Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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

January 18, 2017

N-Day

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Winter has been ferocious in Idaho this year with lots of ice and snow, below-zero temperatures, then rain and flooding. One local weatherman predicted death and destruction, causing locals to clean out the shelves of grocery stores and hardware outlets in anticipation of days of dark and death and privation.

And even though the local weatherman’s predictions turned out to be overblown, the season’s hostile weather seems to act as a perfect metaphor for what did come to pass at Khe Sanh Combat Base on January 21, 1968.

During these cold days of winter in the 21st Century, the minds and memories of survivors of the early days of the Siege of Khe Sanh turn to the horrible events of the first day of the Siege.

It wasn’t cold and ice, but it was death and destruction, mist and fog, and the raining down of mortars, rockets and artillery from the North Vietnamese Army which had begun to surround us in the days leading up to 21Jan68. The NVA attack was then followed by our ammo dump erupting for hours.

Recently, I received a book in the mail from Reverend Ray Stubbe titled, PEBBLES IN MY BOOTS, VOLUME 4, which is a compilation of writings that Ray has written mostly concerning Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment (my old outfit and the subject of the film BRAVO!) at Khe Sanh.

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Ray was the battalion chaplain before and during the Siege and is the foremost historian and memory keeper of all the men who served there. His informative books include VALLEY OF DECISION (with John Prados) and BATTALION OF KINGS.

One of the more interesting things about Ray’s most recent book is that he included information that has been translated from North Vietnamese records about the Siege. I learned some of the North Vietnamese combat lexicon referring to Khe Sanh including the term they used to denote 21Jan. They called it N-Day.

N-Day was one of those days when you woke up and found yourself trapped in a world that, even though you had pondered the possibilities,, was a thousand times worse than what you might have imagined.

What made the day even more chaotic for me was my earlier dogged refusal to believe it was approaching even though we were constantly warned about the impending arrival of an Armageddon of sorts.

As I look back on it now, I suspect my reluctance to believe in the oncoming holocaust was because I’d been hearing about imminent threats for months, none of which had come to pass, and I also suspect it was a naïve optimism that I would somehow waltz through a generally combat-free thirteen month tour and onto the flight that would haul me back across the pond to the good old USA.

Nevertheless, the manure hit the fan early the morning of 21Jan and it drove me out of my bunker and into the trench. It was like I would imagine the end of the world, the worst thing you could dream up. Loud, crashing, frightening, we were all facedown in the trench for a short while before our officers and NCOs kicked us in the butts and made us come to grips with the sorry stink and roar of battle.

I remember getting hit, believing I was paralyzed until one of my mates knocked red clay clods off of my back, laughing at me because I thought I’d never walk again.

And then the base ammo dump, not more than fifty meters away, went up in fireworks that added to the eerie reality of the Dante-esque morning. It was Hell in the real, not something from a movie or a poem, but the genuine Hades that all of us Marines had secretly hoped for when we sat in the classes at Boot Camp and heard the stirring stories of Marine heroes Presly O’Bannon during the First Barbary War, Smedley Butler during the Boxer Rebellion, Dan Daly at Belleau Wood in 1918 and John Basilone on Guadalcanal.

But be careful what you wish for because stories of heroism and grit in the face of death are a bit different than being gripped in the maw of chaos.

When the ammo dump went up, it was electric, voluminous, colorful, and loud, like the Devil’s own fireworks. Old Nick’s claws gnashed the sky and his big-gun drums thundered so that the hard red ground thrummed like a bevy of kettle drums. The CS gas grenades and ammunition stored in the dump also caught fire and spread across the trenches before settling in. We had to put on gas masks and looked like bugs, and when people spoke, it sounded like one was listening to those people talking from the insides of #10 fruit cans.

We watched the wire perimeter with the sure knowledge that Charley would be coming through the barrier any minute, sappers first, then a banzai assault of men intent on impaling us on the shafts of their bayonets.

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

My memories of it fit and start, and I suspect they reflect what it was like to me—alive in a world impossible to imagine and almost impossible to accept, except men were dying from the NVA incoming and men were lying in the trench with shattered bones where our own rounds that had cooked off in the ammo dump had rocketed straight up and then plummeted on top of them.

And it was N-Day and it was pure hell and after it calmed down later in the day, I remember thinking, “Okay, now I’ve experienced that, I suspect (or maybe I should say hope) that we won’t have any more of it.”

But once again, my naiveté was proven to be a shoddy and dangerous outlook, because what began on N-Day went on for another seventy-six days.

The anniversary of N-Day (and my wife and co-producer/director, Betty wonders if N-Day might refer to naiveté, too), which approaches, looms huge in the minds of those who survived it.

And thanks to Ray Stubbe, I can read extensively about what happened to Bravo Company from the perspectives of us and the NVA.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 11, 2017

Why We Make Films

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It’s 2017 and as always my mind turns to thoughts of the coming months as well as the approach of the anniversary of the Siege of Khe Sanh.

What I am going to dwell on right now is the stories we tell through our films BRAVO! and I MARRIED THE WAR, which is now in production.

Recently I had a discussion with a retired Army veteran about what we are trying to do with these projects.

Initially, with the making of BRAVO! I think we saw the effort as storytelling in its simplest notion. We saw the film as a narrative about a small unit of Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh which, having lived through it, I personally thought was an amazing tale of bravery, death and endurance.

I don’t know that I can speak for Betty here, but for me, in the beginning, it was just about getting the story told and I wasn’t thinking about what good the film might do in terms of secondary reasons.

