Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War,World War II

November 10, 2021

News on Screenings of BRAVO!

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We will be screening BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR in West Jefferson, North Carolina at 3:00 PM on Thursday, November 18. Come join us at the Parkway Theater. Filmmakers Betty and Ken Rodgers will be there in person to talk about the film along with Bruce and Francine Jones. Bruce served with the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh as did filmmaker Ken Rodgers.

On November 20th at 10:00 AM at the Library in West Jefferson, we will be screening our second film, I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. Francine Jones, one of the strong and courageous women in the film, will be on hand to discuss the project along with the filmmakers, Betty and Ken.

Please join us.

In separate but associated news, DVDs of I MARRIED THE WAR are now available to purchase. Details can be found at https://imarriedthewar.com/buy-the-dvd/.

As Veterans Day approaches, our thoughts turn to the wars fought in our lives and our friends and loved ones who served, some living, some now gone. We think of them, see their faces, hear their voices.

Our films speak to some of the issues surrounding war and combat. We wouldn’t have been able to create these stories without the help of all our friends and supporters, who are many. Thank you!

America's Middle East Conflicts,Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Korean War,Post Combat Mental Health,Veterans,Vietnam War,World War II

November 1, 2021

Don’t Miss the Premiere

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Our first film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, was about a lot of things: History, war, courage, danger and trauma. And a more visceral understanding of trauma may be one of the messages that many viewers have taken from that film.

Our new film, I MARRIED THE WAR, addresses the types of trauma that come home with some of the warriors of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. The trauma that moves in with the family. The wives who must deal with helping their warriors integrate with the family, the world.

Here’s news on your chance to see this film now:

I Married the War: A Virtual World Premiere

Betty and Ken Rodgers at Syringa Cinema have announced the virtual world premiere of their documentary film, I Married the War, a story of war, homecoming, loss, resilience. A story of love.

The event will stream on Nov. 6 at 7 PM EDT and will conclude with a live Q&A with women featured in the film. Tickets are $12 each at eventive.com and can be purchased via https://imarriedthewar.com. (One dollar from each ticket, plus all additional donations, go to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes program, which seeks solutions to the tremendous challenges and long-term needs faced by military caregivers.)

I Married the War was edited by BAFTA award-winning veteran of the film industry, John Nutt. Director of Photography, Bill Krumm, a Silver Circle inductee of NATAS, has received multiple Emmy Awards for his work. The musical score was composed and performed by the celebrated composer, pianist, teacher, and blues/rock/soul singer-songwriter, Sarah Baker.

As long as mankind has waged war, women have waited and welcomed their warriors home, only to discover that the conflict dogs their husbands’ footsteps, bringing with it hyper-vigilance, isolation, anger, substance use, and emotional escapism—all manifestations of post-traumatic stress.

I Married the War gives voice to 11 wives of combat veterans from World War II to present-day Middle East wars. They are known as military caregivers, and they represent more than 5.5 million such caregivers in our nation alone. Listen as these remarkable women expose the emotional cost of war and its painful impact on their families. Learn how they cope, how they heal, and how they protect those they love. Share their struggle to hold on to their own hopes and desires.

The women of I MARRIED THE WAR

When Betty and Ken Rodgers married nearly forty years ago, Betty knew nothing about Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, and the many other manifestations of the trauma of combat. Ken had served as a Marine and experienced the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War. While producing and showing their award-winning film Bravo!, Common Men, Uncommon Valor, a documentary about the men who lived through that siege, Ken and Betty met hundreds of military caregivers. Betty recognized herself and her own marriage and personal xperience in the lives of these women. The pair realized how silent and unseen the plight of military caregivers is, and they were determined to make it visible. Six years in the making, I Married the War is now poised for this premiere.

The filmmakers

A portion of the proceeds of this screening will benefit The Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s HIDDEN HEROES project which provides programs to help spouses and other caregivers deal with what comes home from war with their loved ones

The entire team at Syringa Cinema wishes to thank Optum, Recovery Idaho, BPA Health, and Magellan Health for sponsoring this virtual event and honoring America’s military caregivers.

What others are saying about I MARRIED THE WAR:

“…a nuanced, heart-breaking, and, most of all, magnificently inspiring film.” — Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone

“A moving, fascinating, informative, haunting, inspiring film. It’s utterly stunning.” — Jean Hegland, author of Into the Forest.

Get tickets for the world premiere of I MARRIED THE WAR here: https://imarriedthewar.com/.

