Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for March, 2011

Guest Blogs

March 30, 2011

March 30, 1968

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Former Marine and Khe Sanh veteran Tom Quigley recalls March 30, 1968.

Well here it is, 43 years later, the 30th of March. I can still remember as if it were yesterday that we, Bravo Company, saddled up at about 3:30 a.m. to go out and meet the enemy to get some revenge for taking out a lot of our brothers from 3rd Platoon on Feb. 25th.

I remember my radio strap breaking, and I told the skipper, “Oh, well, guess I’ll have to sit out.”

He didn’t share my humor, and just tied my strap to my cartridge belt. Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying.

We went out the wire in a pretty good fog that morning, After we got to our positions, the skipper gave me the word to pass on to our two lead platoons to fix bayonets. After being in Nam for over ten months, I had never been given that order, so I had to ask the skipper, “Do what? “

He repeated the order to fix bayonets, which I passed on to the platoon commanders. I started looking around, watching our grunts take out their bayonets, and I thought, oh shit, this is the real McCoy.

We first sent a fire team to check out a Y in the road, and just a little later it seemed like Charlie opened up with everything he had, then the chase was on. We went from bomb crater to NVA trench lines, where Charlie’s bodies started piling up everywhere, and not all dead, so being the good Marines that we were, we just helped them to visit their relatives in their happy hunting grounds.

I don’t remember how long we were in battle before our company command group got hit with mortars, but I do remember Lt. Norman yelling that Doc was hit, and right at that moment several mortars came right on top of us, killing Lt. Norman, who was right behind me, and wounded the rest of us.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, if it wasn’t for Capt. Pipes, and his skill and courage as Bravo Company’s commander, we could have lost our whole company. He stayed with the radios, calling in fire missions, even after being wounded himself. He knows he has my highest regards, and I am proud to call him my friend.

This goes out to all my fellow brothers on this day that we shall never forget, and the brothers we lost on that day.

Semper Fi

Tom Quigley

Tom Quigley was Captain Ken Pipes’ senior radio operator with Bravo Company during the Siege of Khe Sanh and was wounded on March 30, 1968. Tom lives in Springfield, Illinois, and still works part time in the automotive wholesale business.