Nevertheless, during the journey we have made with BRAVO! from 2009 to today, we have become keenly aware that there are other reasons to make and screen these films about war and its aftermath.

In 2013 Terry Hubert, who was a Marine who served in Vietnam and was instrumental in helping us screen BRAVO! in a variety of venues in the west, advised us that our duty as filmmakers—or our primary duty as filmmakers—is to educate.

I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of American citizens have very little knowledge of the true cost of war—both during deployment, during combat and the years after the warrior comes home.

Betty and Ken Rodgers, co-producers, co-directors. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Betty and Ken Rodgers, co-producers, co-directors. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

So, I think it’s fair to say that for both Betty and me, filmmaking is a process by which we can help educate the American public—the world—about the costs of combat. In addition, these films are an opportunity to present some history that a lot of our citizens are not aware of, or if they are aware, it’s often in a way that doesn’t reveal the visceral magnitude of war and its aftermath.

But there is something more to be said about these films and the mental chronicle of their participant’s lives, and a large number of those stories beg to be told and by making our films we allow the folks we interview, as well as viewers who have similar stories to relive, to rethink and revalue certain experiences that have been part of their lives.

Stories of being trapped in battle, seeing the death of friends, and being shunned for the most part by your fellow citizens, are important narratives not only as educational tools but also as vehicles for the storytellers to articulate and examine their lives and the meaning of their experiences.

This type of benefit seems to drill down, for me, to something more personal, more individual. A woman or a man tells her or his story of war and horror and caregiving that has for all intents and purposes remained untold. After telling the story, the load seems to lighten to some degree. It happened to me and I know it happened to a number of the men we interviewed for BRAVO!, and there are indications that the same is true for at least some of the women in I MARRIED THE WAR.

A similar benefit of these stories happens when a viewer of one of these films has his/her own moments that allows him/her to process experiences.

One particular instance comes to mind. We screened BRAVO! in California a few years back and one of the folks who came to see the film was a Khe Sanh Veteran who had survived the Siege as an artillery man and who went on to stay in the Corps and reach the rank of gunnery sergeant before getting out. After leaving the Corps, this gentleman’s life nosedived and he found himself living in a dumpster in San Francisco.

When we met him, he was in a halfway house for folks trying to kick abusive addiction. I spoke to him before the screening and found his dialogue to be extremely fractured and the folks hosting the screening were concerned he may have a breakdown if he watched the film.

So, as he watched, we watched him. After the film was over he came up to our co-producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart, and very calmly and coherently touched his chest and said, “Thank you for making this film. It relieved my heart.”

That scene is etched in my memory and every time I recall it I feel that all the resources and emotional effort spent on the film were worth it. For a moment—I don’t know how long—we helped someone, and we did so because we told a story. It wasn’t his story specifically, but in a more general sense, it was: He lived through the Siege of Khe Sanh. We often hear from other folks, too, who served elsewhere in Vietnam, who say that BRAVO! tells their story, too.

We also often hear: Wow, that’s the true story of combat.

But the reactions we hear don’t stop there. It seems the messages people gain from the film cast a wider net, such as, for instance, people commenting: Now I understand my dad, or thanks for showing our story, or thanks for not gussying the story up with nothing but images of noble sacrifice like they do in Hollywood.

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

So, thanks to my veteran friend for leading me into the discussion about what it is we do with our films, which prompted me to sit and think about what it is we really do.

We educate, yes, but we really want to get down to the personal level and help people understand on a level that just reading history doesn’t often deliver. Not that reading is bad. It’s extremely important, too.

But there’s nothing like a film that pulls you in on an emotional level that makes what you watch so personal, it becomes your story, too. And you find yourself caring about the characters because you see yourself in them. This is what we also hope to accomplish with our telling these important stories and the history they impart.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

December 29, 2016

ALL MARINE RADIO

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Last summer I was made aware of a talk radio show called ALL MARINE RADIO which is ramrodded by retired Marine Mike “Mac” McNamara.

Mike started ALL MARINE RADIO to highlight combat veterans’ mental health needs with a major focus on suicide prevention. He also envisioned the station as a place where current and former Marines could stay connected or re-connect with their military culture. The mission of ALL MARINE RADIO also includes presentation of current affairs and issues that affect the everyday lives of current and former military personnel.

The list of guests includes current and former Marines, Army personnel, female Marines, historians, business coaches, authors, chefs, Marine wives, police officers, to name just a few categories.

Mike McNamara in the studio at ALL MARINE RADIO. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara in the studio at ALL MARINE RADIO. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

To be more specific, some of the guests have been Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, author Sebastian Junger, author and Marine Karl Marlantes, Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly (currently slated to become the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security), author Eric Hammel who has written extensively about Marines, Carrie Reilly who is a US Army widow who talks about dealing with suicide, and historian Albert Berger who most recently discussed Fidel Castro’s legacy.

And three times….me.

The first time I was on we talked about BRAVO! and Khe Sanh and Vietnam and post-deployment issues experienced and still being experienced by Vietnam veterans.

In my second appearance we talked about post-deployment and mental health issues of combat veterans in general and I think Mike was interested in seeing if I had anything to say that might help veterans of war, most specifically veterans of the Middle East conflicts.

The third time we talked about transitioning from being a Marine to becoming a filmmaker and we also touched on the notion of how it really helps to have something to involve yourself that is bigger than you–a cause, a purpose, a goal–when transitioning from service to civilian life or from work to retirement, or, I suppose, during any major life change.

