Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for July, 2012

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

July 20, 2012

A Tour of Hell in a Small Space

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Stephen Hunter, former film critic for the Washington Post and creator of the Bob Lee Swagger novels reviews BRAVO!

Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor: A Tour of Hell in a Small Space


We live in an age obnoxious in its corruption of the ancient genre of documentary film. The profusion of cable channels with their insatiable need for product has largely diluted the field with reports from Area 51, speculations on ancient aliens, and re-creations of the Battle of Gettysburg with twenty-five extras. Thus, it’s a privilege and an honor to come across a work as disciplined and rigorous as Ken and Betty Rodgers’s Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. No recreations, no ancient aliens, no saucers.

Just a tour of hell in a very small space, among young men in the prime of life hammered by the existential fury of war. Theirs wasn’t to question why, theirs was do nothing–and die, too many of them. The film is a two-hour examination of the ordeal of the siege at the Marine Operation Base at Khe Sanh from January through July of 1968. The focus is on Bravo-1-26, a Marine infantry company that was on the bull’s-eye for the worst seventy-seven days of the siege, during which life consisted primarily of two endeavors: digging and praying.

The Rodgerses really aren’t interested in history. They provide no voice of authority in the film, no god of context who sets things up geopolitically or even tactically. No pointy-heads or critics explain in front of animated maps the movements of the units, the terrain, the consternation of the policy people ten thousand miles away, the press coverage. Nobody second-guesses or explains, from the safety of a paneled den, what Ken Pipes, Bravo’s CO, should have done. Instead the filmmakers simply let the boys speak. The Rodgerses are noble witnesses who have committed to recording this all-but-forgotten aspect of that all-but-forgotten time and place. And they know enough to turn on the camera and shut up. So the film finds its rhythm in the excellent editing of John Nutt, which juxtaposes the recollection of several Bravo survivors, men and officers, with archival film.

The men are now all middle-aged, wearing the comfortable padding of the good life in the country they fought so hard for. (You will think, as I did: Boy, if anyone ever earned the right to comfort, it was these guys.) As they talk, a narrative emerges, and the Rodgerses and Nutt cut away to mostly grainy film, as well as to the extraordinary photojournalism from the siege by David Douglas Duncan and Robert Ellison. The record reveals much that has been forgotten, if it was ever noted in the first place: the squalor of the installation itself–it looked like a large urban garbage dump by siege’s end–and the feel of the thunder of the incoming.

Other samples of the combat experience emerge, without emotional underlining: the endless fatigue, the endless labor (sandbags had to be filled and stacked each day, human waste had to be burned, supplies had to be offloaded and stockpiled) and the hideousness of what small pieces of heated supersonic metal and vast energy waves of percussion can do to human flesh. The directors also make clever usage of sound; occasionally, the screen goes dark, and all we hear is the sound of bombardment, a living symphony of mayhem, as recorded on site by an enterprising Marine historical officer.

In general, the movie progresses chronologically, its first concern the arrival of the grunts to the site itself and their initial bewilderment at the intensity and complexity of the situation. It follows through long periods of consistent bombardment, the loss of a large patrol, and could be said to “climax”–the word implies melodrama, but the film is defiantly anti-melodramatic–in Bravo’s assault outside the wire late in the siege of a section of NVA trenchline. The arrival, in July of 1968, of a relief force, effectively ending the siege, is not treated as a triumph but a relief.

The tone is modest, severe, and utterly melancholic.

Regardless of one’s position on the politics and the policy that made this episode seem inevitable, one can only wonder at the toughness, the love, and the deep sense of comradeship that got the young Marines–most were twenty or younger–through the ordeal. But no bugles are played, no drums are beaten. The men themselves are now, as they were then, quietly magnificent. No Rambos here, no bravado or warrior zeal.

Most break down at one point or another, and request that the camera be shut down while they compose themselves. Even now, years later, the loss of so many friends and the harrowing nature of the dread that crushed against them are still written vividly on their faces. These are the things that never go away, that we expect our fighters to bear up under. It is pleasing to report that most seem to have done well, and ultimately rejoined and contributed to society. That’s the only happy ending the movie provides.

