Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for March, 2012

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

March 29, 2012

On Fix Bayonets and Payback

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I spend most of my time working on the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. As I do, my memory of experiences during the Siege of Khe Sanh keep simmering and bubbling. One of the salient parts of the film, and my memory, is what the surviving Marines and Navy Corpsmen of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment have named “Payback.”

Tomorrow, March 30, 2012 is the 44th anniversary of the only bayonet charge, as far as I know, in the entire Vietnam War.

The mist hung thick that morning, March 30, 1968, cloaking everything in its damp clutches except for the artillery and mortar fire that kaboomed through the fog and the muffled jingle and creak of our gear.

We eased outside the wire barrier in front of our lines and set up for an assault of a fortified NVA battalion in their trenches. Then the command came down from the Skipper. “Fix Bayonets.”

Marine Bayonet Training, from Wikipedia

For Marines, the command, “Fix Bayonets,” is one that sobers; cleans out all thoughts of home, girl friends in the back seats of blue Buicks, mothers baking chocolate chip cookies and sisters fighting for TV time. At that moment, for Jarheads, memories strain to recall the training: stabs, thrusts, slashes, vertical butt strokes. Hearts hammer like reports of fifty-caliber machine guns. Tongues and mouths grow suddenly parched.

As hard as I try to remember that March 30, 1968 command, “Fix Bayonets,” I can’t. Most of the other men who survived that assault remember the words being passed down from Skipper Ken Pipes to radio man Tom Quigley, who passed it on to the three platoons of Marines. I was a radio operator on that day, so I must have heard the command.

I suppose my inability to remember indicates the vehemence of what followed that command from the Skipper. My mind probably doesn’t want to remember those words. But it does recall, in some detail, the hours of battle that followed: vehement and bloody and vicious and exhilarating.

March 30, for a lot of the Marine combatants who fought that day, including myself, was the culminating event that punctuated the Siege of Khe Sanh. It was, in a number of ways, getting even; getting even for the deaths of our brothers on the February 25th “Ghost Patrol,” for our brothers killed and maimed at other times, for the lack of sleep and lack of chow and the lost weight and the fear…yes the fear…that rent us top to bottom. We were out there on March 30 for other reasons both tactical and strategic, yes. Yet for the snuffies who did the fighting, it was about getting even, whether we could articulate those emotions or not. And we got even. Here, 44 years later, that event, that bayonet charge, that in-the-trenches-satchel charges-flame thrower-hand-to-hand combat event, is known as “Payback.”

Not that the NVA didn’t get their licks in, because they did. Bravo Company took casualties that day. A lot of casualties. But in the give and take, take this, take that atmosphere of close-in combat, we kicked ass. It was payback.

When the siege began in late January 1968, for me it proved an exciting introduction to incoming, assault and danger. Heady stuff, adrenalin zapping the nerve endings, my thrilled innards lifted as if they were mortar rounds thumped into the never-ending. The January 21st initial attack and the ten days that followed were new, and compared to what would follow, subdued, and a fight most of us survived. I had no inkling that the siege would endure right up until March 30 and “Payback” and even beyond, into April.

February 1968 was the battering month for the men at Khe Sanh. We came to understand the horrors of combat. It was what we sought, I believe, in queuing up to be Marines. A test. A blooding. A chance to prove we were the match of our fathers and our uncles and our cousins who bled on the beaches of places like Iwo Jima and in the frozen hills of Chosin Reservoir. But I doubt any of us owned an idea of war’s true ferocity when we enlisted.

When I remember February 1968, that old adage comes to mind: Be careful what you wish for. You wish to prove you are among the brotherhood of the finest light infantry the world has ever known. Finding out that you are, or aren’t, is an onerous test. A deadly test. That was February, a deadly test…a test of physical stamina, mental stamina, spiritual stamina. February was the month of all-day artillery attacks, the fall of Lang Vei and the patrol of the 25th, the “Ghost Patrol.”

