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

August 2, 2017

Requiem for a Warrior–Michael H. McCauley

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The bonds created by shared fear and the horrors of battle are strong. For years I didn’t understand that. For years I didn’t understand that the bonds forged between warriors who endure the fury of combat even existed. For forty years I felt there really were no such bonds.

Since most Vietnam veterans chose to clamp our mouths shut and corral our memories of combat, the opportunities for us to begin to understand the emotional linkage that exists between warriors were not taken advantage of for decades.

Mike McCauley in Marine Corps dress blues.

I recall the first time I talked to one of my old comrades. It was 25-plus years since I’d escaped the savagery of war, and when we first talked it was like I’d found someone I’d been looking for even though I didn’t know I’d been involved in any such search.

Yet there was something pulling at me and over the intervening years since that initial contact, that attraction, that magnetic force, so to speak, has drawn me into close relationships with the men who shared the nightmares of Khe Sanh with me.

One of those men was Michael H. McCauley. I didn’t know Mike in Vietnam. I might have seen his face as I walked by on my way out on patrol or ambush. We might have nodded at each other and maybe exchanged a comment.

Mike McCauley on a panel of Marines at the screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, Idaho, 2013

He was in First Platoon and I was in Second. He was a relative new guy compared to me. We hadn’t a lot in common . . . me a desert rat from Arizona and he a city boy from Boston. But what we did have in common was the Marine Corps and over seventy days trapped inside the concertina wire perimeter of Khe Sanh Combat Base.

And boy what a bond. We became good friends and I’m not sure that’s even the right word to describe our relationship. We were comrades; we were men who understood what very few could understand. We had knowledge—emotional and intellectual and intuitive—that I really wouldn’t want anybody else to learn because how you learn it, the price of it, is too damned high.

Nevertheless, we were comrades who understood leeches and jungle grass and the roar of 152 millimeter artillery rounds storming at you. We understood the glint in the eye of the enemy, be he living or dead. We understood combat. We could talk about it. And we could laugh about it, among ourselves of course, but not with many of the uninitiated.

Mike liked to hand out these hats to men who served with BRAVO! They were his creations.

And Mike liked to laugh. He was quiet most of the time. A listener with a quick wit. A man who endured much in his life during and after the war.

Mike was a man whom I liked to be around. It was easy being around Mike. No angst, no bullshit, just a straight-up guy. A very kind man beloved by many whether they were war comrades or not.

In the war, Mike saw a lot more hell than I did. He endured the siege and then continued with BRAVO! all spring and summer and fall of 1968 when the 1st Battalion 26th Marines were locked in repetitive battle with the enemy in other locations around South Vietnam.

And like all of us veterans of war fighting, I believe the warrioring took its toll on Mike.

In early July of this year, Mike left us to go wherever it is you go when you pass on. I think he believed that to be some kind of heaven.

Ruth and Mike McCauley in Moscow, Idaho, 2013.

He’d been pretty damned sick for a while. I’d call him up or he’d call me and we’d talk and he’d tell me—he’d man right up—about exactly what was happening to him. It was sad and he was courageous and it hurt me every time we talked and every time I thought about it after switching off the cell phone.

I’m going to miss Mike’s laugh. I’m going to long for his smile and his wry comments in that Boston patois I’d know anywhere.

And yet I’m grateful I can still laugh with him, and recall the Siege of Khe Sanh with him, every time I watch BRAVO!. But not without shedding a tear or two when I think about how much I miss him.
All of us Vietnam veterans are on a march, one from which we can’t fall out, to join Mike and all the other men we served with in that long-ago conflict.

Mike will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, a place of honor and dignity, on August 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM. Arlington, a place he deserves to rest.

Our deepest condolences to Mike’s devoted wife, Ruth McCauley, his big and boisterous family who embraced Betty and me with open arms, and the multitude of his many beloved friends around the country.

