Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for June, 2013

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

June 27, 2013

BRAVO! Co-producer and Co-director Betty Rodgers Muses on BRAVO!’s Supporters

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Most people don’t stay for the credits at the end of a film, but almost without exception, our audiences have watched the entire run of credits as if riveted to their seats. I think this is partly because they want to remember the names of the men in the film. Plus, they are interested in the dedications…the veterans, living and deceased, who were honored by donors or the filmmakers.

For me, personally, the credits are always another journey down the BRAVO! road, the road paved with a myriad of memories. And at each screening, there seems to be a revolving number of categories that suddenly get my attention as if I am seeing them for the first time. Most recently it was the list of donors. We’ve often said this film wouldn’t be what it is…a powerful work of art…without our donors, and it’s so true.

The list is impressive and humbling, representing those who believed in us and in the story we wanted to tell. There’s everything from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation to other filmmakers, from Bravo Company Marines to veterans’ organizations, from Vietnam war-protestors to families who lost loved-ones. There are our own friends and family members. There are other Khe Sanh veterans and veterans from other combat areas as well as friends of friends. There are people who have since passed away, yet their gifts live on in BRAVO!

And so I sat there reading each name, once again overcome with gratitude. Every individual on that list is a meaningful part of BRAVO! We can never say “thank you” enough, but we can certainly try.

THANK YOU each and every one.

DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale at

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please like us at

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

June 15, 2013

On Super Gaggles, CH-46s and Re-Supplying Khe Sanh

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Marine Michael Phillips flew re-supply choppers into Khe Sanh and the surrounding hills during the siege. Here he tells us what it was like.

My name is Michael Phillips, and I was a Marine Corps pilot with HMM-364 Purple Foxes helicopter squadron during the siege at Khe Sanh. Every day during the siege, we sent 8 CH-46’s to resupply the hills and Khe Sanh between 24 February 1968 until 9 April 1968. This came to be known as the “Super Gaggle” in aviation history.

Our day began with a 05:30 briefing at Phu Bai, then up to Quang Tri to be briefed again by General Hill. After that we flew over to Dong Ha and picked up our externals. Since it was IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) at Dong Ha, our first aircraft took off on a heading for Khe Sanh, aircraft # 2 took off 10 degrees to the left, aircraft # 3 10 degrees to the right, etc., until all 8 were airborne. We normally punched out around 8,000 feet, on to Khe Sanh where we would orbit for 30-40 minutes while the artillery, F4 Phantoms, A6 Intruders and A4’s provided gun support for the hill that we would resupply. One of our biggest concerns was that of a mid-air collision. We had so much air support that F4’s were constantly zipping in front of us. At that altitude and at our weight, we barely had enough power to maintain elevation, so when we flew thru their exhaust it was not unusual for us to lose control and drop 3-400 feet prior to regaining control.

When the command was given for us to begin our run, we had to lose 8,000 feet of altitude but still maintain enough power to land at the LZ. On the way down our gunners would begin firing their .50 caliber guns, careful not to hit the Marines on the ground. The NVA AK-47 was not very dangerous to us until we reached around 1,500 feet in elevation above the LZ. The major problem for us was maintaining proper spacing between aircraft, or we might have to attempt to hover at 900 feet. We simply did not have enough power to do so. It was essential that aircrafts #1, 2 and 3 get on to the hill or the LZ at Khe Sanh and off without wasting any time. Or else the balance of the flight was trying to hover, and a pilot could not do so.

Hill 881 South was our most difficult as we owned that hill and the NVA owned 881 North. We could always count on intense fire from there. One hill that did not receive much publicity was 558. This hill was in a slight ravine and there must have been 100 mortar tubes there. Keeping them supplied with ammo was a fulltime job.

After we completed the resupply we left for Quang Tri, refueled and flew back to Phu Bai. Every Marine base in I Corps was surrounded. When we got back, our gunners took the .50 caliber guns out of the A/C down to the perimeter as we got hit by the NVA each night. Our crew chiefs worked all night to fix the battle damage to our A/C. We could have done nothing without the crew chiefs. They were superb.

It was not unusual for us to take 50 rockets at a whack. Afterwards the NVA would always put a round in every half hour, so out to the bunkers we went. This ensured that we got very little sleep. Flying that CH-46 lacking sleep was a chore and all of our pilots became extremely rude, ugly, tense and it did have an effect on how efficient we were.