For us on the sidelines on February 25th, hearing those tortured hours, the loss, lives with us still. Time tends to dampen the power of emotion, but the infamous moments of February 25th still make my guts curl up and hide.

Yet my reaction now is nothing like it was my first thirty years after February 25th. For those thirty years my soul shrunk every time I thought of the foggy mist, the sounds of dying, the men of 3rd Platoon. I recalled smash-boom-blast of artillery, wounded and dead men carried inside the wire…not in a Marine Corps battle formation, but ones and twos, over hours and hours; I cringed, I felt like a failure. Even though the decision not to relieve the men of the “Ghost Patrol” was made way up the chain of command at regiment, division, or maybe (if rumor can be believed) in Lyndon Johnson’s war room, I still believe we let those men down. Marines relieve their embattled brothers, Marines don’t leave Marines behind. We let them down; me…even now, I believe, I let them down.

March was the month of reality whipping us again and again, as we lost men in front of the lines and behind the lines, eating chow, sleeping, flying in and flying out. Had enough bone-bending fright? Think you can’t go on anymore? Well, here’s some more, we will bash and batter you into minutiae.

And so, what happened on March 30 was a chance to recoup and get even, a chance to make a bullet point statement, a bayonet charge, a red blood and bone smash declaration…”Payback.”

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

March 27, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Lloyd Scudder

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Bravo! Marine Lloyd Scudder offers us some very sage advice.

When I enlisted, I was living in Oregon. My address was Portland, but I lived outside of there in the country, closer to a place called Scappoose, where I graduated.

I just turned 18 when I got to Vietnam. At Khe Sanh I was a grunt: did patrols, filled sandbags, and wrote letters home.

I am married and retired now. I fish, hunt and travel. I also volunteer at the county schools as a motivational speaker.

My speaking started when our son was a sixth grader. His class and sixth graders from other schools around here went to Outdoor School. There was a boy who was there in a wheelchair. It was being noticed not only by the high school counselors but also the teachers too, that nobody wanted to associate with him. The head teacher asked all the kids if anybody at their home was disabled and wouldn’t mind coming in to speak about this. I did, and have been speaking for over 20 years now.

Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview

It used to be called Outdoor School, but now it is called Welcome to My World Outdoor School.

Lloyd’s sage advice:

  • Never quit; always keep trying; never give up.
  • Show empathy and be aware that those with disabilities have feelings too.
  • Remember, if something happens to you, what are you going to do?
  • Just because a person is disabled doesn’t mean he’s “disabled.”
  • Everybody has a disability.

    Lloyd Scudder also warbles some mean ’60s tunes at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunions.

  • Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

    March 22, 2012

    Meet the Men of Bravo!–Frank McCauley

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    Bravo! Marine Frank McCauley introduces himself.

    I was born in Boston, MA, but raised in San Diego from the age of 10. I was 17 when I enlisted in the Marines, had just turned 18 in December, and arrived in Vietnam in mid-February.

    Frank McCauley as a young Marine

    There, I was a machine gunner stationed along the perimeter of the base, just inside of the smoldering garbage pit. I learned early on that if you wanted to avoid stirring the latrine barrels while the burning diesel fuel turned it to crust, look busy; field strip the machine gun down to a blanket of nothing but pieces. It looks daunting and they were uncomfortable asking me to leave that blanket of parts to go stir shit. Yippee!!

    I have always been interested in working on and fixing old cars and classics. My current project is a ‘38 Ford Deuce Coupe that is in remarkable condition, but a ways from driving down the road at this point. If you were to ask my wife, she’d say it’s a piece of junk that I’ll never finish.

    I have also spent a great deal of time, lately, on a 1990 Jeep Wrangler which I brought back to life. It is nearly bullet-proof, road worthy and fun to drive.

    Frank McCauley at his interview in San Antonio, TX for Bravo!

