Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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.

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

May 26, 2016

When a Community Honors Their Own

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We have been all over the USA showing Bravo! to groups of people who’ve invited us. It’s always gratifying when someone wants it shown locally in Southwestern Idaho, which happened last November. The Boise State Veteran Services Office hosted a screening as part of the Veterans Week activities on campus.

Attending that event were women from the local Eagle Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, also known as the NSDAR. Not long before meeting them in person, we learned that they had decided to nominate Bravo! co-producer Ken Rodgers for the NSDAR’s Founders Medal for Patriotism, a very prestigious national award given to a person “who has displayed outstanding patriotism in the promotion of our country’s ideals of God, home, and country.” As part of this country’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, this was intended to thank Ken for serving, and for telling the powerful story of his company of Marines through film.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

The submission involved a lot of effort, including letters of recommendation from across the nation. We were thrilled when we learned that the award had indeed been granted by the national committee, and that it would be presented locally by the Eagle Chapter.

So on May 12, we got dressed up and drove to the Bishop Tuttle House in downtown Boise for the event. When we arrived, the ladies busied themselves with setting up the podium, tying balloons and decorating tables while we greeted a wonderful crowd of friends, old and new.

Visiting before the beginning of the ceremony. Left to Right: Lance Thompson; Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel; Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services, Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs, Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel, Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

We were gratified by the diversity and size of the gathering that came to be a part of the evening. These folks represented a chunk of the many friends that we have met in Idaho over the years.

Before the festivities commenced, Ken was awarded his own special tribute by eight-and-a-half-year-old Nicholle Bacon, a handmade certificate that was so spontaneous and so special he hung it in his office.

The program started with a welcome from Shannon Lind, an invocation by Jana Kemp, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Barbara Grant, and the American’s Creed led by Anita Allex.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

Then we heard comments from three champions of Bravo!. Lance Thompson spoke about how Ken resolved to give voice to those who had so long kept silent. Elaine Ambrose noted, “We were – and are – exact opposites. Ken’s quiet, distinguished, respected, and reserved. I’m noisy, clumsy, tolerated by others, and regarded as a comedienne. But, we both love to write, we honor our military, and we love our country.” Norma Jaeger gave us two quotes during her comments: Isak Dinesen said, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.”

Ken was then presented with the beautiful medal, and an American flag that has flown over both the US Capitol in Washington, DC, and the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. This was followed by Rebecca Bowen-Odom, who, along with her husband, Ron, was the mastermind behind the award. Rebecca read a congratulatory letter from Mindy Kammeyer, Reporter General of the NSDAR. Apparently Mindy was a flight attendant during the Vietnam War, serving our young men as they flew off to Vietnam, and then when they came back home again.

Ken spoke briefly about what the award and the film mean to him, commenting that he is not a rah-rah-let’s-go-to-war kind of patriot, but one who wishes to remember all who have dedicated a portion of their lives in service to our country. He closed his remarks by naming some of the men in his Bravo Company band of brothers who either lost their lives in Vietnam, or have since passed away. Those names became a very moving work of poetry.

A complete surprise was in store at this point in the program when Bravo! co-producer Betty Rodgers was presented with the NSDAR award for Excellence in Community Service for her part in producing the film.

Finishing up the evening with a bang was Idaho’s Senator Marv Hagedorn who spoke about his own military background, and then read a proclamation from the governor of Idaho, C. L. “Butch” Otter, declaring May 12 as Kenneth and Betty Rodgers Day! One of the whereas statements reads thusly:

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening's awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening’s awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

WHEREAS, those whom see “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor” will forever remember the story of the Siege of Khe Sanh, understand that freedom is not free and recognize that combat lives on forever in the daily lives of those who have experienced it.

The proclamation further states that the awards represent our “combined efforts to honor the service of Vietnam War veterans and their families.”

And that is where we turn to you, dear reader, and say we share these accolades with every single person who has walked the walk with us in one way or another. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we thank the NSDAR for the recognition, and especially Barbara Grant for her energy in keeping us informed throughout the entire months-long process.

Boise’s KTVB Channel 7, the NBC affiliated station, was on board to record the ceremony. You can view a short clip here.

