Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’

Eulogies

April 23, 2014

Requiem for Mark Spear

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Sometimes even the hardest, the meanest of us get shocks of sad news that force us to react in ways we don’t want to react.

Thirty-two days ago, Betty and I were having brunch with BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes and his wife, Sharon, in Fallbrook, California, after an exceedingly successful set of screenings the prior day in Fallbrook and Vista.

During our meal, I received a Facebook message from Dan Votroubek, the step-father of our principal videographer for BRAVO!, Mark Spear, that told me that Mark had suffered a massive heart attack and died the day before. Mark was only 45 years old and has a ten-year-old son. While we were in the California Southland whooping it up with our successful screenings, Mark was passing on.

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID © Betty Rodgers 2013

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hartley, University of Idaho 2013

I sat there for a long time, not saying anything, not wanting to tell Betty. Betty admired, revered and loved Mark. I knew how she would react and we were in public and…well…I have to tell you this. My father was a two-fisted knuckle-buster who would give you something to cry about if you shed tears, so I learned not to cry. You just don’t know how much it distresses me to cry…all that old-time thinking of tears as a sign of weakness. I’m a Marine, for Christ’s sake; I’ve seen men die in front of me and never shed a tear or even thought about how I might really feel about their demises.

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot. © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot.
© Betty Rodgers 2010

So I didn’t say anything for a while and we had our brunch and we chatted and reveled in success and then I just blurted it out. And then Betty began to shed tears and despite my reluctance to let this happen, a tear or two slipped out of the corners of my eyes and slipped down my cheeks before I could get them erased.

Mark Spear interviewed and/or videoed ten of the men in our film and he also interviewed and filmed Betty and me when we made our extras about the making of BRAVO!. He helped create some of our trailers and gave us advice and info on cameras, interviewing, lighting. He traveled with us to San Antonio, Texas, and met and bonded with the men of BRAVO!. After we were done with the film, he came to screenings of the film and we often met for bar-b-que where we laughed and visited.

Yes, we laughed a lot around Mark. He was a funny man. He was also sensitive and talented, he was an artist who understood film and photography and life. He was sensitive. I repeat that because for me, it is the salient characteristic I will recall about Mark. Sensitive people can feel the world on their skins. Everybody’s triumphs and disasters are understood on a visceral level by sensitive people. And like so many sensitive people, those triumphs and disasters, those victories and defeats, seeped through Mark’s skin and became, almost vicariously, his own.

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot
© Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark had health problems that no doubt contributed to his passing, but I can’t help but think that his sensitivity contributed to his leaving us prematurely, too. He carried a lot of weight, and a bunch of it wasn’t his.

And now he is gone and I am kicking myself in the butt because I didn’t spend more time with him, taking in all he had to teach me about life. One of the other things about sensitive people is they learn a lot from all that weight they carry for other folks. The weight gets in the pores and sneaks into the blood stream and gathers around the mind and the heart and becomes knowledge of another kind. Not out of a book, or a seminar, but from the weight of life.

I know something about grief. I should have dealt with all that grief that I accumulated from my time at the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t and I still may not; I’m a Marine and I’m two-fisted knuckle-busting Dale Rodgers’ son. But I swear I’m going to deal with the grief I feel from the loss of my friend, Mark Spear.

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

April 19, 2014

BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara Remembers Quiles Ray Jacobs

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Nineteen years ago the ground around Los Angeles shook terribly for just a moment. A Giant of a man had just fallen after a long and courageous struggle for survival. Quiles Ray Jacobs had succumbed to his cancer, probably related to what is commonly referred to as Agent Orange from his time serving as a Marine in Vietnam. His heroism during that time is documented elsewhere on this Blogspot dated March 2011 entitled “Ghosties.”

Jake, as he was affectionately known, and I were good pals from our days in “The Nam.” He was a bit younger than I but had entered the Corps ahead of me, which is why he became my Squad Leader at Khe Sanh. Everyone loved the guy from the git-go. He had his “stuff” together and we all knew it. He was a born leader. For a kid from the streets of Compton, CA, in the greater Los Angeles area, he would make his family proud. He earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star with Combat “V” device and the coveted Silver Star. He got them all the “old-fashioned way”—he earned them.

Horton Jake photo The late Quiles R. Jacobs and Dan Horton, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968
Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara[/caption]

After the war he continued on life’s journey, as did we all. His moral compass never faltered. He was a Lion for sure. He was one of those men who always knew, instinctively, what the morally correct decision was. He had built and owned a twelve-unit apartment complex behind the Shell station on the four corners that everyone watched burn during the LA riots of 1992. It was a really nice building. He and his brothers transported the twelve families to his home 4 miles away and his wife Naomi cared for them all for two weeks until the area settled down. All the while Jake and his brothers guarded their property from the rooftop of the apartment so it would not fall victim to the violence. In the end they were all returned safely to their homes unscathed. That was the man I knew in Vietnam and came to admire. He remains one of the finest examples of a man I can relate to anyone.

I visited him last in August of 94. Our CO, Lt. Col Ken Pipes, and I went to visit with him as he was failing somewhat and we knew time was running out. It was a wonderful three days.

The night before he died I had a dream in which we were together and the magnolia trees were in full bloom. The next morning when I went to town I saw all the magnolias were indeed blooming that day and I knew it was time. When I returned home in the late afternoon, the phone rang as I opened the door. It was his beloved Naomi with the heartbreaking news that he had slipped away to be with the Lord. It was 19 April 1995 and some jerk had just taken the lives of so many young people in Oklahoma City that morning. No one felt the earth shake in Los Angeles.

Jake's Magnolia Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Jake’s Magnolia
Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Sometime later I planted a magnolia tree in my yard in his memory. Actually, I planted two. One died, one survived. That was the way it was in “The Nam”. The trees were but mere sticks and would take years before the one began to bloom. My magnolia now blooms continuously from April until August, just for my friend Jake.

