Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for June, 2012

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

June 28, 2012

On Memorial Day, Buena Vista, Iwo Jima, Remembrance and BRAVO!

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Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara, who served with Bravo Company at the Siege of Khe Sanh, muses about remembrance.

I recently was involved with our local Memorial Day ceremonies in which I involved my babies (granddaughters) to a very large degree. About a week before, we were attending a piano recital my oldest was giving at a local church along with many other children.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of the Estate of Daniel Horton

I was sitting there contemplating what I was going to say at the upcoming memorial services as we listened to all the other kids playing before Emma had her turn. There was a huge cross of colored glass embedded in the high wall of the sanctuary and I was sort of mesmerized by its beauty. It came to me as I was sitting there: The truth about what all men come to realize who have experienced the same kind of combat Bravo Company had to endure.

I knew I was going to talk about a young man named Stephen Kennedy. It was 1847 and he was fighting at the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American War. He and the rest of the men from my county were called “Brown County Blues” because they had purchased new denims before going off to war. The battle was nearly over when young Kennedy saw his captain fall from a musket ball to his chest. (Kennedy would eventually marry his captain’s daughter and fight in the Civil War.) Kennedy charged across the fireswept terrain dodging a hail of gunfire and dragged his young captain to a place of safety. Captain Taggart’s dying words were these, “Tell my folks I’ll see them in the good world. Now be a good soldier, Kennedy, and return to your company.”

They buried Captain Taggart there in Mexico in a few days and then they were all off for home. On his way home, young Kennedy came to know these three simple truths, truths that all young men who go off to war soon learn:

1. The Lord had come to claim Captain Taggart’s soul on 23 February 1847. (By the way, that is the same day in 1945 the Marines raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Captain Taggart commanded “E” company. The Marines on Iwo who raised the flag were also “E” company.)

2. Within days young Kennedy would help the earth reclaim his captain’s bones.

3. Most importantly, on the long trek home while traveling up the Mississippi on a steamboat, young Kennedy realized that the duty, the awesome responsibility of carrying home the precious memory of his beloved captain fell to him and him alone. He carried out his duty well for it is duly recorded in many places.

Sound familiar? Is that not what we have all carried with us for so long…those precious memories? Is that not what Betty and Ken have done with BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR? I say so, and I say they both have done it well. Our men will live forever.

You can find details about the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima in an interview of flag-raising participant John Bradley here. For more infomation about the Brown County Blues, check out this link.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Marines,Vietnam War

June 26, 2012

On Recognizing Our Vietnam Vets

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BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire, Chuck Dennis, muses on the recognition of Vietnam vets, past and present.

Many Vietnam vets have spoken about not being “welcomed” home from the war. Even when, later, Vietnam veterans were honored and given special places in celebrations such as Memorial Day, recognition seemed easy and shallow to many.

Certainly, being ignored or called “baby killers” went way too far, even for most people who, like me, opposed the Vietnam War. The President said it well at The Wall on Memorial Day. “One of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam, most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there. You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor. . . . You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.”

Campaign rhetoric? Perhaps. But he and the last several Presidents (and Congress and many “bureaucrats”) took action as well. They built a stronger VA, with hospitals where you can actually get quality care. They funded and conducted research that led to a wide variety of improvements, from better prosthetics to treating Post Traumatic Stress among veterans. They placed high priority on jobs for veterans through educational and training opportunities for returning soldiers and through job preferences for vets, the only “affirmative action” allowed in this country today. Support for these actions has been one rare place where we are not Democrats or Republicans, but Americans.

Nevertheless, there is more to do. For those of us who haven’t seen war firsthand (I was a Vietnam-era vet but not in Vietnam), we should learn more about veterans’ needs, especially related to the physical and emotional traumas that war wreaks on the warrior. That means listening to our warrior friends, recognizing them for what they have done, and supporting and helping them where we can. We should recognize and honor the positives that come with the leadership, teamwork, and brotherhood that military experience provides. In addition, we need to hold our representatives’ feet to the fire to make sure that veterans’ issues are addressed in both the public and private sectors. In short, our support needs to be deeper than a parade and a picnic on Memorial Day.

