Khe Sanh keep simmering and bubbling. One of the salient parts of the film, and my memory, is what the surviving Marines and Navy Corpsmen of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment have named “Payback.”

Tomorrow, March 30, 2012 is the 44th anniversary of the only bayonet charge, as far as I know, in the entire Vietnam War.

The mist hung thick that morning, March 30, 1968, cloaking everything in its damp clutches except for the artillery and mortar fire that kaboomed through the fog and the muffled jingle and creak of our gear.

We eased outside the wire barrier in front of our lines and set up for an assault of a fortified NVA battalion in their trenches. Then the command came down from the Skipper. “Fix Bayonets.”

Marine Bayonet Training, from Wikipedia

For Marines, the command, “Fix Bayonets,” is one that sobers; cleans out all thoughts of home, girl friends in the back seats of blue Buicks, mothers baking chocolate chip cookies and sisters fighting for TV time. At that moment, for Jarheads, memories strain to recall the training: stabs, thrusts, slashes, vertical butt strokes. Hearts hammer like reports of fifty-caliber machine guns. Tongues and mouths grow suddenly parched.

As hard as I try to remember that March 30, 1968 command, “Fix Bayonets,” I can’t. Most of the other men who survived that assault remember the words being passed down from Skipper Ken Pipes to radio man Tom Quigley, who passed it on to the three platoons of Marines. I was a radio operator on that day, so I must have heard the command.

I suppose my inability to remember indicates the vehemence of what followed that command from the Skipper. My mind probably doesn’t want to remember those words. But it does recall, in some detail, the hours of battle that followed: vehement and bloody and vicious and exhilarating.

March 30, for a lot of the Marine combatants who fought that day, including myself, was the culminating event that punctuated the Siege of Khe Sanh. It was, in a number of ways, getting even; getting even for the deaths of our brothers on the February 25th “Ghost Patrol,” for our brothers killed and maimed at other times, for the lack of sleep and lack of chow and the lost weight and the fear…yes the fear…that rent us top to bottom. We were out there on March 30 for other reasons both tactical and strategic, yes. Yet for the snuffies who did the fighting, it was about getting even, whether we could articulate those emotions or not. And we got even. Here, 44 years later, that event, that bayonet charge, that in-the-trenches-satchel charges-flame thrower-hand-to-hand combat event, is known as “Payback.”

Not that the NVA didn’t get their licks in, because they did. Bravo Company took casualties that day. A lot of casualties. But in the give and take, take this, take that atmosphere of close-in combat, we kicked ass. It was payback.

When the siege began in late January 1968, for me it proved an exciting introduction to incoming, assault and danger. Heady stuff, adrenalin zapping the nerve endings, my thrilled innards lifted as if they were mortar rounds thumped into the never-ending. The January 21st initial attack and the ten days that followed were new, and compared to what would follow, subdued, and a fight most of us survived. I had no inkling that the siege would endure right up until March 30 and “Payback” and even beyond, into April.

February 1968 was the battering month for the men at Khe Sanh. We came to understand the horrors of combat. It was what we sought, I believe, in queuing up to be Marines. A test. A blooding. A chance to prove we were the match of our fathers and our uncles and our cousins who bled on the beaches of places like Iwo Jima and in the frozen hills of Chosin Reservoir. But I doubt any of us owned an idea of war’s true ferocity when we enlisted.

When I remember February 1968, that old adage comes to mind: Be careful what you wish for. You wish to prove you are among the brotherhood of the finest light infantry the world has ever known. Finding out that you are, or aren’t, is an onerous test. A deadly test. That was February, a deadly test…a test of physical stamina, mental stamina, spiritual stamina. February was the month of all-day artillery attacks, the fall of Lang Vei and the patrol of the 25th, the “Ghost Patrol.”

For us on the sidelines on February 25th, hearing those tortured hours, the loss, lives with us still. Time tends to dampen the power of emotion, but the infamous moments of February 25th still make my guts curl up and hide.

Yet my reaction now is nothing like it was my first thirty years after February 25th. For those thirty years my soul shrunk every time I thought of the foggy mist, the sounds of dying, the men of 3rd Platoon. I recalled smash-boom-blast of artillery, wounded and dead men carried inside the wire…not in a Marine Corps battle formation, but ones and twos, over hours and hours; I cringed, I felt like a failure. Even though the decision not to relieve the men of the “Ghost Patrol” was made way up the chain of command at regiment, division, or maybe (if rumor can be believed) in Lyndon Johnson’s war room, I still believe we let those men down. Marines relieve their embattled brothers, Marines don’t leave Marines behind. We let them down; me…even now, I believe, I let them down.