Approaching Hill 881 South (or any of the other Khe Sanh LZ’s) was somewhat more sophisticated than I mentioned earlier. When we began our descent it always reverted back to the individual pilot’s skill and his ability to shoot a good approach. Controlling the rate of descent, controlling spacing, controlling air speed, maintaining turns (RPM’s), running out of ground speed and altitude at the same time over the LZ was imperative. Dropping the external as “softly” as possible was a never-ending challenge. If any of the A/C in front of you did not do these things, you had to make adjustments, quickly. We simply did not have enough power to hover at 1,000 feet so sometimes one had to drop out of the sequence and go to the Khe Sanh Combat Base airstrip to hover, then air taxi to the hill. This was not a good thing as the Combat Base runway always took a lot of rockets and mortars, and you were exposed to more fire than desired.

If one A/C screwed up, overshot the LZ, he had to come to a complete hover, back up to the zone, bounce around some; this took time. It was time that the A/C behind him did not have to sacrifice. The CH-46 does not stop on a dime. In our haste to get in and out, sometimes our airspeed was excessive. It was adjustment time for everyone behind the pilot who was trying to get into the LZ.

Prior to flight school, I went to Basic School in Quantico. There I studied tactics, explosives, rifle range (M14) .45 pistol, everything that a Second Lieutenant is supposed to know. (Not much, huh?) As a result I had many friends that were 0311, and it provided me with a very good understanding of what the grunts were going through. Since I was not there with them, I could not actually experience in depth their plight, but I did have enough knowledge to admire their courage, never giving up, never leaving a wounded man in a hot zone.

During and after Tet, I had occasion to fly many medevac missions. Some of these required that I land in a rice paddy, 100 meters from the tree line where we were taking intense fire. The plexiglass cockpit and 1/8 inch aluminum skin of the A/C did not slow down an AK-47 round, and we paid a price.

I am proud to say that in the Marine tradition, we never left a wounded man in a hot zone. Never. He was coming out, and was going to be on a hospital ship in 20 minutes. It was not that I was a hero, all of our pilots, and all of the pilots from other squadrons did the same. All in a day’s work to support the Private with a bayonet on the ground. The same was true if one of our recon teams was compromised. They might have to run for a mile to find a LZ big enough for us to land, but we took them out.

Probably more than you wanted to know about the day-in, day-out life of a CH-46 driver.

You guys were the greatest, a shame that none of you (us) ever got the recognition that we deserved.

On a separate note, DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale at

We have a page on Facebook. Please like us a

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

June 10, 2013

On Soledad

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A lot of friends and followers of BRAVO! have been waiting for a blog about our trip to Soledad, CA, to screen the film to the incarcerated veterans. We did indeed show the film at the penitentiary in Soledad, California, or as it is more specifically titled, the Soledad Correctional Training Facility. Way back at the beginning of this filmmaking adventure, when both Betty and I were brainstorming where this film would be screened, we never could have imagined it happening in a prison. Yet the screening occurred on May 28th and was a successful event. Much thanks to fellow participant Mr. Terry Hubert of the Vietnam Veterans of America’s National Veterans Incarceration Committee for giving Betty and me guidance and support with this screening.

And before I go into my reflections on this event, thanks, too, to Warden Marion Spearman for allowing us to show BRAVO! at the facility. We appreciate the help we received from the staff at Soledad, including their veteran’s staff advisor, Lieutenant Eric DaRosa, as well as Mr. Albert Amaya, the facility’s Community Partnership Manager, and Public Information Officer Lieutenant Roland Ramon.

Further thanks are in order to fellow guests Steven “Tank” Konstenius and his wife Mandy, representing the California Vietnam Veterans of America, and Dr. Jennifer Lanterman of the University of Nevada at Reno. Last but not least, the biggest thanks go to the Veterans Service Officers at Soledad, Michael “Doc” Piper, Ed Muniz and Mike Walker. These three men had a vision about bringing the film to their institution, their home (if that is a worthy choice of words), and made it happen. Doc Piper served with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and with Charlie Med, the Naval medical detachment at Khe Sanh. He found out about the film and sent me a letter asking if we could bring BRAVO! to Soledad, and we did, and as we marched down the corridors with the longest institutional murals anywhere, I was glad we were going to screen the film there.

