Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Vietnam War

July 30, 2014

CHICAGO!!!

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We needed help finding the train, what is officially termed the CTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, from Midway Airport into downtown Chicago. We had notions about traveling on the system but really had no idea how you actually got it done. Was it like New York’s subway? Were we going to get held up or witness a shooting and what about the weather? Hot and humid? Tornadoes? Our concerns were initiated by what we see on the national news.

At the airport we found the information desk and the man behind it wore a Khe Sanh Veterans ball cap. He was lean and fit and confident. Betty started our conversation with him by saying I had been at Khe Sanh. We shook hands. What a strong grip he owned and I asked him his unit. His name was Rich, and he served with the Third Battalion, Third Marines. I said, “1/26.” He nodded and then proceeded to explain how one gets from Midway to the Orange Line and from there to the Brown Line. He told us we were going to love Chicago.

Downtown Chicago. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Downtown Chicago.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

And we did love Chicago. The big-muscled hubbub, the Midwest practicality, the friendliness, the food.

We met up with our Internet friends who are now our real friends, the writer and teacher Patricia Ann McNair and her husband, the visual artist and writer Philip Hartigan, and they showed us some of Chicago’s famous neighborhoods and points of interest and we had Vietnamese, German and Italian food. We attended literary events. I even read from my book of short stories at one of the readings and we got to hear Chicago author and professor Eric May read from his new book.

Both Eric May and Patricia Ann McNair are professors at Chicago’s Columbia College. Betty and I visited their writing program offices and were impressed with the faculty and staff we met there.

The buffet at the ULCC screening. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The buffet at the ULCC screening.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We were graciously put up in a grand room at the Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC), where we met former Navy pilot Jan Donatelli, the major force behind the screening event, and the ULCC’s Kathy Hurley whose herculean efforts made our stay and our screening there a tremendous success. We offer our thanks to the ULCC’s executive director of Public Affairs, Mr. David Kohn, who made sure we received a warm welcome when we checked into the hotel.

We were invited to the regular luncheon of Union League’s American Legion Post 758. A big thank you to Post Commander Matt Iverson for making sure we had an excellent meal and reception, and to boot, the post underwrote a significant portion of our travel expenses. They hosted our screening, as well, which included a sumptuous buffet for those who attended.

One of the other major sponsors of our trip was the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. The Museum, housed in a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown, is a cache of American veteran memorabilia, research material, books, movies, photography, and more. At the time of our visit, they sported an impressive exhibit on United States Navy SEALs.

The hall at the Prizker Military Museum and Library © Betty Rodgers 2014

The hall at the Prizker Military Museum and Library
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Mr. Kenneth Clarke, the CEO of the Pritzker, personally greeted Betty and me. While there, we found the copy of BRAVO! which had been donated by the Paddock family, and I gave them an interview for their oral history project. I originally said I was interested in talking for an hour or so about my experiences at Khe Sanh, but ended up reminiscing for three and one-half hours.

A big thanks to Mr. Thomas Webb and Mr. Jerrod Howe of the Pritzker, both for scheduling the time to interview, and for conducting the interview. Jerrod Howe is in the Cinema Arts and Sciences MFA program at Columbia College.

The screening was well attended by old friends and new friends. BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara came all the way from Indiana to share some time with us and participate in the Q & A following the screening.

Another distinguished guest was Tom Eichler, who served during the Siege of Khe Sanh with Echo Company, 2/26. Tom was awarded the Silver Star for some of his actions during the Siege. He is also the president and treasurer of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Both Tom and the association have been strong supporters of our efforts to make and screen BRAVO!.

Left to right: Tom Eichler, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers and Matt Iverson © Betty Rodgers 2014

Left to right:
Tom Eichler, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers and Matt Iverson
© Betty Rodgers 2014

One of the great things about traveling around the country, screening the film, is how old friends show up in new contexts. Betty has known Mr. Donald Hovey for four decades. They met in New England and have remained friends all the intervening years. Donald is a tenor and agreed to sing the national anthem at our ceremony and he did a fantastic job to much applause.

Finally, we wish to thank our Cowboy Poetry friends, John and Judy George, members of the Union League Club and the folks who initiated this BRAVO! debut in Chicago. Also, kudos to Colonel Jennifer Pritzker who helped sponsor our trip to Chicago, and to esteemed Medal of Honor recipient Mr. Allen Lynch for attending the screening. We also wish to express our gratitude to the evening’s emcee, Mr. Bill Wigoda, and to Vietnam War author Julie Titone who helped pave the way for this memorable experience on our BRAVO! journey.

We began our trip to Chicago not knowing what to expect, but we can say without hesitation that we loved the city and the residents there. We hope to return.

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

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

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

Film Screenings

July 23, 2014

BRAVO! in CHICAGO!