To call Khe Sanh a “battle” is somewhat misleading. The idea, just like the French plan in 1954, was to expose a large unit to enemy attack, under the assumption that it would prove so tempting that the enemy would soon arrive. The second part of the assumption was that the Marines, with their superior firepower and discipline, would destroy the attacking force and break the back and ultimately the morale of the human waves in the wire. But, as at Dien Bien Phu, the enemy never came. Instead, the NVA lay back and assaulted by mortar, rocket, artillery, and sniper fire.
Only that one time, late in the engagement, did Bravo emerge from the wire and engage North Vietnamese regulars in a brief but bloody attack, vividly recalled here by all who participated.

Still, at the grunt level, the experience was mostly about the play of right-time/right place dynamics, as most of the survivors recollect a moment or seventeen when they went into the hole on the right instead on the left and in the next second the hole on the left was obliterated by a shell. They were all–to cite a famous Bill Mauldin cartoon from World War II–refugees from the law of averages.

The base’s umbilical was resupply by air. Some of the most horrifying moments in Bravo! portray the intensity of arrival and exit, as the C130s hit the runaway in mid-bombardment, spew men and material without ever really coming to a halt, then crank into a 180 at the end of the runway and take off again, all amid bursting shells. Nobody who arrived or departed in that fashion ever forgot it, and the graveyard of burned fuselages and sundered wings that became the central architectural feature of the otherwise low-lying bunker city is an image of war at its fiercest.

A more historically oriented film might cover those brave pilots, as well as the fighter-bomber jocks who slathered the low-lying surrounding hills with napalm and contributed significantly to prevent Khe Sanh from becoming an American Dien Bien Phu, as well as the B-52s that turned much of the outlying jungle to mulch. Such a film might interview someone over the rank of O-3, might even provide a map that would locate Khe Sahn in country and suggest why the war’s managers considered it a good strategy. To their credit, the Rodgerses don’t care. It’s immaterial.

This is a grunt film that looks at history from over the lip of the trench. To watch it is to think: Where did we get such men?

Stephen Hunter was chief film critic for The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post. He is author of the Bob Lee Swagger novels.

Stephen Hunter’s review of BRAVO! is reprinted here with permission from the July/August 2012 issue of The VVA Veteran, the national magazine of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

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

July 17, 2012

What It Means to Be the Daughter of a Marine

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Liza Long, friend and supporter of BRAVO! muses on her memories of her Marine father, among other things.

I am the oldest daughter of a United States Marine. Born in the Pink Doctor Building during the final years of a Cold War conflict we did not win, I learned to walk on Honolulu’s sandy beaches, waving to the improbable sky hippopotamus that hovered over the sea behind my base house, its tandem rotors thumping rhythms I felt in my bones, its lights flashing red and green, port and starboard, my father’s way of signaling his love to my mother and me as we collected blue glass balls that washed up on our beach. The glass balls, my father said, once floated fishing nets in far-away Japan.

My father, USMC Captain Theodore Thomas Long, Jr., piloted CH-46 Sea Knights during the final gasps of the Vietnam War. He earned his nickname, “Machine Gun,” when he asked his CO to transfer him from an assault squadron to a unit that flew medical rescue missions. Anybody who knew my father knows he could not have flown a gunship. He was not that kind of guy—he was the kind of guy who wept every time he read the ending of A Tale of Two Cities, who sang “When You Walk through a Storm” so clear and sweet it gave you goose bumps.

My father’s Vietnam was not Ken Rodger’s Vietnam, not the “confused alarms of struggle and flight” described so vividly in Ken’s documentary of the siege of Khe Sanh: Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. You see, my father was an officer. He joined the ROTC in college, where he majored in Political Science. Dad started his thesis with the intention of defending the Vietnam War and the United States’ role in it. Upon researching the subject, he concluded that the war was indefensible. Then he graduated and went to fly helicopters in Vietnam anyway, because that’s what you do when you love your country: you support it, right or wrong. And my Dad, the fatherless liberal Democrat Mormon boy from Utah, loved America.

