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

February 25, 2020

Grief

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52 years ago today, one of the most significant events in my memory of Khe Sanh’s siege occurred in what has now become known as the Ghost Patrol. When Marines and Corpsmen from Third Platoon of Bravo Company 1/26 were ambushed by a battalion of NVA, a squad from First Platoon went out to relieve them, and they were ambushed, too. A lot of good Marines, young men with futures that would never be discovered and fulfilled, died that day.

I have written about this a lot over the years I suppose in hopes of finding resolution, and yet I still return to the memories almost daily.

I recall our skipper, Ken Pipes, talking about the event one evening, sadness drooped on his shoulders like a too-heavy mantle. He talked about a patrol on Guadalcanal—the Goettge Patrol, led by Lieutenant Colonel Frank Goettge—that was ambushed by Japanese forces and which lost almost its entire 25-man contingent.

Ken Pipes at Khe Sanh.

Skipper Pipes talked about how bad things happen in war and how the Ghost Patrol was another of the long list of actions where Marines were attacked and nearly obliterated. But his and my recognition of this fact of war had no effect, as far as I could tell, in lessening his profound sense of loss, and responsibility, related to the ambush of 25Feb68.

The Ghost Patrol has been the subject of a number of news articles, battle studies, and for a while was used as a case study in the Scouting and Patrolling class at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico, Virginia where all new Marine Corps officers and warrant officers are trained. One of the things they taught in that course was how it feels to lose your troops/mates in the chaotic heat of battle, and in retrospect, the ensuing grief.

One of the online dictionaries defines grief as “deep sorrow, especially the sorrow caused by someone’s death.”

Grief comes in a variety of types. According to the website WHAT’S YOUR GRIEF (https://whatsyourgrief.com/ ), grief can be prolonged, anticipatory, masked, disenfranchised, secondary, cumulative, inhibited, ambiguous, complicated, normal, traumatic, abbreviated, exaggerated, absent, prolonged, chronic, and collective, to name a few.

Blogger Ken Rodgers while at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

As far as I can discern from my short appraisal of the types of grief, I suffer—or have suffered, related to the events surrounding the Ghost Patrol: normal, prolonged, complicated, traumatic, chronic and collective grief.

Collective grief, in my case, means that besides my problems with the malady, I am joined by a relatively large number of my fellow Khe Sanh survivors in our grief that is also prolonged and chronic and traumatic.

The French playwright Moliere said, “If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.”

For years, for decades, I tried like hell to stuff the grief I felt from my mates having been massacred on today’s date fifty-two years ago. And from my experience, I can say it probably didn’t help to do that. In the Marines back then, and maybe now, too, you were just supposed to tough it out. War’s hell and all that kind of sentiment, or lack of sentiment thereof. But all my grief demanded to be let out.

I think again of Bravo Skipper Pipes and it seems to me that so much of the life he lived in the too-short time I knew him was dedicated to the memories of the men he led who died at Khe Sanh and especially to all those casualties on 25February1968. His grief was palpable. It was long term. It directed him to constantly search for ways to honor those who didn’t come home.

Steve Wiese. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Over the years, people have asked me why I don’t just get over it.

When we made BRAVO!, Steve Wiese said it best:

“I’ve had people say, ‘Well, that was 30, 40 years ago. Why don’t you get over it?’ You know, I wish I could. I wish I could get over it. But on the other hand, it’s like I don’t ever want to forget these guys. I don’t want to forget what I’ve seen, what I was witness to. And I don’t want to forget them and their memories.”

***

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

February 10, 2020

Give Them The Bayonet

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52 years ago today I awoke and realized that the end of my life could come at any moment. Before, even though Khe Sanh had been under siege for 20-plus days, I’d been quite optimistic that all would end soon and well.

Bayonet and Scabbard for an M-16

On February 5th, 1968, NVA troops had attacked the Marines of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines, penetrating the barbwire lines and a vicious up-close battle ensued.

On February 6th and 7th, 1968, NVA troops had assaulted and overrun the Special Forces Camp at Lang Vei and part of their weaponry—tanks! The first time tanks had been used by the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. All that long and scary night, I heard tanks. Doubt began to slither into my soul like a cobra in the mist. Did I hear them? Didn’t I? Am I crazy? And following doubt, the cold viper of fear followed.

