Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for April, 2013

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

April 25, 2013

News From the Moscow Screening and What’s Up Next

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The screening of BRAVO! to nearly two hundred attendees last week in Moscow, Idaho, co-sponsored by the University of Idaho’s Operation Education and the Department of English, was an amazing experience for co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers. We were enthusiastically received and got to taste the flavor of campus life at the University of Idaho.

BRAVO! on the marquee

We were received on Wednesday evening by our hostess, journalist and author Julie Titone. Julie, along with her former husband, the recently-deceased Grady Myers, co-authored a book about Vietnam titled Boo-Coo Dinky Dow, My Short Crazy Vietnam War. You can find out more about the book here.

Thursday morning, Betty and Ken met with Ed McBride of Operation Education and talked about the upcoming events in which they were to participate, followed by a stimulating session with Dr. Anna Banks’ documentary film class where we showed clips of BRAVO! and had a great discussion with the students.

For lunch, Betty and I enjoyed the succulent Sublamb gyros from Mikey’s Greek Gyros on Main Street in Moscow.

From there, we met with Laura Pizzo of the English Department for a Q & A session with students of the university. We talked about art, writing and how to simultaneously maintain both a non-writing career and a writing practice.

After that we met with Christine Cavanaugh at the beautifully restored Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre to make sure that BRAVO! would look and sound just right for the following evening’s audience.

We finished up the evening with elegant pizzas—yes, elegant—from Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana just down Main Street from the Kenworthy.

Those Pizzas

Friday, April 19, we enjoyed lunch with Ed McBride, Dan Button, and members of Operation Education’s advisory council. We also met five disabled veterans of this country’s current conflicts, and it was inspiring to hear these young people talk about how they are overcoming the difficulties they endure as a result of their service in combat zones. Among the tools they use to move forward in life are the educational opportunities afforded by Operation Education and the University of Idaho.

Betty and I then met with a small crowd of listeners at Moscow’s independent bookseller, BookPeople, where we had a discussion about turning the pain of war, the pain of life, into art. Ken read selected poems from his books of poetry.

Mark Spear, principle videographer for BRAVO! and BRAVO! Marines Ron Rees and Mike McCauley joined us for the screening that began at 6:30 PM with an introduction by Dr. Brett Morris, retired Colonel in the United States Air Force and current Director of Internal Strategic Communication at the university. First off was the presentation of the colors by the color guard from the Joint University of Idaho-Washington State University ROTC programs.

This was followed by an a capella singing of the National Anthem by University of Idaho MFA candidate in Creative Writing, Sarah B. Barrett, whose father served in Vietnam.

Moscow’s Mayor Nancy Chaney welcomed both the audience and the filmmakers to the community, and was followed by University Vice-President of Advancement, Chris Murray, who welcomed the attendees on behalf of the University and Operation Education.

Filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers then talked briefly about the film.

After the screening, members of the film’s audience and a panel moderated by Dr. Morris discussed war in its many aspects, past, present and future. The panel talked about war and film, war and memory, war and guilt, war and PTSD. Members of the panel (all Marines with combat experience) included Latah County Magistrate William Hamlett, Retired Marine Corps Colonel Bob Wakefield, Mr. Paul Warmbier who is a teacher in the Moscow school system and Marine veteran of the battle of Fallujah in Iraq, and BRAVO! Marines Mike McCauley and Ken Rodgers.

Many thanks to Kim Barnes, Professor of English at the University of Idaho, for her vision, drive and attention to detail that made this screening and its related activities possible and successful. Thanks, too, to others who helped make the BRAVO! screening a success, including UI’s Karen Hunt, Kate Cobb, Max Eberts, Kelly Roberts and Laura Zak, as well as Jennifer Bauer of the Lewiston Tribune/Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

The day after the events at Moscow, Ken and Betty took a needed day off and toured the country–the magnificent Palouse including views from Steptoe Butte, multiple teams of draft animals plowing and harrowing west of Colfax and a visit to thunderous Palouse Falls.