    I also enjoy going on trips on my motorcycle, being alone with only my thoughts to keep me company. I’ve never enjoyed being a part of a group. I am very much a loner and enjoy being in charge of my own destinations and time schedule; it avoids conflicts.

    Frank McCauley’s interview riveted our attention in the film both when he described arriving at Khe Sanh during the siege and while in the midst of a fire fight, suddenly recalling his time at the rifle range on Camp Pendleton.

    Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

    March 20, 2012

    The Larry C Banks Memorial

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    Bravo! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on memories of his friend who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967.

    Larry C. Banks and I grew up together. He “VOLUNTEERED” for the Army in ‘67 and I volunteered to go into the Marines about the same time. We spent our last leave home together at the same time before going to Vietnam.

    Larry was killed in an ambush after only 28 days in country at a place known as Srok Rung. It was in a rubber tree plantation in the IV Corps area northwest of Saigon. Larry died while serving as an assistant machine gunner. They literally melted the barrel out of the gun before being overrun. His squad leader, Robert Stryker, won the Medal of Honor that day. Larry and the gunner earned Bronze Stars for valor.

    I was at Khe Sanh on Hill 881s when Larry was killed. No one back home would tell me until after I came home in 1968.

    I remember in 1978 I was having a brief conversation with a lady who graduated same class with us. (84 grads) When I mentioned Larry she gave me an ill look and said Larry who? It just infuriated me.

    In 1993 there was a memorial dedicated on the courthouse lawn to all who had served in all wars. It was the first time Larry Banks’ named had been spoken publicly since he perished. I lashed out at the crowd for never acknowledging his sacrifice as I read his name. When I boasted to my mother after it was over, she chided me publicly in front of all and asked me this question, “And what have you done?”

    It was at that moment that the Larry C. Banks Memorial was conceived. Within 16 months a scholarship had been established with the newly formed community foundation (we were their first account) and the new High School Gymnasium bears his name to this day. Hundreds of folks pitched in to make that happen. It was my dream but other people made it happen.

    This past Veterans Day was a special tribute in the gymnasium for Larry, presented by the staff and children at the school for the benefit of all our Veterans. NO one, and I mean no one, will ever say to me ever again, “Larry who.”

    By the way, Larry served with 1st Battalion 26th Infantry Regiment USA. I served with 1st Battalion 26th Marine Regiment (infantry) USMC 5th Div. How about that!

    Michael E O’Hara spends a lot of time researching and honoring all American veterans of all wars. He also spends a lot of time with his granddaughters.

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

    March 15, 2012

    Meet the Men of Bravo!–Steve Wiese

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    Meet Steve Wiese, Bravo! Marine.

    I was raised in Redlands, CA then moved to Carmichael, CA (Sacramento) when I was 16 years old. I volunteered and joined the Marines at 17.

    I volunteered for and went to Nam at 18 years old, and I extended my tour in Nam so I had my 19th and 20th birthdays there.

    Steve Wiese in Vietnam

    At Khe Sanh I was an 0311, which is a rifleman. I was a squad leader of the finest men the Marine Corps ever had.

    Now days I’m retired. I seem to keep busy doing odds and ends. I play golf when I can (and I use the term “play golf” loosely). I play cards each week with a great group of guys.

    I also own and raise Koi fish and have for about 15 years. I have a 9,000 gallon pond (converted swimming pool). Sitting by the pond is very calming on those days when the world seems overwhelming.

    Steve Wiese

    All my fish are imported from Japan except for the ones I have spawned. I have world class fish that have been on the cover of Koi USA magazine and have won Grand Champion at Koi shows.

    Dogs are a big part of my life also. We have two Black Russian Terriers and it looks like we have inherited a Pug. My wife Deborah has a business as an obedience dog trainer, so between the two of us, our lives always center around dogs and fish.

    Steve Wiese has been known to grill some grand champion ribs, too.