On February 8th, 1968, NVA troops had attacked and penetrated the defenses of Hill 64, manned by Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. A lot of good men died that day in another up-close-and-personal melee.

Misgivings started kicking the inside of my mind. No relief for Khe Sanh was in sight. Supply aircraft were blown out of the sky. The airstrip was damaged. Men I served with were maimed and dying.

Joining the Marine Corps, for me, was an act of pure impulse, like stepping off the edge of a cliff which is shrouded in a thick fog. I fully believed that I would land on my feet on some unseen safe ledge. My optimism defeated any doubt I might have harbored.

But the Marine Corps has trained millions of warriors and they know that when the bullet meets the breastbone and fear begins to gnaw and nibble, the warrior might begin to entertain doubt.

And I believe that’s one reason for the vicissitudes of Marine Corps training. The physical and mental exercises of Boot Camp. The harassment. Then the hard training in what they now call the School of Infantry.

They want to harden your body, your heart, your mind. They want your backbone ramrod straight when the manure hits the fan. They know doubt and they aim to defeat it.

Blogger, Ken Rodgers

But 52 years ago today doubt crept in.

I doubted I could overcome fear.

I doubted my country could save me.

I doubted my ability to do what must be done to survive. The hard things: Die for your brother, charge under deadly fire up a hill with fixed bayonets like Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate Army warriors after he told them, “Give them the bayonet,” and meet your enemy face-to-face. And kill him.

Stonewall Jackson

As the Siege wore on, doubt seeped into my bones, my skin, my attitude, and at times I felt as if the end of the world would show up any minute: A barrage of 152 Millimeter artillery rounds that would obliterate me, the deadly hiss of an 81 Millimeter mortar round hurtling out of the misty sky to send me home in a body bag, or a sniper round that would slap against the side of my head leaving me with a momentary expression of complete surprise before I slumped into the red mud in the bottom of the trench.

But then, after two months of getting pounded, pounded, pounded, we went into action. Action overcame doubt. I still feared mightily every possible way I might die, and I feared other things like what was out there that I didn’t know—yes, all of that. But I needed to concentrate on the tasks at hand, so doubt, for me, didn’t disappear; but it waned.

More than once we charged up hills with fixed bayonets, into the teeth of death, my doubt forgotten because I had a job to do.

We gave them the bayonet.

***

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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

November 11, 2019

Vieil Ami

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Guest Blogger and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on the passage of time, war, the film and comrades in this blog for Veterans Day, 2019.

Fall 2019

Vieil Ami

When I first arrived in a place that would change my life and the lives of many others forever, it was October 1967. I made many friends, each unique in their own way.

We were Marines, charged with guarding a lonely outpost high in the Annamite Mountains in northwest South Vietnam. It is known as the backbone of Vietnam.

One of my new acquaintances, among many, was a young man from Casa Grande, Arizona. It was a while before we became close. Many nights we would test each other’s knowledge, mostly about history. But time and events would bring us all together. Brothers-in-arms is much more than a simple cliché.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Time would pass and eventually we all went our separate ways. Some forgot and most did not. For many years we all would relive, at least in the memories of our minds, the friends and events that had shaped each and every one of us. Everyone processed that experience differently.

It would be 25 years before I would see my good friend from Casa Grande once again. I would also be introduced to his beautiful wife. We would find ourselves gathering with all those friends from long ago in Washington, DC. It was the 4th of July, 1993, and Bravo Company 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment had assembled once again. We would all descend on “The Wall” to touch the names and remember old comrades who never made it home to “The World.”

Although we stayed in touch over the next few years, it wasn’t until 2009 that he attended his next reunion. It was in Denver. I wasn’t planning on going that year until he called. I could tell he had something on his mind. He came to DC when I asked; I would go to Denver.

Denver was great. Lots of friends from Bravo were there. It would be the last time I saw Danny Horton before he passed. When I arrived, my friend from Casa Grande was there waiting for me to arrive. It was very emotional. Ken Rodgers has been a good friend my entire adult life and his beautiful wife Betty was just awe struck at the emotion we both shared that day over ten long years ago. Much has happened in that time. They have since visited our home twice. Betty and Maxine hit it off well and interestingly, Betty still keeps in touch with my daughters via FB. They all got along very well in DC in ‘93 and remain friends to this day.