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

April 16, 2014

Lou Kern Muses on Green Ghosts, Hill 950 and the End of the Siege of Khe Sanh

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I came down from the mountain a few weeks after the end of the Siege in June of 1968. I’d been up there for 11 straight weeks. Two of us radio operators from my company were stationed up on Hill 950 (3119 feet). We lived in a cave approximately 8 feet wide, 6 feet deep and 5 feet high which was dug into the hilltop. Large pieces of interlocking metal runway strips provided a ceiling that would not collapse. Of the dozen or so caves dug into the side of the hilltop, about half had metal ceilings and half had ceilings made from tree branches. The hilltop had been alternately “owned” by our forces and theirs and in the process had been overrun many times. The tree branched caves had been dug by the NVA, the caves with metal ceilings by American soldiers. We felt happy to have a cave made by our own Marines.

We managed to squeeze two cots, four radios, a lawn chair and everything we possessed into that space, as well as a few rats that became named companions. Most of the time up there was spent with Roy Hagino, a good-natured blue collar kid from Flint, Michigan, and proud of it. We two were running the radio relay for our recon teams in the jungle during the Siege.

Bits and pieces of that time still blow around in my mind. It was so unusual, so isolated, so beyond the reaches of safety, so frightening that those bits and pieces run out of my memory like sand out of an open hand. No shave nor showers, often without drinking water, eating C-rations dating from the early 50′s, sucking the juice out of cans of fruit to stay hydrated, constantly surrounded by the NVA and for one ten day period dead sure we would be overrun, writing final letters home and hoping an enemy soldier would bother taking them from our blood-soaked pockets and mail them.

We manned the radios in a 6-hour-on and 6-hour-off schedule to break the stranglehold of stagnant time as much as possible. There was absolutely nothing to do outside of our work. The mountaintop was about 30 yards by 30 yards, it had a sheer drop on three sides which is what made it defensible at all, and our caves were dug into the sides like earholes in a monk’s head. The place vibrated like an earthquake every time a chopper landed, which wasn’t very often. We were socked in by monsoon clouds about half of that time. The mouth of our cave was a small oval; there was a trench outside and outside of that a drop of about 400 feet. The jungle began at that distance and that was NVA territory.

Lou Kern © Betty Rodgers 2014

Lou Kern
© Betty Rodgers 2014

The NVA loved sniping at us, which meant that leaving the cave and exercising was risky business. Nothing to do but sit in that 5-foot-tall cave, monitor the radios, and try and rub out the knots that kept popping up in our muscles. I was taller and thin, Hag was built like The Hulk, his favorite comic book character. Our diet didn’t put weight on me, but Hag gained pounds like a snowball. Near the end of our stay a plump Hag would lay on his bunk, snoring and farting at the same time.

There are things I learned later about the Siege that I did not know at the time. There were about 6000 young men involved at the base camp and the rest spread out on the various mountains around the base: 881 South, 861, 861-A, 558, 64, 950, all famous among Marines and historians, each in their own way. There were more explosives dropped during the Siege than all the explosives of WWII combined. This in an area of about 2 square miles. That is a hard thing to image. It’s hard to imagine how most of us 6000 lived through all that, but we did, hunkering down in caves, bunkers and foxholes.

The ground shook almost constantly as the B-52s arc-lighted, and from the constant artillery, rockets, mortars, Gatling guns, grenades, machine gun fire, rifle fire and the screams of badly injured soldiers. We could see the B-52s on a clear day, 3 miles above, and we could see when they dropped their bombs because the giant aircraft suddenly lost half their weight and had to peel off or snap their wings. If we stared at the spot in the sky where they dropped their load long enough, the clusters of bombs themselves would become visible, shivering like cold dogs in their plunge into what had been for centuries a pristine sub-tropical jungle.

I also learned later that my small company was credited as the main factor in defeating the NVA at Khe Sanh. The enemy called us the Green Ghosts. We were always out there in the jungle in 4-man teams, our faces painted with camouflage, every item in our gear fixed so that it would make no noise, every surface covered or coated so it would not reflect light, every man a volunteer in what seemed to others like crazy suicide missions. Some were. We spied on the NVA right in their back yard. It caused them great grief. If they wanted to move a unit to assault Khe Sanh from a different angle, we knew. If they had a favorite supply route, we knew. We found their caches and blew them, we called in artillery or Phantoms or Skyhawks on their base camps, we took prisoners and captured sets of orders from runners we had killed.

Hill 950, 1968 Photo Courtesy of Lou Kern

Hill 950, 1968
Photo Courtesy of Lou Kern

In the cave, on the radio, all the conversations about the team’s activities passed through the relay Hag and I manned. Everything. Our activity, like all wars, was pure drudgery and boredom punctuated by raging, adrenalin-saturated chaos. During the days we tracked our teams on the maps we had pinned to the dirt walls. We relayed their situation reports, their calls for artillery or air support, their screams of “contact” which came through our speakers riding on a wave of rifle fire. At nights, if the teams were surrounded and dare not talk, we would ask them questions. “If the enemy is within 20 feet, click your handset twice.” We were their umbilical cord, their lifeline, the only reason they could survive at all in that environment. And the teams were the only reason we were up on this ancient mountaintop, hoping the NVA who surrounded us would let us live one more day. Hag and I agreed, they were monitoring our radios. That was more useful than killing us. They had tried that. 950 had been overrun many times. The NVA took it and we took it back. 1371 was taller but there was no place to land a bird. 1050, 950′s sister hill, was a perfect cone, the top just waiting to be attacked from any angle. But 950 was different, tall enough to be a radio relay, approachable on foot along only one narrow saddleback.

Eleven weeks of 6 on and 6 off, constantly in vicarious combat, our young bodies out of our own control from cramping, dehydration and a poor diet, engaging in long conversations about jumping off the 400 ledge if the enemy got to us, or at least throwing our radios off so the NVA could not use them. Last letters home, badly wrinkled photos taken in and out of a filthy pocket countless times. Isolating ourselves from the dozen grunts up there who shared our fate and whose job it was to guard us, protect us against what seemed the inevitable, perhaps the liberating AK-47 round to the head if it came to that.

