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Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 22, 2017

Ghosties–Redux

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Forty-nine years ago yesterday, Second Platoon, Bravo Company, First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marine Regiment went outside the wire at Khe Sanh. BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on his memories of that day in this re-posting of a guest blog he wrote six years ago.

“Flanders”, a novel by Patricia Anthony, is set in France in WWI. It tells of a Texas farm boy, Travis Lee Stanhope, who joined the British Army and fought there Mar/Dec 1916. As time passes and casualties mount, Travis Lee begins to have dreams, dreams of a beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and a girl in a calico dress who assures him she will watch over his friends, his “GHOSTIES”, buried in the glass covered graves there.

It is 21 March 1968. It has been nearly a month since Bravo lost the third platoon and has been confined to the trenches. The mud, the rats, the constant incoming artillery, sixty days without respite. Bravo just lost another five Marines on the 6th of March as we watched a C-123 get shot down, which was also carrying fifty-two other personnel. We are becoming very anxious and are about to tangle with Charlie once again.

Left to right: Michael Carwile, Steve Foster, Michael O’Hara, Quiles Jacobs, Doug Furlong, Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

The second platoon, Bravo, leaves the wire pre-dawn. We position ourselves in front of FOB 3 where the Army controls the wire. We sit down in an “L” formation and wait for first light. We begin to rise at about 8 a.m. and it starts immediately. Red tracers from our rear (USA) and green to our right (NVA), then the mortars and RPG’s. My squad leader, Quiles Jacobs (Jake), is right in front of me and his flak jacket explodes in my face. It causes him to stagger a bit but he does not go down. He has been hit by a .50 cal bullet (USA). To my immediate rear are Doug Furlong and Dan Horton. They go down, hit by an 82mm mortar barrage, along with others. We are getting caught in a crossfire from the USA and the NVA. Someone failed to get the word we are in front of U S Army lines. Fortunately the friendly fire is soon checked and our heavy artillery quickly silences the mortars and small arms fire coming from the enemy tree line. I find myself, literally, holding both Horton and Furlong as we apply first aid and wait for the stretcher bearers. Many years will pass before I ever hear their voices again.

Amazingly, we are ordered to continue the patrol even though nearly twenty have been wounded and I think four have been evac’d. After a while I notice much blood running over Jake’s trousers from under his jacket. When I ask if he is alright, he just tells me to take over the point so we can finish our mission and get back. When we do, they put over 120 stitches in his back without any anesthesia and he still refuses to be med-evac’d.

We have gathered much on this patrol. We found siege work trenches, way too close to our lines, meant for a jumping-off point for a full frontal assault on our positions. We were able to locate many probable mortar and machine gun positions. The enemy trenches were scattered with dead NVA and beaucoup booby traps. Little do we know it will only be nine days until we all re-visit the ambush site for our final revenge. Jake, still wearing his bandages, will lead our squad headlong into hell once again. Flamethrowers, fixed bayonets, overhead heavy artillery, close air support (I do mean close) and napalm will rule that day.

Quiles Ray Jacobs and Dan Horton. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara

Tonight, all of Bravo will rest easy and dream of the beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and the girl in the calico dress who is watching over our “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves. Soon though, she will beckon thirteen more from Bravo to join her.

Present Day

Although Charlie did his best to lessen our numbers it would be a silent killer that would continue to cause casualties. Jake was the first on 19 April ’95 when the country’s eyes were on Oklahoma City. 1998, Bill Jayne and I would bury Don Quinn at Arlington. 2001 it was Doc Tom Hoody, then sometime along the way we lost Steve Foster. Many more would follow.

Dan Horton and I hooked up again in ’93 and had some really good times together. I was contacted around 2002 by Doug Furlong. He lived in Australia. I never saw him again but was able to enjoy our occasional conversation. Then in the fall of 2010 it was becoming obvious both these guys were in some serious danger. These were the two I held in my arms on 21 March 1968 and here they were both casualties again. Doug would leave for the garden on Halloween night and Danny, in all his glory, went there on 10 November, the Marine Corps birthday. I was absolutely STUNNED that it was these two who were wounded together, suffered together, and would die together some 42 years later. CANCER! All of them.

I attended Danny’s service in Detroit. He was laid out in his dress blues, rosary in his hand, and I found I just had no tears. I was so damn proud of him. He was Marine to the bone. Oorah!

God knows I miss them all so. I still set time aside each day just for “my” Marines.

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.
Photo by Betty Rodgers

As for me, I will continue to dream of the beautiful garden, and enjoy the sweet smell of lavender, as the girl in the calico dress watches over my “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves, until such time as she beckons me also.
Sweet dreams, Marines!

Michael E. O’Hara grew up and continues to live in Brown County in Southern Indiana.

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 43 years.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

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

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

February 6, 2017

…A War That Forever Changed Them

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Five years ago, in February 2012, BRAVO!’s principal videographer, Mark Spear, wrote the following guest blog about his experiences interviewing ten of the men in the film.

Mark passed away on March 22, 2014 at the age of forty-five. I remember Betty and I were sitting in a café having breakfast with BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes and his wife Sharon. When my cell phone rang—I don’t know why I answered it. I normally don’t answer the phone when the calls are from numbers I don’t recognize—and his step-dad, Dan Votroubek, gave me the devastating news.

It was like we’d lost a member of our family and in untold ways Mark had become a member of the BRAVO! tribe. Mark left a son to follow in his steps.

Mark was an artistic and sensitive man. I think you will see this as you read this blog which he wrote those five years back. Please join us in remembering him.

It’s been over a year now since I was given the task of filming interviews of some of the siege of Khe Sanh survivors at an annual reunion in San Antonio, Texas for a documentary titled Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, Ken and Betty Rodgers’ first film. Ken, a Marine with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B 1/26) who was there for the siege, felt it was time to tell this story…so did Betty. I felt I was up for it and thankfully they trusted me. After all, I’ve been on some pretty important shoots through my career, some seemingly less important, but all I have tried to give my best work to.

Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion in San Antonio. Texas, 2010. © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion in San Antonio. Texas, 2010.
© Betty Rodgers 2010

If you had met Ken on the street you would probably assume a first impression of an easy-going normal guy which he is, although he joked with me that he isn’t! I admittedly was very humbled by his experience and a bit intimidated by his intelligence. He is not the normal stereotyped Vietnam veteran…now. Ken’s poems and writing enlighten me as well as his ability to tell the story of the siege so matter of factly. Ken also acted like a bridge between me and his fellow Marines we were to interview, more so than I think he knew.

Betty and her knowledge of photography and art was a welcome relief to the pressure I put on myself. She did so much coordinating and calmly complimented me at every turn, giving me strength she did not know I thought I did not have. This made production so smooth and enjoyable.

I knew this was going to be big, the greatest challenge I had ever worked on. Deep down, I admit now, I was terrified! Ken and Betty, using their seed money and a small grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, were relying on ME to help give this story a face. Me!…me…(gulp).

Working on a war documentary was something I had dreamed of doing forever it seemed, and now it was really happening. I remember going home after I interviewed Ken and crying in sadness, fear, honor and respect…and for the gravity of the situation. It turns out this particular shoot was something I didn’t prepare for emotionally. I didn’t think I needed to. After all, the siege was history by the time I was born in 1968. I’ve seen plenty of war movies and documentaries, but this was different. Ken was there, and every time I talked with him my mind started to drift in thoughts of what it must have been like.

I kept my focus more on the lighting, sound, location, the way one might manipulate an interviewee to get the best “stuff.” The technical preparations paled in comparison to hearing these men, these Marines of Bravo Company, now in their 60’s and 70’s, tell a story about how they survived, as very young men, a war that forever changed them.

I remember sitting behind the camera listening to every one of their words, fighting off the tears my imagination was creating from the pictures they painted. Think of these men as 15 different camera angles on a shoot, all different perspectives and styles. Here are these hardened veterans remembering, reliving, telling their recollection of the Ghost Patrol and Payback, stifling their tears, choking up, needing to take a break from being in that place again.

I realized it was almost therapy for these guys, some of whom had not spoken extensively about these events for 40 years…and now were laying what they could out there. I had to stay on task…not get too caught up in the story…don’t forget my job, I thought…don’t say anything stupid…don’t cry, don’t cry I told myself. I saved that for my first night in my San Antonio hotel room after we filmed the first round of interviews.

Mark Spear shooting an interview in San Antonio, 2010. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Mark Spear shooting an interview in San Antonio, 2010. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

It’s as amazing to me now as it was when the stories and production all started unfolding. I look back at this experience as one I will never, ever forget. These Marines who welcomed me into a sacred reunion…their reunion…where I looked into their eyes and saw more than historic facts…I saw men who had the courage to not give up then…and to not give up now, and still fight this battle every day.

To the friends I made there, to the Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B 1/26), my hat is off to you. This is in the top 3 productions I have had the honor of being a part of in my career…funny thing is, I don’t know what numbers 2 or 3 are! Thank you.

If you are interested in reading the original blog, you can find it here.
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If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

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

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

April 18, 2016

THE LONG GOODBYE: Khe Sanh Remembered

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Today’s guest blogger, Mike Archer, is an author, Marine and survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Mike shares information on his books, his friend Tom Mahoney and efforts to find Tom’s remains forty-eight years after Tom disappeared at Khe Sanh.

IN THE CLOSING HOURS of the fight to hold the Khe Sanh Combat Base, after the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War, Tom Mahoney inexplicably walked away from his platoon, unarmed, and was shot to death by enemy soldiers hiding nearby. His fellow Marines made several desperate attempts to recover their well-liked comrade from under an intense enemy ambush, but were finally forced to leave him behind―though never forgotten.

Tom and I were high school friends who joined the Marines together in June 1967. My latest book, The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited, released in April 2016, and a sequel to my first, A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered, chronicles my exhaustive search for answers to his mysterious July 6, 1968 stroll into oblivion. This quest eventually led me though an improbable series of connections: from Tom’s childhood friends and fellow Marines, past the frustration of ineffective attempts by the U.S. government to locate his remains, and eventually teaming up with a Vietnamese psychic intent on communicating with Tom’s “wandering soul.”

Mike Archer at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Mike Archer at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Along the way, I discovered the unexpected compassion of former mortal enemies from that battlefield, now wishing to help honor the memory of a lone American among the tens of thousands on both sides who were sacrificed in the great meat grinder of Khe Sanh. Swept up in this increasingly bizarre pursuit of clues, I was drawn back to that infamous battleground and eventually tracked down and interviewed the last remaining eyewitness to Tom Mahoney’s death―one of those who killed him.

UPDATE:
In June 2016, the Defense POW-MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) will be taking three former members of Tom’s unit back to where he was killed on Hill 881 South in an effort to identify the exact site and excavate. It is not the first time the DPAA has searched for Tom’s remains, but it is the first time they have taken witnesses who were on the scene moments after hearing the gunshots that killed him.

An excavation in August 2014 was unsuccessful because the DPAA was looking on the wrong hill. But the expectation of success is higher now, as one of these three Marine veterans of that fight had worked his way to within just a few yards of reaching Tom’s body from under an intense enemy ambush, when darkness fell forcing the men to call off the effort.

The cover of Mike Archer's Book; THE LONG GOODBYE

The cover of Mike Archer’s Book; THE LONG GOODBYE

Another reason for optimism is a series of successful identifications of remains from the Khe Sanh area by the DPAA over the last eleven months. These three American soldiers were killed at different locations just a few months, and a few miles, from where Tom fell. Vietnamese and Laotians, dealing in the illegal, but booming, bone trade, provided these partial remains; two of the sets confiscated in 1989 and turned over to U.S. officials, where they became part of over one thousand sets of human remains backlogged and being warehoused in the Central Identification Laboratory near Honolulu.

But is there evidence of bones being found on Hill 881 South?