Michael McNamara was born in California and his father was a major league baseball manager. He has extensive experience with radio media as a talk show host and as a station executive. The National Association of Broadcasters named Mike the “Small Market Personality of the Year” in 2007.

Mike McNamara in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1983 and he left active duty as a Captain in 1994. He returned to active duty with the USMC and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in 2004, to Fallujah, Iraq in 2006 and to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010. After that, Mike remained on active duty until he retired in 2015.

He has four children, including two sons who are now officers in the United States Marine Corps.

Mike does most of the interviewing on the program and his interests cast a wide net. In a recent interview with Albert Berger, PhD, Professor of History at the University of North Dakota, Mac asked Dr. Berger about his thoughts on the legacy of Fidel Castro, who, for much of the last 60 years, has been a thorn in the side of many politicians, military officials and citizens of the United States.
Dr. Berger and Mike’s in-depth look at Castro, the history of Cuban-American relations in the last half century and some thoughts on the future of Cuban-US relations were informative and fascinating.

One of the things I like about Mike’s interviews is how the discussion invariably leads me into thoughts and memories of my own. I was a sophomore in high school when the Cuban Missile Crisis came about. At the time I lived in southern Arizona and we’d had a lot of rain on that normally dried-out Sonoran Desert, and the country was in flood. Every arroyo, wash and low spot was flowing with water.

Mike McNamara, center, with his two sons, John, left, & Patrick, right, at Patrick's Commissioning in 2015 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara with his two sons, John & Patrick at Patrick’s Commissioning in 2015 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

I remember riding on the back of one of my friend’s Harley out to the Santa Rosa, a sometimes river, a sometimes wash and most times a dry sandy arroyo. But on this day, it was at least a mile wide and water ripped through what had been cotton fields fecund with cotton stalks ready to be picked. I remember the ominous feeling at the time that filled my body with strange electricity that I was to later experience in combat.

Electricity spurred by fear. Back then, it was the dual threat of death by flood and death by nuclear attack because the Russians were placing nuclear missiles in Cuba.

In another recent interview, Mike interviewed US Marine Karl Marlantes, author of MATTERHORN and WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR, and one of the more striking moments in the interview was Karl Marlantes talking about the first time he visited The Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) in Washington, DC, and how it affected him and that led my mind back to my visits to The Wall.

I first visited The Wall in 1993 with a large group of folks associated with the Khe Sanh Veterans. We went at night and the heat pressed down on us like the threat of attack and I recall being amazed at how so many of the tough men I knew broke down as they read and felt the names etched in that artful memorial. It didn’t affect me that way. What that experience did for me was to allow my mind to begin the long process of discovering and dealing with my feelings about the war and what role combat played in the man I had become.

Mike McNamara's children from left to right: Katherine, John, Colleen, Patrick. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara’s children: Katherine, John, Colleen, Patrick. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Some years later, I went back to the memorial and while searching the directory for the names of some of my school mates who are remembered on the memorial, I couldn’t keep tears from sneaking down my cheeks. It was all I could do to keep from busting wide open with an emotion that felt like that flood I witnessed back on the Santa Rosa.

So, thanks to Mike McNamara for hosting these interviews that allow me to retrieve my memories and thoughts.

If you are interested in all things Marine, or in what the current political and cultural pulse of America’s veterans are, or you are interested in history, cooking, mental health, post-combat issues, politics, the military in general, check out Mike’s programs.

You can access ALL MARINE RADIO here: http://www.allmarineradio.com/.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 28, 2016

Ironies and Coincidences

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Thirteen days ago Betty and I left San Antonio, Texas, after the completion of the 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans reunion.
We were glad to see all our Khe Sanh Veteran friends, and to meet some folks we hadn’t met before.

We were also saddened because a lot of the men in BRAVO!, a number of whom we interviewed in San Antonio at the same location in 2010, were not able to be with us for a number of reasons. We did get to see and visit with John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley who are in the film. As always, it was great to talk about the present and to remember the past. It is especially nice to sit and talk to men who are the only ones who understand what one went through at Khe Sanh.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

Besides Doc Cicala and Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley, we also got to spend time with Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo 1/26, Bruce “T-Bone” Jones, Mike McIntyre, and Jim “Doc” Beal. What a heartening time we had with these fine men.

After all these years we tell our tales, our eyes big, sometimes with the faint acceleration of the heartbeat. Sometimes we slap a table top and laugh, some somber and dark moment remembered because of the black humor we employed to mitigate the constant fear that ground inside our guts.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

While in San Antonio visiting with our friends and comrades, we spent some time working on our new project, a documentary film about the wives of combat veterans. The working title for this new effort is I MARRIED THE WAR.

We met with a woman whose husband, whom we also spent time with, served during the Middle East war. In addition, we met a couple who have been married since he came home after the war in Vietnam. In addition, we also visited with a woman from the east coast whom we will interview about her experiences as the spouse of a Khe Sanh vet.

On our journey down to San Antonio from our home in Idaho, we managed to stop and spend a few moments of reflection at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. The memorial is a somberly beautiful structure that seemed to fit in an almost ungainly way against the flaming autumn colors of the surrounding Sangre de Christo Mountains. It wasn’t a complementary fit between the memorial and the red, golds and russets of the aspen and cottonwoods and maples and oaks. It was something more with a hint of irony. The memorializing of something horrible in contrast with something beautiful. The man-created versus the natural, and the stark dissimilarity between the two, was quite marked and emotionally attractive.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Betty and I also had the opportunity to spend some time with our longtime friends from Central Texas, Mary and Roger Engle.