Documentary Film,Other Musings

October 10, 2021

Premiering Our New Film

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Friends and supporters of BRAVO!:

Our new documentary film about the wives of combat survivors, I Married the War, is now finished.

The conversation is just beginning.

November 6th – 7:00 pm Eastern

     Join us for the much-anticipated World Premiere of the groundbreaking film, I Married the War, and be among the first to see stories that expose the hidden costs of combat paid by women and families who welcome their warriors home from war.

     This is your mother’s story, your spouse’s story, your sister’s or daughter’s story, YOUR STORY.  Be with us on November 6th, 7:00 pm Eastern Time.  AND don’t miss this opportunity to invite friends, family and other folks you believe need to see this film. You’ll enjoy this exciting virtual event from the comfort of your home.

     Join friends all across the US and share in this moving tribute to courage, perseverance and, ultimately, love. Once the film concludes, we’ll go directly to a live Q&A panel discussion with the remarkable women from the film.

     Many of you have made this film possible! It truly wouldn’t have been completed without your involvement, encouragement, and support. We’ve worked hard to get here, and we want you to be part of this exciting celebration!

Here is the link to purchase tickets and save your place.

Buy tickets here.

Betty and Ken Rodgers, Co-Producers.

     Proceeds will enable further public education and provide logistical support for additional programs about this important and too often neglected subject. $1.00 from each ticket, plus ALL donations you make in addition to the ticket, will go directly to the inspiring Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes Program. The foundation is “the preeminent organization empowering, supporting, and honoring our nation’s military caregivers; the spouses, parents, family members and friends who care for America’s wounded, ill or injured veterans.”

Thank you!


Betty and Ken Rodgers,


the entire team at Syringa Cinema,


Kingfisher Arts and Wide Eye Productions

Documentary Film,Film Festivals,Other Musings

September 21, 2021

Lady Filmmakers Film Festival

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Friends, our new film, I MARRIED THE WAR, will be shown at the LADY FILMMAKERS FILM FESTIVAL in Beverly Hills, California, on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 5:15 PM Pacific Time. If you are in the Southern California area, please consider joining Betty Rodgers and me at this event. If you can’t make it, you can watch I MARRIED THE WAR virtually as part of the film festival.

Filmmakers Betty and Ken Rodgers

I MARRIED THE WAR is the compelling story of wives of combat veterans told through the voices of eleven women who loved, married and lived with combat veterans—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines—from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. This film covers a gamut of emotions from the sad, the somber, the reflective, the happy, the redemptive.

The film festival celebrates lady filmmakers and the men who collaborate with them.

Details on securing tickets for the live screening or the virtual performances can be found at https://filmfestivalflix.com/lady-filmmakers/purchase-tickets/.

Thank you for being our supporters and friends.

Documentary Film,Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Listening Posts,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 21, 2021

No Better Friend

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The phone jangled—1992 or 1993—and when I answered it, a voice out of my past said, “Is this Kenny Rodgers?”

I wondered who it was and then kind of remembered and then he said, “You may not remember me but…”

It all hit, the way he liked to stand, cocky, even though he was just a kid.

He told me about a reunion in Washington, DC, for survivors of Khe Sanh, and that he wanted me to come, and he told me about who he’d contacted, who he’d met up with. I think he’d made it his duty to find all the men who’d served in Third Squad, Second Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/26 during the siege of Khe Sanh.

If he hadn’t called me, our lives—Betty and mine—might have been very different. But we went to the reunion and for 28 years, Michael E. O’Hara has been a big part of my life—our lives.

We were lucky in that.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh

He was in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, and his powerful, emotional words were, and still are, a testament to the long-lasting effects of combat and to the reverence he, and most of us who served at Khe Sanh, felt for our comrades.

Michael passed on last week after a battle with cancer.

I feel his absence already, a voice over my shoulder encouraging, scolding, scoffing, laughing at me. I find myself thinking, “Okay, O’Hara, what do you think about…,” and then I realize we won’t share any of those moments again. Only in my imagination.

We didn’t always see eye-to-eye. We argued more than we should have, but none of that matters now. And never really did.

An image comes to mind when I think about him. Maybe the first time I really recognized him as one of our Bravo Company Marines. I’d been on R & R in Bangkok, and right after I came back, we moved out of the lines at the combat base and up to 881-S. It was October of 1967.

We had gotten a lot of new guys in the squad while I’d been on R & R. Including him.