In January 2007, U.S. and Vietnamese MIA researchers met at Khe Sanh with two elders from the village of Lang Ruon, located down a steep slope on the north side of Hill 881 South, about five hundred yards from where Tom’s body was last seen. They told the researchers that after their return to Ruon in the early 1970s, they’d heard nothing about the discovery of remains or the personal effects of an American soldier. However, as the villagers began forays up the hill to collect metal to sell, they regularly saw bones. “Many buffaloes died,” one elder explained, “and when people saw the bones, they were unsure what kind of bones they were.” Perhaps some were collected and sold to bone traders and, although it is a slim possibility, Tom’s remains may already be at the Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu.

AUTHOR PHOTO

Mike Archer

But, more likely, they are still on the hill which, unlike the highly acidic deep, rust-colored volcanic soil in the lowlands surrounding it, is comprised of metamorphic rock, like schist, thus giving hope they have been better preserved. Everyone involved in this upcoming mission back to Hill 881 South in a few weeks is very excited and hopeful. I will keep you in the loop as things progress and thanks to so many of you for your interest in The Long Goodbye.

Michael Archer
April 13, 2016

MICHAEL ARCHER grew up in northern California and served as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam during 1967-1968. His books include A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered, an acclaimed first-person account of the infamous seventy-seven-day siege of that American combat base; A Man of His Word: The Life and Times of Nevada’s Senator William J. Raggio, about one of Nevada’s most courageous, honorable and admired citizens; and The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited, chronicling the author’s search for answers to a friend’s mysterious death at Khe Sanh. Michael lives in Reno and, in addition to his writing, is a staff member with the Senate Committee on Finance at the Nevada State Legislature. You can find out more about Mike Archer and his books at www.michaelarcher.net.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, winter or next spring 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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 17, 2016

In Search of My Father (Part 2)

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Guest blogger Ron Reyes’ continuing story of his search to discover more about his father who was killed in action at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968.

“We weren’t in Khe Sanh.” I am wondering what he is talking about. “We were overlooking it on a hill. Well, Ron, it was a bad day; there were a lot of bad days. We were sharing the first beer we had had in a month. The beer was warm, but it might as well have been the finest wine. Tommy had just gotten up out of the trench to grab an ammo box when BAM, incoming. Tommy goes down and it is not good.”

Pete skips through the next sequence of events. I find out later that Pete jumped out of the trench to grab Tommy as mortar rounds were splashing all over the place. He carries Tommy and BOOM gets knocked down, picks up Tommy and, BAM, down again. One more time, and WHAM. This time he makes it to the trench. Those few yards must have seemed like a football field. Pete gets to the edge and my dad is the first one there to help out. They grab a stretcher, put Tommy in it, and away they go. The group gets moving, BOOM, they drop Tommy. This is not Tommy’s day. Get going again, and BLAM. Silence, or so it seemed. Everyone was hit. My dad was killed and Pete was hit badly. I talked to Pete for about an hour. “He was a good Marine,” he said. Wow, this has really come together. Pete gave me a phone number for a Bill Cassell and told me to call. I called as soon as I hung up.

The answering machine picks up. I figure I had better leave a message. “Hi, this is Ron Reyes. I am Ronnie Reyes’ son. Pete gave me your number.” The phone picks up, “Hello,” silence, Bill was trying to get over the shock. He didn’t go to the reunion and hadn’t talked to Eddie or Pete. He said he was staring at the answering machine while his wife was telling him to pick up the phone. Bill watched everything happen that day. He knew my dad was killed. He knew my dad was going to have a child. He knew he was from La Puente, California. For the next 30 years Bill would wonder what happened to me. Was I a boy or a girl? He would drive to La Puente a couple of times and try to find our family, but no luck, and now here I am on the phone. We talked for about an hour. “Your dad was a good Marine.”

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes posing in a mortar pit with a  60 mm mortar. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes posing in a mortar emplacement with a 60 mm mortar tube. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

At this point, I am still not sure what to tell my grandparents. I talk to my mother after each phone call. She is happy, sad, excited, and scared, not really sure what to do, except let me figure it out. I should explain a little about my mom. She raised me on her own, made sure I had everything I needed and just about everything I wanted. My mother made sure that I never lost contact with my grandparents and that I spent a lot of time with them.

Thursday night the phone rings.

This time I answer the phone. “Hello, I’m looking for Ronnie Reyes.” “This is Ron.” Silence. I am getting used to this now. “My name is Tommy, and I knew your Dad.” I can’t wait for the rest of the story, and then I get thrown for a loop. “It was a bad day, and I don’t remember much of it. I was hit and your dad was one of the guys who helped me.” I had just assumed that Tommy “T” Wallis had been killed. This was great news. It was in this moment that I realized that my father didn’t die in vain, but for a fellow Marine, a 1/9er, and a brother. We spoke for about an hour.

Now I have to tell my grandparents. I make the call. I start talking really fast. My grandparents aren’t sure what I am trying to say. I finally stop and say, “I just talked to some men who were with my father in Vietnam.” I can tell they don’t know what to do. “Grandma, would you like to talk to them?” She doesn’t hesitate and says, “Yes.” I think I gave her Pete’s number. They spoke to a couple of 1/9ers over the next few days. They were happy I made contact.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes holding a M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol while relaxing in a bunker. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes holding a M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol while relaxing in a bunker. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

On October 25th, 1998, my own son Ronnie was born. It is fun listening to my mom say, “Aye, Ronnie, you’re just like your dad.”

January of 2000, Tommy calls and wants to know if I would like to get together with him and Pete and go fishing some time later in the year. I have to go. This is the moment I have been waiting for. “One last thing, don’t tell Pete.” What? “It is a surprise. I’m going to tell Pete we are going to drive out to California after the fishing trip and meet you for a day.” I talk with Pete on and off and arrange a date and time to meet him. I fly to Tommy’s hometown to meet Tommy at the airport. We stop in the bar to break the ice and have a beer. Ok, maybe a couple. We pick Pete up and I introduce myself as Eddie Martinez.

