Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for May, 2014

Guest Blogs

May 28, 2014

BRAVO!

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Guest blogger Lance Thompson has been a tireless supporter of BRAVO! as well as a member of our loosely formed but essential Advisory Board. The producers of BRAVO! are indebted to him for these services as well as his unending encouragement.

One way to evaluate a creative work is to repeat the experience. Whether it’s a book, a song, a painting or a film, a creative work can usually make some sort of impression the first time. It is on subsequent occasions when the quality is determined.

The last time I saw Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor was more than a year ago at a screening at Boise State University. Several of the veterans who are featured were on hand to answer audience questions. The film was well received and the audience was clearly moved. The experiences of the Marines had a profound impact on those who viewed the film.

Lance Thompson Photo courtesy of Kearney Thompson

Lance Thompson
Photo courtesy of Kearney Thompson

So I wondered, now that I know the story, have seen the interviews, and am familiar with the incidents that are described in the film, would my reaction be the same? I was a little surprised that my experience was different. On first viewing, I thought Bravo! could have been shortened, that some interviews were repetitive, and that certain editorial choices were questionable. During the most recent viewing, I found no problem with the length or the pace, and the interviews lost none of their impact. In fact, I found myself wondering about what material was left over. I wanted to know more about these men, wanted to hear more from them, because this film still makes me care deeply about them.

My wife is a career coach for creative people. One of the issues her clients often bring up is whether or not they can make a living in a creative industry. While she assures them it is quite possible, the question shouldn’t be whether or not a creative person can make a living. It should be whether or not a creative person can make a difference.

Creative media have great potential to reach and affect a wide audience. This power can be wasted in works whose primary attributes are sensational, meaningless and transitory. But the best creative works illuminate, inform, and inspire.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Sherry Briscoe and KIVI-TV Anchor Don Nelson. Photo courtesy of Pamela Thompson.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Sherry Briscoe and KIVI-TV Anchor Don Nelson.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Thompson.

Ken and Betty Rodgers are undeniably creative people. They are accomplished practitioners of prose, poetry, photography, and now documentary film making. Additionally, they support and encourage other creative people. When they decided to make this film, they committed their creative talents to a worthy cause.

Any honest war film raises the implicit question of why. Why did it happen, why did it cost so much, why was I there? Ever since I saw the first rough cut of Bravo!, I knew the answer to one of those questions for at least one of the Marines. Ken Rodgers was there so that he could tell this story. But he couldn’t do it by himself. That’s why Betty Rodgers is there. It took both of them to commit to this project which has taken more time, effort and hard work than either of them ever anticipated. But if not for them, then the voices in Bravo! would never have been heard.

Ken and Betty Rodgers used the creative talents they both possess in abundance to honor those who have earned it. Through this film, they have revealed truth, stirred emotion and brought light to darkness. For those who have little or no knowledge of this moment in history, the experience of combat, or the sacrifices made by Americans in uniform, Bravo! offers insight and honesty both rare and vital to any work that stands the test of time.

So if you are browsing through the DVD collection and wondering if Bravo! is worth another look, I assure you it is. You’ll find the themes timeless, the voices truthful, and the impact undiminished.

Lance Thompson has written for television, been a script doctor for motion pictures, and is an award-winning motion picture advertising consultant on over 500 campaigns. He has written for magazines and newspapers here and in the UK. He conducts screenwriting workshops and was founding president of Idaho Media Professionals. He recently had his original screenplay DC Undercover optioned by Picturewell Studios in Los Angeles. As an actor, he has appeared in Discovery Investigation’s I Was Murdered, and was host of Treasure Valley Community Television programs Capital Rap and Idaho Media Showcase.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Other Musings,Vietnam War

May 21, 2014

Anatomy of a Photograph

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One of the seminal images associated with BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR is a photo provided to us by BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley. When we interviewed nine of the men in San Antonio in July 2010, Mike brought a copy of the image presented below and we knew immediately that it would be an important addition to the film. The men in this photo were in Third Squad, First Platoon of Bravo Company, 1/26.