We got to visit with Gregg Jones, author of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH. Gregg was in town speaking to a group associated with B-24 crews from World War II about his upcoming book concerning the B-24 Liberators of World War II.

The 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion was a fine experience, and on the road home, as always, we made time to stop and spend some moments taking in the locales we passed through. Particularly meaningful was the opportunity to journey off the more beaten paths of freeways and national highways and go to Pleasant Hill, New Mexico, in search of the grave site of Ken Pipes’ great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Pipes, who is buried in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Ken Pipes was the Skipper of Bravo Company, 1/26, and is dearly revered by the surviving men who served under him.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Pleasant Hill isn’t a town, it’s a community of farmers and cattle ranchers near the border with Texas. The locals congregate around a fire house, a church and the cemetery which are all separated by a quarter or half section of farm or grazing ground. The land is flat, part of the high plains where the wind loves to blow and you can see for miles.

We did find the Skipper’s great-grandfather’s grave, and it has been well maintained.

One of the many other ironies and coincidences I thought about on the trip was how, in the 1980s, I used to hunt pheasant at Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. At the time I had no idea the Skipper had relations buried in the cemetery there. I didn’t know anything about the Skipper other than he had led us through the Siege of Khe Sanh and he let me leave Khe Sanh a day earlier than my orders allowed. I can see him now in my mind as I recall him then, sitting in the Bravo Company command post, his arm in a sling and other parts of his body bandaged in clean white material already smudged with the blood red mud of Khe Sanh.

Adding to the eerie air of coincidence is the notion that my great–grandfather was also named Andrew Jackson, last name Rodgers, who also hailed from the same region as the Skipper’s Andrew Jackson.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

And then it was home for a time to get caught up before we move on with BRAVO! And I MARRIED THE WAR.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 5, 2016

Full Circle

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Next week Betty and I will be journeying to Texas, to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion which will be held at San Antonio’s El Rancho Tropicana Hotel.

Just a little over six years ago, we set out from Montreal, Canada, where we were attending the Montreal Jazz Festival with our friends and relatives, Chuck and Donna Dennis, to head out to San Antonio for the 2010 reunion, and to film nine of the interviewees in the film, BRAVO!.

Back then, when we began the journey to tell the story of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the Siege of Khe Sanh, we had little to no knowledge of how to make a film. But, we knew we needed interviews, so undaunted, we marched on and showed up in San Antonio, made arrangements for a space to conduct interviews, picked up our videographer at the airport and proceeded to film the men.

John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael E O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese sat down and talked to me and the crew about their remembrances of the siege and what it meant to them then, in 1968, and what it meant to them in July 2010.

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

I often think of the intestinal fortitude these men demonstrated as they sat down and let their emotions bleed out for all the world to see. I recall sitting there across from them, hearing their stories, marveling at the way they just let it all spill out, and if it wasn’t all, it was certainly enough to wow the folks who would eventually work on and sit down to watch their powerful testimonies about fear, death, loss and ultimately, their victories over the obstacles that their experiences at Khe Sanh threw in front of them. The men were inspiring.

Now, six years later, we are going back to San Antonio and for me, it feels like we are coming full circle. Two of the men in the film, Dan Horton and the aforementioned Lloyd Scudder, are no longer with us as is also the case with videographer Mark Spear, and it makes me very happy that we got the interviews done—in the case of Dan and Lloyd—before these Marines left us.

I am also very grateful that we got to know Mark Spear before he made a way too early journey from those he loved and those of us who appreciated his sensitive, funny, artistic nature.

Some of the men in the film will not be there in San Antonio to sit around and talk about the war and our memories of it and how the film affected our views of that experience. And I wonder, in the case of those who have not said so, if BRAVO! in any way changed their lives, helped or hindered them in their ongoing drive to live on in spite of the mental and physical affects of the combat we faced during the Vietnam War.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

Personally, what can I say about what BRAVO! has done for me? Well, for starters, I can say that I am now hooked on making films.

And I am now immersed in the world of combat veterans and all the accoutrements both good and bad that come with having let oneself become so immersed. Organizations, acquaintances, events, travel—yes, it’s greatly changed the world I personally inhabit.

And I think, in some ways, it’s helped me come to grips with my own horrors, the ones that lurk just behind me as I try to keep the memories of January, February, March and early April 1968 caged in some form of mental box.

It taught me that the men I knew in the trenches at Khe Sanh survived (as did I) second-by-second high grade fear, wounds, loss, and in most cases came out the other end able to deal with all the bad stuff. It taught me that the soul, however one wishes to describe or define it, can be ripped, stripped, battered and stabbed, but in the end, it can still emerge in triumph.

The keenest knowledge I’ve gained is the realization that instead of being alone, I know that there are a multitude of warriors who have experienced what I did—the constant fear that rides you like you were an underfed jackass, the need to be brave even though it may lead to your death, the loss of your friends’ lives. I have siblings, so to speak, who have trod or are now treading the treacherous ground with me.

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

For years, intellectually, I understood that I endured what millions have endured in war, but emotionally, I felt all alone, out there on a limb so to speak where no one could reach me.

Making BRAVO! taught me that there are others, right now, out there with me.