But I was curious as to what Ken had on his mind when he called me. He never did really say. However, we were all sitting around a table sharing stories and Betty made the statement what a shame it would be if this was all lost, and someone should be writing it all down. I casually asked her what she was waiting on, not fully understanding what the two of them were thinking.

Within weeks after getting home, they had developed a plan. They were going to make a movie about Bravo Co at Khe Sanh in 1968. Most, not all, showed up in San Antonio next summer and Ken and Betty started filming interviews. For those, like Danny Horton, who couldn’t be there due to health concerns, they went on the road. One year later they debuted what would become one of the most profound war documentaries ever produced.

Bravo!
Common Men
Uncommon Valor

It has earned numerous accolades across the spectrum. It has also brought Ken and Betty great validation for their work. One of the great moments in my life was when Ken and Betty asked me to attend their awards ceremony at the Marine Corps Museum in the spring of 2016. They had received a prestigious award for their work by our peers in the USMC. It was a black tie formal event with more Marine Generals than I had ever seen in one place in my life. Ken and Betty were, as we say colloquially, “standing in tall cotton” and I could not have been happier for them. But he wasn’t going to forget his old friend, either.

Left to Right: Filmmakers Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers, and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. Ohara at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Awards Ceremony. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz

He made sure the Lt. Gen. who was the emcee that evening asked for another Marine to stand for special recognition as a 3 Purple Heart survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh. I have to tell you, it was the proudest day in my Marine life. Even my old friend and CMH recipient Harvey Barnum came over to congratulate me. It was a moment I will cherish forever.

As I stated previously, we all have processed our feelings about those emotionally charged days differently. It would seem “Bravo!” would become my good friend’s catharsis. He and Betty travelled all over the country screening their film at Legion halls, VFW posts, theaters, prisons, universities and more. Sometimes they found sponsorship, other times they just went. As the awards mounted, other folks began to seek them out.

The Commanding Generals of Marine bases found it a useful tool. One such event drew a very large crowd at Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton. Whenever possible, the men from Bravo themselves would show up and participate in after-action discussions. I made 2 such screenings myself in Springfield and Chicago, IL, and went with them to the Marine Basic School in Quantico, VA, where they trained young Marine Officers using Bravo! as a training tool.

They have been pursuing this for ten long years, and are now producing another documentary.

I will always be in touch with my dear friends who now call Boise their home. However, speaking for myself, I believe we are both getting past our need to process our experiences. As another old friend and fellow Vietnam vet likes to say “I’ve put that book back on the shelf.”

I cannot express how good it makes me feel to know that my good friend seems to finally be at peace with the life-changing events that brought us together so many years ago.

Guest blogger Michael E’ O’Hara. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Their film has also helped bring closure to our fellow Marines from Bravo and many other vets who have experienced the healing power of this magnificent piece of American history during the Vietnam War.

Although there are a few Marines from Bravo still living, Ken and I are the last of the 2nd platoon 3rd squad who have maintained contact throughout the years.

Toujours Fidele, Vieil Ami,
Michael E. O’Hara

Michael E. O’Hara served with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Michael, the recipient of three Purple Heart Medals for his wounds while serving at Khe Sanh, is also one of the warriors interviewed for the film BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.


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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 31, 2019

HAMBURGER HILL (MEMORIAL DAY 2019)

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Guest blogger Cobb Hammond’s article on the savage battle fought in May, 1969, originally published in the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL on May 24, 2019.

As Americans this weekend memorialize the casualties of our war dead, a small band of US soldiers of the 101st Airborne division will recall in their collective memories, comrades in-arms of a battle during the Vietnam War. The Battle of Hamburger Hill fought 50-years ago this month, is seared into the memories of its participants; a struggle in the heavily contested A Shau Valley. Fought over a specific mountain, known as Hill 937, denoted for its height in meters (approx. 3 thousand feet), it was also called Dong Ap Bia by the North Vietnamese, which translates into ‘Mountain of the crouching beast’.

