Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for September, 2012

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

September 17, 2012

My First War

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BRAVO! supporter and creative writer Ruth Salter muses on her memories of the Vietnam War and its personal legacy.

I saw another one yesterday while taking a rare trip to the mall: that embroidered bar of yellow, red, and green, this time on the back of a gray-ponytailed biker cruising on the Interstate. The week before, it was on the hat of a panhandler standing quietly near the Vista Boulevard off-ramp. The Vietnam veteran’s service ribbon. Somewhere I read that the yellow and red reflect the flag of the Republic of Vietnam and that the green symbolizes the jungle (ever-present and primeval). On bumper stickers, on lapels, on flags—I’ve been noticing them my whole life.

At this point, you may be thinking I’m related to a Vietnam vet, but it’s not that simple. Although there are several veterans in my family, none of them served in that conflict. I was only in kindergarten in 1975 when it ended. So why does this war haunt me? For decades, why did I feel my insides twist with sharp grief when hearing or reading stories about Vietnam?

Ruth Salter and her daughter Sierra

Last July, at a conference called The Healing Art of Writing, I had time to ponder my knee-jerk responses. On a tiny, tree-filled campus in Northern California, medical professionals, authors, and educators gathered to explore the wondrous fact that simply writing about life’s traumas, including war, can bring healing. The poetry writers like me were expected to write one new poem a day, to be shared in workshops. And the conference leader challenged us to tackle the subjects we’ve been avoiding, those that scared us most.

I wrote my first poem about Vietnam. Late at night in a perfectly silent dorm room, I finally recognized the seeds of dread and sorrow that the war had planted in me. Then I got to work, stitching together shelved memories from childhood—green-clad correspondents yelling news on TV while helicopters hovered in the background; whispered stories about a family friend, an Army medic who broke his back in a chopper crash, the only survivor; the silent, drawn faces of the boat children who joined my classmates in the middle of the school year; the disheveled men who appeared on street corners in their fatigues, begging for change; the piles of camouflage boots at the local military surplus store. There wasn’t room for all those images in that one poem, but I can write more.

The Vietnam War had snaked its green tentacles into my sunny California childhood, reaching all the way into my cozy living room through the TV screen. It taught me a little too early that we humans are capable of horrific violence, of unleashing the kind of agony that can ripple across oceans and across generations.

But Vietnam has also taught me compassion for the displaced and hurting, especially for those with invisible wounds. It has prodded me to encourage veterans to tell their own stories, whether aloud, on paper or through images. It has strengthened me into a willing listener. For these gifts, I am thankful.

My First War

I remember the whop whop of Hueys coming from the TV.
My hand hovering near the staticky glass, I fell
in love with their snub noses and window eyes.
The door gunners looked like my plastic Army men,
arms and legs frozen in readiness, helmets stuck tight.

It was a war without a compass. At least
in Korea you knew which side of a line you were on.
Nam smelled like rotten hell, but nobody talks about that.

Wrestled together with tweezers and orange-scented glue,
the scale models multiplied, cockeyed and sticky.
I hung the wrecks from the ceiling with fishing line,
lay beneath, tracking their slow twirls with the nightly breeze.

By the time we saw the green tracers…too late.
I sat on my helmet so I wouldn’t take one in the ass,
then the belly ripped open.

My favorite fit in my pocket.
Its tiny rotor twirled with my fingertip,
safe from the jungle rushing up to swallow it whole,
half a world away.

Ruth Salter teaches writing at Boise State University as well as local non-profits such as The Cabin Literary Center and the Women and Children’s Alliance. Her award-winning poetry has appeared in several periodicals and anthologies, most recently The Healing Art of Writing, University of California Press. She is currently laying the groundwork for a veterans writing group in the Boise area; please contact her at if you would like to participate in or support this endeavor.

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

September 11, 2012


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Last Saturday afternoon Betty and I screened BRAVO! at the West Roxbury, Massachusetts, VA. The VA is located in a beautiful suburb of Boston and sits among streets lined with stately trees and green-lawned parks.

The screening was hosted and arranged by Marie Mottola Chalmers whose cousin, Vincent Mottola, was killed in action on February 23, 1968. Vincent Mottola was a Marine with Bravo Company. A large number of Vincent’s family, including his brother, William, and numerous cousins attended.

Also on hand were relatives of Mike McCauley, another Bravo Marine who is in the film. Mike’s two brothers, Larry and Jim, his sister Claire, in-laws and close friends attended the screening.

BRAVO! supporter Mark Cahill (and his son Dillon who is a student in the Boston area),a good friend of Bravo Company Skipper Ken Pipes attended the screening all the way from Southern California.

As in all our screenings so far, the overwhelming response to the film was deeply gratifying to Betty and I. Some of the folks with relatives in Bravo Company, 1/26 who came to see the film had no idea about the savage grind, the vicious nature of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Their emotional response to the film was moving.