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Tomorrow night, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in the Crystal Room at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois. Registration will begin at 5:00 PM, with opening remarks at 5:15. The screening will begin promptly at 5:30. A question and answer period will follow the screening from 7:30 to 8:00. On hand for the Q & A will be BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, Khe Sanh Veteran and retired Chicago police officer Tom Eichler, and Co-producers of the film, Ken and Betty Rodgers.

Union League Club of Chicago

Union League Club of Chicago

The event is free but you must reserve a seat by going to: https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com. There will be snacks available and a signature/cash bar with beverages of your choice. Please note, the attire is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

The screening is sponsored in part by American Legion Post 758, the Union League Club of Chicago, and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.

Here are the bios for the folks on the Q & A panel:

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

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

Michael O’Hara was wounded three times at Khe Sanh before he returned to the US to finish his enlistment as a Primary Weapons Instructor. After his release from active duty on the early release program, Michael went back to Indiana to become a homebuilder. For more than 20 years, he has been a major force in Brown County, Indiana veterans affairs, owning a big heart for all combat veterans past and present.

Tom Eichler, a Chicago native son, was with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh where he was wounded and awarded the Silver Star for his actions. Discharged in 1968, he joined the Chicago Police Department where he served until his retirement, and remains one of their most decorated officers. He currently serves as President and Treasurer of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association.

Tom Eichler

Tom Eichler

Ken Rodgers is the man who wrote, co-produced and co-directed Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. He recalls standing on the heliport at Dong Ha after leaving Khe Sanh, looking back at the Annamite Mountains where the battle occurred, and thinking, That’s one hell of a story. It took Ken a lifetime as a controller and business manager to find his true calling as a filmmaker and finally tell this story of the siege, the story of his Bravo Company brothers, his Khe Sanh brothers…the story of all Vietnam veterans.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken’s wife Betty Rodgers grew up in a family of veterans with a WWII-era mother who believed in recording veterans’ stories so their sacrifices would be remembered by future generations. After attending Khe Sanh Veteran reunions with her husband, she realized his story and the story of these men would eventually be lost, so she proposed this film…this collaboration with Ken…as a way to preserve Bravo Company’s unique moment in history.

Betty Rodgers

Betty Rodgers

Please join us for this memorable event.

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

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

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

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

July 16, 2014

Something of Value

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Bravo Company 1/26 came off of Hill 881 South on July 10, 1967, and went into battalion reserve at the combat base, first at the west end and then into the trenches on the north side of the perimeter. Bravo stood line watch, ran patrols, listening posts and ambushes for the next ten days.

On July 21, Mike Company, 3/26, engaged elements of the North Vietnamese Army northeast of the base and suffered five KIA.
If I was aware of Mike Company, 3/26′s casualties, I don’t recall. When units got hit around Khe Sanh I usually went into a funk; scattered, not focused on cleaning my rifle or gathering the rest of my gear in case we charged into the maw of battle. I would flit from task to task, smoke a Camel, clean part of my weapon, grab some grenades, smoke a Camel…I don’t recall doing any of these tasks.

View  looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

View looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

On the same date, another Mike Company—Mike 3/3—was also out in the vicinity of Mike 3/26 and they, too, took casualties; 11 KIA. Again, I have no memory of that event or the edgy fear that probably gnawed at the back of my brain as I tried to stay focused and not look like I was afraid.

Also on that same day, Bravo 1/26′s First Platoon was out east of the combat base patrolling down Route 9 when they got ambushed. Three men were killed on that patrol: one 81 MM forward observer with H & S Company, 1/26, and two men from Bravo’s First Platoon. Some of the men in our film BRAVO! were on that patrol.

As soon as Second Platoon, my outfit, got the word about First Platoon being ambushed, Sergeant Michael Dede came down the line and told us to gather our gear.

I shared a bunker with a salty Marine who had come over to Bravo earlier in the year from 3/26. He was a short-timer. I do not recall his name. At that moment, he was teaching me how to play Back Alley Bridge and as we played our cards, he was cleaning out my pockets. We were playing for money—Military Payment Certificates—because, as he told me in his clipped Boston accent, if you weren’t committing something of value, then you wouldn’t be at your best.

Dede told us to get ammo, grenades, poncho liner, and other gear we’d need for a helicopter insertion in support of First Platoon. My bunker mate sat back and grinned, and as I tried to gather my gear, flitting like a mosquito from one item to the next, he cajoled me to keep playing the game since there was no guarantee we’d be going anywhere.

I recall him saying, “You know how it is. Hurry up and wait.”

So as I got my gear together and rumors of death and combat circulated like demons among the men of Second Platoon, he collected more and more of my MPC.

Finally, Sergeant Dede came down the line and told us to assemble on the air strip and await choppers to transport us out to assist First Platoon. My bunker mate was so short he didn’t have to go. I can see him, right now in my mind’s view, leaning back on his rack, smiling, his big red mustache and his disheveled shock of red hair implanted in my memory. He was counting my MPC.

