Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for January, 2011

Guest Blogs

January 21, 2011

Lead In Their Pack

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Today is the 43rd anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh and we will note the date with a guest blog by Michael E. O’Hara who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, at the siege.

January 2011, 43 yrs Later

I first heard that term, Lead in Their Pack, nearly twenty years ago in an article written for the Khe Sanh Veterans Newsletter by Col. John Kaheny USMC (RET). It is a metaphor for the emotional baggage, pieces of broken hearts that Warriors carry with them always. It’s a heavy burden.

Why is Bravo (Company) so different you might ask? For beginners let’s look at the stats you will never see. Bravo represented about 2.5 per cent of the total population at the Khe Sanh Combat Base. All told about sixteen rifle companies. Bravo took roughly 27 per cent of the total KIA’s. Nearly half the company was lost and virtually everyone else was WIA, some more than once. While other companies most certainly had their hands full going toe to toe with Charlie, it was usually when Charlie brought the fight to them. Bravo met the enemy on three occasions during the Siege. Each time we took the fight to Charlie and it was up close and personal. We got in Charlie’s trench. The first time, February 25th, was a disaster. Twenty-seven Marines were lost and we were forced to withdraw. It was the beginning of an American tragedy.

The third platoon had been lost some 800 meters to our front. That is within the range of a good set of eyeglasses. We were ready to saddle up at first light the next day and continue the fight. We were told to stand down. The tactical thing to do was to run airstrikes over the ambush site. What? There were still many Marine bodies which needed to be recovered. We were denied. It would be nearly a month before we were allowed by the Brass (Washington) to reconnoiter the area for a possible raid on the site. We again took the fight to Charlie in his trench but on this occasion he chose to retreat. We suffered around 20 casualties but no KIA’s.

Finally on the 30th day of March we would be given the opportunity to avenge our fallen. Make no mistake, we slaughtered Charlie wholesale that day but we lost another twelve good Marines and many more had been maimed. The remains of the fallen were recovered days later (imagine) and interned in a mass burial in St. Louis. In 1973 we found out one had been taken POW and had been imprisoned over five years in Hanoi. He survived the war.

For Marines, to leave your Brothers on the field of battle like that is a cardinal sin. Even though as Marines we follow orders we still carry those awful feelings with us today. It is an eternal pain. We call it “Lead in your Pack”. What tempers the pain in my heart is the memory of their faces, so young and hardy, and yet so willing to die for “each other.” I have stated many times and it is worth repeating, “It was my distinct privilege and high Honor to have known, and to have walked such Hallowed ground alongside such Brave and Courageous young Marines.

Now being in the “Autumn” of my years I know my tears will soon cease and my heart will rest as I get closer to the wire where I will enter the Main Gate after my final patrol.

Godspeed and Semper Fidelis to Marines everywhere.

Michael E. O’Hara grew up and continues to live in Brown County in Southern Indiana.
Michael graduated in May 1966 and by April 1967 had voluntarily enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

Michael “went for four” and served one tour overseas during the Vietnam War with the 26th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Bravo Company during the “Siege ” of Khe Sanh.

Upon returning to the States, Michael became a Primary Weapons Instructor for the Marine Corps 2nd Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton, CA. Michael was Honorably Discharged on the early release program a year early.

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 37 years having raised five children, nine grandkids and have two great grandchildren.

Michael is a retired custom home builder and has spent much of his life dedicated to Veterans affairs and in particular to those with whom he served. He is a life member of the Khe Sanh Veterans Organization.

