Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for September, 2011

Film Screenings

September 21, 2011

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Waiting to Exhale is a film directed by Academy Award Winner Forest Whitaker based on a novel by Terry McMillan and I want to get that attribution out of the way at the beginning of this blog post. The title of the film has always, for me, articulated an emotional moment loaded with all kinds of pop, sizzle, suspense.

That’s how Betty and I feel now. We are waiting to exhale. We went to Skywalker Ranch last night and screened Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. The film showing was intimate. We knew some of the attendees well and some were first time acquaintances. Most of them were film people who work in some regard for Lucas or who use the facility to edit and mix movies for their clients or themselves. There were a few outside producers who came just to see the film and there were also some movie aficionados. Some of these aficionados we know well.

The sound in the theater was so perfect that at times I felt as if I was back in Khe Sanh, face down in the red mud of a trench, waiting for death to show his big, bony grin.  I have watched Bravo !I don’t know how many times and this time it was as visceral for me as it could get. When the final credits stopped rolling, I felt as if I’d been pounded on. The men in the movie loomed huge on the screen and their message came at me like lines of Marines assaulting a hill.

When Betty and I began this adventure, I had an idea in my mind what I wanted the film to look like when it was done. It is much better than what I imagined. I admit my prejudice, but I believe the film to be important, profound, disturbing, and necessary. It needs to be seen. It must be seen. It’s that good, folks.

One of the new acquaintances for us last night was a gentleman who is an actor, producer, film writer who is excited about assisting this film get viewed. He’s taken us under his wing and now joins a growing cadre of film folk who are advising us on how to move forward. We are grateful for this bounty of expertise.

After the showing we stood around for quite a long time and visited with him and other film people about techniques and quality, but mostly about the message of Bravo!

Right now we await word from Sundance. We await what will come in the world of distribution. We are waiting to exhale.

Film Screenings

September 18, 2011

September 18, 2011

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In about six hours we will be screening Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor for about one-hundred friends and supporters in Santa Rosa, California.

Before the showing, Betty and I will be sharing the stage with the film’s fundraiser extraordinaire, Carol Caldwell-Ewart. Carol has arranged for us to screen the film at the 6th Street Theater.
 
Our editor, John Nutt, and Ray Doyle, whose recording of “Mick Ryan’s Lament” is excerpted in the film, will both be on hand for the screening as will Steve Wiese, an interviewee of some importance in the movie.

The weather here is gorgeous, Indian summer, and it should be a beautiful day to watch this powerful film.

I am nervous. I shouldn’t be, but I am.

Khe Sanh

September 8, 2011

If Memory Fails Me

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One of the things that has been resolved in the course of creating the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, is the questioning of my memory. When it comes to the Siege of Khe Sanh, I have questioned if I really saw this or that over the years. Maybe what I thought I saw on a particular occasion was something that someone else told me about and over a period of decades became my memory, my experience.

But over the last eighteen months, a number of things I thought I saw, and then discounted as the memories began to fade, have been rekindled as my special truths.

For instance: February 13, 1968.

The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had a 57 MM recoilless rifle emplacement out in front of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam—South Vietnamese Army) lines and harassed us (both the ARVNs and the Marines), sending their shells into our lines, scaring the hell out of us. Some men were hit, maybe some killed, and on February 13 the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion sent out a six man patrol to silence that gun. Second Platoon—my platoon—of Bravo Company sent out a squad to back up that ARVN patrol.

By then I was a short-timer in Vietnam and the siege was really beginning to heat up. So as we wended our way outside the wire and down into the valley below the ARVN lines, I felt the cold fingers of fear squeezing my spine. I had a fire team to command and I had to keep my guard up so that I didn’t appear frightened. I tossed my usual bravado (which at that moment was pretty counterfeit) around like hand grenades.

We sat up in a bamboo thicket on a line perpendicular to a well used game trail that wore a lot of sign of human traffic too. The bamboo was so thick you couldn’t see two feet in any direction except back towards the trail. We all set in and began to look to our front, our sides, and our rear. I remember sweat on my upper lip as I licked my chapped lips.

