Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for May, 2013

Guest Blogs,Vietnam War

May 27, 2013

They Remember, by Connie Gibbons

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They remember…

…the reality of war. Danger. Smells. Artillery bombardment, relentlessly screaming for days on end. Brothers and sisters falling; the ground awash in blood red puddles and rivulets. Fog shrouded mountains and dense foliage hid enemy, relief, and incoming. Sticky, wet, ruby colored helicopter floors. Too much blood. Not enough blood. Explosive, pounding, tragic battle. Nighttime arc light revealing faces darkened by soot and terror; 1000 yard stares. Peace and calmness coming only in death.

They remember…
…ravages of countless fallen; those they could not leave behind, but could not immediately go after. Today, and most days for more than forty-five years, their lives and loss are painfully grieved. Brothers and sisters, all. Those who had your back and you, theirs. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Wretching terror from aging memories.

Today, especially…

Remember…

The Fallen,
…and those who remember their fall.

BRAVO! supporter and blogger Connie Gibbons writes from the Pacific Northwest where she lives with her husband, Greg, a Marine from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Guest Blogs,Marines

May 26, 2013

Cobb Hammond on the Second Battle of Fallujah

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On this Memorial Day, millions of Americans will honor the American service members who gave the final sacrifice in battle. Historically, we have remembered those who died in the great wars of the last century — World War I and World War II — or in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. But we should also recognize that the others who died in our more recent wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, perished in no less suffering and gave no less a sacrifice.

One of the pivotal, and arguably most bloody episodes of the Iraq War was the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004. Early that month U.S. Marines commenced Operation Phantom Fury, an effort to clear the city of insurgents who had taken strategic control of the city the previous February. Fallujah’s 300,000 inhabitants had mostly vacated the city, leaving as occupiers 3,000-plus well-prepared insurgents, identified primarily as Iraqi Shiites, Syrian and Libyan rebels and mujahedeen-jihadists.

Cobb Hammond

Most of the residential structures in Fallujah had enclosed courtyards in the back, with double-thick walls and rooftop balconies, making the task of clearing and control difficult and extremely hazardous for U.S. riflemen. In addition, many of the alleyways, side streets and boulevards were planted with mines, booby traps and other improvised explosive devices, and the insurgents had constructed a labyrinth of defensive tunnels that extended for blocks and gave them a tactical advantage.

Not of help to the U.S. forces was the willingness of many of the enemy to fight to the death.

The assault commenced officially on Nov. 7, 2004, as Marines attacked across the entire northern axis, working south by southeast.

The operation was led by Regimental Combat Team “1,” which consisted of two Marine infantry battalions, supported by a mechanized Army battalion. They were designated to assault the western half of Fallujah. The other forces were designated Regimental Combat Team “7,” made up of two Marine battalions and an Army infantry battalion, along with other army and even Iraqi Army units. These forces would attack due south, and then southeast. British units also were active outside the city, keeping infiltration into the city to a minimum.

Many of the tactics employed came by way of difficult experience 36 years earlier during another Marine-led assault at Hue City in Vietnam.

As coalition forces advanced, building by building, enemy forces would allow entry into many houses, only to detonate explosives as gunfire rained down from stairwells and up from “spider traps” cut into floorboards. In other cases, front and back doorways would be barricaded with first a steel, then a wooden door (heavily booby trapped); the forces who penetrated the building would be welcomed by a fusillade of fire.

One of the most intense fights during the 10-day battle occurred at the Muhammadi Mosque in central Fallujah, where Marines found an almost impregnable fortress manned by approximately 200 insurgents. Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, fighting house to house, battled for 16 hours to capture the mosque, during which time they were attacked by every conceivable weapon, including suicide bombers. After much grit and spilled blood they gained control of the mosque, where they found tons of stored weaponry and munitions, and stores of narcotics for use by the insurgents.

The farther south coalition forces went, the more resistance stiffened. Many of the enemy they encountered wore the uniform of the mercenary jihadists who had infiltrated Fallujah the prior year — after the formal war against the Iraqi government was declared over.

For several more days the U.S. coalition rooted out the insurgents, ending on Nov. 18, except for the minor mop-up operations that continued well into December.