For those of us who are veterans, the first “to do” is to continue the advocacy veterans have been good at for a long time. Raise the warrior’s issues and let people know about the warrior’s needs. (For Vietnam vets, for example, Agent Orange awareness has subsided and needs to be brought back to the forefront.) At the same time, recognize that there may be many ways to meet the warrior’s needs, and be willing to discuss how to do so with limited resources. Know what the “bottom line” needs are (as opposed to “nice-to-haves”), and negotiate from that baseline. Be willing to work with people across the spectrum to meet those “bottom line” needs.

Second, there is certainly room to disagree on the role of government, but it would be good for vets to recognize that government, at least sometimes, provides beneficial services for people in exchange for our taxes. Today, vets have some of the best health care in the world, sponsored and paid for by our Federal Government (something to think about in view of the fight over extending good health care to other Americans). The GI Bill and job preferences for vets are also courtesy of the Federal Government.. And I think we should hold government’s “feet” to the fire to make sure that what it does, it does well and without waste. Most important, if we are going to insist on quality government services, we need to be willing to pay the price. I don’t mean overpay, but starving government services we’re unwilling to end won’t get us good services or a better government.

Third, let’s distinguish between the war and the warrior. As BRAVO! so powerfully documents, common men were put through hell, and they pulled together and fought with uncommon valor. (Yes, Ken, I’m borrowing your title.) But in my view, the Vietnam War was as far from “self defense” as America has ever gone, the war in Iraq was based in part on falsehoods, and I, for one, have no appetite for US boots on the ground in Syria or Iran.

Finally, veterans need to be a little tolerant of non-veterans (or people like me who didn’t serve in combat) who don’t fully understand what warriors went through. Yes, much of our celebration of veterans feels shallow, but it is better than what Vietnam vets got in the 1970s. Further, I don’t think we want most Americans to have too deep an understanding of what war does to the warrior and his (or her) family. Really deep understanding would come from war carried to American shores, multiple “9-11s,” or, at the least, reinstitution of a draft where even rich and privileged kids actually have to serve.

One last point – while we aren’t where we want to be, things are better for Vietnam vets than they once were. Both government and society have learned from the Vietnam veteran’s experience. Government has learned the importance of the mental impact of war. We knew about “shell shock,” but not how common Post Traumatic Stress is among warriors. We also learned that actions such as spraying Agent Orange everywhere could lead to long-term harm to warriors. Finally, we learned a lot about treating the physical wounds of war. Vietnam vets have benefitted, but the real benefit has accrued to today’s warrior, who gets better treatment on all fronts than past warriors received.

Society, too, has learned from how it treated Vietnam vets. When troops coming home were branded “baby killers,” they then went home to family and friends who realized that, no, they were just young men and women who tried to do their best and serve their country in extremely trying circumstances. So, over time, society rejected the “baby killer” label and began welcoming the vets home, first as individuals, and later as a nation. Today, at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, every time a group of today’s warriors walks through the terminal in camo, everyone stands up and cheers.

A far cry from what Vietnam vets faced forty-plus years ago, but finally, today, we do welcome the Vietnam veteran into society. In fact, the President made a point, at the end of his Memorial Day speech at The Wall, of welcoming Vietnam vets home. What he said reflects the views of the nation: Thank you. We appreciate you. Welcome home.

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

June 19, 2012

Update on Summer Travel and Screening Dates

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In August, as we announced before, Betty and I will be motoring to Washington, DC, via Dallas and Memphis and Shiloh and Chickamauga. While in Washington, we will attend the annual Khe Sanh Veterans reunion. While there, we hope to hold a screening for anyone interested in attending. As of now, we are in the planning stage and our plans for a screening will, in part, depend on who can attend and when.

Whether you have seen BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR or not, if you live in the general area, or are planning to travel to Washington, DC, in late August, please let us know as soon as possible if you are interested in attending and we will extend an invitation to the screening as soon as we have our plans firmed up.

You can reach us at or by calling Ken at 208-340-8889 or Betty at 208-340-8324.

Speaking of screenings, we would like to reiterate that we are showing the film in Irving, Texas, on August 9, 2012 to the Vietnam Veterans of America annual leadership conference and in Brownwood, Texas, at the Freedom Academy on August 13. We are also considering a screening in Memphis somewhere around the middle of August. If you live in the vicinity of our travels…Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, western North Carolina, West Virginia or Virginia…and would like to host a screening as a way to help support your local veterans’ organizations, we are open to your ideas.

