Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for February, 2012

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

February 28, 2012

Circle the Date

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Guest blogger Betty Plevney, Bravo! friend and supporter extraordinaire, muses on her memories of childhood and the Siege of Khe Sanh. Betty says that every time she tried to write this piece it wanted to come out as a poem.

Circle the Date

Red-eyed, bone tired jarheads tremble
as they sit in an outpost surrounded by
towering ridges deep in the boonies.
They do not want to die.
Not on this plateau, Khe Sanh.
Not in this country, Viet Nam.

I sit in the row next to the door, legs swinging
below my desk.  Eraser dust sifts
across my fifth grade assessment test.
I do not want to fail.
Choosing answers with care.
Choosing circles to ensnare.

I look up and catch my brother’s eye across the room.
He scrambles across a bomb-pitted field.

My brother smiles, eyebrows wiggling above thick dark glasses.
He wiggles down behind sandbags, incoming pelting the ground.

Behind him, I see snowflakes falling in thick white clouds,
pelting the windows.
He stares up at the clouds listening to his breath
in that one moment
when the chattering of explosions stops.

I turn my head, take a breath, and find the answer
to each question is complete.
My hand moves to circle the date.

His hand moves to find his legs,
his chest, his hip are no longer

Circle the date.
Sixty-six men with Bravo Company did
in early 1968.

Betty Plevney is a writer, mixed-media artist and graphic facilitator living in Richmond, Virginia. She explores the layering and juxtaposition of words, ideas and feelings in her writing, searching for the deeper meaning and textures hidden within the layers of life. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Masters in Writing. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BettyPlevney.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

February 24, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Ken Pipes, The Skipper

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Ken Pipes, Lt. Colonel, USMC Retired; The Skipper

“The Skipper” was 29 when he arrived at Khe Sanh at the end of August 1967, and turned 30 on October 19, 1967. Born in Bakersfield, California and raised in Tulare and Clovis, California, he attended grammar and high school at Clovis, then Junior College in Fresno, and graduated from Fresno State majoring in US History.

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

At Khe Sanh, Ken Pipes commanded H & S Company from September through November, then Bravo Company from December 1967 through April 1968. He was the Assistant Operations Officer from May until “I got back to Sharon and the boys in late Sept.1968. Dan was 18 months when I left and Tim was just 6 weeks old.”

Since retiring from the Marine Corps and Southern California Edison, Ken has spent 20-plus years as a Reserve Peace Officer Volunteer.

The Skipper is revered by the men who served with him. His courage, honor and respect for the men he led is the mark of a true leader.

Ken Pipes, The Skipper

Says the Skipper, “Last week I spoke to our Grandson, Connor’s Second Grade Class. He introduced me as follows: My Grandpa joined the Marines, got married, had two sons and got old. I guess that sums up a man’s life very succinctly. He hit it right on the money.”

Documentary Film,Marines

February 23, 2012

Roger Ebert on “Hell and Back”

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The film critic Roger Ebert has critiqued the Oscar nominated documentary film, Hell and Back, the story of a United States Marine returned from combat in Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan, the Marine, Sgt. Nathan Harris, is wounded and is sent home for rehab. We have not seen this film, but Ebert’s review makes it sound gripping. Check out the review at

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

February 21, 2012


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Khe Sanh survivor and Bravo Company Marine Ron Rees muses on history, the present, and coincidence.

More than a “Coincidence?” I will let the reader decide this. I have my own take on it, which came over me instantly; it needed no thought.

If you do not know me, I coach girl’s JV Basketball. My girls were to play their rivals on Friday, February 10th, 2012. It would be a huge game for us since we had beaten this team once by 3 points and lost the last game at their gym by 3. That set the stage for the game we played against them on the 10th of February, at which the winning team was to become the league champion. It was at home, in our gym, our crowd. For me as their coach, even more pressure. I was very nervous, I wanted the win as much as the girls did, and I didn’t want to let them down as a coach. I would have to do and say all the right things at the right time, etc.

A backdrop to the story: Before every game, during the flag ceremony, I personally (silently) thank all those Brave Marines from Bravo 1/26 who made the ULTIMATE SACRIFICE during the siege of Khe Sanh, 1968, and then thank and honor all others for their sacrifice at Khe Sanh and all previous wars. “Your sacrifice has allowed these kids here tonight to play this basketball game in a safe and secure country. Your sacrifices were not in vain. Thank you. Thanks to each of you for your sacrifices, and for allowing us the privilege of playing this basketball game. AMEN!”