We sat on the air strip in the sun. It was hot and we were nervous. Some of us talked incessantly. Some of us didn’t say anything.

I don’t know that I thought about it then, but I think about it now. Something of value. Some MPC in a game of Back Alley Bridge. Some casualties out on Route 9. My young life available to what…be wounded, killed, captured, honored? Something of value, like the lives of those 19 Marines who died in our TAOR that day, and the wounded men, too, whose names we don’t put up on monuments.

Finally, the helicopters arrived and we loaded up and away we went.

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

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

***

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois on July 24, 2014. Sponsored by American Legion Post 758, this event begins with registration at 5:00 PM. The film will be screened at 5:30 followed by a Q & A session with Co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, and Echo Company, 2/26′s Tom Eichler, the president of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Complimentary snacks will be provided and there will be a cash bar with beverages of your choice.

The program will end at 8:00 PM. Reservations are required. To reserve your seats please go to the Eventbrite registration page @ https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com/.

Please note, this event is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall or winter, please contact us immediately.
DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

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

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Marines,Vietnam War

July 9, 2014

A True Friend to BRAVO!

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Meet Carol Caldwell-Ewart, BRAVO!’s Associate Producer. You’ve seen the name in the credits, perhaps even met Carol, but we’d like to tell you a little more about her.

Carol was our friend in Sonoma County long before we moved to Idaho and became filmmakers, and was quite interested and encouraging when we decided to tell the story of the Vietnam War through the experiences of Bravo Company during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

In spite of the fact that she works fulltime-plus, has many interests and talents such as editing, business and creative writing, travel, pottery, family and dance, Carol asked what she could do to support our efforts. She believed in what we were doing, and knew we couldn’t do it alone.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

So Carol set forth and developed and managed three separate Indiegogo fundraising campaigns which were all successfully funded. Had it not been for these efforts, and her own personal donations, we would not have had the resources to complete BRAVO!

Once we had all our material gathered and interviews completed, it was time to choose an editor, and Carol played a significant role here as well. We were fortunate to hear from Vietnam veteran and long-time sound and film editor, John Nutt, who was interested in working with us, but we had not met him face-to-face—he lived in California and we are in Idaho. Once again, Carol stepped up. She went to see John for that critical first meeting and subsequently was confident it would be a good match. Sure enough, she was spot on.

Carol joined us at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County when we were there for the final sound re-mix. This was to be the first time she gained a glimpse of the breadth and power of the story she had worked so hard for. She was with us when we screened it to the employees of Skywalker Sound in Lucas’ state-of-the-art theater.

Once the film was ready to be shown to invitation-only crowds, Carol then asked to host one of our very first screenings for our northern California donors. She pulled out all the stops with the location, the food and beverages, and the huge crowd of friends, family and supporters.

Since then, Carol has attended many of our screenings, working in the background to be sure all the details were attended to, and handling DVD sales to enable us to talk with people. She has designed and printed programs, and pitches in to help the hosts when they need it, such as checking sound equipment, arranging food on platters, and directing guests to the venue. She is an excellent spokesperson.

We are also extremely grateful when we send text off to Carol and ask her to don her editor’s hat (of course, it’s a red one…Carol’s favorite color). We may have struggled and struggled to word something well and just not been happy with it. In a matter of minutes, Carol has reworded it to be exactly what we wanted.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the goody table on the SS Jeremiah O'Brien. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the goody table on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Over these last four years, Carol says she has grown to love the men in the film and admire their courage in telling this story. Yet in all this time, she had met just one other Bravo Company Marine besides Ken. So when she learned there would be a significant number of the men in attendance at our recent screening in Springfield, IL, she decided to travel there to meet them. Carol flew there at her own expense, and knew each face the minute they walked in the room.

Little did each of them know whom they were meeting…this amazing woman who has championed them and their story from the very beginning. She has stood by them and honored them and given a great deal of herself to be sure the film did not languish in some obscure corner. Fortunately over the time Carol was in Springfield, the men did come to know her too.

And so here, on behalf of everyone involved with the film, we would like to express our deepest gratitude for all you have given, Carol, with no expectation of anything in return. We appreciate your warm smile, your keen mind, your generous heart, and your belief in all of us. May you receive the same degree of friendship you give so well.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart and  BRAVO! Marine Mr. Ben Long get acquainted in Springfield, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart and
BRAVO! Marine Mr. Ben Long get acquainted in Springfield, Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois on July 24, 2014. Sponsored by American Legion Post 758, this event begins with registration at 5:00 PM. The film will be screened at 5:30 with a Q & A session with Co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara following the screening. Complimentary snacks will be provided and there will be a signature bar with beverages of your choice.

