Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for March 30th, 2019

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

March 30, 2019

Intuition–The Payback Patrol

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Fifty-one years ago the morning roared at us much too soon, the briefings and the saddling up and the waiting to barge outside the wire and into the NVA trenchline.

Fog crouched over the base and added to the gloom that nested in my middle.

The lieutenant and staff sergeant soothed me, “We are just going out to get the remains of the men left out there on February 25th.”


Their words jangled. Deep inside my intuition, I sensed the day would turn to chaos and death and maiming.

The mist smothers Khe Sanh. Photo by David Douglas Duncan

Besides the staff sergeant’s words and the outgoing artillery prepping the NVA trenches, the only other sounds were the scrape of boots in the red mud, the creak of gear and the occasional hack from throats of Marines and Corpsmen.

Before departing the perimeter, the company staged in the trench. The staff sergeant and I went down the line, me behind with the PRC 25 radio, him in front checking web gear, whispering orders, whispering support, whispering motivational phrases.

I saw Corporal A sucking on a cigarette. His eyebrows arched up and I nodded. There was Corporal M inspecting a flak jacket on one of the men in his squad. Every night M and I listened to Armed Forces Radio. We told everybody we wanted to hear the news but we really wanted the music; the Mamas and the Papas, Otis Redding, The Turtles. And then, from time to time, we wanted to laugh and be frightened in a different sense at the same time, so we tuned the radio to Hanoi Hannah who usually had something personal, a warning, to say to us, the men of Khe Sanh.

When the order to move out rolled down the line, the clink and grunts and swish and stomp of Marines in motion rose up and hit the low lying fog and then came down over us like a parachute.

Outside the wire, our platoon—Second Platoon—set up, and that’s when it must have happened, Skipper Pipes giving the order, “Fix bayonets.” You would think that something so primal that hinted at the coming savagery would stick in one’s mind, but I don’t remember those words. I think every man who survives now who embarked with us that fatal day recalls that moment. Everyone but me.

The other two platoons, First and Third, passed through our lines and charged up the ridge and jumped in the NVA trench and started shooting and bayoneting the enemy. Our platoon followed. First and Third Platoons cleared bunkers with grenades and satchel charges and flamethrowers. Dead littered the ground. Theirs and ours, and one thing that stays bolted into my memory like it was part of my flesh and bone is how the dead all looked the same: sallow and surprised and once or twice, peaceful.

It was brutal, what happened that day, March 30, 1968. We lost 12 good men and as I recall, close to 100 wounded. According to what the records say, we killed 115 of the enemy, although I’m not sure how that number came to be.

Blogger Ken Rodgers. While at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the estate of Dan Horton.

Back inside the perimeter wire, after the battle, the staff sergeant and I stood in the trench by the gate and watched our men come back, faces drained to the color of ivory, their eyes suddenly gone from what earlier had been excitement to a look that’s come to be known as the “thousand yard stare.” Here and there a bandage over a bloody spot on an arm, or the side of the head; occasionally a man with an AK-47 he’d salvaged out of the mayhem.

It’s odd what my mind recalls about that morning. I draw a blank when trying to recollect the moment that the word went out to “fix bayonets.” But I do remember much of the blood and mud and mayhem; me getting hit in the side of the head by shrapnel from a mortar round; that exact moment and how it felt like a stone thrown in a calm pool of water and what I thought about sitting on my butt in the mud, aware that I’d been hit, not knowing the injury’s extent.

And I also remember, standing there with the staff sergeant, thinking about the difference between what the lieutenant and he told me about simply going out to get the dead and what really happened . . . what intuition told me would happen.

Last night we screened BRAVO! in La Grande, Oregon. More about that event next week.

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BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

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

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