Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for January, 2012

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

January 31, 2012


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Screen writer and script doctor Lance Thompson muses on the movie.

It is ironic but true that the inhuman ordeal of combat often evokes the highest attributes of humanity–courage, sacrifice, selflessness and love.  These ideals are convincingly demonstrated in Ken and Betty Rodgers’ feature documentary Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon ValorBravo! is the story of a company of marines during the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War.  The story is told through the reminiscences of a handful of those marines, of whom Ken Rodgers is one.

Eschewing the animated maps, clumsy recreations and armchair revisionists, Bravo! focuses entirely on the personal experience of combat.  Viewers may not learn the historical, strategic, or political significance of the battle.  But they will certainly gain at least a glimpse if not a profound understanding of what it felt like to be there.

Archival footage, still photographs, and vintage audio recordings are sprinkled throughout the movie, but only as punctuation.  The power of the narrative comes entirely from the veterans who tell their stories on camera.  Some are animated and expressive, others quiet and contemplative.  As each recounts the experience from his own perspective, the film becomes a tapestry of individual threads of memory–intensely personal and vividly sharp.  The picture that emerges will horrify, inspire, challenge, and leave the viewer deeply moved.

The stories in Bravo! are told by older men, but they were lived by teenagers, fresh out of high school, with no experience to prepare them for war.  They were not unlike generations of young Americans who were summoned from family kitchen tables and dropped into front line trenches to confront a brutal and determined enemy.  Like those generations before and since, they were thrown into the crucible of conflict where their hearts and souls were tested.  Like those generations before and since, some faltered, some triumphed, all endured.  There can be no greater tribute to the depth and resilience of the human spirit.  Bravo! honors them.


Lance Thompson is a screen writer and script doctor who is privileged to know Ken and Betty Rodgers, and is thankful that they chose to tell this very important story.

Guest Blogs,Other Musings

January 26, 2012

Humanity in the Shadow of Inhumanity

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In keeping with this week’s musings on more current occurrences of conflict and war, guest blogger James Goertel talks about his experiences around 9/11/2001.

My memories about September 11, 2001 are not political. They seek to dispense no judgment one way or another upon a moment when two worlds collided. Nor does 20-20 hindsight offer more than what it was for me when “it” happened. The date itself is a convenient box in which I have collected the events of what was only a week in my life, but what is, in fact, a lifetime still unfolding for those directly and indirectly involved. My story is one of millions and is significant in some respect only because it is mine and maybe in some small way belongs to all of us, to any of us who have glimpsed humanity in the shadow of inhumanity.

On September, 11, 2001, I awoke in Dallas, Texas and prepared to begin a week covering a pharmaceutical conference for an agency out of New York City. At the time, I was a freelance sound mixer for film and video, both corporate and commercial. I stepped out onto the street from my hotel to the sound of blaring sirens. Having worked extensively in New York City, and being from Philadelphia, I thought nothing of the wailing, winding cacophony. I needed coffee.

James Goertel, author of “Carry Each His Burden”

I entered a greasy spoon after walking a few blocks. I have always favored local flavor over chain restaurant offerings available anywhere and everywhere. This ‘spoon’ had that down and dirty visual vibe – the kind that finds suits, hard hats, cons and cops all sharing counter space. My first clue this was no ordinary Tuesday came as soon as I entered. The hot grease wafting through the air was business as usual for a joint like this, but the entire lack of any conversation, the kind that forms a reassuring low level din which makes the new guy or gal entering feel right at home, was not only absent, but had been replaced by an aural vacuum that held hovering in its silent force only the sound of a CNN commentator babbling in fits and starts from the TV bolted into a corner of the coffee shop. All eyes, of every man, woman, child, and worker in this space, were glued to the flickering image of what I easily recognized to be the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex despite the inexplicable thick black smoke pouring from the structure. I had been on the 85th floor of that tower just a week before on a video shoot.

The hours that followed there in Dallas, hours which held further inexplicable and tragic events, were a blur. The initial fog of disbelief never really left me, but eventually gave at least some ground to a sobering and inevitable reality: nearly twenty-six hours of non-stop driving, first up through the heartland of the Midwest and then on across to Philadelphia and home. The airports in Dallas had been shut down almost immediately after the North Tower was struck and there had been an understandable imperative to head back East at all costs. The cameraman I so often worked with, and whom I was with in Dallas on 9/11, had a family member working in the North Tower, his twenty-three year old nephew, who it turned out was in the tower at the time of the impact and who became one of the nearly 3000 lives that fate would ultimately claim. Driving halfway across the country on 9/11 and on into September 12th had the eerie and unsettling feeling of a Hollywood-produced, post-apocalyptic movie, a feeling that has never totally left me.