The final tally on coalition force casualties was 95 killed and 600-plus wounded; 51 of the dead and more than 450 of the wounded were U.S. Marines. Many Marines were wounded more than once, returning to duty with their secondary wounds not counted in the official tally. The number of dead among the enemy was placed at 1,200 with an equal number captured, most of whom were wounded. Hundreds of others undoubtedly escaped and avoided capture.

The bravery of the U.S. forces cannot be questioned, as two of the Marines were awarded Navy Crosses for valor and many others received Silver or Bronze stars for heroism in action. One of the U.S. Army battalions was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, for professionalism and performance in continuous combat — an honor, it should be noted, that is not given out easily.

On this weekend of solemn remembrance, let us take note of these men who gave their all, and sacrificed much.

Cobb H. Hammond writes on military history and is an investment broker with Carty & Company Investments. A different version of this blog post appeared in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, TN on May 26, 2013.

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

May 22, 2013

On Armed Forces Day, 2013

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The pines jutted up all around the campus. The weather was warm, shorts and short sleeves in order. The jays called out from the tops of digger pines and the breeze sang little tunes.

On the campus of Columbia College, Columbia, California, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR was screened to about one-hundred-fifty enthusiastic viewers. The venue was wonderful, the evening sublime.

Thanks much to Khe Sanh brother, Mike Preston, and thanks, too to Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 391, based in Sonora, California, for making the screenings possible. Thanks to Columbia College and their Campus Security Services represented by the very helpful Brett Hendricks. Betty and I are deeply appreciative, too, of VVA Region Nine Director Dick Southern. Many kudos also to Rick Tam, a US Army veteran of Operation Lam Son 719 at Khe Sanh in 1970-1971. Further thanks are in order to VVA photographer Bill Chamberlain for capturing screening moments for posterity.

Mr. Gary Linehan of the Union-Democrat wrote an excellent article about the film and Khe Sanh, providing a springboard for the showing of BRAVO!

The two screenings were initiated by a posting of the colors by the color guard of VVA members Barry Schloffel, Ron Coit and Laura McHenry. After a posting of the colors, local music artist Kevin Maurer sang the National Anthem. After the first screening, Kevin also played “Taps” on his trumpet. Kevin’s rendition of “Taps” was haunting and rang out into the crowd in the auditorium.

One of the things we like best about our travels to screen BRAVO! is the people we meet, and our Sonora area screenings did not disappoint. Lots of Vietnam veterans and their spouses as well as younger veterans from our more current fights. A number of veterans from the siege came to see the film and as always, I am amazed at their tales of tribulations. Those tribulations so similar—yet so different—to what the Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo Company endured.

All hail Mike Preston and the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 391, and all the other Sonora area folks for their extremely warm welcome and efforts in making these screenings of BRAVO! possible. Because of their belief in the importance of this film, and the enthusiasm of our other supporters, BRAVO! will eventually be seen and heard around the world.

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

May 7, 2013

On Hill 55, Sonora and Soledad

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This is the season of May Day when the flowers bud and a sense of new life comes to mind, the scent of lavender, the new green on aspen trees, the longer days announced by the five-thirty-AM song of the mating robin.

May Day is a big holiday in some countries with strong legacies of unions and socialism.

Spring and May Day (as do many other stimuli) make me think of my early days in Vietnam and what we, the men who fought at the Siege of Khe Sanh, were doing not long before our lives collided with the mayhem that was Khe Sanh.

On May 1, 1967, the 1st Battalion 9th Marines was on Operation Prairie IV in the Dong Ha area of operations. The 3rd Battalion 26th Marines was operating around Phu Bai. The 2nd Battalion 26th Marines was on Operation Shawnee with the 4th Marines in Thua-Tien Province. The 1st Battalion 26th Marines…my battalion…was operating in the Hill 55 region southwest of Danang.

I arrived at Hill 55 sometime towards the end of March 1967 or early April 1968. I recall the smells and the tastes in the mouth, the burning heat, the occasional night-time mortar attacks. All of it was new and exciting. Seeing bamboo vipers and lepers and elephants and the hope of seeing tigers, looking at the punji stakes and booby traps, and of course getting a chance to fight the enemy. And why not, that was what we were in Vietnam to do. To fight the enemy and Communism and to keep it from spreading around the world.