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

March 9, 2016

Requiem for Ex

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One of the things about the war in Vietnam was the importance of body counts of enemy dead. Yet what body counts don’t tell you is the human side of those people who were killed. So much of what we read about in war news is related to the big picture and not to the little picture, the details of what happened on the day, at the place where the people in a particular body count died.

On March 28, 1968, according to Chaplain Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, eight men died at Khe Sanh Combat Base. Two of those men, Greg Kent and Jimmie McRae, were Marines from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. Those two men, along with Ron Exum, were standing in a trench when an incoming round landed near them and that was the end.

Ron Exum at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion

Ron Exum at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion

For years, after this event, I was under the impression that Ron Exum had also been killed in action, so it was with great surprise and some relief that I sat at a table with him at the 1993 reunion of the Khe Sanh Veterans. He sat there with his son and looked at me and I don’t think he recognized me until I smiled, because it was then that he nodded and said, “Yeah.” He smiled back and if you knew Ex, because that’s what we called him, you knew one of the premiere smiles on Planet Earth.

He first showed up at Bravo Company in mid-June of 1967. The company was on Hill 881 South. We had just lost a bunch of good Marines and Corpsmen in a nasty fight with the NVA and everyone in the company was staggered, so to speak.

Ex brought us some sunshine. He livened us up and made us laugh. I remember sitting with him and some other Marines in a hooch one afternoon after we had just finished a meal of C-Rations. He led us all in an off-key (not Ex, but the rest of us singing with him) medley of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles songs.

Those nine months that I knew Ex in Vietnam, he always seemed to have that smile on his face. It may be in the dark of the night, a mist so heavy it drooped down on us like the breath of doom. You’d hear his big voice challenging someone moving down the trench. “Who’s there?” When the other voice identified itself and gave the password, something very American, like “Joe DiMaggio,” then you’d hear the smile. Yes, you’d hear it.

Or out on patrol, humping straight up the side of some steep hill, the rain dripping off the triple canopy jungle, the leeches lying in wait to ambush you when you brushed some jungle grass, the red mud clutching the bottom of your jungle boots. You’d see him and he’d smile.

Some of the men of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion. Ron Exum is in the second row, second from the right. Tom Steinhardt is in the second row, third from the left.

Some of the men of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion. Ron Exum is in the second row, second from the right. Tom Steinhardt is in the second row, third from the left.

Every few years Ex would travel from Philadelphia to the Khe Sanh Veterans reunions and you’d get to laugh and reminisce with him. And still, there was always that smile.

Ron Exum was a fine man, a spiritual man.

Several weeks back I got a call from Tom Steinhardt who served with Ex and me in Bravo. Steinhardt told me that Ex had passed on unexpectedly. It was a surprise to Tom, to me, and I think to everyone who knew Ron.

Sometimes we think that the people who inhabit our lives, the really good ones, will be with us forever. And then they aren’t. I will miss Ron Exum.

Semper Fi, Ex.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring, summer, fall or next 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.

America's Middle East Conflicts,Book Reviews,Documentary Film,Eulogies,Film Festivals,Film Reviews,Other Musings

December 3, 2015

November Remembered

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Ken and I often ponder the life of BRAVO! and marvel at its journey. This November, for example.

The Veteran Services Office and Omega Sigma Delta hosted Boise State University’s 2nd annual Veterans Week. The festivities included featuring a different branch of the Armed Forces each day. Appropriately, Tuesday November 10—the Marine Corps’ 240th birthday—was Marine Corps Day.

There was a student veteran’s art exhibit, flags on The Quad, and ribbons on a memory tree. There was faculty and staff education on PTSD and TBI. There were legal clinics, and an impressive all-day conference about understanding veterans’ issues. Featured experts were Dr. Larry Dewey (author of War and Redemption) and Dr. Brian Meyer from the HH McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, VA.