Here is what it means to be the daughter of a United States Marine who served in Vietnam. Your first word is “jet” (“No, helicopter! Helicopter!” my Dad would say). You belt out “From the Halls of Montezuma” while the other kids are singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” You are never, ever allowed to say the word “Army.” When you forget to do your chores, your Dad yells, “Drop and give me 20,” and you do. On Sundays, the only movies you can watch are the following: Patton, The Great Escape, Victory at Sea, and Chariots of Fire. But mostly Patton. You and your siblings can reenact the entire film.

Theodore Thomas Long, Jr with his chopper. Liza Long and a friend are in the lower left corner of the photo.

In sixth grade, on your Dad’s advice, you read The Iliad, holding your breath: “Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles.” Your teacher is disappointed with you because you write an epic poem in dactylic hexameter about a war between ants and wasps instead of a pretty lyric about butterflies. In high school, you have your first crush on Lawrence of Arabia and begin to contemplate the oxymoronic problem of Heroism in the Modern Age. You learn what the word ambiguous means. You learn that things are not black and white. You learn to love America anyway.

In 1991, when you are home on break from college, driving with your Dad, who has just been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (a war he will not win), you find your way blocked by barricades, a parade with tanks and ticker tape to honor heroes of the Gulf War. Your Dad starts to cry. “They spit on me,” he says. “When I came home, they spit on me.”

I thought of all these things when I saw Bravo for the first time. Author and 1968 Khe Sanh siege survivor Ken Rodgers has been a longtime friend and mentor. I wrote my first novel (probably for myself) under his tutelage. There is nothing like learning the power of strong verbs from a man who experienced them like Ken did. Seeing Bravo made me understand some things I’d always wondered about my own father, about the war that shaped him, and by extension, me.

What I learned from watching Bravo is this: you are never more alive than when you are facing death. In that moment, you are the Ubermensch, hyper-alive, hyper-aware. You can see bullets pass you by. You can contemplate their curves, their hard, deadly tips, the lovely crimson clouds that they create when they impact something not protected by a flak jacket. Watching Bravo, I learned that war is hell. But I also finally understood why we keep waging it. At some level, war is black humor, war is exhilarating. And nothing else in life quite lives up to that powerful chemical cocktail your body slams when you face death (except maybe childbirth, but that’s another story).

Here is what it means to be the daughter of a United States Marine who served in Vietnam. When your father dies at age 50, they bury him near Hill Air Force Base, in the shadow of mountains, beneath the flight path. A bugler plays “Taps.” The guns salute. They hand your mom a folded flag. You don’t know whether the cancer that killed him was part of a cluster that afflicted Vietnam pilots, or whether it was because he was born in Reno, Nevada in 1944, or whether it was just one of those things.

You love America anyway. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Liza Long is a writer, designer, musician, and erstwhile Classicist who lives in Boise, Idaho. Her most recent book, Little White Dress from Mill Park Publishing, won a 2012 Bronze Ippy Award for Women’s Issues. You can follow her blog about single motherhood, theology, science fiction, and politics (inter alia) at

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

July 10, 2012

War in Three Screens

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Guest blogger A K Turner on Bravo!, movies and war, among other things.

Act I: Vietnam via Hollywood

I was a bicentennial baby, my childhood memories are of the eighties. I grew up with Duran Duran, jelly shoes, and Debbie Gibson singing “Electric Youth”. The year of my birth introduced VCRs, which made movies a constant and treasured pastime. In addition to stepping up my knowledge of how much society values tits and ass, VCRs brought me a first glimpse of war. Before then I’d heard only faint whispers of Vietnam. I gleaned from overheard adult conversation, accessorized by the clink of ice in a highball, that Vietnam was something that had happened, but also something that should not have happened.