Khe Sanh,Other Musings

Welcome Home–Musings On Anniversaries

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Thirty-eight years ago yesterday the United States withdrew the last combat troops from the Republic of South Vietnam on March 29, 1973. I remember the moment, hearing it on the news driving home from a long day working at a big feedyard near my home in southern Arizona. It was a bitter instant for me, sitting in the passenger seat of a Datsun pickup, the A M radio blaring out news of what I took as a personal defeat. I slumped down in the seat and hunched my shoulders and wondered why we paid so dearly to gain so little.
And forty-three years ago, today, and two days before I left Vietnam, I was involved in a battle at Khe Sanh. At the beginning of our advance, a mortar landed next to me and blew me off my feet and a chunk of shrapnel thudded into the bone below my left temple. I rose and forged on.
My platoon—Second Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines—stood up on a hill and watched our first and third platoons, with attached weapons and combat engineers, assault with fixed bayonets and decimate a North Vietnamese regular army battalion entrenched in a fortified position on a hill southeast of our positions at the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Down below where I stood, I watched our men, their helmets bobbing in the NVA trenchline as they surged forward, stabbing with their bayonets, firing their weapons, taking incoming mortar and RPG as they disappeared one by one, casualties in the fierce fighting. My hands shook and I could not stop them. My heart pounded and my mouth was dry like old bones. I remember that like it was happening right now.
And then word came for Second Platoon to charge into the breach and we did. And Marines with flame throwers scorched the insides of enemy bunkers. Satchel charges and grenades tossed into tunnels exploded with resounding thumps and the enemy position was cleared. Dead Vietnamese in the trench, dead Americans in the trench. The sallow skin tints of their passing made it hard for me to distinguish who was friend and who was enemy unless I looked at the uniforms.
I saw wounded Marines evacuating more seriously wounded Marines back to an aid station to our rear. I saw Marines lying in the mud, firing at anything that moved. I saw the company command group take a salvo of mortars, blood and bodies scattered around a big bomb crater.
I saw a Marine Corps machine gunner named Rivera lying in the mud, firing his weapon. As the platoon sergeant and I passed him (I was the second platoon sergeant’s radio operator that day) on our way up to the front edge of the battle to call in artillery cover, Rivera yelled, “Kenny,” (no one called me Kenny in the Marine Corps and I was surprised he knew the diminutive of my first name) “what the hell are you doing out here, you are too short.” And I was too short, and I remember thinking about it as we ran by, stumbling over the sallow faced bodies of dead men lying in the trench, I am too short. But by then my shaking fingers had given way to calm elation, I fairly soared along behind Sergeant Alvarado, soared and all the roar and mayhem and death around me seemed like it was sealed off from me, as if I was protected by a cocoon.
On the front edge of the battle, we marked our position with a yellow smoke grenade, and instantly, rounds from the combat base’s 105 MM howitzer batteries sluiced over us with a hearty roar and slammed into the red mud, fifty meters to our front. And then we moved back. Second Platoon fanned out over the battlefield, mowing down counter-attacking North Vietnamese, locating and toting wounded men back to the aid station. I saw a young Marine second lieutenant step out of the North Vietnamese trench and trip a booby trap that hit his bottom jaw with an eruption of white phosphorus. I saw dead Marines carried down the road to the combat base as we withdrew.
Later, I stood in our trench as the remnants of Bravo Company’s Marines and corpsmen filed past me, their faces set with looks of grim victory. Lights flaring from their tired eyes yelled, “We are satisfied.”
Yes, I remember it now, that satisfaction, that light-footed feel in the legs, the solid plump in my gut, the top of my head like a helium balloon. I was satisfied.
And now, thirty-five years and eleven months after the last Americans hightailed it out of Saigon just before the NVA arrived in town on April 30, 1975, the U S Senate has declared March 30, 2011, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
When the majority of the Vietnam Veterans got home from the war, the welcome we received was mostly from friends and family. My recollection of it was, even though I was satisfied with the war I had fought and damned glad, yes ecstatic, to be on my own home ground, the reaction of the general public was just ho hum. A lot of my comrades suffered more demeaning welcomes and by 1973, when we pulled our combat troops out of the country, I was as glum and silent about the war as I could be, even though I had been a witness, I had been a part, on that day, March 30, 1968, to what men join the Marine Corps for, battle, and I had been tested and I was satisfied. But I could not tell anyone that. They were not interested.
Only now, after all these years, do we get a welcome home. I guess I should be satisfied, like I was on March 30, but somehow it seems a little late.

Guest Blogs

March 27, 2011

Ammo Dump

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Today we learn reminiscences from former Bravo Company machine gunner Frank McCauley about an ammo dump explosion that occurred late in the siege, long after the notorious blow up of January 21, 1968.

Residing in Khe Sanh was a very sobering and challenging place to hang your helmet. It was the only place and time in my life where there was no distinct color contrast. It was a colorless world, but for the red clay and dust that attached itself to everything and anything; you could not clear the red hue that was ever-present in the air. The lack of color was actually noticeable; very strange, not unlike, I’m sure, being on a lifeless planet. I think that contributed to the eerie feeling of being in Khe Sanh.

The one thing you feared and expected to happen was a large, overpowering assault on our base. We were so far out in no- mans territory that help would have never arrived in time; we were outnumbered 7 to 1. I believe everyone felt vulnerable, isolated, and very much aware that the worst could happen at any moment. Yes, the tour bus had pulled out and you were left behind; so much for seeing the world. Not a very warm and fuzzy place to call home; it was not of this earth. Quiet moments were just pauses in the endless barrage of incoming rockets, artillery, and mortar rounds, and then of course, our artillery responding back. It would have been a nightmare, but you found yourself accepting all that insanity, because the alternative was death. Everything fell into a routine and no one expected anything less.