The Idaho National Guard Band at the BSU Veterans Day Festivities. Photo courtesy of Lori Sprague

The Idaho National Guard Band at the BSU Veterans Day Festivities. Photo courtesy of Lori Sprague

Wednesday was the first-rate Veterans Day Celebration in Boise State’s beautiful Stueckle Sky Center. Attending with a great variety of veterans, professors, students, musicians, and other citizens, we enjoyed a tasty buffet, moving words from honored guest speakers Travis Hayes (President of Omega Delta Sigma) and Mischa Brady (Post Commander at VFW Capitol City Post 63), and live music by the Gowen Field Army National Guard. The program concluded with songs by the Garfield Elementary Choir. Their earnest and accomplished singing brought a tear to the eye.

Later that evening, BRAVO! was shown to an appreciative audience at the Student Union Building, followed by an exemplary guest panel of veterans, moderated by Sheldie Stetz. On the panel, Vietnam veteran Col. (Ret) Delbert Provant was joined by present-day war veterans Mischa Brady, Amanda Carling, Matt Thorusen, and Brandon Woodard. Their responses to questions were thoughtful, honest, and wise, garnering tremendous respect from the audience.

To have BRAVO! included in such a week at an American university reminds us once again that the job of our film is to educate. We look forward to many more similar events. It was an honor to be included on the planning committee with Lori Sprague, Dr. Chris Wuthrich, Travis Hayes, Mark Heilman, Norma Jaeger, Josh Bode, Corinna Provant-Robishaw, and John McGuire.

The panel for the screening of BRAVO! @ Boise State on Veterans Day. L to R: Sheldie Stetz, Mischa Brady, Amanda Carling, Matt Thorusen, Colonel Delbert Provant, Brandon Woodard. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

The panel for the screening of BRAVO! @ Boise State on Veterans Day. L to R: Sheldie Stetz, Mischa Brady, Amanda Carling, Matt Thorusen, Colonel Delbert Provant, Brandon Woodard. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers


* * *
Speaking of honors, we were thrilled to have BRAVO! featured at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, on November 21. The screening was scheduled in conjunction with The Wall That Heals. According to organizer Ron Reyes, there was a packed house for the film. Here are excerpts from his report:

“We had VFW, DAV, American Legion, and a lot of representation from different branches.

“…I went into why this is an important film with a rare glimpse of how Marines speak to each other.

“(In addition to the seating) there was a large area to stand and I know we had several people standing. I stepped out and watched the film and the crowd from the terrace above…This was a great viewing area for me, and allowed me to have a beer in honor of dad, and reflect.

“They had a stage and a podium set up with a mic stand on either side…I took a hand mic, and gave one to my son so he could run from person to person. That turned out to be a good bonding moment for me and my son.

“March 30, 1968, Payback Patrol was a significant day for our family, as that was the day my father was killed not too far away… Being a Gold Star Son always catches people off guard, and usually opens someone up to tell their story…The thought was to talk a little to get the session going, and…(then) Vietnam Vets spoke. It was very important for each vet to be able to connect, to be heard. It didn’t matter if they drove a general or loaded bombs or fought like hell. It all mattered.

“The event was a success and everyone involved was happy for the turnout.”

Ron’s father, PFC Ronald Reyes who served with 1st battalion/9th Marines, died at the Khe Sanh Combat Base in 1968 just two weeks after he learned he had a son. Ron said his father risked enemy fire while running from bunker to bunker passing out cigarettes in celebration. In just three days, Ron will leave for Vietnam with a group of other Gold Star Sons and Daughters to hopefully stand near the spot where his father gave his life.

Photo of part of the audience at the screening of BRAVO! at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Photo of part of the audience at the screening of BRAVO! at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

And so our journey goes: Meeting heroes of every modern conflict, the people who care about them, and Gold Star Sons and Daughters. It is a great honor and a privilege.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter, spring or summer, 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. They make great Christmas gifts. 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.

Eulogies

April 23, 2014

Requiem for Mark Spear

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Sometimes even the hardest, the meanest of us get shocks of sad news that force us to react in ways we don’t want to react.

Thirty-two days ago, Betty and I were having brunch with BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes and his wife, Sharon, in Fallbrook, California, after an exceedingly successful set of screenings the prior day in Fallbrook and Vista.