I wish I could say I expanded my knowledge by listening to veterans tell their stories, or by reading the history books, but I had a lot of “Sweet Valley High” and “Choose Your Own Adventure” on my reading list, and an occasional biography of Harry Houdini or J. Edgar Hoover. Houdini because I thought he could do amazing things; I dutifully practiced holding my breath and got up to a minute and a half. I wanted to try for two, but my mom told me I was killing my brain cells, so I stopped. I read about Hoover because I wanted to join the F.B.I. When adults spoke of the F.B.I., it came with electricity. Adults rarely spoke of war.

A K Turner

Thus occupied, my only knowledge of war came from the VCR, from Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon. These were movies that made me cringe and cry. My heart bled for the soldier, or I despised the soldier, who was really an actor playing a soldier, so no matter how emotional I became during the movie, trying unsuccessfully to stifle the tears and snot and clenching of my throat, it was still Hollywood. After the movie ended, I made plans for the weekend or did my homework. I read another “Sweet Valley High”, because it was just a movie. Maybe an image stayed with me, maybe I dreamed of Sergeant Elias reaching for the heavens. But then I’d see a picture of Willem Defoe on the red carpet at the Academy Awards and know everything was okay.

Act II: September 11, 2001 via The Today Show

We had a one-bedroom apartment carpeted in blue. I crunched numbers, my husband managed building engineers. We stopped getting ready for work and turned our attention to the television screen. A plane had flown into a building. When the second plane hit, Katie Couric said something about planes being mysteriously drawn into the towers. Someone undoubtedly whispered via mic in her ear that there was probably a different and more malevolent explanation. We watched in shock. Eventually, we proceeded with our day, because time refuses to do anything but progress.

In the car, on the way to work, I cried. But I didn’t cry for the victims or the terror of what they felt. They were just a television screen and too far removed. I cried when I realized that my husband might be called in to active duty. For me, September 11th was a spotlight on the unimaginable depths of my own selfishness. I cried only when I saw a potential and direct impact on my life. I’d cry again when I realized how selfish I was, wondering if I lacked an emotion that others possess. I couldn’t cry for the victims, because of the filters between us, because of the television screen, Katie Couric, and three thousand miles.

Act III: Vietnam via Documentary

My husband was called into active duty, but stayed in the U.S. He went through sniper training and other things not on my daily radar. He boarded ships in the San Francisco Bay; he and his fellow comrades searched for incoming terrorist threats. Plots to blow up the Bay Bridge, that sort of thing. At night, he’d confide in me: “We’re there to make people feel better. If someone really wants to do something, we’re not going to be able to stop them.”

So what will be, will be and I turned my thoughts from war, though war continued on and still does. Vietnam resurfaced with a scourge of yellow ribbons. Support your troops with a sticker on your car. Don’t make this like Vietnam, when we spit on our boys if they were lucky enough to return – that was the fear. And again I felt the current of a war that was happening, but maybe one that shouldn’t be.

The first real emotion kicked when I saw a person like me (selfishness, again rearing its ugly head). A woman my age, with kids like mine. She looks just like me, except her husband is gone for war, or for good because of war. She’s wondering how she’ll get through, while I’m making spaghetti for my complete family of four.

The full kick came on a bigger screen. A documentary called Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor about a battle in Vietnam. There were good guys and bad guys and horrific conditions and all of the trappings that Hollywood had. Except this time it wasn’t Vincent D’Onofrio or Tom Berenger on the screen. These were Marines who had been there and had stories to tell. Real and raw and without script. Men describing what had happened to them, the life and death they’d seen, shaking, weeping, pausing, and laughing when the other options are gone. The audience made no attempt to stifle tears and snot and clenching throats.

I don’t know war, only selfishness and words and pictures. But value nests in seeing the true faces and hearing the unedited words of those who have endured what I have not. They deserve something more than what we’ve given them, certainly far beyond what I’ve given them. Taking time to honor their story is a start.

AK Turner is a co-author of Drinking with Dead Women Writers and the author of This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store. More of her work is available at

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

July 5, 2012

Meet Mark Spear

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In April of 2010, Ken and Betty Rodgers first encountered Mark Spear when they went in search of someone to shoot video for the film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. They met Mark at a local studio in Nampa, Idaho.