Part of a chain of mountain ridges and numerous valleys, it sat one mile from the Laotian border and contained multiple ridges and fingers that came off the summit. The slopes of Dong Ap Bia were covered in extreme overgrowth of sharp elephant grass up to 7 feet, thick bamboo groves and triple-canopy jungle, making daylight appear as dusk. The entire area was a support system for the North Vietnamese infiltrating supplies and men into the South, and the general vicinity contained roads for trucks, major supply depots and the like.  After increased enemy activity had been noted by army recon teams in the valley, Operation Apache Snow commenced on May 10, utilizing a Marine Corps regiment, multiple airborne battalions and allied S. Vietnamese forces as well.  The 3rd battalion, 187th Regiment of the 101st – also known as the “Rakkasans” would be tasked with finding the enemy, on or around 937 and eliminating him. This understrength infantry unit was at 65% strength at the outset of the campaign due to recent engagements contributing to the attrition of the units.   The commanding officer of the battalion was Lt. Colonel Weldon Honeycutt, a no-nonsense career soldier and North Carolinian who had joined the army as a teenager at the end of WWII.

Hamburger Hill
Photo by Shunsake Akatsuka

On the morning of May 10, a one and one-half hour prep of the battlefield commenced, with multiple batteries of artillery opening, followed by dozens of sorties by attack aircraft and helicopters firing their ordinance.  At 7 am transport helicopters inserted the initial element of forces into landing zones in the valley, with one mission: find the enemy and make contact.  The first day drew only light contact for Alpha and Charlie companies. Due to the rugged terrain, extreme heat and thick underbrush progress was slow. Bravo and Delta, which were kept in reserve choppered in on the second day and incorporated into the general scheme of the attack.  The 1st battalion of the 506th regiment was working working its way north toward the area as well, but due to the hazards of the terrain and constant ambushes by the enemy would not arrive until the latter part of the battle, leaving the ‘tactical’ burden to the four rifle-companies of the 3/187. 

As day 2 absorbed into 3, the fighting intensified, clearly indicating to the commander that they were facing more of the enemy to their front than originally thought. In fact, as the battle progressed, the enemy, North Vietnamese, were able to fortify their forces on the hill. Little did US troops know at the time that they were facing the 29th NVA Regiment, which had distinguished itself in other battles previously. On May 14, the fourth day, Col. Honeycutt decided to attack more aggressively and could not wait for reinforcements, so orders were given to B, C and D companies to attack from different vantage points. Unfortunately, the attacks were unable to be well coordinated due to the terrain and because enemy resistance had become extremely heavy.  C Company which was counterattacked several times took the highest casualties on the day, losing its First Sgt, two of three platoon leaders, the company exec. officer and six-squad leaders; all either killed or wounded.  To compound matters, a helicopter gunship flew in and shot-up friendly troops, killing two and wounding at least twelve, mistaking them for the enemy. This was the first of three cases of fratricide during the battle.  As day fell to night after a day of fighting, the American soldiers could see enemy cooking fires above, which was usually unheard of in an engagement like this and could hear enemy troops hollering down at the men of the 3st battalion as well.

The topography of the landscape favored defense, and conversely the enemy did well in fortifying positions. They had built earthen-log bunkers- some 6-8 feet deep, with crisscross firing angles to take advantage of the slopes. The slopes also harbored dozens of spider-holes, allowing for a quick burst of gunfire or grenade throw with the enemy then stealthfully melting back into the earth. The NVA also had dozens of light and heavy machine-gun emplacements strategically placed and manned.

Hamburger Hill
Photo from M. Taringa

May 18th and 19th again witnessed the depleted airborne companies making progress, then gradually having to dig in, move forward or back down the steep slopes as the fighting devolved into a slugfest on the squad level; with each company making its own progress on sheer will.

On the morning of May 20, ten US artillery batteries opened fire on the hill and fired for almost an hour, before dozens of air sorties by tactical aircraft came in with napalm and 250 lb. bombs on the now denuded mountaintop. As fire stopped, up went the riflemen, working their way up the slopes and ravines encountering lighter resistance than previously encountered, and making it to the summit within two hours.

After enemy stragglers were cleaned out, the bloody mess of Hamburger Hill ceased.  623 enemy dead were counted, with a much higher casualty rate no doubt noted, as many were crushed in their earthen graves from bombs or taken by their comrades into Laos.  Of the airborne troopers of the 3/187, 39 were killed and another 292 wounded, more than 70% of the battalion. Total US losses were 71 dead and 372 wounded.  The battle although tragic, did accomplish its strategic task, albeit a costly one.

Guest Blogger Cobb Hammond

On this most reverent of days, remember these men, many which spent their last breath in that hellish place.  And one which was the most seminal event of their lives.