March was the month of reality whipping us again and again, as we lost men in front of the lines and behind the lines, eating chow, sleeping, flying in and flying out. Had enough bone-bending fright? Think you can’t go on anymore? Well, here’s some more, we will bash and batter you into minutiae.

And so, what happened on March 30 was a chance to recoup and get even, a chance to make a bullet point statement, a bayonet charge, a red blood and bone smash declaration…”Payback.”

Guest Blogs

February 25, 2011

Not Forgotten

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February 25th is, for the men who served with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh, a day that owns a particular and personal infamy. We left a lot of good Marines on the field that day. Guest blogger Bill Jayne was in Bravo Company on February 25th, 1968. He shares some of his memories and his thoughts.

The story of 25 February is well-known. It was the day of the Ghost Patrol when Lt. Jacques’ 3rd Platoon was almost wiped out within about a thousand meters of the Khe Sanh perimeter. This is a story of the 1st Platoon, the reaction force that never reached the 3rd Platoon.

My memory says February 25, 1968 dawned relatively clear and a little cool on the Khe Sanh Plateau. I kept my too-small field jacket on. Although our hold on the area was related to the weather, it was much more important to note that two days before more than 1,300 rounds had impacted somewhere on the combat base and one of ours had died along with four others. Vinny Mottola was an 0351—rocket man—who was funny, irreverent, and always carried his own weight. He died with the crew of a 106mm recoilless rifle when something big, probably a rocket, hit them.

The next day, the 24th, Bravo Company had a few wounded from incoming but no KIA. After filling sand bags and other housekeeping chores most of the day, my fire team from the second squad of the 1st Platoon, had an LP on the night of the 24th. Out in that almost liquid darkness, when a Marine shifted his weight in our LP position, it sounded like Gen. Giap leading legions of NVA into position for a human-wave attack. When a piece of 782 gear scraped against the clay, it was the tanks that overran Lang Vei coming to gun us down. Maybe my fears were close to the truth. Military intelligence knew the NVA were digging trenches perpendicular to our lines so they could stage assault troops close to our positions.

Yet, by 0715 the next morning, we were back inside the wire. Very soon, we started hearing the noise of small arms fire out where Bravo’s 3rd Platoon was on patrol. Our squad and another from 1st Platoon saddled up and headed out the wire.

We paralleled the access road to Rte. 9, heading southeast. I thought I saw movement in a tree line ahead and told PFC Joe Battle “Get out on the right, you’re the only protection we have.” Joe immediately headed toward the brush growing alongside the road.

He was a big, lanky black Marine who said he was from Houston, Texas. Just about a week shy of his 19th birthday, he could be pretty funny. One time, Joe asked a bunch of us if we knew what “KKK” stood for. Nobody said a word until Joe, cracking up, informed us that the right answer was “Kool Kolored Kids!”

I don’t remember if Joe shot expert, but I know he was a good shot. One night in early February the fog was so bad they kept our LP outside the wire in the morning until the sun started to clear the mist. We saw a Vietnamese heading for our lines wearing nothing but a piece of parachute. “Dung lai!” we yelled, but he kept running. He was downhill and about 75 meters away but Joe stopped him with two M16 rounds that hit him in the arm.

A couple of weeks later, moving toward the sound of the fire that was consuming 3rd Platoon, Joe tripped the ambush that stopped 1st Platoon. The fire came at our squad from two sides and at very close range. Joe was down…out of sight, gone forever. Three or four of us hit the deck and returned fire. Had Joe saved our lives? I think so. What’s a “hero?” Joe did his duty and he has always been a hero in my mind.

We returned fire against the unseen enemy so close to us but it was going nowhere. We took a couple of wounded from the small arms fire and then, like the hammers of hell, mortars came down on top of us and we had to pull back.