After the Khe Sanh Veterans’ reunion, we plan to head north into the upper Atlantic states and would also entertain the opportunity to screen the film in Pennsylvania, New York, and points further north.

Still on the docket is a screening of the film in Walla Walla, Washington, in concert with the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is tentatively scheduled for July 17 and 18, 2012.

We will also screen BRAVO! at the Boise VA facility this coming Wednesday evening.

Again, if you have any ideas on putting together a BRAVO! event, please contact us.

Last but not least, this travel to promote BRAVO! and generate interest throughout the US is a costly undertaking. We now have a PayPal link for donations on this website. If you would like to help further our efforts, please consider making a donation today or tell others how they can help. Unless you ask to remain anonymous, we will proudly add your name to our Wall of Supporters on the website. Without the generosity of supporters like you, BRAVO! would have never been completed. Thank you!

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

June 13, 2012

News update on BRAVO!

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Good things are happening with the film, so it is time to post an update on the status of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR:

The Boise Veterans Affairs facility has invited us back again to screen BRAVO! for their employees on June 20, 2012. At the last screening, many attendees said the film should be required viewing for every VA employee because it helps them better understand Vietnam veterans. Special guest: BRAVO! cinematographer Mark Spear.

We have a tentative showing of BRAVO! scheduled for July 17 and 18, 2012, at the Veterans Affairs facility in Walla Walla, Washington. Special guest: BRAVO! interviewee Ron Rees.

Betty and Ken Rodgers will be motoring to Irving (in the Dallas metropolitan area), Texas, to screen BRAVO! at the Vietnam Veterans of America annual leadership conference on August 9, 2012. In conjunction with the showing, an article about BRAVO! is tentatively scheduled to appear in the VVA’s July-August edition of their national magazine, The VVA Veteran. After Dallas, we will trek to Brownwood, Texas, for a screening organized and hosted by our good friends and supporters, Roger and Mary Green Engle.

After the Brownwood visit, Betty and Ken will motor through the South, visiting Bentonville, Arkansas, to view the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, then on to Shiloh and Chickamauga, Tennessee, to tour the Civil War battlefields there.

After that, they will journey on to Washington, DC, for the annual get-together of Khe Sanh Veterans. The reunion begins during the last week of August.

If you live in the general areas we have mentioned and would like to host a screening of BRAVO!, please contact Ken at At this point in time, the screenings are not open to the general public, but are private, by invitation only. If you have a favorite veteran’s charity, consider a screening of BRAVO! as a way to help raise some funds for that charity.

BRAVO! is currently entered into film festivals in New Orleans, Boston, Austin, Southern Utah, Hot Springs (in Arkansas), Port Townsend (on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State), Santa Fe, The Hamptons, Iowa City, Toronto and Chicago. If you have any connections or know something about any of these festivals and want to help give us a leg up, please give us a shout.

Last but not least, we ask for your help. We are still exploring the best way to get BRAVO! out to the widest audience. If you know of a major business that might consider sponsoring the film, or if you know a film distributor who would be interested in promoting this “astounding motion picture” (thank you, D. Schwartz) about the Vietnam War and what it means to us today, please contact us immediately.

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

June 7, 2012

Filmmaker Ben Shedd on BRAVO!

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Ken and Betty Rodgers’ feature length documentary BRAVO! is the riveting story of the 77 day siege at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, where Ken was one of the Marines in that battle. BRAVO! combines new interviews with many of Ken’s Marine Khe Sanh colleagues and Vietnam era war stock footage, telling an almost half century old story as if it happened last week.

I’ve watched BRAVO! four times now at different screenings, two of the first screenings for colleagues and people in the film, one at the Veterans Hospital, and one for a university film class. Each time, it’s as if I were joining those men on the battlefield.

This movie is as powerful as the recent Afghanistan on-the-ground war documentary RESTREPO – this one from another war, Vietnam – and I felt just as viscerally involved in the events from decades ago as from just a few years back. The exquisite production work by Cinematographer Mark Spear, BAFTA Award winning Editor/Sound Designer John Nutt and four time Academy Award winning Sound Mixer Mark Berger at Skywalker Ranch slowly sweep me into Khe Sanh and, much like the battles of that place, moving back and forth from quiet tension to startling explosions, into the midst of deathly conflict, into the middle of events we struggle to comprehend.