As Ken and Betty described their project, the luminous glow in Mark’s eyes, the detailed queries he made about history and geography and aspects of the narrative generated a lot of magnetism.

Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

Ken and Betty went home and talked about that magnetism…the excitement in Mark’s words and his eyes.

In late April of 2010, Mark and Betty interviewed and filmed Ken talking about his memories of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Ken had created a script of questions and as the over two-hour interview went on, Mark picked up hints about important things, emotional things that Ken and Betty hadn’t anticipated being of interest to an audience viewing a film about war. Questions about personal matters, how something felt, how it was remembered after all the intervening years, was there any humor in the seventy-seven day hell of the Siege?

In July of that year Mark, Betty and Ken traveled to the Khe Sanh Veterans’ reunion in San Antonio, Texas. They found out that Mark likes BBQ…lots of BBQ…and that he had a lot of great tips and suggestions how to best interview the eight Marines and one Navy corpsman on tap for a two-day film schedule. How to light them and how to place them in the frame of the video, how to get them to talk about what made them laugh, to recall what levity there was extant in that deadly and frightening place.

Mark made close friends with several of the men in the film. Before the filming was finished, all the men interviewed trusted Mark to show their best side.

In August of 2010, the Rodgers went on the road and filmed five more men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. Novices for sure, Betty and Ken ran into a number of technical problems while in the process of setting up lights or getting the sound gear right, shooting video of the men being interviewed.

Even though Mark was back in Nampa, Idaho, working on his computer editing movies with Final Cut Pro, or on locations shooting video, or acting as producer to get videos made, he always had time to stop whatever he was doing and talk to Betty and Ken about their problems, helping them come up with solutions.

Mark made a number of trailers for BRAVO! and remains a good friend to Betty and Ken as well as the Marines of BRAVO!

You can find out more about Mark Spear and his filmography here.

Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

July 3, 2012

On Merrill’s Marauders, Wars to End Wars and Vietnam

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Kitty Delorey Fleischman, photo courtesy of Sherry Ann Elizabeth Photography

Guest blogger Kitty Delorey Fleischman is publisher and editor of IDAHO magazine. She’ll tell you that one of the advantages of being old is that you’ve had time to do a lot of things. She taught school in Michigan and Alaska for eight years, has worked as a reporter at the Nome Nugget, and the Great Lander in Anchorage. Moving to Idaho in 1981, she worked part-time for United Press International before co-founding the Idaho Business Review in 1984. The IBR was sold to its current owners in 1999, and she started IDAHO magazine in 1999.

Kitty is married to Gerald Fleischman, an engineer working in the renewable energy field, and she has two children, eight grandchildren and seven (at last count) great-grandchildren.


Now they’re called, “The Greatest Generation,” but when they went to serve, they simply wanted to put a stop to the evil and aggression that were engulfing the world in what was, at that time, called “The Second War to End All Wars.”

Both Lt. Donald Delorey and Lt. Mary Jane Healy were volunteers who went without being called. They were my parents, so from here on, I’ll refer to them simply as “Mom” and “Dad.” Seeing what was happening in the world, Dad signed up for the Army in July 1941. In fact, he was in Panama on Dec. 7, 1941, when news of the Pearl Harbor attack arrived. He and another soldier were immediately sent on horseback to map the coast of Panama, looking particularly for sites where the Japanese might try to land. The Panama Canal would have been a plum prize.

Donald Delorey in the United States Army

In early 1943, when President Roosevelt issued a presidential call for volunteers for “a dangerous and hazardous mission,” the call was answered by some 3,000 American soldiers. The volunteers came from stateside units, from the jungles of Panama and Trinidad. Some had been involved in the campaign in Guadalcanal, New Guinea, and New Georgia. Some were hardened and battle-scarred, some were new to war. Each was different, with one thing in common: they voluntarily answered the call of their nation. Dad was among the first to volunteer, and he went through his Ranger training at Ft. Benning, Ga. The unit was officially designated as the “5307th Composite Unit (Provisional),” Code Name: “Galahad.” Later it earned its more popular name, “Merrill’s Marauders,” in recognition of its leader, Brigadier General Frank Merrill.

