Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for April, 2012

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

April 19, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Tom Quigley

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In this edition of Meet the Men of Bravo!, we get acquainted with Tom Quigley.

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh

Tom Quigley hails from Springfield, Illinois, where he was interviewed for Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.

Eighteen years old when he went to Bravo Company in June 1967, Tom served as the senior company radio operator for Bravo Company’s commanding officer, Ken Pipes, during the Siege. After the Siege he went on to be a squad leader in Bravo Company.

Tom Quigley

After his service in the Marine Corps, Quig (as he is affectionately called by his Marine mates) was an independent automotive wholesaler.

Tom enjoys being a new grandpa and also likes to spend his time watching movies, bowling, target shooting and hunting on the farms in the Springfield area.

You can read more about Tom in an interview he gave to his local newspaper here:

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

April 17, 2012

Why Khe Sanh? Why Now?

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Today’s guest blogger, nationally recognized historian and journalist Gregg Jones, muses on the Siege of Khe Sanh.

In the autumn of 2010, I had just finished writing a nonfiction book about America’s rise to world power in the Spanish-American War and the subsequent colonial war in the Philippines that bedeviled Theodore Roosevelt’s young administration. While my editor read my manuscript, I began weighing possible subjects for my next book. I had spent years researching the death of my uncle and eight comrades on a B-24 bomber crew in World War II, and so that story was high on my list. At the same time, another subject called to me: America’s war in Vietnam.

My interest in the Vietnam War had its roots in my lifelong love of American history. Growing up in a small southeast Missouri town, the American Civil War had been my passion, and I had devoured books by Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote. I was nine years old in the summer of 1968 when we piled into our ’64 Chevy Impala for a family vacation to Washington, D.C. I persuaded my parents to stop at every Civil War battlefield in our path, but each day our journey into America’s past was jolted back to the present by newscasts and headlines about the widening war in Vietnam. As we walked through Arlington National Cemetery a few days later, we could not help but notice all the fresh graves. We watched in solemn silence as a flag-draped coffin passed the Custis-Lee Mansion on a horse-drawn caisson, and then, some minutes later, the sound of Taps echoed over the hallowed hills. Back home in Missouri, my family followed events in Vietnam on the CBS Evening News and in our local newspaper. Every so often, the paper wrote about some hometown boy who had died in America’s service in Indochina. Eventually, fourteen young men from my hometown of 15,000 people would never return.

Gregg Jones

Two years ago, as I began to seriously consider a book on the Vietnam War, I debated two questions: What should be my focus? And could I write something of lasting historical value? Three events occupied my thoughts: the battle for Khe Sanh; the Tet offensive; and the fall of Saigon. As a student of American military history, I had long been fascinated with the former two events. While I read everything I could about Khe Sanh, I initially decided to take a broader approach and chronicle the experiences of several men who fought in Vietnam in 1968.

Almost from the beginning, I found myself drawn deeper into the epic story of Khe Sanh.

Three Khe Sanh veterans—Michael O’Hara, Tom Quigley and Dennis Mannion–were my first interviews in the project. When I first contacted Michael, he was wary. He wanted to know who I was and why I wanted to write this book. They were fair questions, and I answered these and others in detail. I explained that I had been a Pulitzer Prize finalist in my 29 years as an investigative journalist and foreign correspondent, and I had spent 10 years in Southeast Asia.

I told Michael about the years of work I had done on weekends and holidays to unravel the mysteries of my uncle’s lost bomber crew, tracking down family members of the men and arranging for a memorial to be placed in the Austrian meadow where the bomber crashed on the afternoon of October 1, 1943. When I told him that the remains of my uncle and his comrades had been returned to the United States in early 1950 and buried in a group grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, he could barely contain himself. Michael had stood almost in that exact spot, paying tribute to several comrades from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. It turned out that some of the Marines killed in the “Ghost Patrol” of 25 February 1968 had been buried in a group grave just a few yards from my uncle’s crew.

Months passed and Khe Sanh continued to dominate my thoughts. Michael, Tom and Dennis shared their experiences and generously put me in touch with other men who had served there. I became an associate member of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Last summer, I drove up to Rochester, Minnesota, to attend the annual reunion as Michael’s guest.