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

    March 13, 2012

    A Wonderful World Gone Mad

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    Into today’s entry, guest blogger and Bravo! supporter Elaine Ambrose remembers the year 1968.

    In the spring of 1968, I was a high school junior in a quiet farming village in southern Idaho. I remember my teachers telling us that our United States soldiers were in Vietnam because we had to fight a war against Communism, and I believed them. During that same time, Ken Rodgers, not that much older than I, was a Marine fighting for the Siege of Khe Sanh. I probably was playing saxophone in the school band on the day he was ordered to “affix bayonets” and be prepared for hand-to-hand combat in a steaming hellhole full of dead and dying bodies.

    Ken and I met forty years later at various writing events and organizations in Boise. I took some writing and poetry classes from him and enjoyed getting to know his talented wife Betty. What started as a mutual respect for creative writing has turned into a profound admiration and deep friendship between us. When I heard that Ken and Betty were doing a film about a battle in Vietnam, I was excited to view the preliminary cut. That eager excitement turned to painful tears after the initial screening of Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. The story is too raw, too powerful, and too incredible to comprehend with just one viewing.

    My husband, also a Marine, and I hosted an additional screening of the film at our home last year. It’s difficult to describe the intense emotions that overcame the audience, many of them born long after the war in Vietnam was over. After the film, several of us sat around and talked openly about our feelings. For those of us who came of age during the late 1960s, it was our first real discussion of the war that fractured the country. If I could, I would go back and ask my high school teachers: What did we prove? What have we learned? This film doesn’t provide the answers; it tells the story of what happened.

    To make this film, Ken and Betty set out with an inspired vision and a lofty goal. They contacted Ken’s former soldiers, gathered old news reels, made important contacts, organized the initial filming schedule, and learned by the seats of their pants how to make, market, and distribute a film. Professionals in the industry discovered their project and offered their valuable contributions. The “buzz” started last year, and now the film is ready.

    On a spring afternoon in Idaho when I was learning to play the notes of What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, Ken Rodgers and the valiant men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, were following orders and fighting for their very survival for an unknown cause. This film, with its ragged view of profound fear, heartbreaking loyalty, and absolute bravery, is for the survivors, for those who didn’t come back, and for those of us who were home playing in the band.

    Elaine Ambrose is an author and publisher from Eagle, ID. Her author web site is www.ElaineAmbrose.com and her publisher web site is www.MillParkPublishing.com.

    Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Other Musings,Vietnam War

    March 10, 2012

    Bravo! Screens at the VA

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    Last Thursday, Betty and I, along with our friends Leland Nelson and Ben Shedd, showed Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to some of the employees of the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Facility. We showed it in the morning and then again in the afternoon. Over sixty people viewed the film.

    Betty and I feel that Bravo! has a unique message to tell the world about Vietnam Veterans, and in a larger frame, about veterans of most any war. There are roughly one thousand employees who work at the Boise VA Medical facility and they are people who care for and about this country’s many veterans and their wide variety of medical issues.

    The Boise Veterans Affairs medical personnel serve approximately twenty-five thousand veterans ranging from survivors of World War II right up to our newest veterans returning now from the wars of the Middle East.

    Some of the Boise VA Medical Center personnel at the screening of Bravo!

    As has generally been the case, the audience response was one of somber recognition. The voices in Bravo! spoke a language the VA personnel understood. After the movie’s ending, some tears, some nods, some silent moments, just sitting there, thinking, feeling…

    Thanks to Mr. Michael Fisher, the Director of the Medical Center as well as Mr. Grant Ragsdale, the Associate Director and Mr. Josh Callihan, with Medical Center Public Affairs, for allowing us to screen Bravo! for their personnel.

    These kinds of liaisons between VA Medical personnel and the film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor are a perfect meshing of the medical practicalities that arise in combat’s aftermath with the history, art and message that Bravo! brings.