Just a few meters behind us, the squad leader, Cpl. Don Whittaker lay dead. It looked like he’d gone down in the first burst of fire that hit us. A raw-boned, serious guy from rural Missouri, he was 19. Whittaker was fairly new to our squad. I think he was filling in for our regular squad leader. I don’t remember Whittaker well, but Mac McNeely recalls speaking to him at some length and says he considered “Whit” a friend. He had been hit several times in the chest, abdomen and trunk. There’s no doubt in my mind that he died facing the enemy trying to do his job.

A third member of the squad died that day: Hospitalman Lloyd W. Moore, the corpsman, the “doc.” He was about a month shy of his 22nd birthday. No one from Bravo Company really remembers him. He joined 1/26 (H&S Co.) on 27 January and probably spent some time at the Battalion Aid Station. I don’t know when he joined Bravo Company and 1st Platoon. How could it be that nobody remembered him? I don’t know. It seems like we had a revolving door for corpsmen around that time, but still…

He was from Wilmington, N.C., where I have made my home for the past five years and I’ve learned a lot about him. First of all, nobody called him “Lloyd.” His father was L.W. Moore, a prominent citizen of the city and when his son was killed in action at Khe Sanh, it was front page news. So, the son was known as “Whit,” short for his middle name, or even “Spider.” His sister, his cousins, his friends, other corpsmen he served with in Rota, Spain, and other stops in his service history remember him well.

He liked to hunt and fish and he graduated high school from Carolina Military Academy. Like Cpl. Don Whittaker—the other “Whit” from our squad—he was religious but a corpsman buddy said he enjoyed going on liberty, too. Another corpsman buddy said he had a presentiment of death before he shipped out to Vietnam. We didn’t know him long enough to learn any of that.

As our squad came apart, he moved around to help the wounded until he was felled by mortar shrapnel that hit him in the base of the neck. A hero? It almost seems like Navy corpsman and hero are synonymous. A posthumous Bronze Star valor award recognized his actions. I recognized him from a picture sent to me by a local veteran who had researched all those from this area who had been killed in action from WWI through Vietnam.

As I opened the digital photograph attached to an email from the researcher, I instantly recognized the dead corpsman on that little piece of earth that seemed literally “God forsaken.” I didn’t know his name (except from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and from Chaplain Stubbe’s research about Khe Sanh). I didn’t remember where he was from, or anything about him except his face and that he died doing his job.

“Lead” in my pack? The thought of that day and the almost unbelievable but irrevocable tragedy of the Ghost Patrol and our three dead from First Platoon has never been far from my consciousness in the 43 years since it happened.

Why was I spared? Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that? What would have happened if we had done this, if we hadn’t done that? Over and over.

Almost 30 years ago, I learned from reading a book that 25 February 1968 was a Sunday. Just like I didn’t know “Whit” Moore’s name or anything about him, I had no idea of the day of the week.

I was married, a father of two wonderful children, working in a very gratifying job helping fellow veterans. And, I was searching for answers, trying to learn how to make something other than crushing weight out of the lead in my pack. I was doing a lot of reading, thinking and talking about God and religion and I asked a priest if he could tell me what the readings were for that prosaically named “Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time.”

The second reading hit me like a bolt of lightening. It was St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, verses 54 through 58:

And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.We knew no victory on that field in 1968. There was death, and failure, and regret, loss and pain; the story of human life on earth compacted into a diamond of humbling memory. Yet, God was there, too, and He left His message of victory and redemption to be discovered in His word and in the example of the steadfast heroes of Bravo Company.

Bill Jayne enlisted in the Marine Corps for two years in September 1966. Originally from the Hudson Valley of New York state he went to boot camp at Parris Island and joined 1/26 on Hill 55 in early 1967. He was a rifleman, 0311, but found himself in H&S Company and then Bravo Company as a clerk. An insubordinate streak landed him in 1st Platoon of Bravo Company in October 1967. Patrol, patrol, patrol; Hill 950, Hill 881S, etc. After college he ended up in Washington, DC, working for a small magazine and then a big lobbying organization involved with heavy construction. A chance phone call in 1979 led to the opportunity to serve as an early volunteer on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and then a career in the US Department of Veterans Affairs. He ran the National Cemetery Administration’s (NCA) State Cemetery Grants Program and later the Federal cemetery construction program. In his 20+ years with the NCA he had a role in the establishment of about 50 new cemeteries for veterans and their families, every one of them a “national shrine” to the memory of those who served in the military. He is now retired in Wilmington, NC.