We humped it from the base up to the hill. I see Michael now, in my mind’s eye, on that trek. His clean helmet cover, his clean jungle boots, his clean jungle dungarees, his sleeves rolled up, a pack of Marlboros stored in the rolled left sleeve, his young biceps bulging, his M16 held in his right hand, butt against the right thigh, the business end into the sky. He was easy like that, and confident.

For three months we were in the same fire team. Long, wet patrols, humping up and down, once into Laos when we weren’t supposed to be there. Ambushes off the south end of 881-S. Soggy, miserable listening posts. Leaking hooches, everything wet: your socks, your boots, your mummy bag. Leeches, leeches, leeches.

We charged up hills into the enemy’s trench more than once, and we watched men die, watched them get maimed. We carried the dead and wounded off the battlefield.

During the siege, we endured the fury and the fear and while there, O’Hara earned three Purple Hearts.

Michael was an outstanding Marine.

One night in March of 1968, the artillery battery that was right behind our lines in the Gray Sector suffered a direct hit on their ammo dump. All night, ordnance exploded. Some of the rounds threw out smaller bits of explosives that detonated here and there, until after sunup, like they were randomly intent on killing whoever chanced to wander along our trench.

I was on radio watch most of that night in the platoon command post. Off and on, through those dark and dangerous hours, Michael came down that trench line delivering messages to us in the command post.

He was like that. Undaunted. Carrying out orders in the face of extreme danger.

Michael E. O’Hara.

My definition of a hero is someone who does what needs to be done against long odds, even though fear gets on his back like a big cat. Even though he or she doesn’t want to do it.

That was Michael E. O’Hara.

There’s a saying about Marines: No better friend, no worse enemy.

If you crossed Michael, he might chase you down and tackle you in the middle of the street and straighten you out. No worse enemy.

Years later, when the men he served with needed help or when their families needed help, he was there. He’d fund your dreams, he’d bury you. He’d show up to speak your name and remember you.

That, too, was Michael.

No better friend.

We will miss him. I will miss him. Man, will I.

Semper Fidelis, Michael E. O’Hara.

Documentary Film,Other Musings,Post Combat Mental Health,Veterans,Vietnam War

December 11, 2020

The Power of Story

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Most of us have experienced the power of storytelling. We remember, catalogue, and relate our lives through story.

In the making, sharing, and viewing of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, we all learned a lot about war, combat, warriors, and post-combat issues. We also learned the healing power of film.

Now, Betty, our team, and I are in the final stages of sharing another story, that of wives of combat veterans. Stories that those of us who have experienced war know, but are little known outside the veteran population.

We want to share these stories and we need your help to get them out to the world. Interviewing for this film has been therapeutic for the women who are featured. Their openness and candor will be helpful to spouses everywhere who feel alone, who think there is no help for them and their families.

The photo below is of the eleven wives of I MARRIED THE WAR.

Today, we have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and we need your help to finish and share these stories of the wives of combat veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Join this effort by contributing today, or if you cannot donate right now, please share this information about our campaign with your family, friends and colleagues.

You can find out more about the campaign at https://igg.me/at/IMTW.

Together, we can get these stories out to the world!

Thanks.

Guest Blogs,Other Musings

May 29, 2020

Remembering The Dead of World War One

Cobb Hammond, a supporter and good friend of BRAVO!, writes eloquently about World War One.

As our nation approaches its annual remembrance of our fallen in battle, we turn to memorialize the men of World War I. It was 101 years ago this previous November that an armistice of peace was initiated, ending the “war to end all wars.”

After four horrific years of fighting and human suffering on a hundred different fronts, the Central Powers, composed of Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, finally surrendered.

German soldiers surrendering. World War I. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Odette Carrez.

Opposing the Central powers were the Allied nations — the countries of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia and the United States. Our entry was not initiated until the late spring of 1917, almost three years into the war. Hostilities were initiated after the assassination of the Archduke of Austria and his wife in June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist. Nationalism and deep European alliances held sway, and after much sword rattling and accusation, the Central Powers declared war against the soon-to-be allied countries.

The U.S. involvement, coming much later, was initiated by much communication between President Woodrow Wilson and the emissaries to the German Kaiser. The Germans, as early as 1915, were using offensive measures against our merchant fleet aiding the European allied effort. It was at this time that Wilson was preparing to place the nation on a war-footing. As activity increased in the North Atlantic, culminating in the sinking of multiple munition supply ships, the president asked for a declaration of war.