Draft horses on the Palouse

Next up for BRAVO! are two screenings in Sonora, California, at Columbia College on May 18 (Armed Forces Day), 2013. This screening is sponsored by Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391, Columbia College, and Mike Preston who is a veteran of the Siege of Khe Sanh and a lifetime member of the Khe Sanh Veterans. More details on the Sonora screening at http://www.vietnamveterans391.org/.

Documentary Film,Other Musings,Vietnam War

April 18, 2013

Why I Fight Part 2

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Last September I wrote a blog for this site titled “Why I Fight” about, in part, an Ethiopian refugee whom Betty and I met in Washington, DC. That gentleman was in the US because he made a documentary film that angered his government. For his own safety, he was forced to leave his home.

Last month, at one of our Clovis, California, screenings I met another man who came to the US as a refugee from his country.

The gentleman I met in Clovis was originally from Cambodia. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Lay Prum, or as it would be represented in Cambodia, Prum Lay.

Lt. Colonel Prum escaped from Cambodia in 1976 and his story is one that illustrates the harrowing experiences of a lot of folks who come to the US to escape the variety of tyrannies the world has to offer.

To refresh memories, in 1975 Cambodia underwent a violent regime change that led to the Khmer Rouge—a Maoist regime with a particularly vicious way of re-educating its citizens—taking over the country. During the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975 to 1979, an estimated two million Cambodians died in what has since been classified as genocide. In 1979 the Vietnamese forced the Khmer Rouge out of power.

Back in the 1970’s, Cambodia was involved in fights with the Vietnamese Communists who used Cambodia’s border regions as bases from which they infiltrated into South Vietnam. American forces bombed these regions, creating chaos in the border regions between Vietnam and Cambodia. The Cambodian government, besides fighting the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies, soon became involved in a civil war with Cambodian communists, or the Khmer Rouge.

Enter Mr. Prum Lay, who graduated from Phnom Penh University in 1968. He enlisted in the Cambodian Army and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1972.

In 1973, then 1st Lieutenant Prum was involved in rescuing four American journalists whom he found in two black Mercedes stranded on Route 3 between Phnom Penh and Takeo Province during an attack by his Cambodian forces to take back a village the Viet Cong had overrun. He and his troops carried the Americans to safety.

On April 17, 1975, the Communist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. By then a major in the army, Prum Lay, in danger of losing his life, convinced the Khmer Rouge that he was a taxi driver. They asked him to drive a taxi and later put him to work in rice paddies.

On May 20, 1976, Major Prum Lay escaped into Thailand. Fortunately for him, he encountered a man who had served with him in the Cambodian Army, and that man told the major that since Prum Lay did not have a passport, he would be put in jail by the Thai government. Instead of going into a refugee camp, Major Prum hid out in an abandoned schoolhouse until June 15, 1976.

On that date, he and another Cambodian friend managed to reach the United States Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. He was interviewed by the staff at the US Embassy and was granted refugee status but remained in Thailand pending the appointment of a sponsor here in the States.

On August 15, 1976, Major Prum Lay came to Spokane, Washington, where he became Mr. Lay Prum.

To me, what follows is what is most moving about this story. In spite of the obvious cultural impediments, Mr. Lay Prum became the liaison between the residents of Spokane and the considerable Cambodian community that moved there after the fall of Cambodia. He was also, among other things, the owner of a restaurant and helped out in the local schools as a math teacher and ESL teacher. He also went back to school and learned how to be a welder and went on to work for a number of Spokane companies.

In 1986, Mr. Lay Prum moved to Sonoma County, California, before moving on to Fresno, California, in 1988. There are over 50,000 Southeast Asians living in the Fresno area. Allies of our government in the wars we fought overtly in Vietnam and clandestinely in Laos and Cambodia, they fled to the US after their governments were defeated in the various conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s.

In Fresno, Mr. Lay Prum remade himself yet again. Something we often have a lot of freedom to do in this country if we have the drive to do so. He became a drug, alcohol and mental health counselor for Fresno County until his retirement in 2010. Now he is involved in veterans organizations that recognize his (and other Southeast Asian warriors) service during the wars of the 60s and 70s. What he and his compatriots endured is not forgotten.