During our meal, I received a Facebook message from Dan Votroubek, the step-father of our principal videographer for BRAVO!, Mark Spear, that told me that Mark had suffered a massive heart attack and died the day before. Mark was only 45 years old and has a ten-year-old son. While we were in the California Southland whooping it up with our successful screenings, Mark was passing on.

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID © Betty Rodgers 2013

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hartley, University of Idaho 2013

I sat there for a long time, not saying anything, not wanting to tell Betty. Betty admired, revered and loved Mark. I knew how she would react and we were in public and…well…I have to tell you this. My father was a two-fisted knuckle-buster who would give you something to cry about if you shed tears, so I learned not to cry. You just don’t know how much it distresses me to cry…all that old-time thinking of tears as a sign of weakness. I’m a Marine, for Christ’s sake; I’ve seen men die in front of me and never shed a tear or even thought about how I might really feel about their demises.

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot. © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot.
© Betty Rodgers 2010

So I didn’t say anything for a while and we had our brunch and we chatted and reveled in success and then I just blurted it out. And then Betty began to shed tears and despite my reluctance to let this happen, a tear or two slipped out of the corners of my eyes and slipped down my cheeks before I could get them erased.

Mark Spear interviewed and/or videoed ten of the men in our film and he also interviewed and filmed Betty and me when we made our extras about the making of BRAVO!. He helped create some of our trailers and gave us advice and info on cameras, interviewing, lighting. He traveled with us to San Antonio, Texas, and met and bonded with the men of BRAVO!. After we were done with the film, he came to screenings of the film and we often met for bar-b-que where we laughed and visited.

Yes, we laughed a lot around Mark. He was a funny man. He was also sensitive and talented, he was an artist who understood film and photography and life. He was sensitive. I repeat that because for me, it is the salient characteristic I will recall about Mark. Sensitive people can feel the world on their skins. Everybody’s triumphs and disasters are understood on a visceral level by sensitive people. And like so many sensitive people, those triumphs and disasters, those victories and defeats, seeped through Mark’s skin and became, almost vicariously, his own.

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot
© Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark had health problems that no doubt contributed to his passing, but I can’t help but think that his sensitivity contributed to his leaving us prematurely, too. He carried a lot of weight, and a bunch of it wasn’t his.

And now he is gone and I am kicking myself in the butt because I didn’t spend more time with him, taking in all he had to teach me about life. One of the other things about sensitive people is they learn a lot from all that weight they carry for other folks. The weight gets in the pores and sneaks into the blood stream and gathers around the mind and the heart and becomes knowledge of another kind. Not out of a book, or a seminar, but from the weight of life.

I know something about grief. I should have dealt with all that grief that I accumulated from my time at the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t and I still may not; I’m a Marine and I’m two-fisted knuckle-busting Dale Rodgers’ son. But I swear I’m going to deal with the grief I feel from the loss of my friend, Mark Spear.

Documentary Film,Eulogies,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

April 19, 2014

BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara Remembers Quiles Ray Jacobs

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Nineteen years ago the ground around Los Angeles shook terribly for just a moment. A Giant of a man had just fallen after a long and courageous struggle for survival. Quiles Ray Jacobs had succumbed to his cancer, probably related to what is commonly referred to as Agent Orange from his time serving as a Marine in Vietnam. His heroism during that time is documented elsewhere on this Blogspot dated March 2011 entitled “Ghosties.”

Jake, as he was affectionately known, and I were good pals from our days in “The Nam.” He was a bit younger than I but had entered the Corps ahead of me, which is why he became my Squad Leader at Khe Sanh. Everyone loved the guy from the git-go. He had his “stuff” together and we all knew it. He was a born leader. For a kid from the streets of Compton, CA, in the greater Los Angeles area, he would make his family proud. He earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star with Combat “V” device and the coveted Silver Star. He got them all the “old-fashioned way”—he earned them.