Cobb Hammond of Memphis, TN is a ‘Financial Advisor’ who writes on military history, military affairs and composes poetry. Cobb can be contacted @ chammond40@yahoo.com.

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

May 15, 2019

Remember the Mayaguez

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Forty-four years ago this week the SS Mayaguez, a US merchant ship, was captured by the Khmer Rouge on the coast of Cambodia (Kampuchea.)

President Gerald Ford decided that an emphatic response was called for and so elements of the 4th and 9th Marine Regiments boarded Air Force helicopters and assaulted Koh Tang Island.

What occurred on Koh Tang proved, for the men who fought there, a disaster due to lack of planning and the need to make a quick and vigorous statement to the communist regime that had just taken over Cambodia, as well as put our other enemies on notice that though we’d left Vietnam, we weren’t going to be kicked around.

Thirty-eight US personnel were killed in action in the assault and on the briefly occupied beachhead on Koh Tang. Three Marines were left behind and subsequently killed, one by being beaten to death by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Fifty US personnel were wounded and three CH-53 choppers were destroyed.

SS Mayaguez, photo courtesy of By US Air Force. Public Domain,

 

Some years ago, while Betty and I worked on BRAVO!, one of the historians at the Marine Corps History Division talked to Betty and me about making a film about the Mayaguez Incident. He told me that the chronicle of what happened at Koh Tang was one of the pieces of Corps history that begged additional telling and a documentary might be a good way to relate what happened.

I remembered well the incident and thought it might be of interest, so I ordered some books on the subject and read about what occurred on Koh Tang.

Betty and I never made that film, but the details of the affair still haunt my memory; the lack of planning, the need for politicians to make big statements about what were, and what were not, hostile actions acceptable to the United States of America.

What happened to those men who assaulted Koh Tang dredged up all my emotions from back in 1975 after we’d just hightailed out of South Vietnam and left our allies there to face the onslaught of NVA. I couldn’t get it out of my head, the pictures of folks trying to get out of Nam and us bugging out with what seemed to me very little regard for what responsibility we had.

I’d first heard about our final retreat from Vietnam while driving down the road between Stanfield and Casa Grande, Arizona, past the fields of newly planted cotton and off in the distance, the desert mountains to the north, capped with snow. The news announcer blurted out of the radio that we’d left the country. It came as no surprise to me. I’d been expecting the fall of Saigon.

I was in my boss Charlie Weaver’s truck and I didn’t say anything to him. What could I say? Well, I could have probably articulated boatloads of things—my chagrin, my rage—but instead, I said nothing, just looked at the ditches full, the irrigation pipes pouring water into the rows of freshly planted cotton.

So, when the Mayaguez incident occurred a few weeks later, I went into a funky rage that infested every notion that invaded my mind.
A friend of mine, with whom I’d served in the Corps (but not in Nam), called me on the landline and asked me what the hell we thought we were doing attacking Cambodia.

He was anti-war. I was ambivalent, my Vietnam War experience like a noxious dose of Castor Oil that someone had crammed down my mouth.
I thought I’d fought the good fight. I thought we’d fought the good fight. I hated that we had cut and run after all the death and maiming. Intellectually, I understood what happened, but emotionally I felt like something was trapped in my gullet and would blow up like a balloon that would explode and take me down. Down.

 

Blogger Ken Rodgers, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

My friend baited me with comments about Marines and the war in general. It wasn’t so much about his distaste with our country’s actions, but something we did back and forth: baiting, teasing, arguing about war and politics.

That evening, with the phone in my hand and at my ear, I boiled like acid was eating the cells in my brain. . It hurt.

It still does.

***

Amazon Prime,Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 6, 2019

Greetings From BRAVO!

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Greetings from BRAVO!. We have some really great news to share.

Last year we sold out of DVDs and it took a while to choose the best source for manufacturing a new lot. But we got it done, and are happy to say there are plenty of brand new DVDs in stock. If you’d like one for yourself, or have been planning to gift DVDs to a veteran, friend, relative, or library, they are again available for purchase here.

If you prefer to watch your movies through digital download, BRAVO! is still available on Amazon Prime Video here.

For your friends or family in the UK, BRAVO! is also available here.