A few days after returning home, I received a call from NBC Dateline asking me to be a part of a pool of crews to cover the events at Ground Zero and elsewhere. I said I would just as I had for many other similar calls from 30 Rockefeller Center to cover so many other events in previous years. This though, was not just another event, so I left for New York City with a sense of trepidation and, yes, with a sense of fear.

That atmosphere in New York City just days after the towers fell was both surreal and all too real. I cannot recall the exact number of times I passed through check points where my vehicle and the equipment I was carrying were given a thorough once-over by NYPD officers, but the trip to 30 Rockefeller Center that normally took me two and half hours took nearly six. The crew I was assigned to was dispatched almost immediately upon arrival and we made our way to Ground Zero – where surreal took on an entirely new meaning. The conversations I have had with those who were there in the days after the towers fell all contain this phrase in describing the scene, “… like something out of a movie.” The devastation up close could not be described. Even now, a decade later, I am at a loss for words. I can only relate with any literate accuracy my actions at Ground Zero.

Our crew it turned out was going to follow a retired fireman, Bob Beckwith, who had come out of retirement to join the search in general and specifically the search for a friend’s son, who was a New York City firefighter. The friend’s son had been among the first to respond after the North Tower was hit and was among the multitude of missing. Our producer brought me to Bob, introduced me and informed him that I would be putting a wireless microphone on him before we followed him into the rubble as he searched with so many others for the missing. I felt as small as I have ever felt, smaller than the little boy of my own childhood memories. The devastation and the reality of where I was swallowed me whole, along with the surreal nature of it all, in one anaerobic gulp. I suddenly felt as though I could not breathe. I had mic’d up thousands of people over the years, so my hands knew what to do, but as I raised them to begin the process with Mr. Beckwith they began to shake uncontrollably. My emotions, visually stricken and overwhelmed, had manifested themselves in a physical way I had never known could happen. I could not function and my eyes began to well with tears. It was then he took my hands in his, willing with the pressure of his touch my crying eyes to lift to meet his own – calm and assured, but utterly simpatico all at once. Then, knowing he had my full attention, he uttered the most sympathetic words I have ever heard in my entire life, “It’s going to be okay.”

That moment between two men, between two human beings, is the closest I have come to understanding what it means to be alive. Plato and Aristotle, with their bottomless well of philosophical insight into the human condition, have not even come close to imparting as much to me as Bob Beckwith did in that singularly lucid moment amidst a near hallucinogenic, often fragmentary block of time in those days following 9/11.

I would go on to cover stories at the two other 9/11 sites, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, and do innumerable interviews with survivors and family members of the deceased from these tragedies. These experiences were also rife with words full of humanity in their own right, but none more than those of a retired firefighter when we stood face to face at the gray edges of the long, historical, and continuous shadow of man’s own inhumanity.

Born in North Dakota, James Goertel spent twenty years working in television for ABC, NBC, and ESPN, among others. He currently teaches writing at Penn State Erie. His writing has appeared in Ascent Aspirations, LucidPlay, Manifold, and TNBBC. Carry Each His Burden is his debut fiction collection and was published in September of 2011.

Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Other Musings,Vietnam War

January 24, 2012

A Mother Muses on the News

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Guest blogger Connie Gibbons, whose husband Greg was with the 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment at the Siege of Khe Sanh, muses on issues more contemporary; the recent news reports of United States Marines desecrating the dead bodies of their enemy.

To the mother of one of the young U S Marines widely circulated in the news to have reportedly desecrated human remains in a war zone, this news would have been received as shocking, though not for the reasons that many have publicly screamed. And, too, this could not have been the worst news she might receive. Not as life altering as, say, to have one of the perfectly uniformed and decorated Marines, in those formidable shiny military vehicles, pull up in front of her house to deliver the dreaded words she never wanted to hear, especially after all the silent, nightly bargaining with her god to return her son from harm’s way. No, this news punches proud USMC parents squarely in the face instead, leaving them publicly bloodied.