Those three days I spent with the Khe Sanh veterans rate among the most memorable 72 hours of my life. I met some exceptional men and their families, and witnessed the extraordinary bonds that forever sustain Khe Sanh survivors. I spent hours recording the experiences of Ken Pipes and other Khe Sanh veterans like Ghost Patrol survivor Cal Bright. (I also witnessed some priceless karaoke performances by such iconic Khe Sanh Marines as Tom Eichler and Bruce “T-Bone” Jones.) I left Rochester inspired by these men. On the drive back to Texas, I resolved to focus my book on what the defenders of Khe Sanh had endured and achieved in those red clay hills in 1968.

Four weeks later, I handed my literary agent a 40-page proposal that laid out the book that had begun to take shape in my head—a narrative history of the epic battle for Khe Sanh, based on extensive interviews with enlisted men and officers who were there. My agent sent the proposal to a dozen top trade publishing houses in New York and Boston. There was immediate interest, but ten publishers eventually retreated to the tired conventional wisdom regarding books on America’s most unpopular war: We like the proposal, but Vietnam War books just don’t attract enough readers…. I wanted to say: Well, they should! Fortunately, two publishing houses believed in my vision for a new book about Khe Sanh. I settled on Bob Pigeon at Da Capo Press, who told me that he had long wanted to do a major book about Khe Sanh.

And so the project, now a book focused solely on Khe Sanh in 1968, took life.

The project timetable calls for me to deliver a manuscript to Da Capo by 31 December of this year. As of this writing, I have interviewed 52 men who served at Khe Sanh in 1968, and I will be speaking with many more in the coming days. I have been moved and inspired beyond words by the accounts I have heard, testaments to the camaraderie and indomitable spirit of the men who served at Khe Sanh. The great challenge I face in the months ahead is transforming these hundreds of hours of priceless interviews into a narrative worthy of these men and their service.

Among the powerful accounts I have gathered is that of a fellow writer who had been a young Marine rifleman from Arizona in 1968. Spending time with Ken Rodgers and his wife Betty at the Rochester reunion had been one of my personal highlights. I had become aware of their film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, even before I began contacting Vietnam veterans. Later, Ken and Betty generously invited me to attend the private screening of their film with Bravo Company veterans. I thought I had steeled myself for the experience, but the power and raw honesty of Ken and Betty’s interviews swept away my defenses. I’ve never shed more tears than I did while watching the scarred survivors of Bravo Company speak of their experiences at Khe Sanh.

As I move ahead with my own modest effort to preserve the history of Khe Sanh, I am closely following Ken and Betty’s important work to bring Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to a wide audience. Financially and emotionally, they put themselves on the line to make this film. It is an extraordinary piece of documentary art. Whatever your opinions of the war, the young Americans who served our nation in Vietnam deserve to have their stories told in movies like Bravo!, and in books like that which I hope to create. If I may paraphrase Ken and Betty’s powerful prologue, this is not a pro-war or anti-war statement. This is about what happened. And, as Americans and intelligent beings, we need to remember.

A Missouri native, Gregg Jones is the author of Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream (New American Library/Penguin, 2012) and Red Revolution: Inside the Philippine Guerrilla Movement (Westview Press, 1989). He is currently writing a narrative history of the 1968 battle for Khe Sanh, which will be published by Da Capo Press in 2013. He was a Pulitzer Prize-finalist investigative reporter and foreign correspondent before writing books full time.

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

April 12, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–John “Doc” Cicala

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In this installment of Meet the Men, we get acquainted with John “Doc” Cicala.

“Doc” lived in St. Clair Shores, Michigan when he enlisted in the Navy.

John "Doc" Cicala at Khe Sanh

In the Marine Corps, the medical personnel who go onto the battlefield with Marines are United States Navy Hospital Corpsmen. Grateful Marines fondly call Corpsmen “Doc.”

“Doc” Cicala served as a Corpsman with Third Platoon, Bravo Company, during the Siege of Khe Sanh. At the “ripe old age of twenty-one,” he was the second oldest man in Third Platoon.