In 1975, the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge was viewed by a large segment of the American public with a big ho-hum. As a nation, we had grown tired of our involvements in Southeast Asia. I would even venture to say that some Americans were rooting for the Khmer Rouge to win their war against the Cambodian government. But history has since exposed the Khmer Rouge regime as being a murderous government that killed millions of Cambodian citizens.

Mr. Lay Prum, Lieutenant Colonel Lay Prum (he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after joining United States National Defense Corp. on November 13, 2010), was lucky to get out of that hell and into a place where he was allowed to become what he wished to make of himself.

Like that Ethiopian filmmaker I mentioned earlier, Lt. Colonel Lay Prum can say what he wants to say, and he can change what he does for a calling. In spite of all our knots and warts, we Americans offer folks a lot of opportunity to create a useful existence as well as respite from the chaos of their native countries.

I have said for years that I am not sure why I went to Vietnam and fought. I don’t know if it was adventure I sought, or heroism, or if it was patriotism. I suppose the reason changes from day to day and from one experience to the next. But today I want to say that seeing men like the Washington, DC, Ethiopian and the Lt. Colonel live a life that allows them to succeed and speak their thoughts without fear of being killed or going into prisons or forced labor camps—that’s why I fight.

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

April 9, 2013

News About Screenings in Moscow, Idaho and Sonora, California

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MOSCOW, Idaho

Here’s the info on the screening of BRAVO!, COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR in Moscow, Idaho, on April 19, 2013 at 6:30 PM. Screening is at The Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre at 508 South Main Street, in Moscow. Doors open at 6:00 PM. There will be a panel discussion on aspects of and the nature of war across generations and conflicts. At the screening you will be able to meet the filmmakers, Ken and Betty Rodgers, the film’s principal videographer, Mark Spear, as well as Mike McCauley and Ron Rees, Bravo Company Marines who are in the film.

This screening of BRAVO! is sponsored by the University of Idaho’s Operation Education and English Department, and is free of charge but donations to Operation Education are strongly encouraged. Operation Education assists disabled combat veterans in attaining a college degree. You can find out more about Operation Education at http://www.uidaho.edu/operationeducation.

Thank you to the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre (http://www.kenworthy.org/index.html), Ed McBride and Dan Button of Operation Education, and Kim Barnes and Laura Pizzo from University of Idaho’s Department of English, and Julie Titone for making this screening possible.

SONORA, California

On May 18 (Armed Forces Day), 2013, BRAVO! will be screened in Sonora, California. Below is the notice about the screening and the film from Khe Sanh brother Mike Preston, who is mainly responsible for the screening:

Here is a 2 hour first run movie like you will never see anywhere else, not at any theater, it is shown only privately. This film was made by Ken Rodgers (and his wife Betty), who lived the whole experience with Bravo Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. This is about the 77 day siege of Khe Sanh starting 21 January 1968; the Tet Offensive. It also covers the ill fated “Ghost Patrol” of 25 February and subsequent action in retaliation such as ”The Payback” battle on 30 March which was the only Marine Corps bayonet charge in Vietnam history and the only one since World War 2.

Less than 100 men participated and 19 were KIA . There were over 100 Purple Hearts earned that day, some men having multiple wounds . Other awards were 2 Navy Crosses, 8 Silver Stars , 9 Bronze Stars with “V”, 2 Navy Commendations w/V. One hell of a heroic day!

There are 15 Marines interviewed who are participants in the film itself. These guys are the “been there done that” gang, common men, uncommon valor. This film has a lot of historical significance, being about the longest and biggest battle of the 10 year conflict.

Seating is limited to 400 tickets max. Tickets are $10.00 and are available on line at Vietnam Veterans of America #391 for each of the two showings at 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM at Columbia College. There are also 3 trailers to see from the Bravo website. Just click below. If tickets are sold out and if you show up at the door at show time and there are any no-shows, you will be seated. All email tickets will be ”will-call” at the door. Tickets will also be available at Columbia College: Call Michelle Vidaurri at 588-1505. In Calaveras County, contact Bravo Project chairman Mike Preston @ 795-1864. Tuolumne County, contact Carol Southern at 938-3848.