Tommy explains how he is going to drop me off on the way to their fishing trip. We drive for about an hour and a half and stop at a gas station. I have been having a conversation with Pete about how he is going to meet his friend’s son, Ron. He tells me he is about my age. We stop at a gas station to take a break, and Tommy says he wants to take a picture. “Hey, Eddie, hand him your card.” Ok, I hand Pete my business card, he looks at it and smiles, and turns back to the camera. “Read it, Pete.” Ok, Citibank. He turns back to the camera. “Read the whole thing!” Why is it such a big deal? He reads it out loud, “Ron Reyes,” turns back to the camera, pauses, then he turns back to me. “I am Ronnie Reyes’ son.” After we have a moment, we are on our way. We proceed to badger and laugh at Pete for a while.

We spent a few days in Mexico. Then we drove to MCRD San Diego for graduation. We saw the last of the Quonset huts. Then we drove up towards LA. We stopped by the cemetery where my father is buried. Then we met with my Mom and had dinner. The next day my grandparents and my aunt arrived, and we spent all day together.

This is where my story ends…or so I think…

Next week, Ron continues with his story about searching for clues about who his father was and his resultant journey.

Ron Reyes lives in Moorpark, California. He has been married to his wife Lori for 23 years and is the father of 2. His son Ronnie is a junior in high school. His daughter Danielle is a junior in college and lives just 2 blocks north of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes on the left. Unknown on the right. Relaxing. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes on the left. Unknown on the right. Relaxing. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

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.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 10, 2016

In Search of My Father (Part One)

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Today’s guest blogger, Ron Reyes, blogs about his father, also Ron Reyes, who was killed in action at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968, a date of some importance to the men of BRAVO! This is part one of a multiple blog story.

I was born February 28th, 1968. My father, Private First Class Ronnie (Baby Sanh) Reyes was killed March 30th 1968; he was 19. That is where my story starts.

I have always wondered who my dad was. I saw the pictures, heard the stories, but I never knew him. I had a pretty good idea who he was before he left. In fact, every time I got in trouble I heard, “Aye, Ronnie, you’re just like your dad,” but I had no clue who he was the day he was killed. In fact, no one did except his fellow Marines—his brothers. My mother Elaine always made sure that she answered any question I asked. She wanted me to know as much as possible.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes.
Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes

I studied everything about Vietnam. I looked at maps, interviewed soldiers from all branches. I watched every special. Every time I went to the library in school I would check out books about Vietnam. I was very interested in Khe Sanh; the only information I had about my dad was that he was there. This was something I needed to know. I searched out information all through school and into my late 20’s. That all changed on June 5, 1995, the day my daughter Danielle was born. I couldn’t believe it; I was a dad. I thought that was the coolest thing because I grew up without a dad. It was a strange feeling. I was so excited about my first child being born and at the same time at peace with my father. I realized I wasn’t going to find out about my dad, and decided it was okay.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, is very powerful. I hear it is very powerful. Everybody I know who has been to the Wall has brought me back a rubbing. I must have about 15 of them. Every time I get one, I do the same thing: research. I received a rubbing in the fall of 1998. My research technique had changed. I’d just bought a new computer, and decided to try the World Wide Web.

I was armed with one more piece of info at this point. About a year earlier I had visited my dad’s gravesite, just like I did on most Memorial Days when I was a little kid. I always read my dad’s name. PFC Ronald R. Reyes. This time I paid more attention to what the rest of the headstone said. CO D, 9 MAR, 3 MAR DIV. I had the day of his death (03/30/1968), the place that he was killed (Khe Sanh), the fact that he was a Marine, and now my first clue. I searched the Internet. Several hours later I found what I needed. I found a page that listed my father KIA with additional info. He was in Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, the Walking Dead. This was very exciting but didn’t mean much to me yet. I started researching the 1/9.

Back to the Internet. I took the information that I had and kept digging. I found an early version of the Khe Sanh Veterans site. In the site I found about 80 e-mail addresses. Out of that 80, I found 5 who served with D/1/9. I sent out a brief e-mail to all 5. I didn’t expect much, but was hopeful. That was on a Wednesday. What I didn’t know was that the New Orleans reunion was taking place that weekend. The weekend passed and I didn’t think much about it.

MCRD Recruit Platoon 124, Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes' outfit. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

MCRD Recruit Platoon 124, Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes’ outfit. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Tuesday night my phone rang.

I answered the phone, and the voice on the other end said, “Is this Ron Reyes?” “Yes it is, I said.” His response was, “My name is Eddie and I knew your father,” then silence. I wasn’t sure about what to say and Eddie wasn’t either. Could it be that after 30 years I was going to get the information I’d always wanted? I didn’t know if I wanted to hear whatever was waiting on the other end of the line.

“I was with your dad at Camp Pendleton and in Vietnam.” It turns out Eddie “Archie” Arcienega was with 2nd Platoon, D/1/9. My father was with Weapons. He told me how my dad had taken him back home to visit his parents (my grandparents). In Vietnam, Eddie told me, Ronnie would always check up on him and make sure he had everything he needed up front. He was a good Marine. I talked to Eddie for an hour. We talked about a lot of things. I got off the phone and told my wife, called my Mom, e-mailed some friends. I had to tell everyone except Pasqual and Ramona Reyes, my grandparents.

What was I going to say to them? Ronnie was the oldest of 4 kids, a leader in the family. My grandfather served with the Army in WWII. He fought from Italy into France where he was captured on his way to the Battle of the Bulge. He is a Bronze Star Recipient. The prison camp couldn’t break him, but the death of his firstborn son devastated him. I would have to think about how I would let them know the news.

Wednesday night my phone rang. My wife Lori picked up the phone. She said it was “somebody named Pete who knew your dad.” This time I couldn’t wait to talk. It was a lot harder for Pete to gather his words than it had been for Eddie. Maybe it was because Eddie knew my dad had died, and on what day, but Pete Mestas went home that same day and was in a VA hospital for a couple of years. He didn’t find out my father was dead until he visited the Wall a few years before this call. He was looking for the names of the Marines that he knew died that day. Then he saw my father’s name.

I had always heard the story of how my father was hit by a mortar as he went to retrieve his buddy who was hit. I wanted to embrace the story, but understood that families like to think the best always. Pete was about to fill me in. He was in Weapons with my dad. Pete said they called my dad Baby Sanh because they knew his girlfriend was pregnant. He asked me what I knew about Vietnam, the Tet Offensive, Con Thien, and Khe Sanh. I told him I had studied it, and had the map of Vietnam tattooed in my mind. I knew my dad was in Khe Sanh.