Those guarding us were really kids. Hag was at the end of his tour and myself in the middle. The 26th Marines had decided not to waste any well-trained or hardened grunts up on 950, so they sent clerks and cooks, 18-year-olds who had not even been to infantry training. Hag and I were frightened with a reason; they were frightened without knowing why, and that is much worse.

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There was a young lieutenant with them. He stuck his head in Hag’s and my cave and began telling us what to do if we were overrun. He knew, or more probably just guessed, that we had more training and experience that his kids did not. “I want you two to man the machine gun right up by the saddle.” He showed us a sketch of the hilltop and his grand, Napoleonic plan. Hag shook his head sadly and replied, “Sorry Sir, but we are not under your command.” “I’m the highest rank up here, mister.” Hag hardened his expression and shook his head again and the Butter Bar stormed off. Hag then called our command back at our base camp. “Get the S-3,” he said and when the S-3 came on the radio Hag briefly explained the circumstances. And that was the end of that. The Butter Bar never spoke to us again. Hag told me, “I don’t mind being on the machine gun, but if we are in front of all these kids we’ll probably get shot in the back.”

In early May, NVA activity shifted and our ground artillery and the New Jersey sitting out in the Gulf with her 16-inch guns started firing right over our heads, nights and days on end with the constant whistling of 105s, 155s and the big 16-inch guns. The 105s went over with a whistle, the 16-inch shells like a freight train, wa-ruff wa-ruff wa-ruff. “Hope they don’t aim a little low,” Hag commented. A 16-inch shell, 2000 pounds of high explosives, would have vaporized the hilltop.

When the monsoons hit, it poured for days, then weeks, then a month, endless cascading sheets of water, isolating us even more from the outside world. Our cave exhaled the deep smell of the earth; it leaked, it creaked, the rats extended their stay to the days as well as the nights. Stuck up in the clouds like that, air support was not available. Artillery never had been. On a tiny peak like 950 an artillery shell even a few feet off dead center would miss altogether. The NVA got very bold. They set up camp in plain sight. We could hear them talking, see them silhouetted against their fires at night, watch them mill around in an easy manner during the day. The Butter Bar ordered his men to snipe at them; Hag rolled his eyes. He called S-3 again and the next day the sniping stopped. No need to aggravate them. If they came at us they came at us. Save your ammo for an assault. Hag and I tied our two repelling ropes together and together they still didn’t reach halfway down the 400-foot drop.

All the while the minutes dragged on like hours until a “contact” scream came over our radios and we did everything we could to assist a team out there in trouble for a short while.

Hag was getting short in Nam. Two weeks then one week and then dead time changed; he was busy ordering a new Firebird and obsessed with the details. His excitement helped me lean against the groaning of time. One day, one hour, one minute, then Hag stepped on a bird and a new guy jumped off. To this day I do not remember the new guy at all. Once Hag left I started calling S-3. “I’m seeing little people,” I said. After I told S-3 five days in a row about the little people S-3 promised to relieve me and a week after Hag was gone I was down from the mountain, ready, willing and able to soundproof my gear, paint my face and melt into the jungle like a green ghost.

Lou Kern on HIll 950, 1968 Photo courtesy of Lou Kern and Bob Fuller

Lou Kern on HIll 950, 1968
Photo courtesy of Lou Kern and Bob Fuller

Years later when the Internet came around, I tried to find Hag. I did, a year after his death. He died at age 50, leaving a family behind. He had tried to stop an armed robbery of the restaurant he managed and was shot four times. Never really recovering, he died a year later.

Lou says this about himself:

I grew up on a farm in Iowa. I graduated in 1965 as a state champion runner and a member of the National Honor Society. I got my draft notice in January of 1966 and enlisted in the Marine Corps. I trained first as a radio operator and then as a Force Recon Marine at Camp Pendleton in 5th Force Recon Company. Among other schools, I attended Amphibious Recon School, Naval Divers (SCUBA) School, and Army Airborne School. I went to 3rd Force Recon Company, I Corps Viet Nam in February of 1968 and left Viet Nam and the Marine Corps in December of 1968. During my tour I spent 11 weeks on radio relay at Hill 950 and ran 20 deep recon patrols in the I Corps area. After the Corps I wandered through college, had a series of white collar jobs and ended up in construction at age 29. I have spent 35 years specializing in residential staircases. You can see some of my staircases at http://www.functional-art.com/. I have 4 children and 9 grandchildren, all of whom I am very proud.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

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

April 9, 2014

After Action Report on Screenings at San Quentin and the SS Jeremiah O’Brien

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The cream-colored walls of San Quentin were shrouded in a cold mist as Betty, Associate Producer Carol Caldwell-Ewart and I arrived at the prison to screen BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR on Saturday, March 29, 2014.

The visitor parking lot was crammed with the vehicles of people who were lining up to get inside and visit prisoners incarcerated at San Quentin. As we waited our turn, we observed a steady stream of people going in and out, the sounds of bells and buzzers announcing things we did not understand.

As the sky drizzled a slow rain, we were greeted by Mary Donovan, Executive Director of Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out, the organization that sponsored this screening. Mary does a lot of volunteer work with the veterans inside San Quentin.

At the gate an imposing guard barked out names of people who would not be allowed to go in for one reason or another. He wore a hooded jacket over his uniform and stared at each of us and our drivers’ licenses as we walked through. We were joined there at the gate by Vietnam War Marine Terry Hubert, the Vietnam Veterans of America’s chairman of the Veterans Incarcerated Committee. Terry has been and still is a big supporter of BRAVO!.

Hatch and Stairway into the Saloon at the SS Jeremiah O'Brien © Betty Rodgers 2014

Hatch and Stairway into the Saloon at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Also joining us were Marine Steven Wiegert who served with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in Vietnam and Sunny Campbell, Lt. Colonel, USMCR Retired. Steven and Sunny spend a lot of time on the inside of San Quentin working with veterans, as well as other inmates. Also joining us was Rhonda Harris, a veteran who is—by providing housing assistance, higher education prospects and employment opportunities—instrumental in helping other veterans integrate into the mainstream society through an organization called The Veterans Resource Center.