Every single day, from the time he first stood with uncertain wonder and fear on those historic yellow footprints after being ordered off the recruit bus, to that fateful day we all just saw on the news, he has been guided, drilled, taught, regimented, practiced, grilled, polished and united with Marine Corps pride.  He will tell his family he bleeds Marine Corps blood, too!  Pride in his fellow Marine, his Corps, his Country and his God…and if he came through all of that, it was not because he remained unscathed for having had the experience.  For all of his 18 or 19 years, he was now a man; now stronger, taller, quietly confident, well trained and loyal. He was polite, too, which pleased his mother who, not long before this ceremonious graduation day, had wondered what happened to those manners she so painstakingly tried to teach him.  Now man enough to be sent off to war, to kill or be killed, to stand and fight as one, to feel his body shaking with fear on the eve of that first battle; trembling with nausea and shocked at the first devastating loss he witnessed, and then again and again, and to proudly wear the uniform of a United States Marine.

Not just any woman can proudly say she is the mother of a United States Marine.  She raised her tousle-haired, rambunctious little boy to be the man he became under the apt tutelage of the United States Marine Corps; no prouder brotherhood have they, it can be said.  This mom—and many more—likely had said her heartfelt goodbye not too long before the news broke, maybe more than once or twice. Cautioned ever-so-gently not to cry, but with tears welling up in her eyes like spring ponds about to overflow, reminding herself that she wanted to see clearly, in case this would be the last time they saw each other.

You see, this unconditional love and golden pride of a mother for her son, the United States Marine, is legendary and consists of a grip so firm as to be able to separate angry grown brothers when they heatedly argue, yet soft enough to wipe away the tears of surprise from a small tousle-haired boy when he takes his first fall.  The love in the hands of this mother is as historic as war itself, and it was that very same historic grasp which, when her husband was presented the American flag at their son’s funeral from another war, another time, gently – so gently, reached out to tenderly touch it as if her son was wrapped inside this fragile, final gift.

This is the same mother who, when she would learn the reporter on the newscast was talking about her son, knew beyond any doubt or question that the eventual tears of remorse he would privately shed would be for her, for all those things she taught him, for the disappointment he knew she would have but would never reveal, and for the unconditional love and unwavering pride she continued to hold for him, the United States Marine
Trouble is…for those who do come home – from among the scant 1% of our citizens who are serving our country…the implications of being in combat carry a toll few can comprehend with comfort or certainty.  Any member of the military would be first in a long, long line to acknowledge that things can, and do, occur on the battlefield that would not have happened but for the extremes and contrasts from constant and unpredictable combat experience.  All would quietly know of this; few would speak loudly of it.

Talking about this is good because then it will be placed in the annals of our history for the longest lasting war and mothers will know what can take place because of war.  Because wars will continue to happen, and there is a high probability that something like this will happen again. Attempts to shame and harass this proud mother of a United States Marine probably will seem to go on endlessly, but will gradually diminish as the sharp edges of its harshness fade.

A mother’s stoic, unflinching endurance will prevail as equal to the pride she continues to have in her son, the United States Marine.  And now, because of the news report, those who know and understand and those who do not, clearly see the costs that war extracts from the few who serve…the unforeseen tolls and demands that result in actions little of which could be fully excusable, comfortably explainable, reasonably preventable, or publicly palatable.

Connie Gibbons is a writer who enjoys the outdoors of the Pacific Northwest with her husband Greg, a survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh, and their two large dogs. She currently teaches in the College of Education for Northcentral University. Her immediate family includes both active duty and retired military personnel.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh

January 21, 2012

January 21, 1968 Forty-four Years On

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Today, January 21, 2012, is the forty-fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh. For those of us who endured that seventy-seven day nightmare, or any part of it, one of the salient notions we feel, we think about, is how we went from young boys to hardened Marines. I would say hardened men, but I don’t know that we became men because of Khe Sanh. I think we became hardened, seasoned veterans, and even though we wore haggard faces tinted with the color of fear, we were mostly still just boys.

Regardless, we went from naive youngsters to warriors forever marked by the taste of battle. We got high on the risks of dying and some of us never came down from that, and its long lasting effects helped drive some of us to kill ourselves. Some of us tried like all hell to emulate the scintillating rush of combat in the things we did back in “the world” as we liked to call the United States in 1968.

In the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, we have had the honor of employing interviewee photographs that were taken before the Siege began. In those pictures you can see the hopefulness, the eagerness of youth etched on each youngster’s face. We were children, mostly, and it shows.