Guest blogger Ron Reyes at a young age, at his father's grave. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Guest blogger Ron Reyes at a young age, at his father’s grave. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Next week, Ron continues with his story about searching for clues about who his father was and his resultant journey.

Ron Reyes lives in Moorpark, California. He has been married to his wife Lori for 23 years and is the father of 2. His son Ronnie is a junior in high school. His daughter Danielle is a junior in college and lives just 2 blocks north of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

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/.

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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 16, 2016

On Navy Corpsmen

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on Navy Corpsmen and Marines

The latter part of 2015 was not especially kind to me. I had a serious surgery in September and in November I suddenly fell ill once again and suffered a somewhat sustained period of time in the VA hospital, about 45 days all told. I am now home and greatly improved, Thank You very much. I mention that only because it reminded me of a time long ago and the special folks who endeared themselves to me.

Never, in our glorious past has any one group of individuals EVER earned the respect and the admiration of Marines across the globe than our FMF Navy Corpsmen, more commonly referred to as “Doc.” Most folks have no idea what these brave men have endured just to be called Doc. They train with the Marines, they deploy with the Marines, and they patrol with the Marines. They are as much a Marine as anyone can be without actually enlisting. Not a patrol goes through the wire without Doc.

Doc is everywhere. He was on the beach at Tarawa and on every island campaign in the Pacific. There was even a Doc who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Doc was at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir when Chesty Puller’s men were withdrawing through that awful frozen (-30) tundra of North Korea. Doc not only tended to the wounded but was required to deal with many horrific amputations due to frostbite. Sometimes they had a real M.D. to help, but not very often.

Doc was in Lebanon in 1958 and again in 1983 when the Marine Barracks was attacked and over 200 Marines were lost. Doc is everywhere. Doc has been to all the little unknown conflicts most people have long since forgotten. Doc also went to a place that became known as “The Nam.”

2 January 1968. Bravo Company, 1/26 had been deployed Oct-Dec to 881 South. When we left the hill the day after Christmas, 1967, we ran a long operation up the Rao Quan River to the north. It was January when we got back and were assigned to the combat base. The NVA had broken a truce (SOOPRISE) and we were called back to the base. We sacked in with Alpha Company on the north side of the runway. By midnight, Danny Horton and I were delirious. We had not used our purification tablets which made our water non-potable, and as a result were really sick.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh.

Our platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, was dispatched to tend to us and we were taken straight away to a tent. A firefight had just erupted with members of Lima Company close to the tent we were in. I was so sick I never moved from the table. Everyone else was on the ground. This was the beginning of my very first hospital stay, if that is what you would call it.

I think I was there 16 days, maybe. They finally said we had amoebic dysentery. It can kill you if not properly treated. But Doc was there. This tent was known as the BAS, Battalion Aid Station. It was a dark, sandbagged hole in the ground. I don’t remember much of the first ten days but I know Doc took wonderful care of me. Soon I was discharged from BAS and sent back to Bravo. I was very weak.

I would see or hear about Doc’s brave actions many more times during the Siege. You see, the reason Marines love Doc is because they know that if they take a bullet, if they lose a limb to a mortar round and call for Doc, he will come, just like he has always done. It makes no matter how heavy the volley, Doc will charge into the guns to tend to his wounded Marines. He has always done so and he continues to do so to this day. Make no mistake, Doc for sure is one of our most unsung Heroes.

Doc Cicala from our 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, is a fine example. Shot through one of his lungs and with grenade fragments to his groin, he still continued on the day of the 25 February ambush doing what he could to help guide others who were literally crawling back to the perimeter on their stomachs.

Second Platoon’s Doc Thomas Hoody, who spent many nights braving the incoming artillery patching up Marines, would visit me in the night twice during the month of March to check on my wounds.

I am sure the Docs in first platoon showed every bit as much raw courage and bravery as well. But one of the most searing moments of my tour came on 30 March when Doc and I met up close and very personal when our roles were reversed in the middle of one of the bloodiest damn firefights of the entire war.

Richard Blanchfield had served better than 6 years as a United States Marine. He got out, enlisted in the United States Navy and became a Doc. He was a replacement for the Third Platoon on 30 March. He had only been there a few days at the most. I didn’t even know him.

By the time I met him, the entire company was at “Fix Bayonets” and we were definitely engaging Charley. In fact, we were all in a virtual dead run to get these guys who had killed so many of our fellow Marines. Doc Blanchfield was well ahead of me. He had already tended to a wounded Marine and had just got up on the edge of a bomb crater when mortars simply rained down on him and the whole command group as well.

When I reached the edge of the crater, he was about halfway down and sliding in the loose dirt. There were two dead Marines and numerous dead NVA in the crater. Those two Marines certainly earned their pay that day. Doc had, by this time, stuck 2 morphine needles in his own leg. His arm was nearly blown off at the shoulder. At first I was in as much shock as he was, but I regained my composure and began to tie him off. After slowing down the bleeding, I tied two battle dressings together and wrapped him all around so he at least wouldn’t do any more damage to what was left of his arm. I thought he would die.

The battle was still in full assault so I laid him back and comforted him as well as I could and left him. I have not seen him since but he did survive and miraculously his arm was saved.

Michael E. O'Hara

Michael E. O’Hara

After getting involved with the Khe Sanh Veterans in 1992 I found out Doc Blanchfield was living in Oceanside, California. We talk once a year on the phone. He has never failed to send me a card for each and every holiday since that first call. I still have not seen him. He was very pained by what happened to him and I understand. He did say Thank You that first call.

Like I said earlier, I was in the hospital over this past Veterans Day holiday. Most folks understand that 10 November is the Marine Corps Birthday, so we were also celebrating 240 years of glorious history. That is a very long time for sure, a time in which we have come to celebrate the lives and courageous acts of many from our ranks. I could write pages, even a book or two recounting all of our Heroes for sure.

