Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for June, 2015

America's Middle East Conflicts,Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

June 26, 2015

On Reverence for the Old Breed

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I recently had a conversation with a veteran of the Middle East conflicts about the status of veterans in our country today. This young man is someone for whom I hold a ton of respect, someone who owns the permanent wounds, both physical and mental, as a result of his tours of combat duty.

In effect—and I am paraphrasing here—he told me that today’s veterans have it easy compared to what happened to Vietnam vets, especially when we, Vietnam vets, came home from our war. I am not sure that we had it any more difficult in Vietnam than the troops who have been battling in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I didn’t disagree or agree with him.

Several days later, as I left the house to go on a walk, I considered the idea that we had it worse than the current vets. In terms of our acceptance by the public back home and the recognition that PTSD and TBI are legitimate issues, he is probably right. But that is all ancient history, so to speak.

As I strode beneath the ash trees and the maples and the crabapples and heard the warning cries of the black-capped chickadees, I thought about war and veterans. That led me to consider the wars of the last one-hundred years: World War I, the Banana Wars as Marine Lieutenant General Smedley Butler called them, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I and II, Afghanistan and all the other scrapes and skirmishes that have involved the United States’ military.

That led me to think about how I felt, when I was in the Marine Corps, about the veterans of previous conflicts.

Before pursuing those thoughts, though, I admit to having spent a childhood surrounded by relatives, family friends and school teachers who were Marines. In 1950 one of my first cousins was killed at Chosin Reservoir in Korea. So I already held the idea of Marines in high regards.

Then in boot camp we were inundated with nightly doses of Marine Corps history: Presley O’Bannon, Dan Daly, Smedley Butler, John Basilone, Chesty Puller and other famous Marines. We heard about Belleau Wood and Guadalcanal. Our drill instructors uttered paeans to the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and their gripping heroic battle to stave off annihilation at the hands of the Chinese Army at Chosin Reservoir during the early days of the Korean War.

As I strode on down the walking trail ignoring the barks of neurotic Irish setters and aged Akitas, I recalled, in May of 1968, going to a special training session for riot control–yes we were training to control riots back in 1968. One of the trainers, a Master Gunnery Sergeant served with the 4th Marine Regiment—the China Marines—before World War II began for the United States. At the time he was old and I marveled that he was still in the Marines and I wondered what it was like to have been in China back then and supposed maybe he was with the units of the 4th Marines who were at Corregidor and the pursuant Bataan Death March. Thinking about those things gave me a sense of awe, that I was in the same location with a warrior who had been in places and combat that had reached almost mythological planes. Yes, I was at Khe Sanh, but Corregidor, Bataan?

Smedley Butler

Smedley Butler

Regardless of your feelings about war—hate it, love it—it happens to humans and as such, the total array of human emotion comes into play: love, hate, rage, cowardice, callousness, disdain, on and on and on. People go through horrible experiences and some act above and beyond and others dismally fail or fall short one day and triumph the next, and as they soar and/or fail, the environment that compels them is monstrous in ways that those who have not fought in battle cannot imagine. And I revered that Master Gunnery Sergeant for what I supposed he went through.

Similarly, later, when I was stationed at 36th Street Naval Station in San Diego, working in the Brig, one of our brig wardens was a Chief Warrant Officer, a weapons specialist known as a Gunner. I don’t recall his name but I can see him in my mind’s eye. Old, to me back then at the ripe old age of 23. The Gunner was quiet, not like I thought he ought to be, loud and commanding. If I recollect correctly, he had been with Chesty Puller at both Guadalcanal and Chosin Reservoir. I believe he was Chesty’s Sergeant Major at Chosin.

There I was, working with a man who’d been with Chesty, at two of the Marine Corps’ salient history-making battles. And I revered him so much that I didn’t ask him about all that history. I was reluctant to approach him. He may have felt about his experiences in those places like I felt about Khe Sanh and at that time I really didn’t want to talk about what happened at Khe Sanh.

I suspect that one of the reasons we were indoctrinated during boot camp on the heroics of past Marines was to perpetuate the mythology of the Corps, but it also was intended, in my opinion, as a possible way to stiffen our backbones should we, as Marines, and later as men, encounter the kind of horrible events that precipitated the actions that made Basilone and Butler and Chesty, and all the other Marines who are enshrined in the Corps’ pantheon of heroes, heroes.

Years after I left the Marine Corps, I ran into Marines who served after I did, and they told me that the Siege of Khe Sanh had already become memorialized in Marine Corps lore. They told me that when the Drill Instructors held their nightly historical indoctrination of recruits, Khe Sanh was spoken of with reverence and the men who fought there were heroes, too.

And as time goes on, I suppose, the men and women who served in Vietnam will be viewed in an even more heroic light as our stories continue to be told. Bravo Marines like the men in our film will be viewed as icons of heroism instead of the losers we were thought to be by so many of our fellow citizens back in the late 60s through the early 90s.

Newer waves of Marine veterans have emerged from combat in places like Beirut in 1982 and the Gulf War in the early 90s and of course, the Middle East wars of this century, and as the century rolls on, there will, unfortunately, be more wars in which we will undoubtedly fight, and as the years go on, those new Marines will hold the old ones in awe. And the mythology will be enriched and the list of heroes will grow. It won’t make any difference whether the wars are good or bad as judged later, the men who fight them will go on to endure nightmarish events that will automatically log them in the small brotherhood called Warrior.