The program will end at 8:00 PM. Reservations are required. To reserve your seats please go to the Eventbrite registration page @ https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com/.

Please note, this event is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.
If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Documentary Film,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

July 2, 2014

On The Many Faces of Fear and the Quest for Closure

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I recently received a telephone call from a gentleman I met last year at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in Nashville, TN. He reminded me that he had come to the reunion back in September to see if he could find out information about his cousin, Glenn Sanders from Alpha Company, 1/26 who was KIA at Khe Sanh in late June, 1967.

When we met in Nashville, I couldn’t help him because Glenn Sanders was with a different outfit than mine, so I introduced him around to some of the men I knew who were in Alpha 1/26 and that’s the last I knew of him until he called me last week.

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

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

Here’s some background: In the early morning hours of June 27, 1967, the NVA rocketed and mortared the Khe Sanh Combat Base, killing and wounding a number of Marines from 1/26. Later that day, elements of CAC Oscar-3 and the Third Battalion, 26th Marines, first probed and then assaulted Hill 689 southwest of Khe Sanh where the incoming from that early morning was fired.

A number of men were killed and wounded before Hill 689 was secured by the Marines of 3/26. All tolled, the number of men KIA on those days, according to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, was 28.

I was up on Hill 881 South with Bravo Company when all this action took place. We could hear the combat and were on 100% alert while the fighting occurred.

During the dark hours the fog was so dense you could carve it with a K-bar. Jim Richardson from Albany, Georgia, and I manned a bunker on the west side of the 881 South. We whispered back and forth to each other. Jim had been a mortician before enlisting in the Corps, so we probably whispered about death and dead bodies. We did that to keep our minds off what was out there crawling around, intent on killing us.

I recall one instance in particular when we heard something out to our front. The mist was so thick that water dripped off the top of the bunker and down onto the sandbagged parapet at the front of our position. Drip, drip, drip. But what we heard beyond that was more distinct. It was scraping, like maybe someone was crawling up to the concertina wire in front of our bunker. We snapped our M-16s off safe and leaned against the parapet.

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

It happened in less time that it took for one of those drips to leave the moldy green sandbags and fall the foot or so to the parapet below. An enormous rat—he must have been two-and-a-half feet from the end of his tail to the tip of his nose—leapt down on the parapet right in front of Jim and me.

At first I thought a grenade had hit the front of our position. Both Jim and I ducked as the rat slapped the sandbag and still not sure what had hit the parapet, we fell to the deck and covered our necks until we heard the critter scrabble off the sandbags and into the night.

How we had the discipline not to light up the night with our M-16s and send that rat to rodent hell, I do not know. Or maybe it wasn’t discipline at all; maybe we were too frightened to do anything more than react.

We both laughed. We laughed so loud that the platoon sergeant and the squad leader came down the line and hissed at us to shut up.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

The dichotomies and ironies of combat were and are never ending. Down below us at the combat base and out on Hill 689, Marines and Corpsmen were dying. NVA soldiers were dying. And we were up on Hill 881 South giggling that we had been attacked by a rat. And we were so relieved that it was only a rat, all we could do was laugh.

One of those dying men was Glenn Sanders, the cousin of the man who I met in Nashville and who called me last week. He wanted to report that he had made contact with a number of the men in Alpha Company, 1/26, and even though none of them remembered Glenn, they did tell him the circumstances of the attack the early morning of June 27, 1967.

Consequently, this man who was searching for clues and information about his cousin’s death has been able to pass on to friends and relatives news about this Marine who didn’t make it out of Khe Sanh. And furthermore, on Memorial Day, 2014, this Marine who was killed at Khe Sanh was honored by the family’s local church. It may be 47 years late, but at least the honoring happened and hopefully those friends and family who remain alive, who knew this Marine, have some kind of closure.

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

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

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

June 25, 2014

A Beacon for All the Words that Remain Unspoken

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By Don Johnson

2.5 ~ 58,000 ~ 6,000,000 ~ 60,000,000 ~ 250

Numbers, the kind I’ve seen a lot of recently, the kind that makes me realize just how fortunate my number really was.

I’ve seen Bravo! twice now; 2.5 times, to be exact. The .5 was the time I tuned into its broadcast on the local PBS channel, but misread the schedule and tuned in an hour late. That’s a dumb way to watch this moving documentary; it can’t be cut up into pieces. Bravo! must be swallowed whole.

Bravo! doesn’t go down like honey. It’s a bitter pill, but turns into honey later once you get to know the minds and hearts of the veteran Khe Sanh
survivors who were interviewed for the film.