Michael now spends most of his free time with two of his four smallest granddaughters flying R/C airplanes.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

January 14, 2011

Johnny Walker Black

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Sometime around the 14th of January, 1968, I returned from R & R in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Before departing that wet and peaceful place, I had enough money left over to buy a quart of Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch whiskey and a quart of Smirnoff vodka. Somehow I got them through all the military rules, paperwork and harassment and into a bunker on the line at the east end of Khe Sanh.
That night I invited Sgt D, who was leaving for home the next morning, and Sgt. P, who was leaving for home the next morning, and Corporal T, and PFCs H and M to share my spirits. We sat around talking about my trip to Kuala Lumpur and as the bottles were drained, Sgts. D and P talked about how they liked me but didn’t like me. Sgt. D said I was his conscience and he didn’t like me looking into the middle of him and Sgt. P, who was Native American, said I was okay for a blued-eyed _ _ _ _ but I was always pissing him off.
We finished off the bottles and stupidly drunk, all passed out. Later that night, we were awakened for a 100 percent full alert—a red alert, attack imminent by the North Vietnamese Army. My throat dry, my mouth tasting like oily gun metal, I stumbled out into the trench and manned my fighting hole. For once, the fog and mist were light and the full moon shone down. I could see individual sandbags, and PFCs H and M in their holes, leaning against the trench walls with their eyes closed. Corporal T came down and stood with me in my hole. He wanted to know more about Kuala Lumpur. I could see the moonlight on his big white teeth, on his big brown mustache. Every once in a while, a flare would go up and light the landscape out front even more than the moon did. Concertina, the gate through the wire, and beyond, the scarred red land. When the flares burned out, they fell to earth hanging from their tiny parachutes. You could hear the parachute mechanisms squeak as the burned-out flares swung in the moonlit sky.
I got tired of talking about Malaysia and Corporal T and I nodded off on our feet as we waited for the imminent attack we really didn’t believe was going to come. Sometime later, in the midst of my dreams about the women of Kuala Lumpur, I awoke to commotion down the trench and recognized Lt. M, the company XO, as he scuffled the red mud checking the troops’ readiness for an enemy assault.
As he approached, Corporal T awoke and whispered to me, “Who’s that?”
“Lieutenant M,”I said.
Corporal T licked his big brown mustache and nodded. He pulled out his M1911A1 .45-caliber pistol and checked to see if a round was in the chamber.
“What do you need that for?
The 105 millimeter battery behind us fired a flare into the night. It burst like a supernova and then threw wavering light on the green sandbags in the trench. A big rat scuttled across the top of the redoubt.
Corporal T smiled and his teeth caught the glint of flare light.
When Lt. M got close, Corporal T hissed, “Who’s there?”
Lt. M said, “Lieutenant M,” as he approached. You could feel the thump of his bootfall in the trench bottom as he neared.
Corporal T hissed, “What’s the password?”
Lt. M didn’t say anything. He had a bad-ass look on his face and came at us fast.

The password? I don’t remember now, but it might have been Steeler, Meatloaf, Good Grief, Winston-Salem or any other number of things that would be known only by our side.
“What’s the password?”
No reply. The squeak of the burned-out flare’s metal parts shrieked into the night.
“Halt. Halt or I’ll shoot.”
I said, “Wait a minute, shoot?”
No reply from Lt. M.
Corporal T stepped out into the trench and lifted his shooting arm and aimed right at Lt. M’s face. I said, “You know who it is, you can see him.”
“If you don’t halt I’m going to blow your _ _ _ _ _ _ _ head off.”
Lt. M stopped. The business end of that M1911A1 .45-caliber pistol was pressed against his bottom lip.
“I said,” Corporal T barked, “what is the password?”
Lt. M looked at me and said, “Hello there, R.” I nodded.
He looked at Corporal T and growled, “Steeler” or “Meatloaf” or….then he spit, “I’m putting you up on charges.”
Corporal T laughed, “For what, doing my duty?”
I stepped away and looked back at the way the moon lit up the ground out to our front—a dark muddy color. My heart pounded like the pistons on a fast moving six-by. Inside my head, my brain spun.
The next day, scuttlebutt had it that I was going up on charges. Nobody said for what, but I knew how I’d sinned. Bringing liquor to the troops, too much liquor.
But I didn’t get charged and the rumor died. And we stood lots of 100% and red alerts for the next week. Every night, but right then the enemy failed to show his face down on our end of the perimeter. We started taking turns sleeping while on watch and when the officers or non-commissioneds showed up, we would be awakened. One night we played poker till the sun came up. I don’t recall if I won or lost.
Sgts. D and P left for home the morning after the dust-up with Lt. M who rotated away from the company to the general hoorah of the men. Corporal T went on R & R to Kuala Lumpur and when he got back he complained to me that I hadn’t told him enough about the place. PFCs H and M stayed with me in the trenches until the enemy finally showed up and when he did, man-oh-man, it was quite a light show. I don’t remember flares or full moons, third-quarter moons, or new moons. I remember seventy-two days of imminent death and maiming. We didn’t lose that battle. As for me, I’m not sure whether I won or lost.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