And because you’ve had such a positive impact on our passion for exploring large issues through intimate stories, and educating the world about the cost of war to humanity, we invite you to learn more about our current film project, I MARRIED THE WAR. This new documentary, now in post-production, is the story of wives of combat veterans from World War II to the present. As with BRAVO!, it, too, can educate the wider public and has the potential to reach thousands—if not millions—of citizens who can be helped by this story.

We invite you to join the effort with your financial support, and to learn more about this new endeavor here.

Thank you for your continued interest, encouragement, and support of our efforts to foster a dialogue about the lasting costs of war.

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

April 20, 2019

Rats

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The scrabbling of the rats’ feet woke me. I listened to the rain. I wondered if daylight might be near or if the time ran closer to midnight. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was but then figured out that the sound of the rats’ feet was simply the rain in the gutters.

I rose and walked into the kitchen and checked the time. Dawn would show up in about an hour. I sat at the table and thought about the eighteen thousand six hundred and fifteen mornings I’d risen since my return from war and then pondered the memories that run at you like a man you never want to see again.

When I get up in the morning, I never know what segment of my experience in Vietnam will show up. It might be rats, or a sense that I’m not sure where I am. It might be incoming artillery rounds thumping my surroundings, or sitting in the trench sharing coffee out of a cup made from a C-ration can while sniper rounds snap over our heads. It could be all four, or more, in a rapid-fire sequence that leaves my heart hammering.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh just before the siege began in January 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

Or maybe something a little more benign.

Like going home and my swift transition from hell on earth to sleeping in the bed in the room where I had studied algebra and managed to sneak out the windows after my parents went to sleep.

One of BRAVO!’s oldest friends asked me, last week, if I might revisit one of those memories: the night I got home to Arizona.

I flew into Tucson on the evening of 4/11/68 and my best friend, his fiancé, and my mom and dad showed up and ran into me as I went downstairs to get my gear. We went to a great Mexican food restaurant and had dinner. We sat at a long table with me sitting with a wall to my back so I could see who came in and who went out and where and when anyone moved.

Idle chit chat bantered back and forth, about mutual friends and acquaintances, the weather, the political chaos. My best friend’s fiancé shot me a serious look and asked me about my war experience.

I began to talk about Khe Sanh: rain, mist, no sleep, humping high hills with lots of gear, filling sandbags and finally when I got to the serious stuff . . . the death, the fear . . . I noticed all of them eating, their faces down towards their plates. The reflection of light from my father’s balding pate hit me in the eyes and like a revelation, I understood that no one cared, or at least savvied, what happened to me.

Hippy wedding in Tucson, 1968. Photo by Bruce Hopkins/Tucson Citizen

To this day, I am baffled by the lack of respect, admiration, honor that I think almost all of us warriors thought we had coming when we stepped off those glorious flights home from Nam, back into The World.

With my father, my war created a tension that never resolved in the remaining twenty-one years he lived. More than once, we stood nose-to-nose, ready to tear each other’s hearts out.

Now, after all this time, I think part of the problem, especially with my good friends and family, is that they couldn’t understand, on a visceral level, what had happened at Khe Sanh and as such, there was nothing of merit, or meat, that we could discuss.

My father was a top sergeant in the Army but never saw combat. He once told me the most frightening experience he had was flying over The Hump (the Himalayas) from New Delhi, India to Chongqing, China, to pick up a Japanese prisoner of war. He had little with which to relate to my turmoil and my chaos had little room for him.

Yet I suspect that was only part of our problem, my problem. I think that when I came home, I wanted, I craved, I needed The World to be what it had been in 1966 when I joined the Corps, the kids cruising the town, the girls the same, my life as it had been.

But time is like a river that won’t stop running and what had been in 1966 . . . my life, my friends, my World . . . was not there in April of 1968. And I don’t think I understood that, and as such, the conflict between what I wanted The World to be and what was in reality The Way, were not resolved for 30 years, when I began to realize that I needed to dig into my experiences through getting sober, writing, and accepting that what happened at Khe Sanh was not who I was as a person.

What I thought I had come back to had moved on, leaving me in the detritus of memory.

***

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.

***

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,Okinawa,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 12, 2019

On Okinawa

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About this time fifty-one years ago, I arrived in Okinawa on my way home from the war and the Siege of Khe Sanh. On the flight between Da Nang and Oki’s Kadena Air Force Base, I gazed around at the men on board. We looked battered, most of us donning dungarees so dirty and worn it seemed like we were prisoners bound for a life of confinement.