3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, Bravo, 1/26. Photo by Author Smith Photo Courtesy of Mike McCauley

3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, Bravo, 1/26.
Photo by Author Smith
Photo Courtesy of Mike McCauley

One of the major desires we had as filmmakers was to make sure that as many of the images and sounds as possible were generated during the actual time of the battle. This includes photos, film, video, and oral interviews, so having a photo like this, taken of men who were actually in Bravo Company in that time and place was very important to us. Not only were we interested in the photo being genuine, we were interested in the aesthetic value the picture holds. I say holds because there is something organic to this particular image that captures the sadness, the sorrow, the horror, the stoic courage and the brotherhood experienced by the men who fought at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Marines in the photo are listed below. Please note that in the Marine Corps in the 1960s, you rarely called anyone by their first name. You probably didn’t know their first name. In regards to the “unknown” there were so many men who came and went as replacements-in and casualties-or-deaths-out, that you often didn’t have time to know their names. You may not have wanted to know their names, because that meant you would have to get to know them and you did not want to get to know them because if they were killed you had to deal with the personal grief that ensued as a result of their deaths. Please also note that some of the names may not be spelled correctly since we are relying on memories of over forty years.

Back row, left to right:

Black, Paben, Shockley, Unknown

Front row, left to right:

McCauley (Mike, from the film), Britt (Ted), Sinkowietz, Beamon, Roper and Wiese (Steve). Steve Wiese was the squad leader of 3rd Squad and is also one of the men featured in the film.

According to Mike McCauley, this photo was taken by Author Smith who was killed in action in what has come to be called the Payback Patrol which occurred on March 30, 1968. According to Steve Wiese, Author Smith was KIA while overwhelming a NVA machine gun bunker. You can read more about Author Smith here: http://www.virtualwall.org/ds/SmithAC03a.htm.

Mike McCauley

Mike McCauley

Of the other men in this photo, Ted Britt was also KIA on March 30. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his actions on that date. According to Ted Britt’s Silver Star citation:

While reorganizing to continue the attack, his squad was suddenly pinned down by hostile mortar and machine gun fire. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Private First Class Britt alertly pinpointed the primary source of fire and unhesitatingly left his covered position to assault the automatic weapons emplacement. Fearlessly moving across the fire-swept terrain, he reached the fortified bunker and, delivering a heavy volume of accurate fire, killed four enemy soldiers and silenced the hostile fire. Continuing his determined efforts, he launched another attack against an enemy fighting hole, and while boldly advancing, he was fatally wounded.

You can read Ted Britt’s entire Silver Star citation here: http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=23309.

Photography is a way for us to record the present so folks can understand what was happening at a given moment. Photography is journalism but it is also art that allows us to acquire the visceral, personal knowledge that can’t always be given us in words. We feel the moment, the subject, the place.

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

This photo of the men in Third Squad, First Platoon, Bravo 1/26 gives us a peek at the time and the place and the sadness, again, of the Marines of Khe Sanh. That peek is related to the aesthetic power photography holds. The image is in black and white and captures the mood of the men at the siege. Somehow, that array of grays and blacks and whites reveals messages to us.

The faces in this photo are gaunt and mildly disturbed. The men you see are young, none of them over twenty years old. Fear has aged them. They are not happy yet they seem determined. They are a team, a brotherhood, and they are not creations for a Hollywood film. Some of them are not coming home and they may know that. Some of them were probably wounded soon after this photo was taken. Some of them were killed later at Khe Sanh, as well as after Bravo 1/26 moved south. Some of them are probably trying, right now, to forget what happened to them and their comrades at Khe Sanh.

And some of us remember and feel we have…and I emphasize the “have”…to tell the story of what happened at Khe Sanh, to the men of BRAVO!, to all women and men in all wars, and this photo, with its real men, its real heroes, plays a critical role in helping us create the narrative.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

Guest Blogs

May 14, 2014

All I Ever Did Was Love My Country: What we don’t—and can’t—know about PTSD (because we weren’t there).

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By Liza Long

“Oh yes, you asked me about the rocket attack on Danang, and well, honey, just don’t worry about rocket attacks at all—they’re really inaccurate. Of course, we’d take it very personally if one hit us, but they are very inaccurate, and since I’ve been here, rockets haven’t hit at all.”

Captain Theodore T. Long Jr., USMC, in an audiotape mailed from Vietnam to my mother in Layton, Utah, February 1970.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’m obsessed with the show Madmen. This season, the clothes get ugly, the soundtrack gets funky, and it’s time to talk about hard truths that never seemed possible in those early 60s Camelot times of JFK and Jackie, pearls and Hyannis Port. The one scene from an early Madmen episode that still stands out for me is Don Draper and his (then) wife, Betty, picnicking beneath stately trees in early summer with their picture-perfect children. When they leave, they don’t bother to clean up the mess they have left—why would they?