The day we arrived at Soledad, the wind funneled up the Salinas River Valley and bent the eucalyptus trees over like rubber-handled mops. I hoped the bluster wasn’t a harbinger of things to come, and it wasn’t, although the experience wasn’t what I’d imagined, and I’m not exactly sure I can even articulate what it was we expected there.

As I entered the sally ports, (not gates or doors, but sally ports) one, two, three, four, I was reminded of my time serving as a guard in the Navy brig at the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego in 1968-1969; the clang of metal as the sally ports opened and closed, the blare of loudspeakers as the staff made announcements. There was a metal detector so sensitive it beeped at the hooks and eyes of women’s brassieres.

The day following the screening, we were invited back inside the facility to participate with the incarcerated veterans in their Memorial Day Celebration which included a luncheon sponsored and paid for by their very own VVA chapter, Chapter 1065. We got to visit at some length with some of the men we had met the day before as we shared a meal earnestly served us by some of the prisoners and listened to speakers and watched the flag ceremonies.

Since the screening, a number of friends, supporters and followers have commented that they thought the experience must have been life-changing, and maybe it was, but it hasn’t hit home yet how our lives were changed by the Soledad experience. To begin with, and obviously, the place is a prison and there is all that is associated with the milieu and its ramifications, ramifications we outsiders don’t even understand. The men are very stoic and were allowed to attend because of their good behavior and because most of them are veterans. But I can’t say that any of them seemed overcome by the BRAVO!-viewing experience. I am sure these men learn to mask their emotions, not unlike what one experiences in combat; and yes, some of these men went through combat and some of them went through a different kind of combat after returning from war…combat on the street, in the ‘hood, in prison gang fights.

BRAVO! was screened in the prison gymnasium and attended by an estimated one-hundred-thirty-five people. Afterwards the incarcerated veterans treated us to a fifty-minute film about their 2012 Veterans Day celebration. The film was shot and edited by the men in Soledad. And they were very proud of the film and what it represented.

After the screening of BRAVO! they asked some of the most incisive questions about war that we have heard anywhere. And a few of them seemed teared-up. And they lined up to thank us and shake our hands. But in those regards, the experience wasn’t unlike any of the other screenings we have conducted. And even though we hoped we’d unlocked the prisons of their memories, we were not sure.

One of the inmates, a Marine named Enrico, talked to us for some time about a lot of things, and was mostly thankful for having what he called “a normal conversation,” above and beyond the typical talk that goes on in a prison.

Another gentleman whose name I don’t know talked to me at length about BRAVO! and his experiences in Vietnam. He was Latino and my talk with him was reminiscent of hanging out down on the corners of Main and Florence Avenue in Casa Grande, Arizona, back in the days right after I returned from Vietnam. He was an Army Ranger and his harrowing tales of combat made me shiver. As he described his war, I was there. We were both there.

And again, other than the fact that all of us (even though some of us only temporarily) were locked up inside the high chain link fences, inside the off-white walls, under the guns of the men in the towers, the Soledad screening of BRAVO! wasn’t much different than any other.

As we talked to these men, a question arose in our minds, wondering what each of them had done to end up in a place like Soledad. Yet we never asked. At the time it seemed to be taboo, or at least none of our business, and it still seems that way. What they had done, they had done, and there was no going back from that. Yet many of them are Vietnam Veterans who served with honor and distinction in combat, and that is not something that can be gone back on either. Maybe the difficult part is reconciling the two situations. Who they were versus where they are now. What they had done in Vietnam versus what they had done after returning. Maybe the answer lies in not trying to reconcile anything. They served their country with distinction. That’s one of the major things I am going to take away from the experience.

One of the people who seemed most moved was Doc Piper. I think the film took him back to those moments in the Khe Sanh trenches when the blasts from the incoming artillery and rockets shook the earth and forced us all to bury our faces in the red mud, all of this against our will, against our drive to be free men, not trapped by design or circumstance or as a result of our own actions.

It is our hope that this screening was meaningful and in some way helpful to Doc and his fellow veterans.

On a separate note, DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale at

We have a page on Facebook. Please like us at