Don Johnson Photo courtesy of Crane Johnson

Don Johnson
Photo courtesy of Crane Johnson

I last saw this amazing and heart-wrenching documentary on May Day, at a showing hosted by our local camera club. It’s a small group, so we were treated to some genuine and rare personal time with Ken and Betty. We’re lucky to have such hometown heroes, and grateful that they could find time for us. Because of the intimate atmosphere, I was able to absorb the events on the screen as if it were being screened only for me. It made a huge impact, and not in the way I expected.

I’ve watched I don’t know how many war movies and documentaries on WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, just like most people my age (63). But this one was different. Although I have a number of friends and acquaintances who served in Vietnam, including old high school classmates, none ever talk about it anymore. I don’t think they ever did, at least with me. So Bravo! is a beacon for all the words that remain unspoken.

A few days after the club screening, my wife and I were on a plane to Washington DC, and Bravo! was still on my heart. I spent a lot of time thinking about the Khe Sanh story, the men interviewed for the film, and what they said. It interested me that they didn’t speak in one voice. Every one of them served heroically beyond imagination, but not one behaved anything like a hero of the movies. I heard, along with the hard descriptions of their life and death situations, their humility and sacrificial love of their fellow Marines, acceptance of impossible circumstance, and surprisingly some tinges of doubt and criticism of the war effort, wondering now, decades later, why they had been sent and how they had been treated on their return. I wasn’t prepared for that. These were real human beings and their honesty floored me.

In DC, we visited all the war memorials on the Mall and around the Tidal Basin. We’d seen them before, but not with Bravo! on my mind. The numbers were overwhelming. 58,000, the number inscribed on the Vietnam Wall. Six million dead Jews named in the Holocaust Museum. Sixty million dead in WWII, 2.5% of the world’s population, causing FDR to say “I hate war.”

I Have Seen War Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

I Have Seen War
Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

It was about that point that I had a poignant realization, that my life could well have taken a different turn but for a certain number. That number was 250, my draft number in 1969. I vividly remember sitting around the TV with my family, as did all my high school buddies, watching the Selective Service lottery being drawn. Some of my friends drew low numbers and went off to boot camp before shipping off to Vietnam. One friend drew a 13 and headed off to Canada; another got a deferment to work in a Portland mental hospital. I drew number 250. I was safe and relieved of having to make any kind of decision to join in a war we watched every night on TV.

The men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment went to Vietnam and suffered the Khe Sanh siege in Ken and Betty’s harrowing tale that will stick with me permanently. It’s not untrue to say that they went in my place because of the random fortune of a number. Bravo! has reinforced my love for those who sacrificed their own safety to allow civilians like me to go on with our lives rarely thinking of war and our warriors. For me, 250 represents the gratitude I haven’t properly expressed.

The Wall Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

The Wall
Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

Thank you, Ken and Betty, and the warriors of Bravo Company for making this film. May it travel far and wide and open the eyes and hearts of peace-loving people everywhere. War no more.

Don Johnson is an Idaho photographer, blogger, and educator who loves to instill the joy of cameras and vision in others. His popular Facebook group, Photo Assignment, is open to anyone interested in becoming a more creative photographer. Don is owner of Arrowrock Photography, co-founder of Sawtooth Photo Pros, and author of his almost-daily blog, Motel Zero.

You can find out more about Don Johnson and his work at:

Facebook Photo Assignment: https://www.facebook.com/groups/photosign/
Arrowrock Photography: http://arrowrockphotography.net/
Sawtooth Photo Pros: http://www.sawtoothphotopros.com/
Motel Zero: http://robinstarfish.blogspot.com/.

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

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

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

June 18, 2014

Notes on the Springfield, Illinois Screenings of BRAVO!

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Last week Betty and I flew into Chicago, rented a car and drove down to Springfield, Illinois, the burial place of our 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. We traveled there as the guests of the Staab Family and to screen BRAVO! at the Hoogland Center for the Arts as part of a Flag Day benefit for the planned Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial in Springfield.

We arrived in town and were met by BRAVO! Marine Tom Quigley, a native son of Springfield who was instrumental, along with PJ Staab and the Staab Family, in making these events happen.

The next morning, Betty and I met Tom at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library where Tom and I were interviewed by local radio personality Jim Leach of WMAY radio. Betty, Tom and I were impressed with Jim’s knowledge of the Vietnam era and the Siege of Khe Sanh in particular. You can hear the interview here: http://wmay.com/assets/podcasts/20140612jlsBravo.MP3.

Later, Betty and I walked down to the Hoogland Center for the Arts where we met with their events manager, Vanessa Ferguson, and checked out the facilities for the screening. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at the First Presbyterian Church and looked at their seven fabulous Tiffany stained glass windows and the pew where the Abraham Lincoln family sat during church services.