A wheelchair-bound Marine (a volunteer) was my only visitor on this Marine Corps Birthday. He had lost both legs in Vietnam. We had a grand conversation. He brought me candy, S/F.

I have read a great deal about the wars of the last ten years and the men who have gone in my stead now that I am old and grey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you this generation is lost. I am just as proud of our young Marines today as I ever have been.

And never forget this: Wherever you find these Marines, you will find Doc, ready, willing and able to charge into the guns if necessary. He will, as he has always done, come when he hears the word Doc.

Semper Fidelis to our Navy Corpsmen everywhere you serve.

Michael E. O’Hara served with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during 1967 and 1968. He earned three Purple Hearts.

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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/.

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

January 8, 2016

BRAVO! Gains International Recognition!

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Today’s guest blogger, the United Kingdom’s John Henden, ruminates on BRAVO!

BRAVO!

A REVIEW BY JOHN HENDEN

Bravo! is a documentary film which is neither pro-war nor anti-war. Using an extensive compilation of film archive, still photos and sound effects, the main impact of the film is provided by the moving personal testimonies of US Marine Corps veterans of the Battle of Khe Sanh, during the Vietnam War. It was the most intensive battle in the history of warfare, lasting 71 days.

Ken Rodgers, the writer of the film, has achieved a remarkable feat in providing the viewer with the most accurate account, to date, of the endurance, courage and heroism of the Marines from Bravo Company, who survived the siege from 20th January to 31st March 1968. Several of the veterans interviewed had suffered life changing mortal injuries in combat and others had found their own ways to overcome their mental wounds. One veteran interviewed said, “They never treated the mind. There was no preventative or proactive teaching.” Another said: “Shrinks don’t have a clue what to do with you.”

Despite the poor reception many received from their fellow Americans, when they returned, there was a determination to live on after.

John Henden. Photo Courtesy of John Henden.

John Henden. Photo Courtesy of John Henden.

Sponsored mainly by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, with financial support from countless others, this is an important film. It is an accurate portrayal of what really happened. Many of us well remember the news reports coming out of Khe Sanh during the war, but there is nothing more moving than the detailed descriptions of what really happened from the mouths of those who were there. The personal accounts, often through tears, from real people, paint a vivid picture.

This film is a must-see for military historians. Many Viet Vets, generally, could benefit also, as part of their making fuller sense of their experiences all those years ago; and some, as further steps towards full combat operational stress recovery.

John Henden, BA (Honours), RMN, Diploma in Counselling (University of Bristol), MBACP, FRSA, is a counselor, therapist and trainer who lives and works in the United Kingdom. John is a UK Military Welfare Workers’ Trainer as well as an internationally renowned author. Prior to founding the John Henden Consultancy, he worked in NHS mental health services for over 20 years, both as a manager and practitioner. His client list includes drug and alcohol agencies and young people’s counseling services. He has a background in psychology, is a qualified counselor and a member of the British Association of Counseling and Psychotherapy. He is a presenter at both the European Brief Therapy Association and Solutions in Organizations Link-up, being a co-founder of the latter. He has a special interest in the areas of suicide prevention and trauma and severe stress. He is the author of Preventing Suicide: the Solution Focused Approach (Wiley) and Beating Combat Stress: 101 Techniques for Recovery (Wiley-Blackwell). You can find out more about John at http://www.johnhendenconsultancy.co.uk/.

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 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.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

April 1, 2015

Composing for Khe Sanh

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It began about two years ago, when I sat down with Ken and Betty Rodgers over coffee to talk music. The Rodgers had completed a documentary film, a legacy project, honoring the heroic men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. They were in need of a composer to finalize an almost-complete soundtrack, teeming with an impressive list of musicians that had eagerly contributed their talents.

I felt a growing connection to the Rodgers as I learned about their project: an authentic documentary honoring war heroes and their families, preserving priceless historic and emotional accounts of the brave Khe Sanh Marines both living and passed on. I wanted to learn more, and was honored by the possibility that my music might be part of something so universally important. I also started to realize that it could be important to me on a personal level as well . . .

My grandfather served in World War II as a Marine during the battle of Iwo Jima, and he had been an elusive mystery to my family ever since his return after the war ended. Growing up, I never had much of a relationship with my grandfather; he made it quite clear to the family that he preferred isolation—a need that was ever-increasing toward the end. When I found out he took his life, there were so many questions unanswered, and my family was left in emotional confusion.

Robin Zimmermann's grandfather in the USMC. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

Robin Zimmermann’s grandfather in the USMC. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

Briefly hearing Ken’s accounts, I started to think about the opportunity to learn about war, about the toll it takes on soldiers, from the men who have the most important stories to tell. For many reasons, I missed the opportunity to learn about war from my grandfather. Now I had the opportunity to do so, exploring a world foreign to me through something so personal—creating music.

Leaving the meeting with a DVD, I went home and watched Bravo! for the first time. It emotionally overwhelmed me, it challenged my thoughts, it changed everything I ever knew about war. The endless complexity of emotions, ranging anywhere from rage, fear, devastation, and emptiness, to youth, hope, family, love. It opened my eyes to the ravages of Khe Sanh, and to the horrors of battle that veterans such as my grandfather had seen.

I started to think how it could at all be possible to reflect war and its compound emotions by eight simple notes. I was more driven than ever to compose these pieces of music—but now the question was . . . how?

Accepting the challenge, and accompanied with the fear that I wouldn’t—even couldn’t—get it right, I got to work. I began by interviewing Betty and Ken, asking for words, colors, emotions, thoughts that they wanted to portray. A ritual with every filmmaker I work with, I’ve learned throughout the years that the emotions and thoughts I take away from watching a film may not be exactly the emotions the filmmaker wants to portray to the viewer. Emotions are different than messages, and messages are the bridge between the film and audience.

A young Robin Zimmermann with her grandfather. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

A young Robin Zimmermann with her grandfather. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

A lengthy back-and-forth ensued as I wrote, presented, Ken and Betty listened, and I altered as requested. Because there was so much complexity, there were lots of experiments with different approaches—sometimes from a female, motherly voice, sometimes brooding and dark, sometimes lilting and requiem-reminiscent.