A Marine with whom I had an acquaintance, Corporal S, sat next to me. A cannon-cocker, I’d met up with him I don’t know where or when.


When we landed at Kadena, we deplaned and were ordered to fall in and stand at attention, which we didn’t do, and listen to a spiel given by a bunch of Marine Corps NCOs about what we could do on Okinawa and what we couldn’t while at Camp Schwab waiting transfer to the states.

Photo taken at Camp Schwab, 1971. Photo by Scott Parton – http://www.jonmitchellinjapan.com/agent-orange-on-okinawa.html, Public Domain, Link


Several of the two-hundred or so Marines who’d been on that plane barked out comments about POGs in Okinawa lecturing real warriors about what and what not to do.

Several of the NCOS jumped right in and instructed us that they were not any different from us; they’d just been wounded three times in Nam, so they had to finish out their twelve-month-and-twenty-day tour on Okinawa.

But collectively, we dirty band of ragged Marines, didn’t buy their explanations. The men facing us were decked out in snappy new dungarees and covers starched and formed as if they were all still in Boot Camp. We hooted . . . and this struck me . . . we hooted as if we could care less about how many times they’d been shot or wounded. And our derisiveness felt good to me, way down, and maybe it wasn’t fair of me or the rest of us, to put their service down, but at the time, it felt damned good.

The next morning we fell in and received orders for all of us to report here and there around Camp Schwab for mess and maintenance duty.

Right up front, Corporal S told the duty NCO, “Go to hell.”

Unlike him, I reported to the BOQ and spent the morning policing the barracks for transient officers. When I left for chow, I asked the duty NCO why they made us clean up while there were barracks full of new Marines headed to Nam who needed something to do.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh prior to the beginning of the siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

He didn’t answer, just scowled at me.

I have never figured out why they did that—made us clean up, unless it was punishment for our salty attitudes out on the tarmac at Kadena—and that morning stint was my last. I spent the next two days shooting hoops at the base gym with Corporal S.

My mother used to tell me, when I complained about vacuuming the house or mowing the lawn when I should have been playing with my buddies, that an idle mind was the tool of the devil, and maybe the Marine Corps had similar sentiments.

Nevertheless, if the Marines in charge of keeping things running at Camp Schwab depended on me and Corporal S, and I suspect, the rest of us who arrived on that flight out of hell a few nights before, they were sorely disappointed.

***

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.

***

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

***

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

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

April 8, 2019

News From La Grande, Oregon

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Ten days ago, we were privileged to show BRAVO! in La Grande, Oregon, to an enthusiastic crowd of 150 folks in a jam-packed auditorium at Eastern Oregon University. The event was scheduled as a way to do something special for local Vietnam veterans on March 29 which is National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Photo of the cake at the La Grande Screening. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

La Grande is located near the home of BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, whose story is one of the rock ribs of the film. Picturesque snow-capped ranges of mountains surround the valley where La Grande sits near the Grande Ronde River. The valley sported a spring green that shone in the daylight, no matter what time of day. After a long, wet, cold winter it was a pleasure to feel the force of the new season.

The evening began with a chance to feast and visit with Ron and his family, his friends, and numerous local veterans and other folks interested in the film, including Master of Ceremonies Brian Westfield and local Congressman Greg Walden.

After the screening, the audience engaged in a lively panel discussion with Vietnam veterans Ron Rees, Dennis Ross, George Knight and Ken Rodgers about war, veterans and the military.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees with his daughters. Photo courtesy of Kim Mead.

Ron made a special request to honor the men who have passed away since the making of BRAVO!. We remembered Marines Ken Pipes, Daniel Horton, Mike McCauley, and Lloyd Scudder, and cinematographer Mark Spear.

Betty and I felt honored to show our film to such a receptive group and to spend time visiting with friends, old and new.

These screening events are the direct result of a group of citizens working together, and this occasion was no exception. Hosting an Oregon premiere of BRAVO! was a dream come true for us, and we thank Ron and his wife Tami Murphy for putting the event together in concert with this impressive list of local sponsors: American Legion Post 43, Auxiliary Post 43, Legacy Ford, Copies Plus, Starbucks (Island City), Safeway, Hines Meat Co., Mission 22, The Landing Hotel, Side A Brewing, Fitzgerald Flowers, Dominos Pizza, and other individuals.

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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.

***

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

***

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.