As BRAVO! Marine Steve Wiese always says, “Bravo lives on!”

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.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,The Basic School at Quantico,Vietnam War

May 18, 2016

The Basic School at Quantico

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In the last BRAVO! blog we wrote briefly about a visit we made to The Basic School (TBS) at Camp Barrett on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

While at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, his son-in-law Daniel Folz, Betty and I received an invitation from Marine Captain Joe Albano to come over to TBS and observe how Bravo Company’s ill-fated patrol of February 25, 1968 is currently being used to train Marine officers in the Scouting and Patrolling class. We were pretty excited about that, and surprised that they wanted to talk to us.

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O'Hara,  Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O’Hara, Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Upon our arrival we were greeted by Captain Albano, TBS Commanding Officer Colonel Christian Wortman, and Captains Josh White and Jason Duehring, an impressive group of Marine Corps officers. Captains Albano, White and Duehring are instructors at TBS training the future leaders of the Marine Corps.

And we were not the only ones excited about the meeting, so were these young officers. They were excited to meet two Marines who had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh as well as some of the folks involved with the production of BRAVO!.

After our welcome, the captains took us to various classrooms where the Scouting and Patrolling Operations class is taught, including a visit to the sand tables where the new officers work out scouting and patrolling scenarios.

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodges

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodgers

From there, we went to a lecture hall where Captains Albano, White and Duehring talked about how they teach the class and how they researched and worked on the Case Study related to the events of February 25, 1968.

When we first walked into the room, we noticed the BRAVO! DVD was sitting on the table with the instructors’ materials, which was a nice surprise. Then Captain Albano gave us an abbreviated version of the class. What surprised and humbled us even more was learning that the captains included clips from our film as part of the lecture. And a lot of the clips aren’t specifically about February 25th, but more about introducing the new lieutenants to the humanity of the Marines and Navy Corpsman they will command in the future. The presentation included Bravo Company men talking about, among other things, combat and brotherhood and fear.

During Captain Albano’s lecture, the students are advised of the events surrounding the Ghost Patrol—as the events of February 25 are commonly referred to—and to the disposition of troops on the ground on the morning of that fateful day. Then, amid the Marines of BRAVO! talking to them with the sounds of war in the background, the instructors, in a suddenly chaotic classroom simulation, fire questions at the students asking how they are going to deal with threats that are killing their Marines.

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O'Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O’Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White. Photo by Betty Rodgers

The class is taught, among other things, in a way that emulates the bedlam of combat, and if a student can’t come up with a solution to a question asked by the instructor within a matter of seconds, he/she gets told, “You just lost another Marine,” and the instructor turns to another student and fires questions at him/her. These simulated combat moments are intended to train the new lieutenants to think quickly and respond appropriately. The questioning is rife with tension and with an aura of the uncertainties encountered when opposing groups of warriors go to killing each other. Fear, confusion and pressure are recognized as elements one encounters in combat and which cannot be understood by a leader until they are experienced.

After Captain Albano finished up, we repaired to The Hawk—the club at TBS—for some refreshments and some time to talk about the film, war, Vietnam and the more current wars that the captains fought in.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

For years we have thought of BRAVO! as a way to preserve history and to educate the public about the Siege of Khe Sanh and the horror of combat, about brotherhood and death and fear. What an overwhelming thought it is to realize the men of BRAVO! are also helping to train today’s Marines.

Thanks to Captain Albano and the instructors at The Basic School for sharing their efforts with us old-time Marines and our guests.

Semper Fi!

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.

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

May 4, 2016

They Put Their Trousers On Just Like You Do

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It was a heady experience being at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Awards Ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps outside the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.

BRAVO! was recognized and honored with the Major Norman Hatch Award for best feature length documentary film.

Betty and I arrived a few days before the big event and journeyed to Lexington, Virginia, to visit good friends. While there we checked out Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s home. Stonewall was an instructor at Virginia Military Institute (located in Lexington) before the Civil War.

Stonewall Jackson's home in Lexington, VA. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Stonewall Jackson’s home in Lexington, VA.
Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

The following day, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara and his son-in-law Daniel Folz went with us to tour the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Betty and I have visited the museum three times before this journey and we are always amazed at the constant change in the individual exhibits as well as the continued expansion of the museum, which speaks to the level of commitment and passion by all the donors and personnel involved.