Then it was Friday, February 10th, and the showdown time was in sight, the nerves were not any better. As I checked and double checked to make sure I had everything, I started out the door, and out of nowhere, something told me “it’s a special day,” and to go check my copy of Battalion of Kings (a tribute to our fallen brothers who died because of the Battlefield of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, written by Chaplain Ray Stubbe to whom we are indebted) and make a note to honor those who specifically died on this exact date 44 years ago. I have never done this before.

On page 186, there they were, six Brave Marines:


After writing down their names, I decided to read a bit further. The first sentence that describes their doomed flight read (only in part, out of respect I will not recount details): At noon a silvery KC130-F of VMGR-152, #14981, call sign BASKETBALL-813….

My heart dropped to my feet. OMG, I was not ready for this at all. Call sign BASKETBALL! I was instantly blinded by my tears, the emotions overwhelming, at randomly going to this book to HONOR whoever it was who died on this same date 44 years ago, and then reading this first sentence.

To me, this absolutely was NO COINCIDENCE. A greater power than I set this up so these men could be a part of ONE MORE BASKETBALL GAME. Someone on that plane was a baller (basketball player). They had life one more time, 44 years later. A couple of my players played like they had never played before, even though I always tried to get them there.

I have wanted to share this story so badly, but on the 10th there was nobody to tell, and I could not tell the team, at least not yet. I will. It would have been too much in one night for them and some still had another game to play. I couldn’t tell the other coaches because they still had their game to coach. My wife was with our daughter at a hospital 5 hours away testing our granddaughter. But I felt that the story was certainly bigger than me and bigger than our game, even though we did win it. We were never behind in the game and won by 5pts.

No, the real story that needs to be told is for, and all about, SSGT BROWN, SSGTCALVIN, MSGT D’ADAMO, LCPL DEVIK, COLONEL PETERSON, and SSGT WALBRIDGE. They are the heroes for their sacrifices 44 years ago, and now, they are…you decide! I will tell you, they were at that game and I did silently recognize them at the start of the game, which was the only time I have ever specifically honored anyone outside of my father.

Semper Fi
Ron Rees USMC
Bravo 1/26

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Vietnam War

February 14, 2012

On Shooting Interviews

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Mark Spear, film producer, photographer, director, film editor and principal videographer for Bravo!, muses on his experiences helping create the film.

It’s been over a year now since I was given the task of filming interviews of some of the siege of Khe Sanh survivors at an annual reunion in San Antonio, Texas for a documentary titled Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, Ken and Betty Rodgers’ first film. Ken, a Marine with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B 1/26) who was there for the siege, felt it was time to tell this story…so did Betty. I felt I was up for it and thankfully they trusted me. After all, I’ve been on some pretty important shoots through my career, some seemingly less important, but all I have tried to give my best work to.

If you had met Ken on the street you would probably assume a first impression of an easy-going normal guy which he is, although he joked with me that he isn’t! I admittedly was very humbled by his experience and a bit intimidated by his intelligence. He is not the normal stereotyped Vietnam veteran…now. Ken’s poems and writing enlighten me as well as his ability to tell the story of the siege so matter of factly. Ken also acted like a bridge between me and his fellow Marines we were to interview, more so than I think he knew.

Betty and her knowledge of photography and art was a welcome relief to the pressure I put on myself. She did so much coordinating and calmly complimented me at every turn, giving me strength she did not know I thought I did not have. This made production so smooth and enjoyable.

I knew this was going to be big, the greatest challenge I had ever worked on. Deep down, I admit now, I was terrified! Ken and Betty, using their seed money and a small grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, were relying on ME to help give this story a face. Me!…me…(gulp).

Working on a war documentary was something I had dreamed of doing forever it seemed, and now it was really happening. I remember going home after I interviewed Ken and crying in sadness, fear, honor and respect…and for the gravity of the situation. It turns out this particular shoot was something I didn’t prepare for emotionally. I didn’t think I needed to. After all, the siege was history by the time I was born in 1968. I’ve seen plenty of war movies and documentaries, but this was different. Ken was there, and every time I talked with him my mind started to drift in thoughts of what it must have been like.

Mark Spear Shooting Video in San Antonio, Texas

I kept my focus more on the lighting, sound, location, the way one might manipulate an interviewee to get the best “stuff.” The technical preparations paled in comparison to hearing these men, these Marines of Bravo Cmpany, now in their 60’s and 70’s, tell a story about how they survived, as very young men, a war that forever changed them.

I remember sitting behind the camera listening to every one of their words, fighting off the tears my imagination was creating from the pictures they painted. Think of these men as 15 different camera angles on a shoot, all different perspectives and styles. Here are these hardened veterans remembering, reliving, telling their recollection of the Ghost Patrol and Payback, stifling their tears, choking up, needing to take a break from being in that place again.