After preliminary training, operations began in complete secrecy in the jungles of central India. The Marauders began the long march up the Ledo Road and over the outlying ranges of the Himalayas into Burma. It was men and mules. The Marauders had no Jeeps, no tanks or heavy artillery to support them, as they hacked their way, walking more than 1,000 miles through the foothills of the Himalayas. The path was through extremely dense, nearly impenetrable jungles. They were part of a “throw-away” force sent half-way around the world to delay the Japanese, because everyone was sure the Japanese could not be beaten.

Well, “everyone” didn’t know my parents.

Mom & Dad met on the USS General H.W. Butner, a troop transport on its way to India. Dad was assigned to the 5307th Provisional, and Mom was a member of the 44th Field Hospital. They met shortly after the ship pulled out of Norfolk, Va. Their unknown destination was Bombay. Dad spotted Mom instantly and proposed to her on the second day he knew her. A 26-year old “first louie,” Dad always claimed Mom said “yes” on the third day, something she vehemently denied until just a few months before she died, then adding, “Well, one of us had to keep our heads!”

It was not Mom’s way to stand back and ask others to do a job. Her older brother was serving in France, and Mom knew nurses would be desperately needed to care for the wounded. Mom was 22-years old when she shipped overseas, a registered nurse who didn’t quite meet minimum Army standards requiring that women be five feet tall and weigh a hundred pounds. While Mom and Dad always claimed Mom was five-feet tall, at five-foot-two, I was nearly half a head taller than Mom, who was 4-foot, 10.5-inches tall, and tipped the scales at 95 pounds, fully-clothed. But they weren’t checking nurses too closely in those days. Dad always told us, “Yes, kids, it’s true. Your mother did wear Army boots.” They were size 4 1/2s.

Mary Jane Healy

Their first date was in Cape Town, South Africa, when Dad escorted a group of nurses into town for the day and bought Mom a warm Coca-Cola. They spent their shipboard days planning their lives together with a little white house in the country and a flock of kids. When the ship landed in Bombay and they parted company, Dad promised he’d find her again.

With that, the Marauders were off on their assignment to throw stumbling blocks in front of the Japanese 18th Division, Emperor Hirohito’s elite “Chrysanthemum Troops,” the unit that wrought havoc across China, and Burma. The Marauders faced the Japanese in five major engagements, at Walawbum, Shaduzup, Inkangahtawng, Nhpyum Ga, and Myitkyina, as well as thirty minor engagements.

By always moving to the rear of the main forces of the Japanese, the Marauders continually disrupted the enemy’s supplies and communication lines. The conflict climaxed behind Japanese lines with the capture of the Myitkyina airfield, the only all-weather airfield in northern Burma. It came after four full months of marching and combat in the Burmese jungles.

It is said that no other American force except the First Marine Division, which took and held Guadalcanal for four months, has had as much uninterrupted jungle fighting as Merrill’s Marauders.

There also is solid basis to the claim that no other American forces ever had to march as far, fight as continuously, or display more endurance than the fast-moving, hard-hitting Marauders. Dad often told us about watching airplanes searching the valleys 10,000 feet below them, looking for them to drop supplies to them, while they were high above the planes on trails far up in the foothills. He talked about even the sure-footed mules falling off cliffs in the mountains as they made their way along ancient, treacherous paths, guided by locals.

The mules and muleteers of the Mars Task Force trained for the job in Colorado Springs, Colo., and they earned the full faith and respect of the unit. Some years ago I met with a number of the muleteers at a reunion they held in Boise. I’ve never talked with a Marauder who didn’t tear up at memories of those mules who shared their path in those hard times.