But then there was this one morning, like no other morning. I’m not sure of the date; sometime in April, 1968, I think, because shortly thereafter, we pulled out of Khe Sanh for good. I woke to an unbearable silence that made me feel very much afraid, abandoned, and alone. It was a very peculiar, uncomfortable and frightening way to wake. I rolled over on my side and stared towards the opening of my small sandbag quarters waiting to hear or see something that would reassure me that I was not alone. My senses strained to pick up any kind of sound that would put me at ease, allow me some relief. It was the worst form of silence. My first thoughts were that we had been overrun during the night and I, for whatever reason, had not awakened during the battle. I assumed I was the last survivor; why else would there be such a deafening silence? Obviously, the enemy had overlooked me, in my dark little hole.

I truly felt vulnerable, the only weapon I had was the M-60 machinegun that I hoped was still sitting in its place across from my quarters: in the bunker on the opposite side of the trench. What a bizarre feeling to slowly exit my hole-in-the wall bunker and find fellow Marines frantically scurrying around acting as if we were actually under attack. Yet, there was no sound, not even from their movements and haste. Finally someone stopped, grabbed me and said, “We all thought you were dead; no one had seen you all night during the attack.” Huh? What attack? I mean, yes my head felt stuffy, the sounds weren’t reaching me with any clarity or volume, it was much like you would experience if you were submerged under water. I was still baffled by what the guy had said. Why did they feel I must have been dead?

I asked him what had happened during the night and he said in amazement, and with some doubt as to my question, that an incoming rocket round had made a direct hit on our base’s ammo dump, and that during the entire night, massive explosions went off from the immense amount of artillery rounds—mortars, grenades, claymores, bars of C-4, all the ordinance used by every weapon on our base—and then, along with all that, the 55-gallon drums of fuel were sent skyrocketing up into the air like fireworks. It had been a very long, loud, and horrifying night for the Marines standing watch at their designated positions waiting for the inevitable ground assault on our base. It will never be clearly understood as to why the enemy didn’t launch that attack. More than likely, it was just a lucky hit and they weren’t prepared to follow through.

I was a bit confused; if all this had truly happened, then there was no way I would have slept through all that chaos, because my position was approximately 250 feet from the outer edges of the ammo dump. So being a bit curious and with some doubt, I pivoted and looked to my right down the trench line to where the ammo dump should have been, only to see the smoldering, rolled dirt edges of an enormous crater just 25 to 30 feet from my position. The trench ended there and the crater’s edges moved out from beyond our trenches towards our outer barbed wire perimeter fence. It all looked too surreal, this monstrous, smoldering crater within spitting distance of my machinegun bunker and residence. All the other outposts along the trench going towards the ammo dump and beyond were erased and were now just part of this amazing crater. This is why they believed me to be dead; it was assumed I had gone down to visit with one of the other posts during my watch and became just another casualty from that evening.

It was then that it became a little clearer to me. I had not slept through this event, but had been knocked unconscious from the initial blast. Bummer; that would have been a night to remember. Ah, but there would be so many more nightmarish events to occupy your mind. In one’s tour of Viet Nam, there were so many times when you barely skirted death, that you accepted the inevitable, and just hoped to go quickly. Not exactly normal thoughts of an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, but the truth just the same.

Frank McCauley was born on December 22, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was raised in San Diego, California, for most of his life. Later in life, he spent many years moving around the country: Texas, California again, Arkansas, and now back to Kerrville, Texas, where he has built his final resting place. Frank has been married to his wife, Linda, for 27 years. They have three very good sons, with two grandchildren from each of their marriages.

Guest Blogs

March 21, 2011

GHOSTIES/21Mar68

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Forty-three years ago today, Second Platoon, Bravo Company, First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marine Regiment went outside the wire at Khe Sanh. Michael E. O’Hara muses on his memories of that day.

“Flanders”, a novel by Patricia Anthony, is set in France in WWI. It tells of a Texas farm boy, Travis Lee Stanhope, who joined the British Army and fought there Mar/Dec 1916. As time passes and casualties mount, Travis Lee begins to have dreams, dreams of a beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and a girl in a calico dress who assures him she will watch over his friends, his “GHOSTIES”, buried in the glass covered graves there.