I realized it was almost therapy for these guys, some of whom had not spoken extensively about these events for 40 years…and now were laying what they could out there. I had to stay on task…not get too caught up in the story…don’t forget my job, I thought…don’t say anything stupid…don’t cry, don’t cry I told myself. I saved that for my first night in my San Antonio hotel room after we filmed the first round of interviews.

It’s as amazing to me now as it was when the stories and production all started unfolding. I look back at this experience as one I will never, ever forget. These Marines who welcomed me into a sacred reunion…their reunion…where I looked into their eyes and saw more than historic facts…I saw men who had the courage to not give up then…and to not give up now, and still fight this battle every day.

Mark Spear in San Antonio, Texas, July, 2010

To the friends I made there, to the Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B 1/26), my hat is off to you. This is in the top 3 productions I have had the honor of being a part of in my career…funny thing is, I don’t know what numbers 2 or 3 are! Thank you.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs

February 10, 2012

How Can and Independent Film Have Real Impact?

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How Can an Independent Film Have Real Impact?

Here’s how it works:

An idea is born for a film (such as BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, an extraordinary documentary film by Ken and Betty Rodgers). Pulling all the elements together and creating a motion picture is the next step. And for anyone who doesn’t know, this is a monumental step. What happens now once the film is completed? Is the job done?


Have you heard of the phrase, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” This is applicable to independent film.

Let me explain. A film needs to be seen by people. Lots of people. Otherwise, what’s the point? An independent film must be seen to be “heard” (extending the tree metaphor).

So how does this happen? Well, you have to get the word out somehow. For decades, Hollywood has used the model of spending millions of dollars and bludgeoning the public to go see a particular movie. But who has the advertising funds to do that? And what an invasive thing to do!

Maybe there’s a better way – a way to reach many interested folks about a subject…about a special film. And that way is using social media. It’s like being at a party, meeting people and striking up a conversation. Not necessarily proclaiming to go see a film, but to talk about its relevance or impact. That’s what social media is – a conversation with people.

Establishing relationships is the key. When people you talk to pick up on the fact that you’re passionate about your subject, magic happens.

And that’s where you, dear reader, come in.

Ken and Betty Rodgers have labored long and hard to bring BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR to life. Spread the word about this remarkable film by reaching out to people you know and share your passion for it.

That’s how an independent film such as BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR gets noticed and watched. Help to “hear the tree fall” for this important film.

Gregory Green

Gregory James Green is the writer/director of the new psychological thriller THREE OF A KIND – a full-length motion picture featuring Margot Kidder as “Claire.” Visit for more information.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

February 9, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo–Ron Rees

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In this blog post, we introduce the first of the fourteen former Marines and Navy Corpsmen who were interviewed in the making of Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.

Meet the Men–Ron Rees


Ron Rees as a young Marine

I enlisted in the Marine Corps August, 1967 in Des Moines, Iowa where I had attended Des Moines North High School.  I enlisted under the “Buddy Program” with my friend, Ed Olivetta, and entered the Marine Corps the day after my 20th birthday in September, 1967 and began my training.

I landed in Viet Nam around Feb 27th, 1968 at Da Nang Airport with my 0311 MOS  designation as a rifleman. Shortly after exiting the Continental Airlines plane and passing the long line of Marines who resembled zombies more than the soldiers we were used to seeing, I was about to find out why they appeared that way.

You cannot be trained—and I am not sure how one could ever be prepared—for the actual horrors of war. I was handed a set of orders and told that I would be going to Khe Sanh and assigned to Bravo Company as a “replacement” for one of the many Marines who had  been recently killed in an ambush just outside of their lines.

Upon arrival, I was assigned to Bravo Company’s 3rd Platoon. My assignment was a Claymore Mine bunker in the Grey Sector.  I had a new Marine in this bunker with me the night of March 22nd when all hell RAINED SHRAPNEL down on Khe Sanh yet again. We were on “Red Alert 100%” due to reports of an all-ground assault on the base that night.

At some point it all became a blur to me, and still is even now. I know that something very significant happened to our Claymore bunker.  The new Marine and I ran into the bunker where our squad leader was. We were told to go to another bunker in the trench where we could go off 100% duty and get some rest.