January 4, 2011

The Year in Review

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As do many things in my life, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, started out as a conversation, a dream, a boast, and as long as it remained as such, nothing about it really mattered much. My wife and I could sit around with coffee, lattes, mochas, maybe a plate of tamales and enchiladas and palaver about what a movie might look like, or how one would structure it, or how one would even go about contemplating making a movie about Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines at the siege of Khe Sanh when you have no filmmaking experience.
After a phone call to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, Betty dashed off a letter telling them what we would do (as if we really knew what we would do) and what a shock it was to have them grant us funds to begin making the film. Not only did they give us seed money, they offered help with historical aspects of the film. And with our heads spinning around and around, our minds dreaming of how and when and where, we were suddenly movie makers. And we knew we had some quick learning to do.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, in early April 1968 when, for the final time, I got off a chopper that had departed Khe Sanh, I stood and looked back into the mountains and swore that there was a story there that needed telling and that I would tell that story. And in April 2010, forty-two years later, we began with interviews of me, then in July off to the Khe Sanh Veterans annual get-together in San Antonio where we interviewed, John “Doc” Cicala, Mike McCauley, Lloyd Scudder, Ron Rees, Frank McCauley, Michael O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese. Betty and I hit the road in early August and traveled back to Washington, DC, and on the way there and back interviewed the late Dan Horton, Cal Bright, Tom Quigley, Ben Long and Ken Korkow. We also did three weeks’ research in the Marine Corps University (what an anomaly to me, a Marine Corps University—I’m more attuned to Quonset huts and bayonets, loud staff sergeants and getting online—and not on the internet—and assaulting a hill) at Quantico and at the National Archives.
We returned to Boise and catalogued photos, film, sound and watched interviews, interviews, interviews as we made trailers and stuck them up on YouTube and Vimeo and assessed our funding needs. Reality set in. We started computing funds needed versus funds on hand and we knew we needed to raise more money. So, we began serious fund raising efforts which, despite my natural pessimism, are beginning to flow in. A special thanks here to Mary McColl (our chief money finder) and Carol Caldwell-Ewart (who built our crowdfunding website at IndieGoGo) and Michael and Linda Hosford who are doing the grunt work in beating the bushes for individual funders. A big shout out, too, to all the former marines and corpsmen who have also helped us raise money, and to all the movie-making people in Hollywood and Boise and Springfield, IL and Omaha, NE who have helped us leap forward with our movie making. And of course, a big hearty thanks to all the other helpers and contributors out there who love our vision and want to help.
And now, as the year 2010 has ended, we contemplate the editing process and the actual making of the movie in some coherent, historical and artistic form that will educate and (I don’t want to say entertain) move, emote, people on a visceral level. We have one final interview with the military historian Dr. David Walker at Boise State University. After getting his cuts into the film, we want to move on to film festivals and openings and showings and distributing DVDs so the story I contemplated telling back there in 1968 will get told, fairly, accurately, and most importantly to me, told emotionally. The story these interviews, these photos, these film clips tell is history, but it is about people who overcome and persevere, who live and stand tall in the face of unimagined adversity; and I want viewers to understand those traits beneath their own skins, not only in their brains, but in the way the hair stands up on the back of their necks, how they shiver and how they fight to keep tears from falling as they watch the movie.
So into 2011 and onward and upward. We still have until 1/9/2011 on our crowdfunding website, Indiegogo, to collect more money, which we will need to help pay for editing this film.
Thank you all, dear supporters of Bravo, for staying interested, for helping us, for keeping your fingers crossed for us. Don’t stop now.