Leaving my emotion aside and focusing entirely on the film in front of me was tough. Initially, I believe my thoughts got in the way and contributed to some cluttered and confused musical compositions. What instruments to employ was a topic highly discussed. Strings such as violin and viola sometimes seemed right, sometimes not at all. There was a delicate balance between an orchestral feel vs. too heavy-handed and hymn-like. One prominent color that Ken felt represented the film’s Ghost Patrol scene was gray—feeling cold, stunned, numb, isolated.

Repeatedly composing to scenes of devastation did take a toll on me. The more I watched the heroic men on screen, the more familiar they became to me, although we hadn’t met. Spending hours in a studio with no-one but your film protagonists, you develop a sense of familiarity with those you repeatedly observe, and their pain and tears become increasingly more personal. That familiarity, combined with a clear understanding of my grandfather’s pain, made for a highly challenging yet enormously rewarding journey.

Ken and Betty were wonderfully supportive in the creative process, and equally as supportive in helping me to understand my grandfather’s actions as a result of war. Their musical suggestions and edits pushed me and challenged me; I am a better composer because of it, and I feel a greater understanding and sense of catharsis about my grandfather. A heartfelt thanks to Ken and Betty for the life-changing experience, and to our war heroes who fought (and continue to fight) for our safety and freedom.

-Robin Zimmermann, 2015

Robin Zimmermann is a Los Angeles-based composer, performer and sound creator for independent film and multimedia. A musician for over 20 years with classical training in piano, flute and voice, her works span genres and fields, creating unique and eclectic soundscapes designed to heighten space and simulate environments. In 2010, Robin was honored as one of four internationally selected composer fellows for the Sundance Institute Composer and Documentary Lab.

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

March 30, 2015

Skipper Ken Pipes Writes About March 30, 1968

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BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes remembers the actions of 30 March 1968 in the following piece that was published, among other places, in October 2014 for the Military Order of the World Wars.

One of the most sobering experiences in life is the responsibility of leading young Marines into the teeth of the enemy knowing that some of them will not come out of it alive. It takes courage, faith, an indomitable spirit, and an unfailing trust in the capabilities of the men entrusted to your care.

Fighting at Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam in 1967–1968, was an ongoing, brutal fight to the death between Marines and soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army. Subsequently, this battle has become the title of a two-hour documentary film, “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor,” produced and directed by Ken and Betty Rodgers. Ken was a member of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines, before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

On 30 March 1968, Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B/1/26) proceeded from the perimeter of the Khe Sanh Combat Base to their pre-designated line of departure located near forward units of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA’s) 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment, 304th (Hanoi) Iron Division. Poised against each other in the coming attack were lineal descendants of one of the most famous divisions involved in the siege against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and elements of the 26th Marines—one of three Marine regiments of the 5th Marine Division that led the assault against Japan’s island fortress of Iwo Jima in February/March 1945.

The attack was scheduled for first light, but it was delayed by heavy ground fog that obscured the entire objective area. As the blinding fog began to lift, our Marines, with bayonets fixed, crossed the line of departure outside the wire of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Immediately upon commencing the assault, the two lead platoons came under extremely heavy mortar, rocket-propelled grenade, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from the 8th NVA Battalion who occupied extensive, well-constructed, mutually supporting bunkers and trench systems.

Under the umbrella of withering fire from nine batteries of Marine and Army artillery that pummeled the flanks of the objective area and created a rolling barrage 50 to 70 meters in front of the two attack platoons, the Marines began breaching the NVA positions. The fight for fire superiority hung in the balance until the attached flame section and combat engineer detachment entered the fray. As their predecessors did on Iwo Jima, these units, covered and assisted by Marine riflemen, began to blind, blast, and burn their way into the NVA fortifications.

For the next four hours, the Marines of Company B, some of whom had undergone 70-plus days and nights of continuing, killing bombardment by NVA heavy artillery, rocket, mortar, and concentrated sniper fire, gained some measure of retribution as they routed the NVA soldiers from their fiercely defended positions. Within the breached positions, our Marine riflemen were literally walking over the dead and dying NVA defenders.

From the moment of close contact until some four hours later when we received the order to withdraw back into the combat base, the fight was hand to hand, bayonet to bayonet, knife to knife, grenade against grenade, and rifleman against rifleman, with the trump card being, as always, Marines using flamethrowers and combat engineers employing demolitions!

It may seem to some readers that this was just another example of a typical seasoned Marine combat unit doing its job. It was not. The Marine rifle company that attacked the NVA that Saturday morning was not the same company that had moved from Hill 881 South three months earlier to participate in a battalion sweep toward the Laotian border, and then moved into the perimeter of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. The continuous enemy bombardment while we were in the combat base had hurt B/1/26 more than any other similarly-sized defending unit, exacerbated by the tragic loss of most of an entire platoon on 25 February resulting from an ambush by a reinforced company from the 8th NVA Battalion.

Most of the Marines in Company B on 30 March had joined during the siege as replacements after the siege had begun. These young men had traveled a hard road including boot camp, skills training at the Infantry Training Regiment, Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton, a flight to Vietnam, reporting in to the 26th Marines, exiting the aircraft at the Khe Sanh Combat Base under fire, reporting for assignment to 1st Battalion, and finally, still under fire, joining Company B. To a rifleman, they had no combat experience at the fire team, squad, platoon, or company level.

As it has always been in combat, if it had not been for the leveling skills of a handful of short-timer leaders, privates first class and corporals, led by an experienced company executive officer, company gunnery sergeant, and outstanding platoon commanders, the execution of this company-sized raid on 30 March 1968 would never have moved beyond our frontline trenches.

As noted by the commanding officer of 1/26 and the S–3 (operations officer) who planned the company raid, “The members of Company B performed individually and collectively in a manner normally expected only of seasoned and combat-experienced Marines.”

I believe that their brilliant feat can only be attributed to their deep and overriding desire to avenge the prior loss of Marines of their company, most of whom they never knew or met! To them and them alone goes the credit for executing, arguably, the first successful company-sized offensive assault outside the wire since the ambush of their mates on 25 February, and for making it such a success!