It is 21 March 1968. It has been nearly a month since Bravo lost the third platoon and has been confined to the trenches. The mud, the rats, the constant incoming artillery, sixty days without respite. Bravo just lost another five Marines on the 6th of March as we watched a C-123 get shot down, which was also carrying fifty-two other personnel. We are becoming very anxious and are about to tangle with Charlie once again.

The second platoon, Bravo, leaves the wire pre-dawn. We position ourselves in front of FOB 3 where the Army controls the wire. We sit down in an “L” formation and wait for first light. We begin to rise at about 8 a.m. and it starts immediately. Red tracers from our rear (USA) and green to our right (NVA), then the mortars and RPG’s. My squad leader, Quiles Jacobs (Jake), is right in front of me and his flak jacket explodes in my face. It causes him to stagger a bit but he does not go down. He has been hit by a .50 cal bullet (USA). To my immediate rear are Doug Furlong and Dan Horton. They go down, hit by an 82mm mortar barrage, along with others. We are getting caught in a crossfire from the USA and the NVA. Someone failed to get the word we are in front of U S Army lines. Fortunately the friendly fire is soon checked and our heavy artillery quickly silences the mortars and small arms fire coming from the enemy tree line. I find myself, literally, holding both Horton and Furlong as we apply first aid and wait for the stretcher bearers. Many years will pass before I ever hear their voices again.

Amazingly, we are ordered to continue the patrol even though nearly twenty have been wounded and I think four have been evac’d. After a while I notice much blood running over Jake’s trousers from under his jacket. When I ask if he is alright, he just tells me to take over the point so we can finish our mission and get back. When we do, they put over 120 stitches in his back without any anesthesia and he still refuses to be med-evac’d.

We have gathered much on this patrol. We found siege work trenches, way too close to our lines, meant for a jumping-off point for a full frontal assault on our positions. We were able to locate many probable mortar and machine gun positions. The enemy trenches were scattered with dead NVA and beaucoup booby traps. Little do we know it will only be nine days until we all re-visit the ambush site for our final revenge. Jake, still wearing his bandages, will lead our squad headlong into hell once again. Flamethrowers, fixed bayonets, overhead heavy artillery, close air support (I do mean close) and napalm will rule that day.

Tonight, all of Bravo will rest easy and dream of the beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and the girl in the calico dress who is watching over our “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves. Soon though, she will beckon thirteen more from Bravo to join her.

Present Day

Although Charlie did his best to lessen our numbers it would be a silent killer that would continue to cause casualties. Jake was the first on 19 April ’95 when the country’s eyes were on Oklahoma City. 1998, Bill Jayne and I would bury Don Quinn at Arlington. 2001 it was Doc Tom Hoody, then sometime along the way we lost Steve Foster. Many more would follow.

Dan Horton and I hooked up again in ’93 and had some really good times together. I was contacted around 2002 by Doug Furlong. He lived in Australia. I never saw him again but was able to enjoy our occasional conversation. Then in the fall of 2010 it was becoming obvious both these guys were in some serious danger. These were the two I held in my arms on 21 March 1968 and here they were both casualties again. Doug would leave for the garden on Halloween night and Danny, in all his glory, went there on 10 November, the Marine Corps birthday. I was absolutely STUNNED that it was these two who were wounded together, suffered together, and would die together some 42 years later. CANCER! All of them.

I attended Danny’s service in Detroit. He was laid out in his dress blues, rosary in his hand, and I found I just had no tears. I was so damn proud of him. He was Marine to the bone. Oorah!

God knows I miss them all so. I still set time aside each day just for “my” Marines.

As for me, I will continue to dream of the beautiful garden, and enjoy the sweet smell of lavender, as the girl in the calico dress watches over my “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves, until such time as she beckons me also.

Sweet dreams, Marines!

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 grand kids and have two great grand children.

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.