We screened the film at the protestant chapel inside San Quentin and the facility had good audio/visual equipment and a proficient A/V Tech named Steve. The prisoners in these venues don’t volunteer anything other than their first names and we always feel there is a good reason for this, and not because I know what that might be, but because I can feel it in the tenor of the time and place. We never ask them what they “did” to get inside and it is really none of our business.

This is the second time we have shown BRAVO! inside a California state prison. A lot of people remark that surely the experience of screening inside a prison has more import or carries more gravitas than a screening outside a prison. I don’t think there is much difference. All screenings are unique. The one thing I can say about screenings with inmates in a correctional institution is that we, the filmmakers, receive well-thought-out questions and the viewers exhibit a lot of emotion. After some thought, I think this may come about as a result of the prison environment being a day-to-day war zone. These men know fear similar, I suppose, to what we experienced at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

L to R: Steve Wiese, Lou Kern, David Moragne and Ken Rodgers at the SS Jeremiah O'Brien © Betty Rodgers 2014

L to R: Steve Wiese, Lou Kern, David Moragne and Ken Rodgers at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Folks often wonder why we would take our film into the prisons to show to the veterans, and Betty and I would say that even though these men (and women) have done things that earned them a prison sentence, that fact cannot, in our opinions, be allowed to detract from the service—especially the honorable service—they have given their country.

Another big OOORAH to Marine Brenton MacKinnon for all the work he did to bring this screening about.

After leaving San Quentin, we (including Carol Caldwell-Ewart) met with BRAVO! Marine Steve Wiese and his wife Deborah for dinner and talked about the screening that was to happen the next evening, March 30, aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.

Associate Producer Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the table. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Associate Producer Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the table.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

March 30 is a banner day for the Marines of BRAVO!. It was the date of the Payback Patrol that plays a large part in the lore surrounding the film, and is also Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

A large crowd of friends, family, veterans, volunteers and supporters made their way to the dock, up the ship’s gangway, through a hatch and down another gangway into the saloon amidships where the event took place. Many of the folks wound their way through the museum and other areas of the ship before things got started. Over 150 folks viewed this screening in a genuine nautical environ (one of two surviving World War II Liberty ships) that added ambience to what was being depicted on the screen.

After the screening, BRAVO! Marines Steve Wiese and Ken Rodgers joined with Marines Lou Kern and David Moragne, as well as BRAVO!’s film editor John Nutt (also a Vietnam veteran) for a lively Q & A with the audience. Lou and David were with Force Recon at the Khe Sanh Combat Base during the Siege. Moderating the Q & A as well as acting as Emcee for the evening was Tom Croft from Santa Rosa, CA. Tom was a United States Navy dental tech in Vietnam. He worked on Marines’ teeth during the day and then treated wounded Marines at night as a Corpsman.

The Jeremiah O’Brien screening would not have been possible without the efforts of our nephew, Troy Campbell, who is the Executive Director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District, and Eliz Anderson, Office Manager, Corporate Secretary and benevolent angel of the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. We also want to thank the captain of the ship, Patrick Moloney, and all the ship’s many volunteers for their efforts to make this event such a success.

View from the deck of the SS Jeremiah O'Brien © Betty Rodgers 2014

View from the deck of the SS Jeremiah O’Brien
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Thanks to Nick Bovis and Al Casciato of San Francisco’s historic Gold Dust Lounge for providing food for the evening, along with Eliz Anderson who donated cookies and beverages. And as always, a big OORAH to Carol Caldwell-Ewart for managing the myriad administrative tasks that always arise at each screening. Thanks, too, to Bon Mot PR, FX Crowly, Inc., Hancock Sea Squadron, and Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf for helping make this event happen.

We met up with a lot of old friends at this, our first screening in San Francisco, and made some new ones, too, which is always appreciated on our end. We feel that one or our primary duties with this film is to educate, but we also like to broaden our circle of friends.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

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

March 30, 2014

After Action Report on the Vista and Fallbrook, California Screenings

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On behalf of Ken and Sharon Pipes, their son Tim, grandson Connor, and Ken and Betty Rodgers, we wish to extend our most heartfelt thanks and gratitude for making the screenings of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR at the Vista, California Alvin Myo Dunn American Legion Post 365 and the Fallbrook, California Charles E Swisher VFW Post 1924 such resounding successes. We were all left nearly speechless at the warm welcome and genuine hospitality we received at each of the venues. The overwhelming emotional reaction and positive comments were tremendously validating to all of us.

We want to extend a special thanks to Marine Bill Rider, who endured the Siege of Khe Sanh along with his fellow Leathernecks in the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. Bill is the President and CEO of American Combat Veterans of War, an organization of warriors helping warriors integrate back into non-combat environments. Net proceeds from both of the screenings went to American Combat Veterans of War to assist in funding their programs.

The Vista screening began bright and early at 09:00 on Saturday, March 22, 2014, and the standing-room-only 90+ intrepid folks who attended were treated to a continental breakfast of pastries, yogurt, fruit and coffee.

It was good to see David Burdwell, a sniper and member of the 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, standing outside the Vista American Legion Post, waiting for us to arrive. (Ken and Betty were delighted to meet David and learn that he is one of the Marines in the archival footage used in the film.)

Special thanks are also in order to American Legion Post 365 Commander Haywood Bagley for representing his Vista post at this screening and to Junior Past Commander Chris Yates for all his promotional and technical work in making the morning screening in Vista possible. Chris, retired from a twenty-year career in the USMC, owns a lot of enthusiasm and expertise, which he brought to bear on this project. Ooorah, Chris Yates! Thanks, too, to post board member Raymond Johnson for taking photos of the event and for creating an awesome poster that both Post 365 and we used to promote the event.

Ken Pipes, The Skipper

Ken Pipes, The Skipper

At 14:00 on the same Saturday, 125+ viewers joined us in Fallbrook for the second screening of the day.

The afternoon meal at the conclusion of the screening at VFW Post 1924, prepared and served by the Patriots Ministry under the guidance of Tom Langan, was absolutely outstanding, as was the song sung by Tom’s beautiful daughter. Kudos, too, to all those who helped Patriotic Ministries make the tri-tip meal happen—what wonderful folks they all were.