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O'Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O’Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey.
Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

During the day, Bruce & Francine Jones and Bruce & Judy Stuckey arrived. Bruce Jones, alias T-Bone, was a radioman for 81 Millimeter Mortars and spent a lot of time on patrol with Bravo Company. Bruce Stuckey was a radio man for Bravo Skipper Ken Pipes. That evening, we all went out for dinner at Saputo’s Italian Restaurant where we were joined by Tom’s wife Nancy and daughter Erin Parsons and her family. If you are ever in Springfield, I suggest you try the fare at Saputo’s. It is rumored that Al Capone liked to dine there, and as we tucked into our ravioli and manicotti and other dishes, I imagined seeing Al parade in with his entourage, all wearing natty summer suits and two-toned fancy shoes, ladies of the night hanging onto their arms.

Also arriving in Springfield later that night was BRAVO!’s associate producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.

The day of the screening, Betty and I and BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, who had arrived early that morning, toured the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum—definitely worth the fees and the time it takes to watch the films, view the exhibits and look at all the memorabilia.

BRAVO! Marines Cal Bright and Ben Long with his wife Joyce, and John “Doc” Cicala who was one of Bravo Company’s corpsmen, arrived that day too. We all met at the Hoogland before the screening and had a moment to visit while Carol, Betty and I worked with the staff to make sure everything was in order.

The very capable A/V tech estimated that over 300 folks came out to donate funds to help build the Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial and to watch BRAVO!. The evening started off with a reception hosted by the Staab Family. Right before the film was shown, Master of Ceremonies PJ Staab introduced all of the Khe Sanh vets in attendance, and we were honored by an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience. I haven’t ever been honored like that since my return from Vietnam in 1968. You must recall that the Vietnam Veteran wasn’t particularly popular back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Somehow we were blamed for our political leaders’ decisions, so the standing ovation was particularly heartwarming. And the ovations didn’t stop there! We were also honored at the end of the film as the credits ran, and yet again before a snappy and informative Q & A session that followed.

The scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The next morning, all of the BRAVO! folks met for a special breakfast and then as some headed home, five us—Michael E. O’Hara, John “Doc” Cicala, Carol, Betty and I—traveled over to the Staab Funeral Home where lines of motorcycles threaded across the parking lots in anticipation of the annual Ride in Honor, a bike run to four of the area’s veteran’s memorials.

I had never been around one of these bike runs—I’ve heard about them—so it was exciting to see all the bikes with their multi-hued frames and the colorful characters who were riding them. Again, the bikers chipped in funds to participate in this event with the proceeds going for the Purple Heart Memorial.

Just prior to the run, PJ Staab invited us to meet his Aunt Catherine, the last of the World War II era Staab generation. We of course said, “Yes,” and followed PJ upstairs to visit with Aunt Catherine for a while. And what a delight! She’s seen the film twice and wanted to meet us.

Then it was off in a roar of engines to the veteran’s shrines, the first being the Oak Ridge Cemetery where the planned Purple Heart Memorial will be built. Also located at Oak Ridge is President Lincoln’s tomb as well as commemorative tributes to the men and women who fought and died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Michael E. O’Hara, Doc Cicala, Bob Cowles, Tom Jones and I made up a detail that placed a wreath on the Vietnam War Memorial.

I have never been a part of anything like the placing of the wreaths, so it was humbling to be a participant. Both Bob Cowles and Tom Jones have been instrumental in getting the Purple Heart Memorial project off the ground. Betty and I first met Bob Cowles, a US Army veteran of the Vietnam War, when he arranged for us to interview Tom Quigley for BRAVO! in 2010 at the Springfield VFW Post. Tom Jones, also a Vietnam Veteran and Navy Corpsman who served with Force Recon, is the author of the novel LOST SURVIVOR about an African-American’s journey to fight in Vietnam.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

After placing the wreath at Oak Ridge, we proceeded to travel to the memorials at New Berlin, Spaulding and the National Veterans Cemetery at Camp Butler where we again placed wreaths at each location. We were treated to a poetry reading and to a trumpet rendition of “Taps.” Before departing Camp Butler, the crowd of bikers lined up and hugged and thanked each one of us for our service. It was intimate and humbling for each of us. For a generation of veterans who were pretty much shunned by their country, it is amazing, after 46 years, to be getting some thanks for what we did. We were young then, and wanted to do what was required, and we wanted to do it well.

We finished the day with another trip to Saputo’s, this time with PJ Staab and his lovely wife Ruth. For me it was sausage and peppers with a side of spaghetti. And they got the red sauce right.

Thanks to PJ Staab and the Staab Family, to Jessica McGee, to the Marine recruits who acted as ushers at the screening of the film, to the Hilton for our lodging and the Hoogland Center for the Arts for a screening venue, to all the folks who came to see BRAVO! and to Springfield with its wonderful memorials. And thanks to Carol Caldwell-Ewart and to the men of Bravo and their wives for traveling to participate in this special weekend.