Thanks to the men in the film, we have some of these images of our youth to look at here.

Cal Bright

Mike McCauley


Ron Rees


One of the issues that the film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor contemplates is the journey from youth to hardened warrior and its lifelong effects on all of us. This is not a new story.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings

January 6, 2012

On the Road Again

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Recently Betty and I took Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor and hosted a private screening in the old theater in the town where I grew up. The town, a cotton, cattle and one-time copper mining location, is Casa Grande, Arizona, which sits midway between Phoenix and Tucson in the Santa Cruz River plain. When I was a kid it had about a thousand people and eventually grew to fifteen or so thousand by the time I vacated the place for good in the early 1980s. Now the town has grown and changed so much, it seems strange to drive along streets that were once dirt roads lined with ancient cottonwood trees or mesquite thickets where we used to roll in the sand and caliche around huge bonfires and tarantulaed to tunes penned by John Lennon and dirty Jim Morrison as we got stumble-bum drunk.

The theater when I was a kid seemed dark and dank with hard chunks of old gum jammed onto the bottom and back of every seat. I saw my first movie there with my father:  Marlon Brando and Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger and Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfront. I must have been about six or seven years old when I saw that one. That film built my appreciation for good, thought provoking movies. Then I fought Chuck Gillespie about eight rows back from the front of the theater when I was ten or eleven. We fought a lot with each other back then. Sometimes we went up into the balcony and dropped big cold Coca Colas on the lovers down in the dark corners at the back of the theater.

On this trip, when we went into the Paramount Theater to do a tech check and scope out the facilities, I was shocked by what I saw.  Instead of a clammy, dank and smelly place patrolled by grumpy ushers armed with flashlights, the theater was open and clean, renovated back to the fine showplace it had been before it was remodeled in 1940, eleven years after it was first built. There were curved walls and ceilings that created a magical array of acoustics. The decor was Egyptian, and below the lobby, the remains of a speakeasy, and underneath the stage, dressing rooms for the old Vaudeville performers who put on shows there in the late 1920s and early 1930s. When I was a kid watching Saturday double features and creating mayhem, we had no idea that the place had been an illegal drinking establishment, or that anyone had played an organ while silent movies were shown, or that live performers had pranced on the stage and who knows, got the hook when the audience showed their dismay.

We screened the film on a Sunday afternoon right before Christmas and had a crowd of about one-hundred-thirty spiced with both young and old, men and women. A fair contingent of my old high school mates and friends attended as did some of the local military veterans from not just Casa Grande, but also Phoenix and Tucson. Our good friends Greg (a former Marine who also survived the Siege of Khe Sanh) and Connie Gibbons, themselves former denizens of the Sonoran Desert, flew down from the Seattle area and invited a bunch of their family and friends to join us.

One of the men in the film, the late Dan Horton, was represented by his Uncle Ken who lives in Tucson. Adding to the flavor of authenticity was Tom Steinhardt, who was in Bravo Company before and during the Siege. He and his wife live in Camp Verde, Arizona, which is about two-and-one-half hours north of Casa Grande on a good traffic day, so we really appreciated the effort they made to drive south and see the film.

Special thanks go to our son, Jim Rodgers, for his special work on the technical end, and to his uncle and my good compadre, Stephen Miller, who agreed to emcee the affair. And Debby Martin of the Paramount Foundation of Central Arizona, the visionary who saved the theater and went out of her way to make our screening the best that it could be.

And the screening went very well. I suppose there are people out there who are not or will not be moved by this film, but I don’t think I’ve met them yet.  The reactions at the end of the movie were what they have been everywhere we have shown it, so it is with great anticipation that we move forward.

The local newspaper, The Tri-Valley Dispatch, wrote a piece about the screening that you can find at

The article states that there were about fifty viewers, but we are certain there were about one-hundred-thirty.

Coming up and on the docket are two private screenings for the staff at the Boise VA facility in early March and a showing in February in Garden Valley, Idaho for a benefit for our troops and the native children that live around them in Afghanistan. We are being considered for a private screening before the eight-hundred-strong Cinema Society of San Diego.

On the film festival front, Sundance turned us down, but undaunted we have submitted the film to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, in mid-March. We have also entered Tribeca in New York which occurs in April, as does the San Francisco Film Festival. For May, we have entered the GI Film Festival in Washington, DC, and for June, the LA International Film Festival. And there are more to come.  We wait with great anticipation to see where this film…this story…will go.