The set-up for the afternoon screening went smoothly and efficiently. We extend our thanks to Robert Styles and Retired Master Gunnery Sergeant Ken Etherton for their onsite suggestions, supervision, enthusiasm and technical expertise. Also, we thank past Fallbrook VFW Commander Berry for the excellent job he did as the MC for the event.

The set-up in Fallbrook would not have been as smooth had it not been for the hard work of the Fallbrook Senior Volunteer Patrol deployed under the able command of the chief administrator, Retired Navy Commander Manny Ortega. We’d like to express our thanks to all the volunteers who so graciously gave us that important boost over the finish line.

Also, it was good to see several members of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Vista unit present and aboard—each righteous and honorable men and Marines—Retired Sergeant Major Brown and Retired Gunny Delgado (both USMC) and Corporal Tutera, who was stationed at the Danang, South Vietnam AO—back in the DAY!

We also send to one of our benefactors, Mr. Mark Van Trees, sincere thanks for the very special and deep-felt appreciation and support he and his organization extended to the American Combat Veterans of War and the Patriotic Ministries. The items that were selected and shipped out here by Mark and the folks at Support the Troops could not have arrived at a better and more opportune time. Thank you, Mark, for making this happen. Those items will go to Marines and their families who have just returned from duty overseas and/or who are in special need.

We wish to relay our appreciation to Retired USMC General Carl Hoffman, Retired Colonel of Marines Lyn Hays, and the Marine officer currently commanding the 5th Marine Regiment, Colonel Jason Q. Bohm, for honoring us with their surprise attendance. Also a surprise attendee was BRAVO! Marine, Ron Rees, whose two daughters made it possible for him to share the Fallbrook screening with us after traveling from his home in Oregon.

We would be remiss if we did not mention how honored we were to have former California State Senator and Mrs. Bill Morrow with us as well as Tom Stinsen, who represented current Fallbrook area State Assembly Member Marie Waldron.

Also joining us was Mr. Alex Dominguez from Norwalk, California. Alex is a veteran of Khe Sanh, a Marine, and a stout supporter of BRAVO! No matter where we screen BRAVO!, Alex might show up to support our efforts.

The support of these fine men, women and Marines and all the other folks they brought with them will not soon be forgotten.

In closing, on behalf of all Bravo 1/26 Marines, we thank you for your support, encouragement, positive comments, and for remembering those of our companions who are no longer with us. To all those who have made this project and so many others possible: SEMPER FIDELIS!

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings

March 12, 2014

News On Upcoming California Screenings

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Betty and I are pleased to announce that we will be joining Ken and Sharon Pipes for two screenings of BRAVO! in Southern California. Ken Pipes was the company commander of Bravo Company during the Siege of Khe Sanh and is one of the Marines featured in the film.

The screenings will be held as follows:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

In Vista, CA, at American Legion Post 365 beginning at 9:00 AM. A meal will be served by the Legion after the screening. There will be a $5.00 admission fee.

In Fallbrook, CA, at VFW Post 1924 beginning at 2:00 PM. A question and answer period will be held after the screening. The Patriots Ministry, an organization that provides meals for units preparing to deploy overseas, will provide a meal after the screening of BRAVO!. Admission fee is $10.00.

Net proceeds from both of these screenings will benefit the American Combat Veterans of War, a 501(c)(3) organization that helps veterans.

Then on March 29 we will screen BRAVO! at San Quentin state prison where a large number of veterans are incarcerated.We will be joined at this screening by our associate producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart and BRAVO! supporters Terry Hubert and Tank Kostenius.

The following day, Sunday March 30, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien welcomes the general public to a screening at 6 PM, with tickets starting at $35 ($45 at the door) and available online at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/bravo-screening-on-the-ss-jeremiah-obrien-tickets-10299252341. Light refreshments will be served. MC for the evening is Mr. Tom Croft. Joining the filmmakers will be honored guests Ken and Sharon Pipes, Steve and Deborah Wiese, and Lou Kern. A panel discussion will follow the film.

The O’Brien, a WWII liberty ship, is docked at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 45, in San Francisco. This is your opportunity to tour the ship prior to the screening. March 30 is also Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, as well as the anniversary of “Payback,” a significant Khe Sanh event that is recounted in BRAVO!

Please join us for the Southern California and/or SS Jeremiah O’Brien screenings, and we invite you to forward this email to your friends and relatives…anyone who should see this film. We love a packed house.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

Book Reviews,Documentary Film,Film Screenings

February 14, 2014

On Casa Grande, Arizona and Barry Hart

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Last night in Casa Grande, Arizona, we screened BRAVO! at the old Paramount Theatre to an enthusiastic audience approaching one-hundred attendees. Casa Grande is my hometown. As always, the mix of folks at the screening proved unique. We screened BRAVO! as a benefit for the Pinal County Veterans Memorial. Thanks much to Debby Martin of the theater, Palmer Miller of the Memorial, and the Paramount Film Society for all their assistance in making the screening of BRAVO! possible.

One of the highlights of the evening was at the end of the film, after the film credits ceased rolling. Mr. Marty Haggard, the son of Mr. Merle Haggard, sang one of his father’s songs that was popular during the Vietnam War, “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” Other highlights were the presentation of the colors by the Casa Grande Union High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC and Palmer Miller’s art.

The youngest attendee was our granddaughter, Jayden Rodgers, who was there with her sister Justyce and dad, Jim. The oldest person was Sybil Wilson, ninety years young. Sybil grew up and attended school with my parents and lived behind us when I was a kid. Friends came from far away to see the film, including Sharon Haldane, in Arizona on a visit from Oklahoma.

I was standing outside the theater talking to long-time friends Anita and Al Chew when a man walked by me whom I recognized, but from a completely different context. I thought, that looks like Alex Dominguez from Norwalk, California. (Alex is a Khe Sanh Veteran brother.) And he stopped and we shook hands and it was Alex who told me later that he’d come over to support me because Casa Grande is my hometown. Now that’s what I call having your brother’s back. Thanks to all the folks who came to the screening and thanks for all the support.