What a mess. That’s what a group of veterans told me on a Monday in late April 2014, when I was invited to visit a group of Warrior Pointe members in the recreation room of a cinderblock Christian church in Nampa, Idaho. The men ranged in age from grizzled Vietnam veterans to young soldiers who had just returned from Afghanistan. Their leader and Warrior Pointe founder, Reed Pacheco, walked in with a cell phone to his ear. He was talking with a family member of a veteran who had threatened suicide and needed an intervention fast.

Liza Long head shot 2013

Pacheco, himself a veteran, founded Warrior Pointe because he wanted to create a space where former soldiers could come together to talk about the issues that continue to haunt them. “The VA just isn’t there for us,” he said, as heads around the table nodded emphatically. This group of 20 men have taken a new mission upon themselves: no soldier left behind.

“The first thing people ask when you get back is ‘Did you kill somebody? How many people did you kill?’” one Vietnam veteran told me. “They just don’t understand how inappropriate that question is. We did what we had to do. You can’t know what it means to sit, 40 years later, in front of a television set reliving the same 40 seconds, over and over and over. You can’t know. You don’t want to know.”

I learned more than a few things about courage in my hour with this veterans’ group. And I also learned more than a few things about how the United States has let its soldiers down. I often wondered why so many veterans’ groups were opposed to the Affordable Care Act of 2010. “It’s the same thing as the VA,” one Afghanistan veteran told me. “You wait and wait and wait for care. And when you finally get in to see someone, they just give you painkillers instead of recommending surgery or something you need to actually fix the problem.”

That delay of care has been in the news recently, with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki facing allegations that VA clinics delayed treatment to vets who desperately needed it, then covered it up. You can read more about this issue here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2014/05/13/shinseki-set-to-testify-over-alleged-secret-list-hiding-va-treatment-delays/. No one disputes that patients died while waiting for care.

The Warrior Pointe organization recognizes that all of its members, no matter where or when they served, suffer from some sort of PTSD—Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The controversial DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) revised criteria for the disorder which is now described as “a history of exposure to a traumatic event that meets specific stipulations and symptoms from each of four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.” You can find out more about that here: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp.

Pretty much everyone who went to war to defend our country could suffer from PTSD.

But the Warrior Pointe veterans feel empowered to help each other, where they feel the Veterans Administration has failed them. “We are all brothers,” says Tom Bosch, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. “We understand each other. We can talk to each other. We can support each other.”

My father served in Vietnam. While the Don Drapers of the world were enjoying three-martini lunches and free love, my dad sent anxious audiotapes to reassure my mother, who heard nothing but bad news about the war at home. Dad didn’t have to serve. He was his father’s only surviving child. He set out to write his senior thesis in Political Science to defend the Vietnam War. As he researched the subject, he concluded there was no justification for America’s involvement in Indochina. Then he graduated from college and went to Vietnam anyway.

Theodore and Liza Long

Theodore and Liza Long

My dad flew medical rescue missions. As far as I know, he never killed anyone. He came home to life as a husband and father and used the GI Bill to pursue his passion to study law. But I will never forget the morning we were running errands in Bakersfield, California. The road was blocked to allow a parade, a hero’s welcome for the warriors of Desert Storm.

When I looked at my dad, I was surprised to see tears streaming down his cheeks. “They spit on me when I got home,” he said quietly. “They called me a baby killer. All I ever did was love my country.”

And as a defender of our country, my dad most likely suffered from PTSD.

Liza Long is a writer, educator, mental health advocate, and mother of four children, one of whom has a mental illness. She lives in Boise, Idaho. You can read more of Liza Long’s thoughts here: http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/.

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

May 7, 2014

On Art and War

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We have art in order not to die of the truth.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Betty and I recently returned from a trip to California where we screened BRAVO!. On our way back to Boise we stopped in at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden outside Weed, California, to look at the sculptures. The work exhibited here is the brainchild of a group of veterans from the Weed area who got together in 1988 and brought in sculptor Dennis Smith to create the work. Dennis Smith is a Marine who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Left to right: Ken Rodgers and Sculptor Dennis Smith. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Left to right: Ken Rodgers and Sculptor Dennis Smith.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

The sculptures at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden are beautiful depictions of the human form as we might view it: engaged in war and yet at the same time reacting to the atrocities of war, or suffering from the aftermath. They are thought-provoking, expressive, and evocative of something more difficult to discover, the “Why” of war and it’s aftermath.

POW-MIA by Dennis Smith. Photo © Ken Rodgers 2014

POW-MIA by Dennis Smith.
Photo © Ken Rodgers 2014

In Smith’s sculptures there is a distinct conflict between art and war. Humans often thrive on conflict, on the junction of fear and redemption, good versus evil. We want conflict in our novels, in our movies, in our visual art. We say we don’t like conflict, yet we crave it on more than one level.