After much acrimony, Congress declared war on April 6, 1917. At this point the United States started a full-time draft and, eventually, through conscription and large numbers of volunteers, swelled the ranks of our tiny military to almost 5 million men under arms, 2.8 million of whom would make it to the European theater.

Guest blogger, Cobb Hammond.

From the spring of ’17 until the first U.S. soldier landed on French soil in early 1918, dozens of munitions plants, bases, etc. were constructed almost overnight. Government and early Hollywood inspired bond drives were initiated on a large scale, a precursor to the same effort of another world war, a scant two-plus decades later. It was during this period that the Tennessee motto of Volunteer State was fully evident. Even though the moniker was earned in the War of 1812 and burnished during the Mexican War, this one also had its rolls filled by many eager Tennesseans.

It was not until the spring of 1918 before the U.S. had substantial numbers of forces in France. The doughboys, as they were called, were led by the famed Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing. It is believed he was accorded his nickname by commanding black troops in the Indian Wars of the late 19th century.

The general tactics of the day were not contemporary with the weaponry involved. Artillery and siege guns on both sides could fire in excess of 12 miles in many cases, with more accuracy than in previous conflicts; heavy-machine guns could fire at distances and velocities never seen; and the introduction of modern-day mortars and combat aircraft, and later tanks toward the latter part of the war, all added to its intensity. Since many battles were fought continuously over the same ground, nothing survived in what became known as “no-mans land.” Many of the battlefields devolved into cesspools of mud, corpses and crater holes filled with rats and the ordnance of battle.

U.S. baptism by fire on a large scale was in May 1918 at the Battle of Cantigny. Earlier criticized by our allies in combat support roles for being “green,” the American soldier acquitted himself quite well in upcoming battles.

Up next was the Battle of Belleau Wood, earning the 4th Brigade of U.S. Marines a place in history — forever etched. St. Michel, where U.S. troops showed their “dash and manhood,” as exclaimed by a French citizen. These were soon followed by the second Battle of the Somme, the Second Battle of the Marne and, lastly and conclusively, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

It was in the Argonne where America’s hero, Alvin York, a native son of Tennessee, earned his place in history. Initially a conscientious objector, the man from Fentress County on the Cumberland Plateau exhibited valor well beyond normal. His platoon was reconnoitering behind the German lines, as his battalion was under extreme pressure to the front. After multiple men were hit in his small force, he personally moved up behind the enemy line, firing repeatedly, killing two-dozen German soldiers, then single-handedly with his pistol shot five attacking his small position. The remaining 132 enemies surrendered, leaving he and six of his men to march them back to the American lines. He was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that day, as well as several distinguished honors from the French.

Alvin York at the site where his actions took place.

The final tally of U.S. casualties of World War I were 53,000 killed, with an additional 63,000 dying of disease. In all, 205,000 troops were wounded in action, all in just an eight-month period. In total, casualties on both sides were 34 million, including 17 million who were killed. All our Great War veterans are gone now, but collectively we should remember these brave souls. Men who unselfishly gave their innocence, and in many cases their lives, to history — and to freedom.

Cobb Hammond, a longtime financial adviser in Memphis, writes regularly about military history.

This article originally appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 30, 2020

The Need to See Them Dead

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Fifty-two years ago this morning on the battlefield of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, Bravo Company, 1/26 burst out of the confines of siege and siege mentality and went on the attack.

The details of what is now known as Payback are documented in a number of places. But what’s difficult to document is the fury and desperation that occurred when men from separate sides met face-to-face in a morning’s worth of savagery. For two and one-half months they’d blasted and murdered and maimed us and scared the living hell out of us. And we hungered for revenge.

Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely.

We caught them sleeping and we jumped in their trenches and we caught them in their bunkers and we dropped grenades on top of them and shot them when they crawled out and we dropped satchel charges on them and we shot them while looking in their eyes and we burned them alive with flame throwers and lobbed 60 millimeter mortars on top of them and we killed and killed.

The faces of the dead turned sallow and as I ran through the NVA’s trenches, I talked to myself about how the sallow nature of death made them all look the same, whether our side or theirs. They all looked the same and maybe that was appropriate given that the hands of death had choked all life out of them no matter their rank or race.

Blogger Ken Rodgers before the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

Most of us were young. Our skipper called us kids. We were kids with lethal weapons and a bitter taste in our mouths and a load of hate in our hearts. Not a hate you reserve for the man you know who stabbed you in the back, but the hate you know against an idea, against an enemy—not individuals—that killed people that you love, and even though . . . even at the time you know . . . even though you’ve been taught thou shall not kill, and love your brother, and turn the other cheek, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you’re filled with hate and you are going to kill. You need to kill.

