Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for March 21st, 2020

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

March 21, 2020

Elation

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After the Ghost Patrol of 25Feb1968, no larger units sortied outside Khe Sanh combat base for almost a month. We sent out some listening posts but those were small and they went out after dark and came in before sunrise while the mist still hung low to the ground.

But on today’s date fifty-two years ago, as the sun threw up the first hint of daylight, we Marines of Second Platoon, Bravo, 1/26 stood in the trench and smoked our Camels and Winstons and Salems, flinched at the incoming rounds, heard the scrape of scuffed jungle boots in the red mud at the bottom of the trench. Noted some mumbles.

And if fear had sounds, they would have ricocheted in the deep trench, off the walls, against the sandbags. Being Marines, we needed to keep the fright quarantined to a slow boil at the bottom of our guts. We must not entertain the notion of fear because its insidious gnawing weakened us.

And then out the gate we went, crossed over the minefield, got on line and charged across the vale and up the ridge towards the NVA position in the vicinity of where the Ghost Patrol had traveled.

After the Siege. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely

Our big guns on base boxed us in with ordnance, geysers of red mud, black smoke and the din of combat suddenly crammed in our ears and brains, sucking the breath out of our lungs. And as we headed towards our objective, our allies to the rear, on the base, fired machine-guns over our heads.

As the Marines of my old squad, Third Squad, reached the top of the ridge, explosions erupted among them and then .50 caliber rounds fired by our guys, our allies, our mates, ripped into the men of Third Squad. I saw the rounds hit; flashes and bodies pirouetting, falling.

The explosions I suspect were from NVA mortar rounds and RPG rounds, but the machine-gun fire was what we call friendly fire. Friendly fire.

Up top, while the wounded were medevacked, we got in the NVA trench and headed east. At one point elements of First Squad, who were on point, veered off to the north, away from the trench.

We’d been briefed to stay in the NVA trench because it was believed that the surrounding terrain was infested with booby traps.

When this went down, I had about fifteen days left in the field. I’d survived my twelve month-plus tour by being good at surviving, being lucky, not being heroic, just doing my job and keeping it as low profile as possible.

So I was shocked as I took off, out of the trench, sprinting behind the Marines of First Squad, yelling, “No, no,” and when several turned at my words—and as I think of it now, how they heard me in the furious din that boomed around us—how they weren’t blown up by some of that ordnance and how we all didn’t get blown to smithereens by the mines and booby traps out there where we had wrongly ventured, is a wonder to me to this day.

But, nobody lost legs or died or anything. We just got back in the NVA trench and drove on towards our goal.

Not far from our destination, a gate we could enter through the maze of our own mines and wire and booby traps, the man on point triggered an NVA booby-trapped grenade that went off. He went down, but then got up and a Corpsman went to succor him and after that, we went in, missing some of the men with whom I’d served previously in Third Squad. The squad leader, Corporal Jacobs’ back had been rent by one of those .50 caliber rounds that had been delivered by the friendly fire. He stood there among us like nothing had happened to him.

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

After we all retired to our area, we shouted and jumped up and down and the Marines sent historians to record our thoughts. I remember relief. I remember a sense of satisfaction, and I also remember feeling extremely elated. How I imagined exaltation. I was bad, I was indestructible. I was alive.

And we’d gotten in their trench. Their trench.

We were…were…were unbreakable, we were shatterproof, we were everlasting.

The thing that sticks in my mind after all these years was that high, that feeling that I stood atop a throne at the apex of the world was at that moment so different from the almost two months of despair that permeated everything that I had lived through. Thousands upon thousands of incoming rounds that shook the ground—some that roared like railroad engines and some that hissed like sneaky spirits—and dismembered men I knew and didn’t know, who at that time and in that place were like twin brothers to me.

I realized that for two months I’d lived on huge doses of luck and that sometime, if the siege did not stop, I’d be hit by a whooshing chunk of shrapnel that would sever an arm or a leg, or I’d be sitting in my bunker and a rocket round would crash through the roof and my fellow Marines would be gathering my parts that were pasted on the sandbag walls, or a sniper would put a round through my brain.

So, having been in their trench, and having survived, and for at least a few hours, having been on top, the aggressor, the winner so to speak. Yeah, I was elated. I was bad.

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