The Boston screening had several special moments that made it unique among our showings. Young Mr. Benjamin Hoffman opened the afternoon with a stirring a cappella rendition of the National Anthem. Closing out the evening, a detachment of United States Marines from the First Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, posted the colors and lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

A big OOORAH!is due Marie Chalmers and the Mottola family, Ms. Diane Keith of the West Roxbury VA, Benjamin Hoffman, Mark Cahill, the MacCauleys and the color guard of the First Battalion, 25th Marines for their initiative and support.

In associated news, if you missed the blog post about our Washington, DC, screening of BRAVO! to 130-plus viewers, you can check it out here.

In addition, one of the folks who attended the screening was short story author, Siobhan Fallon, whose book of short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons) is a wrenching and realistic look at war’s effects on the warriors’ loved ones. Siobhan blogged about her impressions of BRAVO! You can read Siobhan Fallon’s blog here.

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

September 6, 2012

When Darkness Falls

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BRAVO! supporter Barry Hart wrote this poem about his friend and Marine, Earl Wayne Harris, who was killed at the Siege of Khe Sanh in February of 1968. Barry wrote the poem after he saw the film at the screening in Memphis, Tennessee.

When Darkness Falls

When darkness falls
Thoughts of yesteryear
Bring fear to once
An undisturbed mind.
Choppers call to take
The wounded and dead.
Pain reaches out
In the screams
From faces
Of fallen Marines.

Crickets sing
The melody of war.
Leeches cling
Sucking the blood
That oozes
From each wound.
Hammers drop
Sending missiles along
To tear the flesh
From innocent men.

Flares ignite
Pointing the way
To victory or death.
Body counts tell
The real story.
Success is measured
Not by the ground
We take,
But by the number
Of ears we clip.

Warriors in green;
Are what they call
The 26th Marines.
But we knew each one
As brother.
Each path, each trail
We walk with men
As we say good-bye
Again and again.

‘Neath the ground
At Beaver Dam
Near Buchanan
In Tennessee;
Across the road
From his home
Lies one such man
Who was my friend
And brother,
And one fine Marine!

By Barry Hart
August 2012

©2012 Barry Hart

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

September 4, 2012

Why I Fight

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Last Friday afternoon we screened BRAVO! to over one-hundred-thirty viewers at the Sheraton Pentagon Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, at the annual Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion.

Big thank-yous are due to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion, Tom Eichler, Neil Kenny, as well as the staff of the hotel. Special thanks are in order also to big BRAVO! supporters Betty and Lee Plevney who underwrote the costs of the screening. Greg (Delta Company, 1/26) and Connie Gibbons and Mark (Charlie Company, 1/26) and Elaine Kramer and Bravo Marines Ron Exum and Tom Steinhardt also deserve hearty Ooooorahs! for their help in staging the screening.

This screening was the second time the movie has been shown at the reunion and the crowd was made up of new viewers and previous viewers too.

Most of the viewers were affiliated with the Khe Sanh Veterans organization, but there were other guests too, who saw BRAVO! for the first time including supporter and short story author extraordinaire, Siobhan Fallon, whose book of short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone, is a wrenching and enlightening look at the price a family pays when their loved ones go off to war.

Every time we screen BRAVO! special things happen. We meet people who were at Khe Sanh who give us a unique take on the experience of siege warfare, old comrades emerge from the depths of memory to eat BBQ in the chair next to us, new friends show up and spark the internal magnets that form the bonds that tie us all together, no matter our nationality, our political opinions, our language, our race.

The man who helped Betty and Connie and Greg and Mark and Elaine and I set up the screening room and the equipment was from Ethiopia and has been in the Washington, DC, area for about one year. I noticed he spoke excellent English and I said so. He told me he had gone to school in Great Britain where he was educated in the film milieu.

He went back to Ethiopia to make documentary films but evidently made a film that angered the government.

As he told me this story, I thought about all the people who come to this country and what we represent to the world. Not only are we a money generating machine, a jobs caldron, we are also a beacon of respite and opportunity in a world of mayhem.

I often ponder why I joined the Marine Corps back in 1966. It is okay now to say I was a big patriot (whether or not I really was) back then, but for a long time it wasn’t cool to be patriotic. I may have been patriotic to some degree, but I was also curious to find out about combat and to see if I could match up to the demands of fighting in the greatest unit of light infantry the world has ever seen.

Yes, I often ponder why I fought the war in Vietnam and today, thinking about the documentary filmmaker from Ethiopia who can’t go home because of what he said, I choose to say that the biggest reason I fought in Vietnam with Bravo Company, 1/26, was so folks like our Ethiopian filmmaker can come here and speak what they believe, no matter who it irritates.