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

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

June 11, 2014

Remembering June 7, 1967

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As I write this blog, the date is June 7, 2014. Recognition of the date leads me to ponder a June 7 forty-seven years ago.

Not long after returning from Vietnam in April, 1968, I was cruising the streets of my home town with one of my high school friends who looked at me and said, “Rodgers, you could fall in a bucket of manure and come out smelling like a rose.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to that comment but now I remember thinking that, yeah, I’d been lucky in my life.

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

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

During the Siege of Khe Sanh I was one of the lucky members of Bravo Company. I didn’t go out on the Ghost Patrol and my platoon, 2nd, wasn’t in the first wave of attackers as we assaulted the NVA on March 30, 1968. Yes, I had to deal with incoming and snipers and going out on listening posts at night, but for the most part I was pretty lucky. And yes, I learned to tell where incoming was going to hit by the sound it made leaving the tube and yes I didn’t stick my head up so a sniper’s round could rip the top of my head off, but sometimes you didn’t hear the incoming leave the tube and sometimes you had little choice, you had to stick your head up. So you needed some luck to survive.

Some folks say that luck is only being prepared but in the case of the Marine Corps, you really don’t have any choice about when you get picked to go into action.

I was pretty lucky before the Siege, too, because I didn’t go out on the Bravo Company patrol of June 7, 1967. Two squads from 2nd Platoon went out on a company-minus patrol which we thought would be a routine exercise off the north end of 881 South that morning. The squad I was in was chosen to remain behind and man the lines. I was pretty new to the outfit, so I remember that it seemed like just another day in my tour. Instead of humping the hills outside of Khe Sanh, I’d fill sandbags and stand watch.

It wasn’t long before we could hear activity going on and it wasn’t the kind of activity that you want to hear. Even though I didn’t know a lot of the guys in our platoon very well, I can still remember feeling empty. Empty and a little frightened, too. Our squad leader was monitoring the action on a radio, or trying to, and gave us some confused information about what was going on. It all sounded like a lot of chaos to me. Bravo Company hadn’t been lucky and had walked into a well-planned ambush, or at least that’s what I remember.

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

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

Eventually the battle was ended and our men came back in. There was only one problem. We were short 18 Marines and Corpsmen. And I knew some of them.

I had never felt anything like what I felt as I heard the list of names of our dead and saw the blank look on the faces of the men who returned. I knew well enough to keep my mouth shut and not say anything stupid. I wanted to apologize and to sympathize and to…I wanted to reach out to them but I realized that wouldn’t do much good.

The men of 2nd Platoon who didn’t go out on that patrol sat there and talked in hushed voices. Inside, in my guts and my chest, I felt drained, like something had vacuumed my innards. I couldn’t imagine what the men who had been out there felt like. (Later in my tour, during the Siege, I would get firsthand experience.)

One of the things I remember best from that day is my fireteam leader’s reaction to news that his best buddy was KIA. They’d come over from 3/26 about a month before. My team leader was the most stoic man I ever knew but on that day he cried. He didn’t try to stop the tears. He didn’t try to hide them. He let them go and they streamed down his brown face. I wanted to reach out and hug him but we didn’t do that kind of thing back then, or that’s what I believed, anyway.

A few days later we reorganized the platoon and within several weeks we acted like we had forgotten all about what happened on June 7. But we hadn’t. We were just trying to move on, hoping to be lucky enough not to end up like those good men who hadn’t come back from that action.

The names of those men:

Lance Corporal James Blaz
Lance Corporal John Chase
Corporal Ronald Crooks
Lance Corporal Ronald Enderby
Corporal Edward Furlong
Private Gale Gotti
PFC Thomas Healy
PFC Kenneth Johnson
Lance Corporal Kenneth Keefer
PFC Steven Millett
PFC Larry Morris
PFC Wayne Pitts
PFC Frank Shovlin
PFC Philip Van Deusen
Lance Corporal Edward Vercouteren
HN (Corpsman) Gregory Vercruysse
Corporal Walter Ward
PFC Larry Worthen

Semper Fi, Marines.

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

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

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

June 4, 2014

BRAVO!’s Michael E. O’Hara Delivers a Stirring Speech; News on Upcoming Screenings

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara was the guest speaker at the Brown County, Indiana, Memorial Day celebration hosted by Veterans of Foreign War Post 6195. The event was held on the courthouse lawn and Brown County’s fallen veterans of war were honored. Michael O’Hara is an articulate and passionate man who, when he sets out to do something, does it with an eye to perfection. His speech is moving and memorable and does us all proud. You can read Michael’s speech here:

http://www.thisisbrowncounty.com/2014/05/28/welcome-home-vietnam-veterans/.

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo!

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!

On a separate note, as we move into the summer season, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in a number of places. Here’s what we can tell you about future showings right now. We hope you will join us or send an interested friend or relative.