Michael O'Hara at the  South exhibit at the Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz

Michael O’Hara at the South exhibit at the Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz

Later that afternoon, we were invited to The Basic School for new Marine Corps officers to talk about the history of Bravo Company, 1/26, at the Siege of Khe Sanh, and observe how The Basic School is using Bravo Company’s patrol outside the wire on February 25, 1968, as a case study in their Patrolling and Scouting class.

Upon arrival we were greeted by the commanding officer of The Basic School, Colonel Christian Wortman, and three instructors: Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Captain Jason Duehring.

We will post a blog later about the specifics of our visit to The Basic School but I must say that we are gratified that the experiences of the Marines at Khe Sanh are being used to prepare the Marine officers of the future for combat.

Later that evening we dined at The Globe and Laurel restaurant owned by Retired Major Rick Spooner who also received an award from the Foundation for one of his works of fiction, THE DRAGON OF DESTINY AND THE SAGA OF SHANGHAI POOLEY. The Globe and Laurel is a museum of Marine Corps history in its own right, and we enjoyed looking around at the posters, photos and other memorabilia of days gone by in the lives of Marines. If you are ever in the area and want to see a fabulous array of Marine Corps history, consider dining there.

On Saturday, friend and supporter of BRAVO!, Betty Plevney came up from Richmond, Virginia, to join us for the Awards Ceremony. Betty has been a great resource for the producers of the film. Her expertise and opinions have helped guide us along the path to where we are now.

Before the main event, we were joined in the museum’s Scuttlebutt Theater by many of the other honorees and their friends and families. The medals were presented by the Heritage Foundation’s Vice-President for Administration, Mrs. Susan Hodges, Retired Lieutenant General Robert Blackman (President and Chief Executive Office of the Foundation), Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller, Retired General John Kelly (the Foundation’s Chairman of the Board), Retired General Walter Boomer (past Chairman of the Board), and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green.

Betty and I were very proud to have General Neller shake our hands and in my case get my medal ribbon untangled from my red bowtie.

At the Foundation Award Ceremony. Left to Right: Betty Plevney, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers, Michael O'Hara. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

At the Foundation Award Ceremony. Left to Right: Betty Plevney, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers, Michael O’Hara. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

After the awards ceremony we went into the main atrium of the museum to join over four-hundred-forty guests for a great meal and an informative—and at times inspiring—program that included the Commandant, General Kelley, General Boomer, Lt. General Blackman, noted actor and Marine Wilfred Brimley, and former Virginia Senator and Secretary of the Navy John Warner.

Left to right: Commandant General Robert Neller, Retired Lt. General Robert Blackman, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

Left to right: Commandant General Robert Neller, Retired Lt. General Robert Blackman, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

One of the most satisfying moments for Betty and me happened immediately after they screened the official trailer for BRAVO! on large screens strategically positioned around the atrium so that all the guests could watch. Earlier in the trip, we had asked if Michael O’Hara could join us on stage when the Commandant presented us with our medals. We were informed that the space was too small—and it was—but they would recognize him after they played the trailer.

When the that moment came, Lt. General Blackman announced that Michael was my guest and that he had served with B/1/26 at the Siege and had received three purple hearts during that seventy-seven day battle. One of the cameras that was filming and projecting the night’s events focused in on Michael and he appeared on all the big screens in the building. He stood to a great chorus of ooorahs, cheers and much applause.

All through our time with Michael and Daniel, Daniel photographed the events so we could enjoy them later. Thank you, Daniel. The two men departed early the next morning, and Betty Plevney joined us for a leisurely breakfast before she headed back home. Betty Rodgers and I returned to the Museum of the Marine Corps and spent quite a bit of time wandering through the extensive outdoor gardens and memorials adjacent to the museum.

Michael O'Hara's recognition by the Foundation. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

Michael O’Hara’s recognition by the Foundation. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

The weather was sublime and the dogwoods were blooming in all their spring glory. As we strolled past memorials to a whole host of different Marine Corps organizations and events, I pondered what had occurred for us during our time in Quantico.