Casa Grande Union High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC Color Guard © Betty Rodgers 2014

On another note, February in 1968 at Khe Sanh was a dire time for American forces trapped inside the enemy’s encirclement. There was the attack on Hill 861A and the fall of Lang Vei and the bitter struggle between the Marines of 1/9 and the NVA over Hill 64. Later came the Ghost Patrol and every day the incoming was fierce, driving us deeper into bunkers and trenches and deeper into ourselves. The events of February 1968, if we survived it, forced us to find out what kind of mettle we could muster. In the face of death, we were forced to perform, forced to go on. I suppose these vicissitudes of war and how we cope with them are part of the undefinables that embody the concept of courage.

Besides finding “courage,” being in Vietnam during 1968 forced us to discover many things about life and death. I recently got my hands on and read a book of poems by Marine and BRAVO! supporter Barry Hart titled, A PATH INTO THE WOODS. Barry’s son, Nathan, wrote a moving and perceptive forward for the book in which he talks about, among other things, how he saw his father’s attempts to cope with the experience of the war.

There is a lot of good poetry in this book, both about war, and not about war, poetry about family, loss, self-improvement. There are poems in free verse and there are more formal pieces with rhyme and meter. Barry Hart knows how to write poetry, has a sense of sound and imagery, understands the concepts of metaphor and other aspects of figurative writing.

In his poem, “The Killing Ground,” Barry writes: On the battlefield/dead men lie in the dirt,/made wet by their blood,/shaping the ground where they lie. Those images are almost matter-of-fact, the simplicity of the language stark and realistic. Later in the poem, he goes on: Their bodies/drawn from the pitch/leave the impression of death

“The impression of death,” a visual thing shaped by their dead bodies, but more than that, an impression that hits us hard as the words come back to us as we drive down the road or walk the dogs; later, after we have read this poem, that impression comes back.

For more information on Barry’s book, A PATH INTO THE WOODS (Periploi Press, Nashville, TN), go to http://www.hartbn.com.

Marty Haggard singing his father's song © Betty Rodgers 2014

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown at the Fallbrook, CA, VFW Post 1924 on March 22, 2014 at 2:00 PM in the afternoon. Tickets for the screening are $10.00 and can be purchased at the door, first come, first served. Proceeds from this screening will go to benefit American Combat Veterans of War, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that assists combat veterans with finding their way back into productive lives.

We will be screening the film to 300 veteran residents in a private affair at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facility at San Quentin on March 29, 2014.

The following day at 6:00 PM we will screen BRAVO! aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA. If you are in the area, please consider coming to see us and the film. Net proceeds from this screening will go to help fund the SS Jeremiah O’Brien Dry Dock Fund. The SS Jeremiah O’Brien, The National Liberty Ship Memorial, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity. For more information, go to http://www.ssjeremiahobrien.org/.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

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

January 29, 2014

On Candles, Khe Sanh and Hand-dipped Candies

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This is a time of the year that I call the “season of the siege.” Memories of Khe Sanh in 1967-1968 always flood my mind, but in the winter and early spring of every year the memories infest me with louder shouts from the ghosts of my history.

Those ghosts showed up to bother my memories yesterday when I read a piece from Ernie Pyle’s book about World War II titled, Brave Men. In his books about that war, Pyle rarely mentioned generals and admirals, politicians, global strategy. He stuck to the mundane inconveniences, joys and heartaches encountered by the snuffy, the grunt, the flyboy, the squid, the dogface. Particularly interesting to me was Pyle’s reference to candles, specifically to the need for candles on the Anzio beachhead just south of Rome, Italy, in early 1944.

In Vietnam, we needed candles, too, so I suddenly felt an affinity with those men trapped in Kesselring’s Steel Ring that surrounded the American 5th Army at Anzio. Sure, the very fact that I went through boot camp, got shot at by the enemy, shot at the enemy, slept in the mud and rain, lived in a hole in the ground, provides plenty of common experience with the warriors at Anzio. But that need for candles, that mundane luxury, and it was a luxury, puts our—theirs and mine—shared misery and fear on a footing so common and un-heroic that it makes me smile just thinking of it.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Candles were necessary and important because they allowed us to see in our hooches. We had no electrical power, we had no barracks, we had no lights dangling down from the sandbagged roofs of those holes we chiseled out of the hard, red ground of Khe Sanh.

We wanted light to read by and to fix our C-ration meals and to see the faces of the other men we were talking to. I don’t recall if the Marine Corps provided candles. They provided C-rations and chocolate and Big Hunk bars, they provided cigarettes and toilet paper and matches and heat tabs. But I don’t recall candles.

In my experience, the candles I burned on Hills 881S and 861 and at the Khe Sanh Combat Base came from my mother. A variety of candles, but mostly white, long and thin, tapered and not much bigger around than my thumb.

When packages from home didn’t show up due to weather or some other factor, we had to figure out how to manufacture our own candles. We learned the hard way not to throw out those mounds of spent candle wax that looked like the remains of lava that had run into a flat spot and pooled. After some nights of dark—the hooches were dark most of the time—without candlelight, we learned to save our spent candle wax so that we could make replacements.

The candles we made were never as effective as the ones we got from home, but they served in a pinch. I have clear images of two of us Marines bent over in the fluttering light of our last candle, with a thread from a piece of Marine Corps green canvas or two or three threads from a jungle dungaree entwined to create a wick, melting our stash of old wax so we could construct a new source of light.

Besides candles, mail from home brought us socks and books and Chapstick and goodies from our mothers’ kitchens. My mother and her friends sent me a lot of packages with so much stuff, I had plenty of goodies to spread around…cookies and hand-dipped bonbons and brownies, to name a few delights.

And after the siege heated up in February 1968, those packages became scarce and when they did arrive, they came in bunches and often the cookies were moldy and the candles had been taken out of our packages…by whom, we never knew.

As I look back on it now, what was more important to me, and probably a lot of the Americans and their allies at Khe Sanh, were the letters from our parents and our wives and our friends. Their expressions of love and concern helped harden our resolve to survive the horror of the siege.