• Springfield, IL – The Staab Family of Springfield presents BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR on June 13, 2014, 7:30 PM, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts located at:

420 South Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois.

The film’s producers, along with several of the men featured in the film, will take part in a Q & A session immediately following the screening. Never before have so many of BRAVO!’s stars attended any one screening. You will meet Cal Bright, John Cicala, Ben Long, Michael E. O’Hara, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers and Tom Quigley. Springfield is Tom Quigley’s hometown. Also in attendance will be the film’s Associate Producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.

This is a free event, but donations will be gratefully accepted for a proposed Purple Heart Memorial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Here’s a link to the radio ad about this event. You will hear the voices of Dan Horton, Steve Wiese and Michael E. O’Hara. Staab Family IN HONOR WEEKEND 060414

Michael O'Hara in Vietnam

Michael O’Hara in Vietnam

• Chicago, IL – Union League American Legion Post 758 presents BRAVO! on July 24, 2014 at the Union League Club of Chicago.
More details to follow.

• Southern California - We are screening the film in Southern California around The Marine Corps Birthday and Veteran’s Day. Specific times, dates and locations to follow.

• If you would like to host a screening in your town this summer or fall, please contact us immediately.
DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to http://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Guest Blogs

May 28, 2014

BRAVO!

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Guest blogger Lance Thompson has been a tireless supporter of BRAVO! as well as a member of our loosely formed but essential Advisory Board. The producers of BRAVO! are indebted to him for these services as well as his unending encouragement.

One way to evaluate a creative work is to repeat the experience. Whether it’s a book, a song, a painting or a film, a creative work can usually make some sort of impression the first time. It is on subsequent occasions when the quality is determined.

The last time I saw Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor was more than a year ago at a screening at Boise State University. Several of the veterans who are featured were on hand to answer audience questions. The film was well received and the audience was clearly moved. The experiences of the Marines had a profound impact on those who viewed the film.

Lance Thompson Photo courtesy of Kearney Thompson

Lance Thompson
Photo courtesy of Kearney Thompson

So I wondered, now that I know the story, have seen the interviews, and am familiar with the incidents that are described in the film, would my reaction be the same? I was a little surprised that my experience was different. On first viewing, I thought Bravo! could have been shortened, that some interviews were repetitive, and that certain editorial choices were questionable. During the most recent viewing, I found no problem with the length or the pace, and the interviews lost none of their impact. In fact, I found myself wondering about what material was left over. I wanted to know more about these men, wanted to hear more from them, because this film still makes me care deeply about them.

My wife is a career coach for creative people. One of the issues her clients often bring up is whether or not they can make a living in a creative industry. While she assures them it is quite possible, the question shouldn’t be whether or not a creative person can make a living. It should be whether or not a creative person can make a difference.

Creative media have great potential to reach and affect a wide audience. This power can be wasted in works whose primary attributes are sensational, meaningless and transitory. But the best creative works illuminate, inform, and inspire.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Sherry Briscoe and KIVI-TV Anchor Don Nelson. Photo courtesy of Pamela Thompson.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Sherry Briscoe and KIVI-TV Anchor Don Nelson.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Thompson.

Ken and Betty Rodgers are undeniably creative people. They are accomplished practitioners of prose, poetry, photography, and now documentary film making. Additionally, they support and encourage other creative people. When they decided to make this film, they committed their creative talents to a worthy cause.

Any honest war film raises the implicit question of why. Why did it happen, why did it cost so much, why was I there? Ever since I saw the first rough cut of Bravo!, I knew the answer to one of those questions for at least one of the Marines. Ken Rodgers was there so that he could tell this story. But he couldn’t do it by himself. That’s why Betty Rodgers is there. It took both of them to commit to this project which has taken more time, effort and hard work than either of them ever anticipated. But if not for them, then the voices in Bravo! would never have been heard.

Ken and Betty Rodgers used the creative talents they both possess in abundance to honor those who have earned it. Through this film, they have revealed truth, stirred emotion and brought light to darkness. For those who have little or no knowledge of this moment in history, the experience of combat, or the sacrifices made by Americans in uniform, Bravo! offers insight and honesty both rare and vital to any work that stands the test of time.

So if you are browsing through the DVD collection and wondering if Bravo! is worth another look, I assure you it is. You’ll find the themes timeless, the voices truthful, and the impact undiminished.

Lance Thompson has written for television, been a script doctor for motion pictures, and is an award-winning motion picture advertising consultant on over 500 campaigns. He has written for magazines and newspapers here and in the UK. He conducts screenwriting workshops and was founding president of Idaho Media Professionals. He recently had his original screenplay DC Undercover optioned by Picturewell Studios in Los Angeles. As an actor, he has appeared in Discovery Investigation’s I Was Murdered, and was host of Treasure Valley Community Television programs Capital Rap and Idaho Media Showcase.