Fifty-two years ago this morning.

Enraged, we coveted revenge. Enraged, we needed to salve our pride. Indifference to them as human beings was the hallmark of the morning of 30Mar1968. We felt nothing towards those people over there except the need to see them dead. Payback.

***

DVDs of BRAVO! are available @https://bravotheproject.com/store/

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Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 25, 2020

Requiem

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Steve Wiese was an American Hero. I think he would dispute that statement and would have said something like, “The real heroes are the dead, the ones who didn’t come home.”

But he was a hero.

Unlike so many of us who fought with Bravo Company, 1/26 at Khe Sanh, who did 12-month-and-twenty-day tours, Steve extended his time in country and served 18 Months. He joined up with his Bravo Marines when 1/26 was headquartered at Hill 55 southwest of Danang, and could have rotated home in late autumn of 1967, but chose to come back from his leave just in time to endure the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Marines of Bravo Company, 1/26, in Vietnam. Steve Wiese is the third man on the left in the front row. Photo courtesy of Steve Wiese.

In many regards, I think, he was the Marine’s Marine, a leader and a warrior who loved his Bravo Company mates.

A lot of Khe Sanh vets knew Steve better than I did, but what we shared was special: intense and intimate in the ways combat veterans share. We’d been to war and we’d made it home and after decades of keeping our traps shut about our experiences, we opened up and told our stories, separately and together.

And boy, did Steve’s stories impact the message that, after thirty-plus years, went out to America and the world.

Steve Wiese at a reunion of the Khe Sanh Veterans. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The things Steve said in BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR illuminated the service of all Vietnam Veterans. He said it like it needed to be said, blunt and bold and no-holds-barred. He bared his soul and revealed his vulnerabilities while edifying the men with whom he served.

There were a lot of tragedies in Steve’s life. In Vietnam, with Bravo, he was involved in every battle or firefight of any consequence that happened during his tour.

While I managed to not be in a number of the fights that Steve was in, I lived through enough to get an inkling what it was like for him.

On June 7, 1967, in what has lately been termed by historians to be the last clash in the Hill Fights segment of the Battle of Khe Sanh, Bravo went on a two-platoon patrol off the north end of Hill 881-S. Back then, we patrolled in soft covers and no flak jackets, and we generally ran patrols on the same routes every few days.

Photo of Steve Wiese, second from left along with, on the left, Marcia Franklin of Idaho Public Television’s Dialogue, Betty Rodgers, second from the right, and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Idaho Public Television.

So, when the NVA ambushed Bravo out there that day, the casualties were devastating. I wasn’t out there. Our squad stayed on the lines but I heard it and I saw it, and how it felt to me then, sticks with me now: emptiness, like some part of me hightailed it and can’t come back. So with that in mind I can only imagine how those men who fought that day—like Steve Wiese—felt.

He gained some notoriety that day when, upon coming in the gate after the patrol returned to the combat base, he barked at a colonel, maybe, or a lieutenant colonel, or a major who tried to soothe the returning warriors with platitiudes. (A load of officers came up on the hill at the end of that fight.)

After returning to his squad area, he expected to be standing tall in front of The Man because of what he said, but instead he was approached by a general, whose name I don’t think he ever enlightened me with, who told Steve to not pay attention to anything that officer had said.

On July 21, 1967, First Platoon of Bravo went out on a patrol on Route 9, east of Khe Sanh, which was ambushed. Steve was out there that day, too, and men with whom he served and bonded, died.

And then there was the Siege and all that came with it.

Including the Ghost Patrol. Steve was a squad leader on that debacle and even though he survived, a lot of the men in his squad didn’t. He carried a ton of grief and guilt over that. His narrative about how he managed to escape and evade the NVA to return to the base is one hell of a story.

Steve Wiese during his interview for BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

And then there was the savage Payback Patrol where he was a squad leader in First Platoon and again, lost a lot of good Marines.

After he came home, he put up with all the guff and lack of respect that came with being a Vietnam Vet, and he suffered tragedies that would break folks with less steel in their spine.

He loved his Marines and he cherished and honored them whether dead or alive.

IF you were one of his Marine Brothers, he supported you. He showed up when the manure hit the fan.

One of the strongest moments in BRAVO! Is when Steve says this, “I’ve had people say, ‘Well, that was 30, 40 years ago. Why don’t you get over it?’ You know, I wish I could. I wish I could get over it. But on the other hand, it’s like I don’t ever want to forget these guys. I don’t want to forget what I’ve seen, what I was witness to. And I don’t want to forget them and their memories.” And he never did.