When I was in the Corps, I made it a matter of personal policy to hightail it as far as possible any time a general, a colonel, a sergeant major came around. I was an enlisted man and I didn’t want any encounters with officers above the rank of captain or any non-commissioned officers above the rank of gunnery sergeant. For me, those people almost came from another species, so on this visit, when I got to talk to the commandant, as well as a number of other generals, colonels and lieutenant-colonels, I came to the conclusion that they are folks just like me. Much more committed to the Marine Corps than I ever was, but folks none the less.

Dogwoods in bloom at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Dogwoods in bloom at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Thinking that made me remember what my drill instructors in boot camp used to say when we were about to be inspected by officers: “Just remember, they put their trousers on just like you do, one leg at a time.”

Betty and I send along a hearty thanks to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation—which, by the way, gave us some seed money to begin the process of making BRAVO!—and all the folks who honored BRAVO! and made our stay in Virginia a great success.

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.

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

April 18, 2016

THE LONG GOODBYE: Khe Sanh Remembered

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Today’s guest blogger, Mike Archer, is an author, Marine and survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Mike shares information on his books, his friend Tom Mahoney and efforts to find Tom’s remains forty-eight years after Tom disappeared at Khe Sanh.

IN THE CLOSING HOURS of the fight to hold the Khe Sanh Combat Base, after the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War, Tom Mahoney inexplicably walked away from his platoon, unarmed, and was shot to death by enemy soldiers hiding nearby. His fellow Marines made several desperate attempts to recover their well-liked comrade from under an intense enemy ambush, but were finally forced to leave him behind―though never forgotten.

Tom and I were high school friends who joined the Marines together in June 1967. My latest book, The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited, released in April 2016, and a sequel to my first, A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered, chronicles my exhaustive search for answers to his mysterious July 6, 1968 stroll into oblivion. This quest eventually led me though an improbable series of connections: from Tom’s childhood friends and fellow Marines, past the frustration of ineffective attempts by the U.S. government to locate his remains, and eventually teaming up with a Vietnamese psychic intent on communicating with Tom’s “wandering soul.”

Mike Archer at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Mike Archer at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Along the way, I discovered the unexpected compassion of former mortal enemies from that battlefield, now wishing to help honor the memory of a lone American among the tens of thousands on both sides who were sacrificed in the great meat grinder of Khe Sanh. Swept up in this increasingly bizarre pursuit of clues, I was drawn back to that infamous battleground and eventually tracked down and interviewed the last remaining eyewitness to Tom Mahoney’s death―one of those who killed him.

UPDATE:
In June 2016, the Defense POW-MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) will be taking three former members of Tom’s unit back to where he was killed on Hill 881 South in an effort to identify the exact site and excavate. It is not the first time the DPAA has searched for Tom’s remains, but it is the first time they have taken witnesses who were on the scene moments after hearing the gunshots that killed him.

An excavation in August 2014 was unsuccessful because the DPAA was looking on the wrong hill. But the expectation of success is higher now, as one of these three Marine veterans of that fight had worked his way to within just a few yards of reaching Tom’s body from under an intense enemy ambush, when darkness fell forcing the men to call off the effort.

The cover of Mike Archer's Book; THE LONG GOODBYE

The cover of Mike Archer’s Book; THE LONG GOODBYE

Another reason for optimism is a series of successful identifications of remains from the Khe Sanh area by the DPAA over the last eleven months. These three American soldiers were killed at different locations just a few months, and a few miles, from where Tom fell. Vietnamese and Laotians, dealing in the illegal, but booming, bone trade, provided these partial remains; two of the sets confiscated in 1989 and turned over to U.S. officials, where they became part of over one thousand sets of human remains backlogged and being warehoused in the Central Identification Laboratory near Honolulu.

But is there evidence of bones being found on Hill 881 South?