The last month of my tour in Vietnam, I was charged with traveling up from the trenches to the company office to collect the mail for 2nd Platoon. I carried a red box that was full of letters written by Marines and Corpsmen in our platoon to someone back home. When I arrived at the office, I delivered the outgoing mail and picked up whatever was there for the men in our platoon. Since the mail arrived in fits and starts, sometimes if took me multiple trips across that deadly no-man’s land, so to speak, between the relative safety of our positions and where I picked up the mail.

The company office was an underground bunker that housed the Company 1st Sergeant and the office clerks. We usually met and gathered the mail in a big tent that was set up over the bunker. There was a hole that led down into the bunker from the tent.

I remember once, when I was diddy-bopping down the trench after sipping coffee and shooting the moose with some 2nd Platoon buddies, something slammed down onto the top of my helmet and jarred my head down into my neck. This was a feeling that wasn’t unusual, since all the times I had to traverse from trench to office I often found myself having to dive behind some kind of structure or into a hole with the arrival of mortars or rockets or artillery rounds. A lot of those times, I ended up jamming my helmet into a sandbag abutment or the wall of a fighting hole. After recovering from my initial shock, I saw that it was Staff Sergeant Alvarado, the platoon sergeant, who had bonked me on the head with that red mail box.

He said something to the effect, “It’s way past mail call, Rodgers.”

I was very familiar with Staff Sergeant Alvarado since I was his radio operator. He was a good NCO and did a fine job of helping lead 2nd Platoon. But right then, he’d gotten into my craw, and me, always looking for an appropriate moment to challenge authority, ripped into him about what he could and couldn’t do to me. I remember yelling at him that he could write me up or remove me from my duties, but he was not to ever touch me, hit me or assault me in any way. Of course, the vernacular of Khe Sanh required that I throw in more expletives than normal words, but I won’t go into those details here.

And to Staff Sergeant Alvarado’s credit, the only thing he did was grimace like I’d stung him in some way. I grabbed the mail box and off I went, highly irritated and not without some remorse for not doing my duty in the first place.

After the Payback Patrol of 3/30/1968, I remember (because I was so “short” I could walk underneath a short-legged table) taking my replacement up to that tent over the company office to get the mail. Men from all of the platoons were there, sitting around with piles of mail and a clerk in the middle calling out names of addressees. Bravo Company had so many casualties by that time—way over one-hundred dead and wounded—that it was hard to know who was where and who was alive or in Danang at the hospital or on a hospital ship or rotated back to the States.

Of all the things I recall about my time in Vietnam, this incident stands out in my memory. We hadn’t had mail for quite some time and all of a sudden piles were available and each platoon had a goodly heap of letters and packages, but the biggest mound was for the Marines not there.

As we were sorting the mail this way, three rocket rounds swooshed in and exploded outside. I had been in Vietnam longer than any of the other Marines sitting around that tent, and like a snake escaping a raptor, I was across the deck and down that chute into the bunker where the office was.

The top sergeant ordered me to get out, and for a second I felt like ripping into him for being a pogue and hiding down in that hole while us snuffies fought the war. But I didn’t. I climbed out and collected the mail, and along with my replacement, carried all that mail to 2nd Platoon.

When I got home, my mother was asking me if I got this, and if I got that, and no, I hadn’t, and since I was gone from the nightmare of that misunderstood war, I hoped that someone down there in 2nd Platoon ended up with my goodies and my white socks and my candles.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

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

January 22, 2014

On January 21, 1968

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Yesterday I awoke early, when the dark still hung from the eaves and leered into my dreams like spirits of long-lost warriors. It was January 21, 2014. Most January 21sts are like that for me…an early awakening, an early rising, coffee and pondering January 21, 1968, the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Here in Idaho it was dark and foggy and the stench of inversion settled into every crevice it could get its stinky fingers into. I thought about the men I served with and where they are now, if they are anywhere, and what they are doing and whether or not I am in contact with them. I thought about the day before the beginning of the Siege, and how it became clear to me that my experience in Vietnam was about to become more violent, and I thought about the night before as Puff the Magic Dragon spit curving arcs of red death at the NVA out in front of my bunker. I thought about the awful shock of being awakened around 5:30 AM on the 21st by a crescendo of terror that shook the ground, and frankly, shook me, too.

Still groggy from sleep, I got my gear and bolted into the trench, and light and fire and noise drove me into the bottom of the trench, on my face. Something thudded into my lower back below my flak jacket. My back and jungle dungarees sizzled and I smelled singed flesh and I wondered if I could move my legs. I started screaming, “I’m hit, I’m hit.”

Steve Foster, who was in my fireteam, scrambled over and began to laugh. Normally you would think that someone who would laugh at another man’s wounds was really weird but if you knew Foster, well… He scraped whatever was on my back and got his face close to my ear and said, “It’s only clods.” And then he laughed some more.

Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, Courtesy of the Estate of Dan Horton

I rose and went to my fighting hole and someone came by and ordered me into the machine gun bunker close by which was manned by wounded men, one with a huge gash in his shin and another with his face bandaged so he couldn’t open his mouth, and his arm in a sling. We watched outside for the enemy to overrun us, but they never came. The gas from the exploding ammo dump, which was close by, forced us to put on gas masks.

It wasn’t much better for the next seventy-seven days. And a lot of those days were worse than January 21, 1968.

For years I kept my memories of that day secret. Only I was allowed access to those terrifying moments that crept up my spine and stopped me in the middle of whatever I was doing. Nobody cared much about what happened to me at Khe Sanh unless they knew me well or were at the Siege or went through something similar. All of us Vietnam Vets were hibernating, I think, until it became cool to have been a veteran of the Vietnam conflict. As long as we let our memories sleep, we were almost the same as being gagged.

But now, the stories are rolling out of us like a river that has finally thawed. We are speaking and we are telling our story, about our war—not our fathers’ war, but our war—which in its own way was as nasty and deadly as any war fought any time or place.