    See more about the Boise VA Medical Center at http://www.boise.va.gov/.

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

    March 8, 2012

    Meet the Men of Bravo!–Michael E. O’Hara

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    In today’s post, we introduce former Marine, Michael E. O’Hara.

    I was 19 years old when I arrived at Khe Sanh, and had enlisted in Nashville, Indiana.

    Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh

    At Khe Sanh I was a Grunt, and battled rats first during my break-in period before we got to the real stuff. I never cleaned the crappers, though. Not even once. I figured that one out right away.

    I worked every day of my life 24/7 from the time I was granted a work permit. Mostly construction related before I began to build homes for my own business. I was 50 years old before I decided what I wanted to do. I wanted to retire and did just that. Now I just spend as much time as I can with my grand-daughters. Even that is coming to a close, though. They are, after all, little girls and they are really growing. Hangin’ with Gramps will become less and less a big deal.

    I have done some stupid things in my life and a few good things. I have been accused of things I did and some I did not. But I know when they lay me in that hole in the ground in St Louis at Jefferson Barracks when my time comes, no one will ever say I was not loyal to my friends.

    Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for the film Bravo!

    I am currently working on documenting the history of Veterans Affairs in my county, Brown County, since the Civil War. It is mostly about the different Veteran Institutions but it simply cannot be done without many personal anecdotes. One of my good friends who is getting short, as we used to say, is a WWII Vet. He was wounded serving as top gunner on a B-17. I used to buy bubblegum from him when I was a kid. By the time we were old hands in the VFW he confided how God-awful scared he was up there at age 19. You could see in his eyes what he was talking about. I knew that look only too well from my days at Khe Sanh.

    Michael O’Hara served with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

    Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

    March 6, 2012

    On the Sidelines of Bravo!

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    Ann Nutt, wife of Bravo! editor John Nutt, muses from her sideline seat.

    Having had a close association with the evolution of Bravo! over the past year, I know that there are a lot more people out there besides me who have closely followed the coming together of this amazing film, and every one of them probably has a story to tell. Here is one of them.

    My name is Ann Nutt. My husband, John Nutt, is a film editor and a Vietnam veteran (Army). Over the nearly forty years that we’ve been married, he has thought of himself more in terms of his film work than his military experience, but that experience has always been part of him. That experience came to mind when I read an article about Ken and Betty Rodgers and their film about Khe Sanh and handed it to John.

    It all began when we were in Tucson, Arizona, visiting our daughter for Christmas in 2010. While there, I picked up a copy of the local paper, just to see what was going on, and there was the article about Ken and Betty’s project. The article indicated that the shooting of the film was complete (“in the can,” as these film folks would say), but the editing was something as yet to be addressed. John was, at the time, “between projects” (another term familiar to film people as well as other freelancers), so I handed him the article, thinking that with both his editing and his Vietnam experience, it might be something of interest to him. I think my exact words were, “You should call these people.” I may have repeated this advice a time or two before John went on line, got phone numbers for the various Ken Rodgers who were associated with Boise, Idaho, and actually picked up the phone to try to call “these people.”

    The first phone call that John made was serendipitous. Not only was it Ken and Betty’s number, they were, as they later told us, at that moment talking about how they were going to find an editor that they wanted to work with on their film. After a few conversations with Ken and Betty and a meeting with their friend (and associate producer) Carol Caldwell-Ewart, John had the honor of signing on to work on this extraordinary project and I had the honor of getting to live alongside it.

    Although Ken and Betty live and work in Boise, John worked from our house in Albany, California. It’s not a big house, and I have a corner of “the office” in which John edits. I was in and out of the office in the early months of the editing process, while John was watching hours of raw interview footage, and even though I was not sitting down to watch that footage, I was hearing the voices of the Khe Sanh survivors, listening to bits and pieces of their stories, and that is when I began to learn about courage –on many different levels.