Documentary Film

March 16, 2011

First Cut

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Monday and Tuesday of this week Betty and I spent a lot of time with our film editor, John Nutt. We viewed over five hours of interviews and messed around with particular cuts of music for the various sections; the beginning, the ambushes and battles, the incoming, the aftermath, the end of the movie.
We (meaning Betty, Mark Spear, Brian Crowdson, and Jesse Hassler) originally videod over twenty hours of interviews which I transcribed (a real chore for a poor typist such as I). Then I extracted five-plus hours of interview segments that seem relevant to the vector of this movie. We gave it all to John and now it’s in his software and Vavoom, away we go.
Betty and he and I talked about movies and music and the theory of story, the theory of film and films that employed various techniques we had seen and like and thought might fit into Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.
John is a Vietnam veteran and has some “ghosts,” as he calls them, that the film is bringing to the fore. When he talks to me about this movie his blue eyes are like vivid azure fire agates that burn holes in my skin when he looks at me. He’s articulate and intellectual, emotional, and funny. And he is excited, as are Betty and I. John says we have a movie.
Next step is to cut the film down to less than two and one-half hours and work on some of the non-visual aspects of the film.
Time to get to work.

Documentary Film

March 7, 2011

Onward

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This morning a stout gale ruckused off the Pacific Ocean and chased Betty and me all the way from Santa Rosa to Albany. The yellow blossoms of the acacia trees scattered across the freeway and the wind rustled up whitecaps that cornered the late winter light that shone through the scattered clouds.
In Albany, we handed over the material for the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, to our editor John Nutt. With great anticipation, we had imagined this meeting beforehand, and were not disappointed. The three of us discussed making movies, conflict, the Vietnam War (John is a Vietnam veteran who served with the United States Army), art and what movies like Bravo! have to offer.
As we have mentioned before, John has forty years of experience as a sound and film editor and has contributed his talents to some big films, among them the 1984 movie, Amadeus.
We’ve gathered a passel of information and interviews, film and photos, and now that it’s in John’s hands, we’re ready for him to create art from the chaos that exists on our hard drives.
We are excited about this big step, to say the least. Onward.

Khe Sanh

March 6, 2011

Bookie 762

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On March 6, 1968 a planeload of Marines on a C-123 with a call sign of “Bookie 762” flew in from the real world in Danang and upon arrival at Khe Sanh combat base was damaged by incoming North Vietnamese Army .50 caliber machine gun and 57 millimeter recoilless rifle fire. She lost three of her engines, and the pilot veered off to return to Danang. From our vantage point, she got lost in the fog. Later, we learned she crashed. No survivors. There were 5 Marines from Bravo Company on that plane:
Herbert Aldridge
Willis Beauford
Joseph Brignac
Winford McCosar
Ron Ryan
At the time, when the word came down the trench, the faces of the survivors in Second Platoon wore expressions of fear, shock and surprise.
I knew Corporal Ron Ryan fairly well, as well as that curious battlefield intimacy we enjoyed at Khe Sanh allowed. He was a machine gunner who’d been with Bravo Company, I think, since early October, 1967.
At the time, it all reeled by in my mind like movie cartoons. My breath shrunk in my chest, grew shallow. Red mustache, dirty dungarees, big smile, Ryan kicking asses when catching Marines asleep on watch. Our shared miseries like no water for showers, not enough chow, constantly cleaning rusty rifles, incoming attacks, more incoming attacks, how we surfaced after they let up and laughed and laughed and laughed. We would see him no more. My head spun.
Lance Corporal “J” looked at me with his huge .50 caliber eyes and shook his big, helmeted head. He glanced down at the red mud in the trench bottom and kicked at it with a scuffed jungle boot. He peered at me and said, “Lord, don’t you know it’s a terrible, terrible thing.”
He shook his head again, “Terrible…life is terrible.” Then he let the slightest grin come across one-half of his mouth as he whispered, “But better him than me.”
We both laughed, surreptitiously, of course. There was a lot of gloom from the other Marines standing there, pondering life and its aftermath.
He said it a little louder, “Better him than me.”