After a forty-four year career with Chrysler Corporation, “Doc” retired, but he didn’t like retirement, so he went back to work for Chrysler as a contractor, where he now works on specific problems where his experience pays off. He also trains Chrysler employees.

Besides still helping out with his old company, “Doc” is a “classic car nut.” His highlight right now is a restored 1967 Plymouth GTX.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

April 10, 2012

Vinnie Mottola and Memory

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On February 23, 1968, Khe Sanh combat base took 1307 incoming rounds, evidently breaking a record for single-day incoming in Vietnam. Around 4:15 in the afternoon, Khe Sanh Siege time, a particular round slammed into Gray Sector, Bravo Company’s sector on the line. The round blasted a 106 MM recoilless rifle bunker and four Marines inside that bunker were killed in action.

I remember that day, both for the number of rounds and for the destruction of the 106 bunker. The bunker wasn’t too far from our platoon’s (Second Platoon) area of responsibility. I recall several Marines from our squad (Third Squad) went down and tried to assist the men of that stricken bunker.

One of the men killed, I believe, in that particular incident at the 106 bunker on February 23 was Bravo Company Marine, Vincent Antonio Mottola. I am in contact with Vincent (Vinnie as his family called him) Mottola’s cousin, Marie Chalmers. Marie has asked me to put the word out that anyone who remembers or knew Vinnie, please contact her at 617-327-4587 or via e-mail at

Our memories of youth and family die hard. I will rephrase that. Sometimes our memories refuse to die. It is often important for us to keep our memories flowing, intact, relevant. If you knew Vinnie Mottola or anything about his time in Vietnam, please contact Marie Chalmers.

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

April 5, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Cal Bright

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Bravo! Marine Cal Bright introduces himself.

I was born and raised on a farm in Parma, Michigan, until I joined the Marines at the age of 17 and went to boot camp at San Diego. From there, went through BITS and AIT then got to Viet Nam the first part of January, 1968, just turned 18. Went to Khe Sanh directly after getting to Nam and joined 3rd Platoon (Lt. Jaques), Bravo Company, 1/26 Marines.

During the month of February, while I was already at Khe Sanh, my dad sent me my draft notice. Dang ARMY drafted me since I did not report to my local draft board for my 18th birthday.

I did various details such as filling sandbags, burning crappers, LPs, guard duty, etc. I had no idea while on my first sandbag detail, that I would get buried under a ton of debris. We were in the process of rebuilding a 106 MM recoilless rifle pit when we took a direct hit that buried all of us. Fortunately, none of us were injured or killed.

Cal Bright as a young Marine

On one of my LP (listening post) details, I was out and the only contact with our
rear was a strand of wire that was hand-held by a fellow Marine. We would tug the wire for a Sit Rep (situation report). During my watch the wire got tugged and pulled almost out of my hand. Talk about being scared shitless, I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to pull on the wire so I just lay there until daylight. As I proceeded to crawl back in the daylight, I discovered my wire had been broken or cut (not sure which) and there were several footprints and mounds of dirt shoveled. It had been a night that the NVA had crawled in behind me and were in the process of digging a trench up to our wire. I am glad that I did not tug or pull on the wire, for it would have given my position away.

My first patrol will be one that I’ll NEVER forget. It was February 25, 1968, which became known as the Ghost Patrol. I have no idea how it was possible but I was not hit or wounded on it even though I found out afterwards that I went crawling and running through one of our mine fields from the opposite direction (from the enemy side) without touching off a round. I have lived with guilt to this day since so many of us died in the Ghost Patrol.

My next patrol was on March 30 (pay-back time).

I have turned my experience of combat into a positive, by contributing in other capacities.

I transferred from Bravo Company and went to S2 and worked with Kit Carson Scouts for the rest of my tour. We went on many patrols and ambushes in places I can’t remember and some I’m not willing to report about. On returning to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 1969, I did a tour in Gitmo Bay (Cuba).