So I’m looking forward to getting to San Antonio and seeing who I know so we can sit around and talk about it all. Maybe we will laugh and maybe we won’t, but it will not matter, because I will not be alone.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

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

September 22, 2016

On Memories of 9/11

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Sunday before last, 9/11/2016, Betty and I attended a 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden in Caldwell, Idaho.

The Garden is a space carved out for veterans to go and find some solace, an opportunity for introspection, the possibility of meeting other veterans and the chance to talk about shared kinds of experience. The Garden is seen, by its creators, as a place where a veteran can possibly get some non-clinical assistance while dealing with mental health issues related to PTSD, TBI, and other combat related symptoms.

Last week I wrote a piece about the 22 pushups for 22 days challenge to highlight veterans’ suicide and mental health concerns, and while at the Garden I asked for and received permission to create a video of me, Ken Rodgers, dropping to the deck and hitting 22 for the cause.

The entrance to the Idaho Veterans Garden in Caldwell, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The entrance to the Idaho Veterans Garden in Caldwell, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Events often seem to mesh in serendipitous ways and suddenly the memories of 9/11 and that date’s effects on me, my pushup experience, and some of the Garden’s aims all fit together.

I pondered that meshing as a woman wearing the black and white colors of a motorcycle group dedicated to honoring POW-MIAs gave me an encouraging shout. Then Betty and I wandered past late summer red and orange and yellow flowers and fecund tomato vines drooping with ripe fruit and found a seat beneath the awning were I began to ponder my memories of 9/11.

The devastation of 9/11 was a jolt to my person and roiled up a host of emotions: rage, paranoia, isolation, grief and a six-month onset of mild depression.

This garden moment was not the first time I’d pondered my reactions to the attacks of 9/11, but I recognized a connection between mental health issues created, and if not created, at least heightened by the combination of my service with the USMC during the Siege of Khe Sanh and the events of 9/11.

During the 1990s I pretty much got a handle on my war-related mental health issues listed above, but the sight of those big planes plowing into those buildings brought it all flooding back.

One of the attendees at the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

One of the attendees at the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

I know the intimate reactions one gets when attacked. And I can look at them in an intellectual way, like a scientist might, but I also understand them on a visceral level, where the basic instincts that govern our reactions to stimuli tell us we might die.

Following 9/11, fear (Of what? Death, dismemberment, incineration?) turned on the switch of my sensual response system and what followed was a spate of rage, a sense that around every corner someone waited to blow me up. I thought about buying some weapons and I wanted to move out to the sticks and get away from everybody I didn’t know. I’d find myself tearing up at the oddest moments, and for six months I steeped myself in a tea of depression that made the world look as if I was viewing it as a smoky, war-torn terrain through a set of cracked lenses.

And what took me thirty years to get under control was returned, riding my back like some sharp-toothed demon intent on sucking the life out of me. And the problem is, in some ways, those reactions to being attacked–the rage and the paranoia and the sense of isolation—have stayed strong. I wonder if that’s because since 9/11 we seem to be in a state of perpetual war and my amygdala senses that, and tells me I need to be on guard.

When I arrive at a waiting area before a plane flight, I assess the passengers reading computer screens or talking on their smart phones, and for each one of them I think about how I might take them out should the need arise if they have mal intent. I often do the same in restaurants and stores and while walking down a crowded street. This is known as hyper-vigilance.

And often the smallest events set me off. In 2004, I threatened to choke one of my employers. I clutched his Adam’s apple in my right hand. Lucky for me I didn’t follow through and he didn’t call the police. Fortunately, to this day, we are good friends.

In 2008, I verbally and almost physically attacked an acquaintance of mine in a restaurant after he said something innocuous, but which sprung such a surprise on me that I went on the attack with no forethought. This was forty years after the siege.

That’s when I decided I needed to find out what I could do to avoid these outbursts of rage. I went to the VA and spent time with a psychologist and though I still have strong eruptions of my symptoms, I haven’t attacked anyone since.

I say all this about my own experiences because this is what it is like for a lot of veterans when they come back from combat. The baboon is on their back and even though they throw it off, it tends to come back and haunt them at the most unexpected moments. It’s long-term.

Some people say, “Well, you just need to get over it.”

But it’s not that easy. It’s not something about which our rational conscious has a whole lot to say. It happens down in the animal part where survival instincts rule.

And the thing is, these symptoms of veterans’ mental health needs cost all of us…combatants and non-combatants alike. All kinds of relationships—work, family and otherwise—are affected and the cost is dear in economic and social terms. It’s pervasive and it eats at the foundations of our culture.

Beneath the awing before the start of the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Beneath the awing before the start of the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

As these grim thoughts wormed around inside my head, a semi truck with a trailer full of grain sped by on the roadbed that watches over the Garden. The driver gave us two toots of his air horn and it brought me back to the moment. I was thankful for that as I stood among the folks around me and gazed at the flags flapping in the breeze.

There are a lot of resources available at the VA, and many communities also offer other sources that can help a veteran in crisis because of mental health needs. It’s worth checking out.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Other Musings,Veterans

September 9, 2016

The Pushup Challenge

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Recently, I was called out by my friend, Dr. Brian Meyer, to participate in the twenty-two day, twenty-two pushup per day challenge.

The challenge began in the United Kingdom as a way to bring attention to the number of daily suicides among combat veterans. According to some sources, the number of daily suicides is twenty-two. To other sources, the figure is twenty and if you Google the subject, you get a variety of numbers. But in my opinion, one suicide per day is one too many.