These Marines totally decimated the 8th NVA Battalion, including the enemy battalion commander and his staff. In so doing, intercepted enemy radio traffic revealed the Marines of Company B killed at least 115 NVA officers and soldiers and wounded an untold number of their survivors.

Skipper Ken Pipes © Betty Rodgers 2014

Skipper Ken Pipes
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Still later, Marines from B/1/26 (none above the rank of corporal) who had participated in the raid, were awarded two Navy Crosses, nine Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, and two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat “V” for valor for individual acts of courage, gallantry, and heroism! Additionally, Marines received over 100 Purple Hearts, with several of these Marines earning their awards for receiving a second and third wound.

Subsequent to the fighting on 30 March 1968, the company was the recipient of the following from the commanding general of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam:

Officers and men of B/1/26 USMC deserve highest praise for aggressive patrol action north of Khe Sanh on 30 March. Heavy casualties inflicted on bunkers and entrenched enemy forces indicate typical Marine esprit de corps and professionalism. Well done!

Gen William Westmoreland

Just as is the case with their predecessors from Iwo Jima, to a man, the Khe Sanh Marines of Company B remain intensely proud of their 26th Marines heritage! We will always feel we were privileged to serve with Bravo’s young, inexperienced, Marine infantrymen that fateful Saturday morning. We were truly in the company of men who were, are, and will always be, “The Immortals!”

Lieutenant Colonel Pipes was the Officer Commanding Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines, during the Siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, TET, 1968, RVN. Ken and his wife, Sharon, have lived in Fallbrook, California since their retirement from the Marine Corps in 1982. They have been married for 52 years. Ken, Sharon and their sons, Dan and Tim, are all members of MOWW’s MajGen Pendleton Chapter, CA.

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

March 25, 2015

March 30, 1968

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Khe Sanh, Vietnam

30 March 1968. The most vicious battle of the Vietnam War is coming to a close. My Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment will depart the Khe Sanh Combat Base pre-dawn this day. A large percentage of our 120-man company are new replacements as we had been mauled badly on 25 February by the Communist North Vietnamese Army. Nearly thirty Marines had been killed during an unescapable ambush and we were ordered to leave them lie some 800 meters to our front.

It would be five long years before we were told that one of our fellow Bravo Company Marines, Sgt Ronald Ridgeway, whom we thought had been killed that day, was actually captured, and held prisoner, and survived the war.

Today, 30 March 1968, the score will be settled tenfold on what will later be known as the “Payback Patrol,” but at the cost of over a dozen more brave young Marine Warriors.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968.

It begins with overhead artillery and what is known as a “Rolling Box Barrage” with the use of multiple batteries of heavy artillery. After the initial prep fires, the end of the box opens up as Bravo moves in to engage what turns out to be a battalion of Communist troops. Once in, the box closes behind us, trapping Marines and NVA alike inside. It becomes a fight of virulent fury.

To see those young Marines—some of whom only six weeks before had been home with their families—charging machine gun bunkers with their flamethrowers, satchel charges and fixed bayonets is a sight to behold. The Communist troops quickly learn what the Germans had learned at Belleau Wood some 50 years before when the German High Command asked: “Wer sind diese Teufelshunde? (Who are these Devil Dogs?)”

When it seems to be coming to a close, hours later, we begin to pull back, collecting our dead and wounded. We realize what a price we just paid. We have fought a very determined, well-disciplined enemy who will always command our respect as fellow warriors.

When our enemies try to reinforce, it is at that point, as they are bearing down on us, that we come to appreciate those Marines who are part of our “Air Wing,” as the F4 Phantoms scream in at treetop level with their napalm bombs, dropping so close we feel the heat of the inferno adjacent to our positions. As one of the pilots rolls his jet around to the left, we see him give us all a “Thumbs Up.”

Our company commander, Captain Ken Pipes, who is seriously wounded and loses most of his command group, maintains contact with the air and artillery and masterfully coordinates their firepower to our benefit.

After attacking numerous bunkers within the enemy complex, Donald Rash, one of our newest members, lays down on the edge of a bomb crater to cover our withdrawal, knowing full well he will never get up again. That kind of heroism and dedication to one’s fellow Marines brings a whole new meaning to the verse in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

In the end, Bravo would suffer more casualties (56 KIA’s) at Khe Sanh than any other company of the 26th Marine Regiment (REIN). For their valor, they would earn three Navy Crosses, our nation’s second highest award. Only one Marine would live to collect his medal. Don Rash’s mother would be handed a folded American flag along with his Navy Cross.

Michael E. O'Hara.

Michael E. O’Hara.

Ten Silver Star medals and fourteen Bronze Star medals with V for valor were awarded as well. Over two hundred Purple Heart medals were awarded, as many were wounded on multiple occasions. Numerous Navy Commendations were earned, and they contributed greatly toward the entire regiment earning the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation (PUC).

April brought new leadership to the company as many of our officers had been wounded or killed. New men arrived and the wounded were evacuated. Our fallen Marines from the patrol of 25 February’s remains were recovered within days.

It has now been nearly fifty years and those men, those brave young Marines will live in my memory forever. I hope the world will always remember as well.

Where do we get such men? What a privilege and an Honour it was to have served with and to have known them.
Semper Fidelis and may God always hold them in His arms

Michael E. O’Hara, Bravo Company 1/26 USMC 1967-1970

Michael E. O’Hara grew up and continues to live in Brown County in Southern Indiana.

Michael graduated in May 1966 and by April 1967 had voluntarily enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

Michael “went for four” and served one tour overseas during the Vietnam war with the 26th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Bravo Company during the “Siege ” of Khe Sanh.

Upon returning to the States Michael became a Primary Weapons Instructor for the Marine Corps 2nd Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton, Ca. Michael was Honorably Discharged on the early release program a year early.

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 41 years having raised five children, nine grand kids and have two great grand children.

Michael is a retired custom home builder and has spent much of his life dedicated to Veterans affairs and in particular to those with whom he served. He is a life member of the Khe Sanh Veterans Organization.

Michael now spends most of his free time with two of his four smallest granddaughters flying R/C airplanes.