Part of the story of Khe Sanh has been told by Betty and me in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. It is not the only story, by any means, but it is my story and it is the story of the company of Marines I served with and in many ways it is a story that speaks for all Vietnam Veterans and maybe even veterans of other wars.

Marine and BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire Terry Hubert says that our job—Betty’s and mine—is to educate, and we hope that the film educates folks about what Vietnam Veterans went through and what it means to us now. There are messages in the film, it seems, that speak to some universal truths about conflict and humanity.

Part of the way we are educating America about the Vietnam War is by traveling around the country to give screenings. We are getting set to hit the road and travel to my home town of Casa Grande, Arizona, where we will screen the film in the historic Paramount Theatre on February 13 at 7:00 PM. In addition to educating folks, the proceeds from the screening of BRAVO! (entree fee is $10.00) will help fund the Pinal County Veterans Memorial.

If you are in the area, come by and catch a look at this powerful and poignant film. We’d really like to meet you, or get reacquainted if we have already met. You can find out more details about the Casa Grande screening at http://www.paramountfoundation.org/EVENTS.html.

On March 22, 2014, BRAVO! will be screened at VFW Post 1924 in Fallbrook, CA. BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes lives in the area and will be on hand along with Betty and me when we show up to screen the film. More details to come on this screening.

On March 29, 2014, BRAVO! is provisionally scheduled to screen for veterans incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California. As soon as we know more, we will provide the information.

On March 30, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, we will be on board the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, The National Liberty Ship Memorial at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, CA. The proceeds from this screening will benefit the SS Jeremiah O’Brien’s Memorial. Again, more details are to come.

Another way we are trying to educate the public about the Vietnam War is through the sale of DVDs. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

January 17, 2014

Our Brothers’ Keeper

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Early in each year, my mind turns to events that happened forty-six years back at the Khe Sanh Combat Base in Vietnam. During the seventy-seven day siege that began on January 21, 1968, certain events ensued that are permanently emblazoned in my memory.

One of the most memorable—and for me, disastrous—events that occurred out of a litany of disastrous events is what has come to be called the “Ghost Patrol” that happened on February 25th, 1968, when the Third Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/26, went outside the Khe Sanh Combat Base on a patrol that turned into a catastrophe. The patrol, somewhere around fifty-four Marines and Navy Corpsmen, was ambushed by a much larger unit of the North Vietnamese Army, and twenty-seven Marines were KIA and a large number were WIA. For years we thought the count of KIAs was twenty-eight, but one Marine surprised us in 1973 when he showed up among the other 590 POWs freed from incarceration in the North Vietnamese prisoner of war camps.

Another one of the men on that patrol received serious facial wounds but survived, got back into the combat base and was medevaced out, eventually making it back to the States and then medically retired from the Marine Corps. Military doctors created a new face for this Marine, but more was damaged than the his body, and in the mid-1970s, he committed suicide.

In the last few years, one of this Marine’s Khe Sanh brothers, Seabee Mike Preston, set about to get that man’s name etched into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Even though this Marine was not technically killed in action in Vietnam, many of the Khe Sanh veterans felt strongly that the man’s death eight years later was a result of his wounds received on 25 February 1968.

Mike Preston, who has a great deal of experience helping veterans, spent forty-five months working with attorneys (including the casualty section at USMC Quantico who encouraged Mike during his efforts), other veterans, medical personnel, doctors and the VA in attempts to see to it that the Marine would be properly honored as he deserved.

On the left, Mike Preston and on the right, Ken Rodgers, Sonora, CA 2013 ©Betty Rodgers 2013

Mike spends a lot of his time working with disabled vets. He’s helped get another Vietnam veteran’s name on The Wall. Mike has taken thirty to forty veterans to visit The Wall to “make their bones,” as he calls it. He counsels vets from our more current conflicts, trying to help them understand what all those feelings are inside them that they cannot comprehend, the unexplainable rage and paranoia and sense of distance from anyone who wants to love them. Mike says, “The healer is being healed by healing another. After all, we are our brothers’ keeper.”

Last November, over tacos in the Sierra foothills town of Jackson, California, Mike, Betty and I talked about Mike’s plight to honor the Vietnam veteran, specifically this Marine who was wounded on 25 February 1968. After his forty-five months of effort and sweat and rage at the system that sometimes makes it so damned hard to honor those who fight for this country, Mike received information about this Marine that negated all reasonable attempts to get his name on The Wall, which would have raised the number of recognized combat deaths from 58,286 to 58,287.

Even though this man had a clean record while in the Marine Corps, even though he’d been a real gunfighter who showed up whenever the manure hit the fan, even though he had gotten his brothers’ backs when they needed him, he will ultimately not be honored on The Wall as a casualty of the Vietnam War.

All along, Mike’s premise was that the war made this man what he had become and ultimately made him a casualty, even though the war had been over for three years by the time of his suicide. After his nearly four-year effort, Mike finally got a look at the man’s records. He found out that this Marine had a history of problems prior to his service in the Corps that would have prevented his attempts to even enlist in the USMC in the first place if the authorities had known about them. He also had a history of mental problems and drug abuse after his discharge, so claiming that the war forced him to terminate his own life became impossible to prove.

Mike says that the memorial fund he helped found in the name of this Marine paid for, and had placed on his grave, a military headstone that was due him from the country he served. Mike wishes to thank Mr. Bill Jayne, a BRAVO! Marine, who before retirement was with the National Cemetery Administration for the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Bill helped facilitate the purchase of the headstone. Semper Fidelis, Bill Jayne.

Mike also thinks the Marine Corps deserves a compliment because in just a matter of weeks they helped this individual perform honorably under what could be, at the very least, termed as trying circumstances. Civilian society, for whatever reason, could not do this.

Mike, Betty and I further mused on the proper way to honor a veteran of war. If he has serious problems as a result of the conflict, does it diminish his service? Does the fact that he was in trouble before he enlisted somehow diminish his service? How do you decide? Where do you draw the line? Mike Preston says that what is important in thinking about these issues is that this man should be remembered for what he did from the time he raised his hand and took his oath at induction until the completion of his military obligation, “nothing more, nothing less.”