In January 2007, U.S. and Vietnamese MIA researchers met at Khe Sanh with two elders from the village of Lang Ruon, located down a steep slope on the north side of Hill 881 South, about five hundred yards from where Tom’s body was last seen. They told the researchers that after their return to Ruon in the early 1970s, they’d heard nothing about the discovery of remains or the personal effects of an American soldier. However, as the villagers began forays up the hill to collect metal to sell, they regularly saw bones. “Many buffaloes died,” one elder explained, “and when people saw the bones, they were unsure what kind of bones they were.” Perhaps some were collected and sold to bone traders and, although it is a slim possibility, Tom’s remains may already be at the Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu.

AUTHOR PHOTO

Mike Archer

But, more likely, they are still on the hill which, unlike the highly acidic deep, rust-colored volcanic soil in the lowlands surrounding it, is comprised of metamorphic rock, like schist, thus giving hope they have been better preserved. Everyone involved in this upcoming mission back to Hill 881 South in a few weeks is very excited and hopeful. I will keep you in the loop as things progress and thanks to so many of you for your interest in The Long Goodbye.

Michael Archer
April 13, 2016

MICHAEL ARCHER grew up in northern California and served as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam during 1967-1968. His books include A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered, an acclaimed first-person account of the infamous seventy-seven-day siege of that American combat base; A Man of His Word: The Life and Times of Nevada’s Senator William J. Raggio, about one of Nevada’s most courageous, honorable and admired citizens; and The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited, chronicling the author’s search for answers to a friend’s mysterious death at Khe Sanh. Michael lives in Reno and, in addition to his writing, is a staff member with the Senate Committee on Finance at the Nevada State Legislature. You can find out more about Mike Archer and his books at 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/buy-the-dvd/.

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

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

April 6, 2016

BRAVO! To Receive 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award

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After we put our first cut of BRAVO! in the can, I remember talking to one of the filmmakers we met during the editing process. An award winner himself, he talked about BRAVO! being a film that ought to be in the running for an Oscar.

At the time, with my lack of knowledge about the process of making films, I remember sitting out on the patio dreaming about Betty and me bouncing up the stairs to the stage to accept our Oscar our hearts thumping like .50 caliber machine guns. But then reality hit and we discovered how the Academy Awards really work.

First, you have to screen your film in both Los Angeles and New York and the funding requirements are overwhelming for an operation like ours. One hopes for a distribution agreement that would make it possible to have your film screened in LA and New York without you, the filmmakers, having to pay the tab for theater rental in those two cities. And though we tried to find a distributor, alas, it has yet to happen.

We’ve been on this filmmaking journey for six years now, and it’s been fun and rewarding and depressing and elating, a roller coaster ride for sure, and as we have gone along, we would have liked to see BRAVO! recognized by our peers, the filmmakers, and not having that happen was disappointing.

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Until last year when BRAVO! was recognized as Best Documentary Feature in the 2015 GI Film Festival San Diego and that took a huge bite out of the disappointment.

And this year, 2016, brings even more good news for the film. The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation will be awarding BRAVO! the 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award for Documentary Feature on April 23 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Major Norman Hatch was a photographer and filmmaker who landed with the Second Marine Division at Tarawa where he shot footage for an award winning documentary film about that battle. He also documented the Marines’ combat on Iwo Jima and went on to spend forty-one years working with military films and photography.

This award is like getting a double shot of praise because the judges who chose BRAVO! are film industry professionals, so we are getting some more kudos from our filmmaking peers. And there is another angle to look at, too. To be chosen for this extraordinary award by this organization of warriors is for us every bit as important, if not more so, as being recognized by moviemakers.

To be told by your fellow warriors, so to speak, that yes, here’s to a job well done and yes, BRAVO! speaks to the agony and ecstasy of war, is an honor that makes us feel like we will pop all the buttons off the front of our shirts and blouses.

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, will be presenting Betty and me with this award. BRAVO! brother Michael E. O’Hara, who is in the film, plans on joining us (along with his son-in-law, Daniel Folz) for the event as does one of our biggest supporters, our friend Betty Plevney. It should be a great evening, beginning with the awards ceremony followed by a dinner at the Museum.

In some ways receiving the Major Norman Hatch Award feels like we’ve come full circle since it was a grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation back in 2010 that jumpstarted BRAVO!

We are humbled and happy and raring to go east to Quantico.

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.