Some of our finest art is based on the never ending conflict between us. Consider Stephen Crane’s novella, The Red Badge of Courage, or Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. These stories are verbal works of art that capture the pure energy, the agony, the ecstasy of war and humanity’s propensity for creating war and conflict.

In more recent literature, Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn and Nick Warr’s Phase Line Green are fine examples of stories written about the Vietnam War that expose the depth and breadth of war and humanity’s experience in that conflict.

And it is just not in story and sculpture, but in poetry, too, such as the Vietnam War poetry of Bruce Weigl and Yusef Komunyakaa. As an example of war poetry, check out the piece that follows by First World War British Officer Siegfried Sassoon. I like how it mixes the beauty of lyrical poetry with the horror of war:

Hero

‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she’d read.
‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.

(Siegfried Sassoon, “Hero,” from the website: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/hero/.)

Another example of art applied to war in the form of poetry is Brian Turner’s “Here Bullet,” about the horrors of the war. Turner served in both Bosnia and in Iraq.

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

(Brian Turner, “Here, Bullet,” from the website: http://www.brianturner.org/poetry/.)

What about other examples of visual art? Below are two paintings created from events that occurred during the First World War. The initial painting, titled “Gassed,” is by the famous British artist John Singer Sargent, and the second, titled “A Battery Shelled, 1919” is by Wyndham Lewis. Both of these paintings depict the horrors of war via the beautiful tools of the painter, the tools of the mind, the memory and the painter’s genre.

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

(John Singer Sargent, “Gassed,” from the website: http://ind.pn/RksGnw.)

A Battery Shelled, 1919 by Wyndham Lewis

A Battery Shelled, 1919 by Wyndham Lewis

(Wyndham Lewis, “A Battery Shelled,” from the website: http://bit.ly/1mwza0q.)

The horrible glories that arise when art and war combine can also be portrayed through photography as in the following photo of Khe Sanh shot by the famous photographer, David Douglas Duncan, whose images are featured in BRAVO!.

Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

Having participated in war, I think something aesthetic intrudes into our minds as we retch at the carnage that man heaps on man. I think that is one way we can come to terms with all the horror: through the art that depicts it.

On a quiet night in the war zone, nothing is quite as arresting as the sight of Snoopy, or as some of us called it, Puff, firing at the enemy:

Puff the Magic Dragon

Puff the Magic Dragon

(An AC-47, Puff, from the website: http://cherrieswriter.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/when-puff-ruled-the-night-the-birth-of-gunships/.)

Or the terrible beauty of napalm dropped on human beings:

Dropping Napalm

Dropping Napalm

(Napalm dropped on Vietcong targets, from the website: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/photoessay.htm.)

Or the sight of concertina wire etched against muddy terrain:

Concertina Wire

Concertina Wire

(Concertina wire, from the website: http://bit.ly/1o0mAWF.)

I just finished reading the late war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s book about World War II, titled Brave Men. Pyle generally had a no-nonsense style of writing and describing, but when he really tried to get at the essence of how we kill each other in combat, he waxed poetic in a way that takes us away from the lists and statistics and into the human aspects of war, and not just the horrible, but the sublimely beautiful. Here is an excerpt from Pyle’s book that, to me, shows what I am trying to get at:

From the scattered green leaves and the fresh branches still lying in the road. From the coils of telephone wire, hanging brokenly from high poles and entwining across the roads. From the gray, burned-powder rims of the shell craters, their edges not yet smoothed by the pounding of military traffic. From the little pools of blood on the roadside, blood that had only begun to congeal and turn black, and the punctured steel helmets lying nearby…From the scattered heaps of personal gear around a gun. I don’t know why it was, but the Germans always seemed to take off their coats before they fled or died.

(Ernie Pile, from: Brave Men, Grosset and Dunlap, NY, NY, 1943 and 1944, Pp 309 and 310.)

I began this blog with a quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche that implies that we need art so that the truth of what we are doesn’t kill us. As horrible as war is—and believe me, anybody who has fought in one understands the essence of pure horror—we need to depict, portray and ponder how combat and its associated mayhem fit into who we are; and how can we best do that but through the beauty and truth we attain through art?

With that in mind, if you head in the direction of Weed, California, consider stopping in at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden to see some of BRAVO! brother Dennis Smith’s beautiful sculpture that contemplates our horrible human endeavor, war.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.