Dr. Meyer is a clinical psychologist at the VA facility in Richmond, Virginia, and a man who has spent his career studying and trying to help veterans deal with their mental health matters. In his challenge to me and a number of other folks, he has expanded the pushup test beyond suicide awareness to include recognizing PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, substance abuse, and survivor’s guilt, among a number of other mental health issues of combat vets.

Left to Right: Dr. Brian Meyer, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

Left to Right: Dr. Brian Meyer, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

Dr. Meyer, in his daily Facebook posts, besides doing his pushups, talks at some length about the mental health concerns at hand and also provides links to a number of resources on the different categories of mental health issues.

Besides treating combat vets’ mental health problems, Dr. Meyer travels extensively, apprising and educating interested folks about the various concerns he has about veterans’ mental wellbeing. You can find out more about him and his challenge to all of us to pay more attention to the mental health issues endemic in our veteran population here: https://www.facebook.com/brian.meyer.3154?fref=ts. Each one of his daily videos is a wealth of information and resources.

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

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

Going a bit further, I would like to pass on the challenge to you, if you are able, to jump in and do some pushups for the cause and if you can’t do pushups, please help spread the message in some other way. Many veterans are homeless. Many are refugees from broken family situations that have arisen chiefly due to the veterans’ mental health epidemic. Many are lost in the jungle of substance abuse. Many are killing themselves.

So, let’s get involved in helping to spread awareness to all America about this alarming problem so together we may find some answers.

I am on Day Eighteen of the challenge and you can get an idea of what I’m doing by going to https://www.facebook.com/kennetherodgers?fref=tf. If you decide to participate and do so online, be sure to use the hashtag #22PushupChallenge.

One other benefit: Besides bringing awareness to veterans’ mental health maladies, this challenge is a great opportunity to get in better shape. Ooorah!

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

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

July 27, 2016

On Savagery

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“War produces many euphemisms, downplaying or giving verbal respectability to savagery and slaughter.”
― Patrick Cockburn

On a recent airplane flight that Betty and I made to screen BRAVO!, I busied myself by reading an article by George Packer in THE NEW YORKER that introduced an interesting notion about violence and warriors. The article got my attention and has me still thinking.

I interpreted that notion as follows: The world offers a variety of narratives in which one can choose to participate. Some narratives are peaceful, some career minded, some offer adventure. Sometimes the adventurous narratives proffer us the opportunity to experience our own inner savagery.

As I pondered the latter idea, I thought that it was ugly. But then I thought about it some more and decided that yes, the idea that we can take the opportunity to experience our own inner savagery is ugly, but maybe not that uncommon.

Photo of author, historian and Marine William Manchester. Photo from Veterans Today.

Photo of author, historian and Marine William Manchester. Photo from Veterans Today.

I recall reading William Manchester’s book titled GOODBYE DARKNESS about his service in the Marine Corps during World War II. What stuck with me more than any other ideas and incidents he wrote about were his comments about the battles with the Japanese. Marines quite often did not take prisoners. Neither did the Japanese. In many ways, the battles in the Pacific theater were no-quarter-given affairs. Manchester intimated that even when an enemy soldier tried to surrender, you killed him.

I know there were a lot of reasons why prisoners were not taken, but as I think about it, there is an element of savagery here that would shock the folks at home who have no knowledge of war.

Various definitions of savagery speak of barbarity and violence and brutality. And of course war is all of those things, and savagery may be necessary for the warrior when locked in battle.

I was involved in a nasty battle in Vietnam in which we assaulted a trench line held by a battalion of North Vietnamese soldiers. We got them on the run and moved through their fortifications, killing every enemy soldier we came upon.

At one point in the fight, as another Marine and I advanced through the maze of trenches, I noticed a group of Marines in a deep bomb crater nearby. Among them was what looked like a North Vietnamese soldier who must have surrendered. As I watched, in just the minute it takes for you to start to breathe, a barrage of enemy mortar rounds landed in and around the bomb crater, decimating the Marines and Navy Corpsmen inside the crater. As the smoke and dust cleared, I saw a Marine take a .45 caliber pistol and shoot that NVA prisoner in the head.

For years I doubted I had really seen this event take place. Not that I couldn’t believe it happened, but on that day, so much chaos and mayhem ruled the moment that I’ve wondered if the event was a figment of my imagination or a memory based on something someone else had told me.

Several years ago, I finally did some checking around and I am now convinced that what I saw did actually happen.

I am not saying that when the Marine popped a pistol round into the prisoner’s head that it was wrong, or right for that matter. I think each of us has to decide these things for ourselves. And I would like to throw into the thinking mix the notion that the question of whether it was right or wrong wasn’t even relevant to the moment. I don’t believe any of us were pondering the finer points of morality while this battle raged.

Would I have done the same thing? Even though I was a witness, I can’t really say since I wasn’t in that exact situation and that very particular place.

I wonder what was going through that Marine’s mind as he pulled the trigger and killed his prisoner. I know he was racked with fear—we all were—and he may have been cognizant that what happened when the barrage of mortar rounds landed was a catastrophe for everyone in the bomb crater and that the NVA prisoner looking at him was an enemy combatant who, if given the opportunity, would most likely do anything he could to help kill Marines.

Houses burned by American soldiers during the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam.  (Photo by Ronald S. Haeberle)

Houses burned by American soldiers during the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam. (Photo by Ronald S. Haeberle)

What I witnessed at that moment was a lot of things, including savagery.