    First, there is the courage of the survivors, whose agonized stories I listened to in bits and pieces before ever seeing the film. Film or no film, it was clear that opening up and reliving their experiences in graphic detail was not at all easy for them. I heard them choke up as they talked about what had happened to them at Khe Sanh and afterwards, and how it had changed their lives. Thankfully, for the rest of us, they did tell their stories, and the film gives us not only the stories, but a real understanding of the courage it took to tell them.

    Bravo! also shows something about the courage of all soldiers who go to war. The powerful observation that most of the Marines at Khe Sanh were barely out of childhood when they went into battle could probably be said about most soldiers in any war. It’s a lesson about courage on a personal level that we should all be aware of.

    Finally, I had something of an insider’s view of the significant courage on Ken and Betty’s part that it took to make this film in the first place. They had never made a film before this, but they waded straight into the unknown. From the beginning of simply wanting to record the stories of Ken’s fellow survivors, they learned how to raise funds, direct and shoot the interview footage, oversee difficult editing decisions, and, when the film itself was complete, to work relentlessly on getting the film seen. I was aware of painful debates about how deeply into the brutality of the siege of Khe Sanh this film should go, and Ken and Betty had the courage to go deep, and to make artistic choices, such as adding documentary footage and powerful sound effects, that made the reality of the battle all that more real.

    I went from hearing the opening explosions that introduce the Bravo! audience to Khe Sanh on the small speakers on John’s computer in our small house, to hearing it projected on a very simple video projection system in a small hotel conference room, to feeling it shake the floors (and startle me out of my seat) in surround sound at Lucasfilm, and no matter how many times I heard it, it was powerful and real.

    From idly reading the newspaper in Tucson, to watching the completed film in a large theater, I have had an amazing time on the sidelines of Bravo!

    Ann Nutt is recently retired from a long career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she was an attorney specializing in water pollution law. She is presently a volunteer writing coach in two public schools and has recently begun training to be among the first group of docents at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park, which will open its first visitors’ center in May.

    Ann met her husband John in 1966, when he was a devoted moviegoer, but not yet involved in the making of films. They lost track of one another after high school graduation but reconnected via correspondence during John’s tour in Vietnam. She has been close to his work on many films over the years, but has never felt as drawn into any as much as Bravo!

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

    March 1, 2012

    Meet the Men of Bravo!–Ken Korkow

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    In today’s post, we introduce former Marine, Ken Korkow.

    Ken Korkow, United States Marine

    I was 20 when I arrived at Khe Sanh and 120 when I left – but had not celebrated another ‘birthday’ while in country.

    I enlisted from Blunt, South Dakota – where I was in the top 10 of my high school class (because there were only 8 in my class).

    At Khe Sanh, I volunteered for nighttime ambush duty, was temporarily in charge of the Bravo 1/26 3.5 rocket section, was 60 Mortar Section Leader (my MOS), was designated as ‘protestant lay leader’ by Ben Long, stole firearms and ammo from Graves & Registration, stole socks and food from the supply tent. I killed, hated, cried – until I vowed to never have friends or feelings again.

    Now – I understand God doesn’t waste pain – and my wife and I share the life-changing message of new life in Jesus Christ with business and military men and women. What we have learned gives us insight into some of what others have experienced – plus gives us the credibility to have some degree of access into their private lives. To accomplish this – I personally must stay very close to my Lord – otherwise I can easily revert to my old ways.

    Ken Korkow

    Ken Korkow was wounded in combat at Khe Sanh and received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for combat valor. The Governor of South Dakota named a special day in his honor – as South Dakota’s most highly decorated Viet Nam veteran.

    With degrees in Agri-Economics and Business Administration, Ken’s career path led him to where he is today, the Regional Director of Christian Business Men’s Committee USA Heartland, serving Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

    He is a former member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association; former president, Central South Dakota Board of Realtors; and former president, North and South Dakota Farm and Land Institute.