Emmett Payne, an old Marauder who spent his last days at the Idaho State Veterans Home, told me stories that Dad never told his daughter. I don’t know whether he told them to his sons. Emmett told about how the Marauders, all of whom—from Merrill on down to the lowliest private—were suffering horribly from dysentery and malaria. They didn’t have time to be sick, and there was no time for diarrhea, so they kept moving despite malaria, and they cut holes in the seats of their pants to deal with the diarrhea. They kept walking and fighting.

The Marauders carried all of their equipment and supplies on their backs or on the backs of their pack mules. They were often resupplied by airdrops, but also had to make clearings in the thick jungles so the supplies could be dropped to them.

When they took off from Bombay, Dad’s pack weighed 75 lbs., which was half of his body weight. Mom carried 40 lbs., which was 40 percent of her body weight. Dad was wounded three times. One was a flesh wound where a bullet passed through the fleshy part of his thigh. After he was treated, he tore off the tag and went back to his men. The second time, a bullet shattered the base of his thumb so he couldn’t pull a trigger. That put him out of commission for a little longer.

Following a plane crash that killed a number of the nurses from the 69th General Hospital, Mom was transferred from Bhamo to Ledo. There was never a shortage of work for the nurses, and Mom also helped to train nurses for Dr. Gordon Seagraves, “The Burma Surgeon.”

Donald and Mary Jane Delorey in 1946

In the Ranger tradition, every wounded Marauder was evacuated. The third time Dad was shot, he was 15 yards from the Japanese machine guns. His upper right leg was shattered. “It felt like a bag of wet marbles,” he said. He lay there for nearly an hour, applying a tourniquet, picking little tomatoes off a nearby bush, and savoring what he thought were his last moments. While Sgt. John “Tex” Texiera was directing mortar fire from a nearby hill, Capt. Jim Holland, Sgt. Pappy Meyers, Lt. Colonel Ken Harrell, and Capt. Brubaker from the headquarters company came out with a litter to bring Dad back behind the American lines. “What the hell are you doing here,” was Dad’s first question. “You didn’t think we were going to leave you here, did you?” Jim Holland asked. Dad said that, actually, he was pretty sure they would have to leave him, and he believed the only reason he was allowed to live was because the Japanese planned to kill those who they knew would come to rescue him.

Because they were a secret unit, there were very few photos, and only three reels of movie film ever taken of the Marauders. Two of those were destroyed in a plane crash. On the one remaining reel are images of Dad being carried back to the American lines while bullets snap leaves from nearby trees. So Dad began his long trip home on a Piper J-3 Cub.

Mom’s unit remained in Burma, nursing the troops. The Japanese army had been broken, however, so things were quieting after Myitkyina. Eventually her unit was sent to Okinawa, preparing for the invasion of Japan. Mom was assigned to wade ashore with the first wave of troops.

When the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima ended the war, Mom was sent home, but not before Typhoon Louise, classified as a “Perfect Storm,” slammed the island, damaging, sinking or grounding 265 ships and leaving 83 men dead or missing. During the storm, Mom spent three days huddled under a butcher block with two other nurses after everything else they had was blown away.

Mom said the admiral cried when he came ashore and found the nurses with nothing—no food, no dry clothing, not a comb nor a toothbrush—nothing but the wet, filthy clothes on their backs. “American women should never have been treated like this,” was his first reaction, and the next thing they knew, there were naval commanders running all of the supplies they needed.

Shortly after that, the nurses were evacuated and, although the typhoon was still in evidence, Mom, a non-swimmer, refused to ride up in a basket like those who were too afraid to make the climb. Still in the throes of the subsiding storm, Mom said sometimes the scramble net was far away from the ship, sometimes it was slammed against the side, but Mom proudly climbed the 40-foot net up the side of the ship, satisfied with the knowledge that she had done her part in the second “War to End All Wars.” She had helped to make the world safe for democracy. She and Dad had both done their parts to assure a peaceful world for their children.

Twenty years later, almost to the day, my older brother Don, set foot on Okinawa, a young Marine on his way to Vietnam.

You can find out more about Merrill’s Marauders here. You can find out more about the China-Burma-India Theater here