Earlier in my tour of duty, some Marines arrived in Bravo Company from another regiment. They had been in-country for a while and were seasoned warriors. I got to know a few of them and more than once I asked how and why they ended up getting transferred to Bravo Company.

The Marines would blow me off or they’d look at each other and shrug, but finally, two of them told me they’d been involved in an operation in the mountains south of Khe Sanh. The operation, among other things, involved sweeping through a lot of rough country and a few of the local villes.

According to what these Marines told me, every time they went through one of the villes on search and destroy missions, one or more Marines would get shot, always after the Marines had left the ville. Evidently it happened so many times that one day, after several Marines were shot and killed after the company left a particular ville, the company got on line and swept back through the ville and killed everything: men, women, children, dogs, pigs.

I served with these men, some of them for quite a long time, and they were good men, so it makes me wonder if captured in a particular time and place, most of us aren’t susceptible to such momentary fits of aggression, rage or savagery.

As I compose this, I think of the incident at My Lai in 1968 where American troops slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese people in a horror where savagery evidently got the best of a good number of the United States Army participants. I can’t imagine that all those men who were involved in that massacre are monsters now if they are still alive. They may have been monsters in that short time but then came home to not be like that at all, and when I think that, I wonder if most of us don’t have that person living inside us, that monster.

Is this kind of savagery a result of fear or is it a result of what we become in order to survive when faced with the possibility of imminent death; or is it that there is some kind of communal blood lust that happens in combat; or is it even more complicated than that? Is revenge considered savagery? A lot of questions, I think, and not a lot of answers.

Another photo of the action at My Lai on March 16, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Haeberle)

Another photo of the action at My Lai on March 16, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Haeberle)

Many people who read this will, without a moment’s hesitation, say, “No, people who act this way are monsters without exception.” But some of us who have been in combat won’t be so sure. We’ll think about what we saw and what it felt like to be confronted by another human intent on killing you and the person next to you, and who has the means to do so.

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

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

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

June 29, 2016

In the Blink of an Eye

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In Khe Sanh Marine Mike Archer’s latest book, THE LONG GOODBYE, he describes a scene from his memory of incoming artillery rounds:

“Then it struck. It was not quite a direct hit because the roof did not collapse, but it could have not been closer. There was absolutely no sound. We were inside the explosion. A vacuum instantly sucked dust, loose paper and other light objects out the bunker’s hatchway. A painful pressure pushed on my eardrums. Then, as swiftly as it happened, it was over…”

One thing that interests me about Mike Archer’s passage from this exemplary book is how it intimates the moments where close calls remind us how mortal we all are.

Call it luck or divine intervention or karma, but those moments where you don’t die because you happened to be in the right place at the right time leave a lasting impression on you.

On March 30, 1968, Bravo Company, 1/26, went out the wire at Khe Sanh on an assault that has come to be known as the Payback Patrol. I was radioman for Second Platoon’s platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gustavo Alvarado. As the company charged through a valley and up a ridge into a trenchline full of North Vietnamese troopers, SSgt Alvarado and I brought up the rear of the line of march.

As the Marines of Bravo dove bayonet-first into the NVA positions, SSgt Alvarado and I worked our way towards the apex of the ridge. Somewhere near the top, amid a small stand of shell-splintered trees, a mortar round landed between the staff sergeant and me. We couldn’t have been more than four or five feet apart when the round hit and exploded.

The first thing I knew was that I was alive, or at least I thought I was. I was sitting on my butt in the red mud. I had the strangest sensation that I was the center of a ripple of energy, or sound, that was emanating from me as if I was a stone tossed into a pond. I had the same sensation on the left side of my head, where shrapnel had entered the side of my face near my temple. That metal’s still lodged there like a memory that won’t go away, as if I needed to be reminded in one more way of my time at Khe Sanh.

SSgt Alvarado was hit in the leg by the mortar’s tail fin assembly and he was on the ground, too. But after a cursory inspection of each other, we moved into the melee over the top of the ridge and lived to tell about that ecstatically stimulating and horrible day where death flew perilously close like a flock of angry hawks.

I often return to that scene and think about how lucky we were that we didn’t die, or lose a limb or an eye, or have hot shrapnel penetrate a temple and hack out half of our intellects.

Another incident that often comes to mind happened several weeks before the Payback Patrol. Again, close calls were the name of the game during the Siege of Khe Sanh and any survivor can deliver a litany of the times they managed to beat death or maiming because they happened to be in the right place.

Cover of Mike Archer's book, THE LONG GOODBYE.

Cover of Mike Archer’s book, THE LONG GOODBYE.

The other member of Second Platoon’s radio team was a man named Curtis Horn. I think Horn hailed from West Virginia. We spent a lot of time trading off on radio watch along with the platoon’s right guide. I don’t recall many specifics about Horn other than he was a damned good Marine and he didn’t talk much.

On this particular day we’d just spent quite a bit of time upgrading the platoon command post so that it could take (we hoped) a direct hit from a 152 mm shell, even one with a delayed fuse. Horn and I made the mistake of thinking that since we’d done the lion’s share of the work on the new bunker we would be allowed to bunk there. But we were sorely disabused of that notion and ordered by the platoon commander and SSgt Alvarado to bunk next door in the platoon ammo bunker.