The thicket was too quiet. Like nothing in the world was alive. Even though planes were taking off and landing not three hundred meters to our rear and artillery rounds and rockets were flying overhead into the NVA positions to our front and from the NVA into our trenches in the combat base. I remember my mouth was dry and I quickly drank a canteen of water. I wanted to smoke a Camel but feared the smell would draw someone to kill me. I looked for bamboo vipers and leeches. I looked for the enemy. I listened for him.

Suddenly gunfire erupted to my front. Men were yelling in Vietnamese and there was screaming like someone was in pain. At least one someone, maybe more. Unbeknownst to me, the ARVNs had ambushed the 57 MM recoilless rifle crew and killed most of the North Vietnamese, capturing the gun. In the course of the fight, the ARVN lieutenant in command of the patrol had been wounded and found himself isolated from his men. As they took casualties trying to rescue him, he killed himself so they wouldn’t have to endanger any more men. I didn’t know any of this then, I could only hear the racket and the gunfire and the screaming and soon I could hear someone coming back up the trail. With my M-16 ready, the safety clicked off, I watched as the ARVN patrol hurried by with the captured 57 MM weapon and some wounded men. They waved their arms as they moved by, jumping around and rapidly jabbering in Vietnamese.

Right after they passed through our position, we formed up and followed them into Khe Sanh Combat Base. I was the last man into the file, so I pulled tail-end Charlie all the way back waiting for the enemy to sneak up and shoot us.

Later that night, a runner came down from the platoon commander and ordered me to bring one of my fire team members with me up to the command bunker. The mist hung down like a mother’s breath on a child just found dead in the crib. Flares fired from 105 MM howitzers lit the night and clanked and squeaked on their parachutes as they floated towards the ground. You could hear them hiss as they burned, and their smoke trails snaked away in the nighttime breeze.

At the command bunker, two ARVN stood out in the trench with a shrouded body on a stretcher. The lieutenant told me to take them up to Graves Registration. At the time, I was under the impression that the corpse on that stretcher was an NVA officer, but now I believe it was that ARVN lieutenant who killed himself. Nevertheless, it was my duty, along with Furlong, or Foster, or O’Hara, or Horton (I do not remember who) to escort the Vietnamese soldiers and the corpse through our lines and into the middle of the base so that no one shot the ARVN troopers, thinking they were the enemy.

No lights. Thick fog. We stumbled around and responded to halts, who-goes-there from a number of positions—artillery units, cooks, motor pool outfits, and who knows who else—before we located Graves Registration. I walked in; the ARVNS close behind with their dead officer. As I talked to the NCO in charge, I heard the thump of feet running down a hall somewhere in the rear of the bunker. Suddenly a Marine burst out, looking back over his shoulder with his hands up like Green Bay Packer wide receiver, Boyd Dowler. A foot floated out from the corridor that the Marine had just vacated and dropped into his outstretched hands. As he caught the foot, he yelled, “Touchdown.”

It was ugly, macabre, sick, demented and pretty damned funny, or so I thought at the time, because I burst out laughing. Something we do to retain our humanity in moments of extreme horror, we laugh, joke, grin. Even to this day, I still smirk—I could say smile, but that is too beautiful a word for this occasion—when I think about that foot, which is quite often.
 
The ARVN Rangers we escorted to Graves Registration dropped the stretcher and vacated the premises. We laughed harder at that than at the foot flying into the hands of the pranking Marine mortician. Outside, I found them huddled in a niche of the trench, squatting like Vietnamese were prone to do. Like wild animals trapped in a cage, their eyes darted left and right as I approached. What little light could be captured from the night gleamed in the whites. We escorted the ARVNs back to Second Platoon’s command bunker, or we must have, because I retain absolutely no memory of what happened after seeing that night-gleam in their eyes.

On another note, we have been showing an almost finished version of the film to private invitation only screenings. The response has been…well…extremely gratifying.

You can see more about what is happening with Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, at our Indiegogo cloudfunding site at www.indiegogo.com/Bravo-Common-Men-Uncommon-Valor. You can also find us on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/bravotheproject.