Next thing I knew I was above ground. EVERYTHING was in slow motion…smoke, shrapnel, I could see it all. And very clearly, people were yelling for CORPSMAN, CORPSMAN, CORPSMAN.  Then someone asked me if I needed a corpsman. I said No! Then a Marine came up to me and in an instant, reading his eyes and at the same time wiping the sweat from my face, I realized what was obvious to him:  It was blood, not sweat that covered my face.  My utilities were gone from the knee down and blood was shooting out of a wound in my knee. I have been told by my friend who went to Khe Sanh with me (Ron Semon) that I was blown over 30 feet back of the trench line from the inside of a bunker. I still cannot imagine!  How do you survive that?

I was taken to Charlie Med. I wish I knew by who, but I will never know that. I would love to thank those brave Marines who took me there during the HAIL OF INCOMING that was literally non-stop all that night. Years later I did meet Dr. Feldman, who helped repair my wounds, at my first Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Diego, where I was also reunited with our company commander, Ken Pipes, whom I have never forgotten.

Ron Rees

I have been in the trucking industry most of my adult life, and have been a coach for the past 8 years. For the past 6 years I have coached girls’ basketball, and for 4+ years coached middle school 8-man football. This past year I was invited to assist with our high school’s varsity football team.  I am blessed to have been very successful with all my teams.

I look at the flag at the start of every game, and along with everyone else take pride in all that she represents. But I ALWAYS look at her and thank first ALL THOSE MARINES WHO SERVED WITH BRAVO COMPANY AT KHE SANH AND THOSE WHO ULTIMATELY “GAVE THEIR ALL,” for it was because of them and all those other servicemen/women who made the ultimate sacrifice in combat that made it possible for our fine youth of today to have the opportunity, among other things, to participate in sports as so many of those MARINE HEROS did before joining the Marine Corps.

YES! I thank them every time, to give or to show them the respect they so rightfully deserve.  I know how precious life really is, and just how important these last years of true innocence really are (middle school through High school).

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

February 8, 2012

On Friendship and Memory and Communications

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In today’s entry, we get insight into how communication between Marines, between friends, between people of all stripes adds texture and meaning to history. Below is a series of e-mails between Ken Pipes, Commanding Officer of Bravo Company during the Siege of Khe Sanh, and his old friend and comrade, Dr. Larry Farrell. Ken Pipes and Larry went into Marine Corps OCS together and have stayed in touch for over fifty years.

In a message dated January 30, 2012, Dr. Farrell writes, in part, about his son, Sean, graduating from Marine Corps Officer Candidate School:

To Family and Friends,

Family day for OCC (Officer Candidate Class) 209 will be at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Friday March 30, 2012. Graduation and Commissioning is the next day, Saturday March 31, 2012.If you are planning on going or would like to go please call us first.


Ken Pipes responded to Dr. Farrell’s e-mail with the following message:

Larry my brother–on graduation day–tell Sean that on that day 44 years ago–Bravo Company 1/26 decimated a reinforced NVA Battalion–the 66th of the 304th “Iron” Division–in the process, the entire Staff of the NVA battalion was killed. Thus “Pay Back.” Tell him for me and Bravo Company–SEMPER FIDELIS!


Dr. Larry Farrell responded with the following e-mail he sent to a larger group of recipients:

I wanted to pass along this special email from my brother Marine Ken Pipes. As some of you already know, Ken and I went into the Marine Corps about the same time out of Fresno State (also fraternity brothers). We were in Quantico (TBS) and the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, during the same time periods. In 1963 or 1964 our paths again crossed in Iwakuni, Japan (home of the 1st Marine Air Wing) after I had come back from Vietnam.

Ken was Bravo Company Commander of the 1st Battalion 26th Marines at Khe Sanh, December 1967 through March 1968. This Company was made up with people like Steve Wiese who Sue and I recently met at a powerful documentary film showing in Santa Rosa, California. They were in continuous combat for 77 days in an epic struggle against overwhelming odds. Steve and Ken are lucky to be alive.

Ken’s message is powerful and poignant to us because of the aligning of these dates.  On this date, Ken led (and Steve participated in) the only recorded bayonet charge of the Vietnam War: “Pay Back.”  Ken was seriously wounded in the chest and took a bullet through his helmet but like Steve, he survived. Ken was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor. God Bless you Ken–God Bless you Steve–God Bless Bravo Company. Your deeds are recorded in Marine Corps History forever–SEMPER FIDELIS!

Larry and Sue

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

February 1, 2012

One Hell of a Story

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From Elko, Nevada, where there is a threat of snow, news on the news of Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. Read co-producer Ken Rodger’s guest blog   posted at James Goertel’s All Lit Up, at NextTV, on the genesis of the movie from his escape from Khe Sanh until today, February 1, 2012. The post is at