The ammo bunker was a paltry excuse for a well-built facility. It had one layer of sandbags on top of a framework of pallets. The bunker was stuffed with machine gun ammo, rifle ammo, smoke grenades, willy peter grenades, hand grenades, mortar rounds, rocket rounds, claymore mines, pop up flares. Lots of things that burned, killed, smoked and exploded.

I didn’t like having to spend my rack time in that death trap, but it was late and we were tired and there were two cots inside, one on the floor and the other suspended off the walls above the one below.

As night settled in and the regular blanket of mist and fog descended on the combat base, Horn and I hit the rack. Always alert to the possibility of incoming, I lay in the cot and listened to NVA rounds hitting at the other end of the base.

I listened and listened until sleep wormed its way into my body, and I had just dropped off, I think, when I was jolted out of the bottom bunk with Horn soon crashing down on me from above. I didn’t have to think about it because escape is one of the original and fundamental human responses to imminent danger.

We scrabbled out of that death trap and into the command post. One of the higher ups, maybe the right guide, or maybe SSgt Alvarado, or maybe even the platoon commander, ordered us out of the bunker but I was scared and I was hearing none of it and I don’t think I threatened to shoot any of them but Horn and I spent the rest of that night inside the command post.

The next morning I crawled around the back of the command post and up to the top of the ammo bunker and saw where a round had hit near the southwest corner. There was an impact crater less than two inches from the roof. It looked like it must have been an 82 mm mortar round that, had it hit, would have probably spread little chunks of Horn’s and my bone and meat and gristle and red blood all over Second Platoon’s area of operation.

Blog author Ken Rodgers.

Blog author Ken Rodgers.

But it didn’t. It just scared the hell out of me and left an indelible set of images etched into my memory. And it also left me with an enduring wonder at how often we avoid death due to nothing more than blind luck.

One of the Marines, Ron Rees, in our film, BRAVO!, talks about how he lives his life a second at a time because that’s all it takes for you to be gone, snuffed, history, dead. Folks who have survived combat often tell me they exist from one second to the next. Living like that makes it hard to plan ahead, hard to think about how one might choose to live in years ahead because one second from now, you may not be alive; in the blink of an eye.

You can find out more about Michael Archer and his books about Khe Sanh and other subjects at http://www.michaelarcher.net/.

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

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

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

June 15, 2016

On Veterans Courts

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Several weeks back we wrote a blog entry about how BRAVO! has become a part of the training regimen for new Marine officers at The Basic School at Quantico and we were amazed, as filmmakers, how the movie had grown into something we could not have imagined. What began as an attempt to tell a story about a small group of Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh has since been used, for example, in college film classes, and high school history classes, and several California prisons, and creative writing classes and as part of a symposium on the humanities and the Vietnam War.

To the list of uses, add BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR as a tool to help veteran court personnel understand the ravages of war and why some veterans might go off the rails, so to speak, and run afoul of the law.

On June 1, 2016, BRAVO! was screened at the 2016 Justice For Vets Convention in Anaheim, California and an interested group of attendees watched the film and then participated in Q & A with the filmmakers. The questions asked were incisive and spoke to the attendees’ interests in veterans, TBI, PTSD, crime and justice.

The folks who came to see the film were judges, attorneys—both prosecuting and defense—court clerks, mentors, psychologists, police personnel, parole and probation officers, court coordinators, and more.

As I attended the conference, the thought came to me: Why do veterans deserve a different court system than everybody else and over the course of a couple of days, I got some answers.

Veterans courts aren’t the only courts that treat offenders differently. There are drug courts, and mental health courts and tribal courts, to name a few. So veterans aren’t the only folks getting special treatment in the justice system.

I heard more than one presenter at the conference explain it this way: Veterans went to serve the country and it is understood that the service was often hazardous. Now they have returned and have had some troubles transitioning into civilian life. Many of them have physical injuries and injuries to the soul and now it is time for us, American society, to serve them in their time of need. Like they did for us. And one of the ways we can serve them is to allow them to go through the veterans’ court program.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Apparently, the first veteran’s court was established in Buffalo, NY. There are over two hundred veteran court systems in the country now and the trend is growing in local jurisdictions nationwide.

And why? They seem to work. One of the founders of the Buffalo veterans court is Patrick Welch, PhD, a Marine who served as an enlisted man in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart for the wounds he received there. Dr. Welch told a group of us why veterans courts are important, “Because incarceration doesn’t work.”

So, to avoid institutionalizing veterans in the prison system, it is thought to be cheaper and more effective to run offenders through a special court system.

These courts are fairly new and the experience society has had with them has yet to stand the test of passing years, but time after time Betty and I heard that the recidivism—the rate of veterans coming back into the court system after having successfully completed veterans courts—is significantly lower than the old established court system. This is a major win.

We initially became interested in veterans courts here in Idaho where we have six veteran court systems and it appears they are doing a good job of helping veterans who run afoul of the legal system for one reason or another.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

We couldn’t be more pleased to know that BRAVO! has now become a tool to help veterans court professionals and volunteers understand the underlying trauma generated by combat.

And thanks you very much to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Justice for Vets, Terrence Walton and his entire staff at the NADCP for inviting us to screen BRAVO!

So, to the men of BRAVO!: Cal Bright, John Cicala, the late Dan Horton, Ken Korkow, Ben Long, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Tom Quigley, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese, a big oorah! Because in overcoming your reluctance (and fears) that created a barrier to you telling your stories about the Siege of Khe Sanh and all its horrors, you have, besides recording an important piece of history, become educators to the folks who administer our veterans courts.

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

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.