Please send this to all who may be interested.

Thank you,
Mike Preston

Vietnam Veterans of America #391

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

April 1, 2013

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees Recalls March 22, 1968

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I awoke eleven days back thinking about 45 years ago at Khe Sanh. March 22nd 1968. I had arrived at the KSCB March 1st, 1968, with the only other person I would know from the world. His name was Ron Seamon. Ron and I had gone through ITR at Pendleton together. We were both assigned to 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, right off the plane after traveling from the States into Da Nang, Da Nang to Phu Bai, Phu Bai to Khe Sanh. The rest is History.

On March 21st at Khe Sanh everyone waited for HELL to start raining down on us. What I had already experienced as Hell and very real psychological Torture was nothing compared to what I thought was going to occur on March 21st. Many—or most—other Marines in Bravo had already been at the base since the beginning of the siege in January ’68 and they feared the 21st day of the month.

Word had already come down from Captain Pipes that there was very likely to be a major ground attack on the Khe Sanh combat base that would coincide with the heavy bombardments of both January and February 21st. We were ordered to have our bayonets & gas masks ready.

We talked (our squad) about our bayonets. While sharpening them someone would say, “It’s against the Geneva Convention” to sharpen them. Of which we all pretty much said “F_ _ _ the Geneva Convention.” They were sharp!

21 Mar 68 came and went with nothing happening in the 3rd Platoon area except perhaps a few sporadic incoming rounds. I remember we stayed on 100% Red Alert throughout the night of March 21st.

22 March: Not sure what’s going on. Nothing much happened on the 21st, unlike the 21st of January and February. But at 18:30 hours on the 22nd…HOLY SHIT!!

IT WAS NON-STOP INCOMING, ROUND AFTER ROUND.

You could not count the seconds between each enemy round leaving its gun barrel.

EXPLODING. A Freaking HAIL STORM FROM HELL and this hail was not Ice.

This type of experience will absolutely humble you and reduce you to tears. I know I was not the only one in the bottom of that trench, face buried in red clay, praying for God to spare my life. You continuously try to cover all vital parts of your body.
I felt so helpless, all those rounds coming in, how could they not miss? Khe Sanh was not that big. I could see the blast waves coming at me. Every time I heard a round leave the tube I pictured death.

I was in the Claymore mine bunker with one other Marine. I do not remember his name but I do know he had been at Khe Sanh even less time than I. Somewhere around midnight we took a near direct hit. We were stunned, literally slammed against the back wall of the bunker. Dirt filled the air along with the smell of burning. My ears rang, my mind was dazed. Then we realized we were alive. We made sure our section of the perimeter was secure and immediately ran down the trench to notify our squad leader (I have no memory of who he was) about what just happened.

Just as he started to respond, a huge explosion rocked us. The squad leader informed us he needed to deal with casualties and ordered us to go get some rest in a bunker down the trench line.

I know that it was approx 0100 hours of 23 March 1968 when I was once again wounded. I was in the trench when the round hit, but when I came to, I found myself standing behind the trench line, watching everything in SLOW MOTION. Smoke, Marines crying out, some in obvious pain and others calling out to help, “Anyone need a Corpsman?” Voices were clear and concise. Shrapnel fell all around, incoming rounds still exploded. Someone called out to me, “Anyone need a Corpsman?” I remember saying “No.” Then a Marine came up to me to ask how I was doing. I was sweating and I wiped it from my face and the sweat was blood. My face was covered with it. Blood spurted from the inside of my right knee where shrapnel had blown a hole from my knee up to my hip.

I have never been so scared in all my life!!

SEMPER FIDELIS TO ALL MY BRAVO COMPANY BROTHERS PAST AND PRESENT; YOU ARE SECOND TO NONE HERE ON EARTH.