Horton Jake photo The late Quiles R. Jacobs and Dan Horton, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968
Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara[/caption]

After the war he continued on life’s journey, as did we all. His moral compass never faltered. He was a Lion for sure. He was one of those men who always knew, instinctively, what the morally correct decision was. He had built and owned a twelve-unit apartment complex behind the Shell station on the four corners that everyone watched burn during the LA riots of 1992. It was a really nice building. He and his brothers transported the twelve families to his home 4 miles away and his wife Naomi cared for them all for two weeks until the area settled down. All the while Jake and his brothers guarded their property from the rooftop of the apartment so it would not fall victim to the violence. In the end they were all returned safely to their homes unscathed. That was the man I knew in Vietnam and came to admire. He remains one of the finest examples of a man I can relate to anyone.

I visited him last in August of 94. Our CO, Lt. Col Ken Pipes, and I went to visit with him as he was failing somewhat and we knew time was running out. It was a wonderful three days.

The night before he died I had a dream in which we were together and the magnolia trees were in full bloom. The next morning when I went to town I saw all the magnolias were indeed blooming that day and I knew it was time. When I returned home in the late afternoon, the phone rang as I opened the door. It was his beloved Naomi with the heartbreaking news that he had slipped away to be with the Lord. It was 19 April 1995 and some jerk had just taken the lives of so many young people in Oklahoma City that morning. No one felt the earth shake in Los Angeles.

Jake's Magnolia Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Jake’s Magnolia
Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Sometime later I planted a magnolia tree in my yard in his memory. Actually, I planted two. One died, one survived. That was the way it was in “The Nam”. The trees were but mere sticks and would take years before the one began to bloom. My magnolia now blooms continuously from April until August, just for my friend Jake.

Eulogies,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

August 21, 2013

Lloyd and I…In Memory of Lloyd Scudder

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on the passing of BRAVO! Marine, Lloyd “Short Round” Scudder. Both Lloyd and Michael are featured in the documentary film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

8/19/2013 – Some of you may know at this point that Lloyd Scudder, that lovable little guy we all affectionately called “Short Round,” has slipped away from us so quickly we all were surprised. Ken Pipes states he talked to him just last evening and he was making plans to return home from his recent heart surgery on Friday. Isn’t that how it always is? We just refuse to accept the inevitable and when we least expect it we get bit right on the rump. I had been out this morning and got home after the noon hour. When I opened Cal’s (BRAVO! Marine Cal Bright) e-mail the chair literally shot out from under me as I began to immediately try to process the information. (That’s a round-about way of saying I began to cry as I was falling to my knees.)

Each of us has our memories. Cal and Short Round were pals all along at Khe Sanh. I first met Short Round when he returned to the platoon after visiting his brother on an in-country R&R. That of course was after 25 February. This is when Lloyd and I began to pal up. I was at the end of 2nd Platoon and his bunker was the beginning of 3rd Platoon area. We would talk often before Watch in the evenings.

But our paths would cross again in ’69, I believe it was. I was stationed at the Weapons Section at Camp Horno, Camp Pendleton, California, and was a primary instructor giving the classes on the M16A1. I was just a few days from going on leave when Short Round came into the section as a corporal. It was there he would be assigned to the hand grenade range. We didn’t get to spend much time together as I was soon going home for about a 3-week leave. I told him I would see him when I got back. I never did. That was when he experienced the event that would change his life forever. A private dropped the grenade in the pit. It killed the private and severely injured Lloyd’s eyes, both hands and arms. We all (Khe Sanh Veterans) know they had to amputate his hands in the end. To add insult to injury the Marine Corps did everything in their power to make him a scapegoat over that event which would cause him much heartache and sorrow over the years. He even had trouble getting his VA benefits. But he endured.

I think the next time I saw him was at the 1995 Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in Las Vegas. That was when I realized the grenade incident nearly blinded him as well.

He sure was a hoot wasn’t he? You just couldn’t help but love ol’ Short Round. I pray for his family and wish them well. Short Round is now at rest, finally, guarding the gates until his relief arrives, as always, Standing Tall.

Semper Fi Marine Scudder.
It was my pleasure to serve with you.