Whether we were successful or not at stopping Communism I will leave to the reader, but for me, there it was. I wanted adventure, and today I think I was in Vietnam because I wanted to fight.

And early on I got my chance. Not long before the 1st of May, 1967, a Seabee drowned in a river not far from Hill 55. I do not know the river’s name because it was all too new to me…the smells, the men I served with, the environment.

Two CH-46 helicopters showed up as our platoon—2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 26th Marines—queued up with weapons, flak jackets and a lot of excitement. The platoon sergeant, a gunny with a championship handlebar mustache and toting a Browning semi-automatic shotgun, told the other new guy and me that we weren’t going on this Sparrow Hawk operation because we weren’t “real” Marines. I remember feeling the disappointment of being left out, like when the girl you hankered after in high school started hanging out with all the older guys.

As we sulked off towards our hooch, the gunny called us back and motioned us onto the chopper. I have no idea what transpired in those moments after we turned away from the whapping chopper blades and the faces of our fellow grunts—faces taut, eyes round and large, and I imagine now, dry mouths. Regardless of what was said to the gunny or why he changed his mind, I felt like a kid full of balloons.

Without questioning the why of our redemption as “real” Marines (because as Marines, “Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die”), we crammed ourselves on the CH-46. How long we were in the air, I have no sense, but I doubt it was very long because all I recall was looking at that other Marine Corps-green CH-46 chopper flying behind us, the green jungle below, the grim faces of the silent men jammed into the body of the airship, and as we descended, the wide river and the big sand bar in the middle of the water that was our LZ.

The two choppers settled into the sand and being the last man on, I was first off. I knew what to do. I’d show that damned gunny that I was a “real” Marine. I knew we needed to get off the chopper and establish a perimeter around the helicopters until we had all disembarked.

As I ran across the white sand, I noticed little eruptions at my feet. I heard things snapping past my head and an instant later I heard hollow pop sounds coming from a tree line off to our front. I slowed to get a better idea of what was making the sand erupt as well as those sounds.

Someone kicked me in the butt. Hard. Someone knocked me into the sand. I started swearing—after all, I am a Marine. I am sure I cussed—and looked up to see who had knocked me down, but before I could see who was treating me this way, the face of my fire team leader, Lance Corporal Pacheco, was right before my eyes. He hissed at me. “You want to get shot? Keep down and start firing your rifle. They are shooting at you.”

As if to show me what to do, he cranked off a short burst from his M-16 and then rolled over and started talking to the other new guy. I started shooting, too.

All of a sudden everybody jumped up and got on line and we charged that tree line shooting into the jungle, and when we burst into the tree line there was nothing there but a ten-foot-wide strip of vegetation, and beyond, more white sand and no sign of the enemy.

We got the word to assemble back on the landing zone and as we boarded the two CH-46s we hooted and hollered and the gunny was gripping hands and yelling stuff I don’t remember and he even hugged my shoulder like I was a “real” Marine. Riding back to the company’s base of operations, I mused on those bullets that had been hitting at my feet, snapping by my head. I was lucky no one shot me.

And later, at the siege, I was lucky many times. Very often not at the wrong place at the wrong time. I survived to go home sometime in early April 1968, just before the siege ended. But my comrades who still had time on their tours of duty went on to endure more at Khe Sanh and then beyond.

By May 1, 1968, the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines was at Wunder Beach. The 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines was on Operation Lancaster II in the Camp Carroll area. 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines was south and west of Quang Tri City. 1st Battalion, 9th Marines was on Operation Kentucky in the Cam Lo district not far from the DMZ. I was on leave in Arizona. 

On a separate note, BRAVO! will be screened twice in Sonora, California, on Armed Forces Day, May 18, once at 5 PM and again at 8 PM. These screenings are being ramrodded by Khe Sanh brother Mike Preston and presented by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391 and Columbia College. See more details about the screenings here. Please help us pack the house; it is a fundraiser for the local VVA chapter.

On May 28, 2013, BRAVO! will be screened at Soledad State Prison (Salinas Valley State Prison) in Soledad, California. This screening is not open to the public but is remarkable because of the large number of veterans incarcerated there who will be able to see BRAVO!

If you would like to see BRAVO! screened in your area, please contact us.