Make no mistake, there will be wars. More wars in the Middle East as we deal with a resurgence of Islamic culture and there will be battles in Asia as those countries flex their muscles and who knows, Africa and South America and Europe. People say the Europeans are cured of the centuries of conflict that racked the continent, but folks die and the collective memory of World War I and World War II also loses the intimacy of horror that dies with the individuals who lived through those conflagrations. There will be war in Europe.

Chesty Puller

Chesty Puller

And we will be involved. Good war or bad war, we will have our young people involved, and as each generation of warrior grows older, they will become the new generation of the revered veterans.

My young friend and his fellow warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan will be known for fights in Fallujah and Ramadi and Sangin and Dehaneh. They will be revered. They will be called heroes. They won’t see themselves as such, but they will be remembered as heroes.

On July 2, 2015, at 7:00 PM, BRAVO! will be screened as a fundraiser for the Eagle Field of Honor in Eagle, Idaho. The screening will be at Northgate Reel Theater at 6950 West State Street in Boise. Tickets are $10.00 with all proceeds going to the Eagle Field of Honor. Sponsored by Lithia Ford of Boise. For more information contact Heather Paredes at dhpare@yahoo.com or Betty Rodgers at bettykrodgers@gmail.com. Telephone: 208-861-7309 or 208-340-8324.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, or winter, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, 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?ref=hl.

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

June 3, 2015

On the Vietnam War and History Students at Boise High School

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Several weeks back, I spent a day screening segments of BRAVO! and talking about the Vietnam War and war in general with high school students in Mrs. Sandie Waters’ Boise High School history classes.

Over the years I have spoken with high school students about various subjects including creative writing, poetry and Vietnam, and except for one instance I have been impressed with the interest of the students in the subject matter discussed and in the reception they have afforded me.

In the last decade, public schools and schoolteachers have taken quite a rhetorical beating from large segments of the American public. The complaints I have heard run from no discipline in the schools, to no history being taught in the schools. It’s very common to hear from other Vietnam vets how the school systems in America don’t teach anything about Vietnam. Another common type of complaint runs around the notions that teachers are not motivated, aren’t knowledgeable about a particular subject matter and don’t seem to care whether or not they help students get educated. And kids have no respect for anything but what’s happening now. That’s another one I hear a lot.

Ken Rodgers speaks at Boise High School

Ken Rodgers speaks at Boise High School

I have been pondering this over the last year or two, this business of competence in the schoolroom. I was educated in a public school and my wife Betty was educated in a public school and I feel both of us are fairly cognizant of what goes on in the world. When I point that out to folks, some say, “Well, that was back when schools were run right.”

Two of my granddaughters have been or are now being educated in public schools and both of them are excellent students, and I think at least some of that excellence must reflect on both their teachers and their schools.

For the record, my experience with Mrs. Waters’ students was inspiring. They were prepared to ask great questions about BRAVO!, the Vietnam War, and war in a more general sense. The questions ran the gamut from specifics like, “What did you eat?” “What was the weather like?” “What were the people over there like?” “Were you frightened?”

We talked about weather and cobras and leeches and 782 gear and living with rats for bunker mates. We talked about the siege of Khe Sanh and about death and injury and corpsmen and the monsoon. We talked about incoming and fear and what it was like to return here and deal with public opinion in 1968. They were really interested in that. They knew quite a bit about the history of the war. They knew where Vietnam was on the map. Some of them have already signed up to go into the military and others plan to pursue military careers. One young man desires to be an interpreter in the United States Army. In concert with his plan, he is already learning to speak both German and Arabic in addition to his other studies.

Some of the kids in those classes probably have no plans to serve our country in a military uniform. I was lead to that conclusion based on some of the questions they asked. “What do you think about war?” “Were all the deaths in Vietnam worth the results?” “Do you think it right that we are fighting in the Middle East?” “Do you believe in war?”

As I fielded those questions I found the profundity of the queries to be troubling. I am a man who generally tries to keep his opinions about this kind of stuff to himself. I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation, whether to hem and haw or whether to leap right in.

I hate war. I told them that. I told them that I love peace more than almost anybody. I told them that my job in Vietnam was search and destroy; to kill people. But I also told them that history is replete with humans killing each other and over the long run of millennia, most societies engage in war. Often it is offensive, often it is defensive, but nevertheless, it’s one of the things we have done and we do right now. I told them it’s one of the things that we as a species do best.

Most of these kids managed to maintain expressions that hid what they thought about the things I said, but I do know that when each of the six classes was over, a number of them approached and thanked me for talking to them and for serving the country.

Another shot of Ken Rodgers at Boise High School

Another shot of Ken Rodgers at Boise High School

Furthermore, Sandie Waters is a keg of dynamite. As you talk to her, you can feel all that energy, the excitement she brings to her work every day. Some folks tell me that teachers are overpaid and don’t work very much. That’s not what I saw. I saw dedication and preparation. I saw a teacher who commands the respect of her students. Students from a wide variety of ethnic groups and interests. What was happening in those classes when I was there was the business of education, query and curiosity.

I don’t know much about all the other school systems in this country. Some of them are undoubtedly a mess. By virtue of the number of towns and districts and cities we have, there are bound to be failures. But I bet, if we look closely, the majority of school systems are like the ones I have visited and the bulk of the instructors are like Mrs. Sandie Waters. And at least in Boise, Idaho, these students are learning about the Vietnam War.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, 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?ref=hl.