Steve wouldn’t have called himself a hero, but I will.

***

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

March 21, 2020

Elation

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After the Ghost Patrol of 25Feb1968, no larger units sortied outside Khe Sanh combat base for almost a month. We sent out some listening posts but those were small and they went out after dark and came in before sunrise while the mist still hung low to the ground.

But on today’s date fifty-two years ago, as the sun threw up the first hint of daylight, we Marines of Second Platoon, Bravo, 1/26 stood in the trench and smoked our Camels and Winstons and Salems, flinched at the incoming rounds, heard the scrape of scuffed jungle boots in the red mud at the bottom of the trench. Noted some mumbles.

And if fear had sounds, they would have ricocheted in the deep trench, off the walls, against the sandbags. Being Marines, we needed to keep the fright quarantined to a slow boil at the bottom of our guts. We must not entertain the notion of fear because its insidious gnawing weakened us.

And then out the gate we went, crossed over the minefield, got on line and charged across the vale and up the ridge towards the NVA position in the vicinity of where the Ghost Patrol had traveled.

After the Siege. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely

Our big guns on base boxed us in with ordnance, geysers of red mud, black smoke and the din of combat suddenly crammed in our ears and brains, sucking the breath out of our lungs. And as we headed towards our objective, our allies to the rear, on the base, fired machine-guns over our heads.

As the Marines of my old squad, Third Squad, reached the top of the ridge, explosions erupted among them and then .50 caliber rounds fired by our guys, our allies, our mates, ripped into the men of Third Squad. I saw the rounds hit; flashes and bodies pirouetting, falling.

The explosions I suspect were from NVA mortar rounds and RPG rounds, but the machine-gun fire was what we call friendly fire. Friendly fire.

Up top, while the wounded were medevacked, we got in the NVA trench and headed east. At one point elements of First Squad, who were on point, veered off to the north, away from the trench.

We’d been briefed to stay in the NVA trench because it was believed that the surrounding terrain was infested with booby traps.

When this went down, I had about fifteen days left in the field. I’d survived my twelve month-plus tour by being good at surviving, being lucky, not being heroic, just doing my job and keeping it as low profile as possible.

So I was shocked as I took off, out of the trench, sprinting behind the Marines of First Squad, yelling, “No, no,” and when several turned at my words—and as I think of it now, how they heard me in the furious din that boomed around us—how they weren’t blown up by some of that ordnance and how we all didn’t get blown to smithereens by the mines and booby traps out there where we had wrongly ventured, is a wonder to me to this day.

But, nobody lost legs or died or anything. We just got back in the NVA trench and drove on towards our goal.

Not far from our destination, a gate we could enter through the maze of our own mines and wire and booby traps, the man on point triggered an NVA booby-trapped grenade that went off. He went down, but then got up and a Corpsman went to succor him and after that, we went in, missing some of the men with whom I’d served previously in Third Squad. The squad leader, Corporal Jacobs’ back had been rent by one of those .50 caliber rounds that had been delivered by the friendly fire. He stood there among us like nothing had happened to him.

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

After we all retired to our area, we shouted and jumped up and down and the Marines sent historians to record our thoughts. I remember relief. I remember a sense of satisfaction, and I also remember feeling extremely elated. How I imagined exaltation. I was bad, I was indestructible. I was alive.

And we’d gotten in their trench. Their trench.

We were…were…were unbreakable, we were shatterproof, we were everlasting.

The thing that sticks in my mind after all these years was that high, that feeling that I stood atop a throne at the apex of the world was at that moment so different from the almost two months of despair that permeated everything that I had lived through. Thousands upon thousands of incoming rounds that shook the ground—some that roared like railroad engines and some that hissed like sneaky spirits—and dismembered men I knew and didn’t know, who at that time and in that place were like twin brothers to me.

I realized that for two months I’d lived on huge doses of luck and that sometime, if the siege did not stop, I’d be hit by a whooshing chunk of shrapnel that would sever an arm or a leg, or I’d be sitting in my bunker and a rocket round would crash through the roof and my fellow Marines would be gathering my parts that were pasted on the sandbag walls, or a sniper would put a round through my brain.

So, having been in their trench, and having survived, and for at least a few hours, having been on top, the aggressor, the winner so to speak. Yeah, I was elated. I was bad.

***

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