Ben Shedd (Photo Credit: Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)

BRAVO! flips documentary expectations upside down. The interviews, which would usually accompany footage showing events in a documentary, become the central events of this film. Indeed there is news footage from that long-ago time, but the vivid recollections of these Veterans create a visual landscape so detailed that I find myself wrenched by the life and death of war. I become one of their colleagues in that time and place and come away knowing both the tragedy and day-to-dayness of battle like I have never before imagined.

We hear vividly how the men of Bravo Company live every day today with their ages-old war memories, some having never told their stories before. I’ve read about the effects of post-traumatic stress and in BRAVO! I see and hear it in real time. When 4 or 5 of these men describe in detail an event in their Khe Sanh battles, all from their own memories, as if they were living it right now – not reliving things from decades ago – and all filled with the same details shaped with small variations from their own personal recollections, I feel startled how we – every one of us – must deeply imbed dramatic/traumatic events in our lives and shape our futures from past events, and say little or nothing as we move along in our lives.

I went out the day after I first saw BRAVO! and found myself looking at every single person who crossed my path, wondering and thinking what, like those men of Bravo Company, were people’s life histories, what were their back stories, what have they experienced that make them who they’ve become, and wondering what I and each of us carries with us as we make our way through the world and through our lives.

I’m a professional filmmaker, not a psychiatrist or psychologist, and what I see documented, with everything else in BRAVO!, is post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] in all its facets, in my face, a deep reality to understand and know and deal with.

Last week, I bumped into a VA doctor acquaintance of mine who was at the Veteran’s Hospital screening of BRAVO! and with my simple question asking him about the film, he responded with a shudder that now, two months later, he is still haunted by its visceral impact and clear-eyed view of the people in battle and the lifelong aftermath.

It’s taken me even longer to try to write some of what I felt and am still feeling from experiencing BRAVO! Thank you, men of Bravo Company, for telling us about yourselves. Thank you, my filmmaker friends Ken and Betty Rodgers.

The pacing of BRAVO! is superb, deliberate, delicate, harsh, real, raw, explosive sound vibrating to the core, the memories told like they happened just now, just last week, but in reality 45 years ago. Then is now…

I agree with D. Schwartz in his Cinesource Movie Review: “BRAVO! is an astounding motion picture, made more so by the fact that this is Ken and Betty Rodgers’ first film—one that looks, feels, and sounds as if it were produced by seasoned filmmakers. An instant classic, BRAVO! is a timeless portrayal of this ageless / undying / everlasting / perpetual human activity called war.”

I’ve made two dozen documentaries and screened hundreds of other excellent documentary films, and I put BRAVO! in the top 10 of all documentaries I’ve ever seen. Kudos to the whole production crew. Bravo BRAVO!

Ben Shedd, Academy Award and Peabody Award winning filmmaker and University adjunct faculty “Mine is just one voice. I hope you will see BRAVO! and read many other voices telling about the breadth and depth of this movie on BRAVO!TheProject blog.”

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

June 5, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Ken Rodgers

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Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh just before the siege began

I was working on a core drilling rig in southern Arizona the summer of 1966 and bored with the heat and the prospects of my sophomore year at Arizona State University. My neighbor across the street got his draft notice and decided to try to get into the Coast Guard. His driver’s license was suspended so he asked me to haul him to Phoenix and the Coast Guard recruiter.

The Coast Guard had a long waiting list. We went to see the Army about my friend becoming a chopper pilot. We went to see the Navy after that. Across the hall from the Navy was the Marine Corps recruiter. While my friend discussed opportunities in the Navy, I went and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. That was in August of 1966. So many young men were joining up I had to wait until October to get into boot camp. I was nineteen years old.

Ken Rodgers

I arrived in Vietnam in March of 1967 and went straight to the 26th Marines on Hill 55 southwest of Danang, where after a short time for training I went to 2nd Platoon Bravo Company where I remained until March of 1968 when I became the radio operator for the second platoon’s platoon sergeant. I survived the siege and left Khe Sanh on April 1, 1968.

After the Marine Corps I was: A sheet rock humper, in the sheep and cattle business, a Vietnam Veterans counselor, an accountant, a controller, a quality assurance officer, a real estate broker, a management consultant, a writer, a teacher and now, along with my wife Betty, a filmmaker.