After getting out of the Marines for a couple/three years, I joined the Air Force Reserve for the next twenty years along with being hired by the Federal Government. During this stint, I was activated for Desert Storm and got as far as Ft. Hood, Texas, before being deactivated.

While working for the Federal Government, I was transferred to a section for Emergency Essential Personnel due to my previous military experience. I eventually ended up doing four Southwest Asia tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. I worked for the DoD/DLA as a Customer Support Rep. I was tasked to train, supply and equip the local security forces, as well as supply and equip our own military including NATO forces. I was deployed there for just under three years.

Cal Bright at his interview for Bravo!

I feel that God put me on this earth for a purpose and serving our Federal Government in one capacity or another was His way of keeping me on the straight and narrow.

Since I wasn’t allowed to go back overseas because of being diagnosed with skin and prostate cancer, I retired in June of 2010.

For the past few years I have been rebuilding my 1984 Corvette and have it almost completed. It is a 383 Stroker putting out just under 450hp. I enjoy hunting, fishing, cooking on the grill, camping, dates with my wife Debbie and enjoying all of our grandchildren (all sixteen of them).

Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

April 3, 2012

The Blade and the Cross

Guest blogger Donna E. Elliott shares her essay, The Blade and the Cross, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Essay Contest prize winner, excerpted from her book, Keeping the Promise (Hellgate Press, 2010).

On 21 January 1968, my brother, SSGT Jerry W. Elliott was declared Missing-In-Action in Khe Sanh, Vietnam. When the 55th Joint Task Force (JTF) investigated the loss site in 1999, his buddy, Mike Teutschman and I were present. After interviewing two local residents who had scavenged the Old French Fort, the team presented me with a charred section of rotor blade from Black Cat #027. The blade had survived a B-40 rocket attack, laid undiscovered in the red dirt of Khe Sanh until found by a farmer, and then spent years holding up the corner of a cow pen. Jerry had left his position as doorgunner on a different chopper to assist survivors from this crashed and burning helicopter when he disappeared.

Donna E. Elliott at the Wall, 2000

I brought it back to America. May 2000, found us in the Pentagon parking lot with Run For The Wall, waiting to ride in the Rolling Thunder parade and carry the rotor blade in a pine box to the Wall. Many notables mingled with the bikers, but I never knew the name of the man I remember the most. He stared at the blade for a long time before he spoke. He was one of two survivors from a chopper crash. The other crewmember had managed to return to the crash and recover a small piece of stainless steel from the helicopter, which he used to make two crosses. The vet reached into his pants pocket and a small piece of silver flashed in his palm. He explained this cross was never out of his sight; he carried it with him at all times as a reminder of the friends he had lost. Tears welled up in his eyes when he choked out, “I don’t know why I didn’t die that day; they were all such good men.” Around noon, the lead bikes began to roll out. As soon as the wheels stopped turning, strong hands reached out to carry the heavy wooden box to its final destination at Panel 35E in an honor guard procession. One by one, the riders touched Jerry’s name with bowed heads as a silent statement of respect. Overwhelmed, I left the Wall. Like a moth to a flame, I later returned. While bending over the pine box, which now overflowed with miscellaneous mementos, I lost my balance and leaned into the Wall to break my fall.

Donna E. Elliott

< That’s when I saw it. Tucked deep into a corner of the pine box was the small silver cross! For reasons unknown, the Vietnam vet from the parking lot had chosen to leave his talisman at the Wall in remembrance of Jerry. His gift an anonymous, selfless act, reminiscent of actions I’d heard combat vets share about their brother soldiers on the battlefield. I placed the cross on one end of the blade, where it gleamed boldly. I hope my nameless friend from the parking lot walked away from the Wall that day with as much peace in his heart as I felt at that moment. Donna E. Elliott, a retired military photojournalist, values the peaceful surroundings of the family farm in the Arkansas Ozark foothills. In civilian life, she utilized her writing skills as a newspaper and radio news reporter, and freelanced as a human interest photojournalist. While in service, she earned the U. S. Army Command FORSCOM 4th Estate Award and three Minaret awards for excellence in journalism. Donna is a member of the Military Writers Society of America.

Used with permission of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund ( and Donna E. Elliott.