Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Other Musings

October 4, 2010


Last Monday, Betty and I met military historian and former Marine, Dr. David Walker, at Boise State University.  We inspected potential locations for filming him talking about both the general and specific strategies employed by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War and the battle of Khe Sanh. We are most interested in hearing what he has to say about the reasoning behind why United States Marines and supporting personnel were placed in a location such as Khe Sanh—tough terrain to defend, isolated, triple-canopy jungles, rough and wet country hard by the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

One of the most poignant topics that emerged in our interviews with Khe Sanh survivors was why after less than ninety days after the siege ended, the military decided to leave and destroy the combat base regardless of thousands of death (both US and Vietnamese), damage, wounds and general mayhem that occurred there during its defense. Much of the literature I read suggests the destruction of Khe Sanh on July 5, 1968 by the United States military was an abandonment.

Abandonment, abandonment. An interesting word. It has similar sounds and emotional ties to a lot of other war-like words: bayonet, batter, bastion, banner. But it also has one big difference.  There is a sense of retreat, surrender, giving up. I know after all these years, none of this should matter, but as I sit here and bang these keys, I cringe.

I recall the day I heard we’d abandoned Khe Sanh. I was home in Casa Grande, Arizona, on leave. Most likely owned a hangover. Got a cup of Folgers and the Arizona Republic. Lit up a Camel. I don’t recall if it was a headline on page one, or if it was July 5 when I found it out. Maybe it was on page two, or three, maybe even page five.  Maybe it was July 10 or July 15. It may have been down in section two, buried in all the words, the photos, the small ads for storage units, used cars, and pet care. Like it was of little significance. I vaguely recall reading some statistics about casualties, how many tons of bombs were dropped, how many artillery rounds fired. And then it was abandoned.

I most likely had the Johnny Walker or Jose Cuervo shakes that morning. I don’t remember for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised. But I do recall the way my stomach fell through the bottom of my body when I read about that particular abandonment. For a long moment it all came back: incoming, the thud and crush, the splatter and gash, the red, the red, the night, the black, the stink of dead North Vietnamese out there stacked up in ravines. My fear, man oh man. All that fear. And just like that, in the paper, abandonment.  Not a word about my fear, the fears of all of us, our longings, and the way we had to grip the muscles in our stomachs and just go on. No end, no end at all.  Incoming mortars, sniper fire, a man you’d known for thirteen months suddenly laid out on the table at Graves Registration, and a man you’d know for three days, right there next to him. And  for what? For abandonment?

As we conducted our interviews for Bravo!, the July 5th abandonment of Khe Sanh kept jumping into the conversation and I caught increments of bitterness.  They hung in the air like bad smoke, an acrid taste not to be discarded. Along with the essential question, “Why?”

I recall my high school journalism teacher, Mike Telep (a former Marine seriously wounded on Saipan in World War II), saying something to me about writing news stories. Who, how, when, where, what, but never why, because why is too subjective.

And that’s where Dr. Walker comes in…to explain the cold realities of global and theater-wide strategy in the Cold War, in the Vietnam War. Maybe we will get a why we can live with.

Nevertheless, the innate tension between intense personal agony and intense impersonal strategy becomes clear in the scenario for this documentary. I know when I think about the abandonment of Khe Sanh it still rankles me, jangles my spine. Makes my face turn a little red and sitting here writing this, now, I ponder who and what got abandoned on that day, July 5, 1968. And know I best not ponder why.

Speaking of being hard by, we are close to having a movie trailer (preview) and will soon run it up on the Web for everyone to see. Then it’s on to putting the film together. If you know of anyone who might like to help get this story made, please refer them to our website (http://www.bravo! where they can find more specific info about how they might assist with the making of Bravo!

Semper Fi

  1. Why Khe Sanh in the first place? Both the public explanation and the real answer may shed light on the reason it was abandoned.

    Comment by Donna — October 31, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

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