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Guest Blogs

May 14, 2014

All I Ever Did Was Love My Country: What we don’t—and can’t—know about PTSD (because we weren’t there).

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By Liza Long

“Oh yes, you asked me about the rocket attack on Danang, and well, honey, just don’t worry about rocket attacks at all—they’re really inaccurate. Of course, we’d take it very personally if one hit us, but they are very inaccurate, and since I’ve been here, rockets haven’t hit at all.”

Captain Theodore T. Long Jr., USMC, in an audiotape mailed from Vietnam to my mother in Layton, Utah, February 1970.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’m obsessed with the show Madmen. This season, the clothes get ugly, the soundtrack gets funky, and it’s time to talk about hard truths that never seemed possible in those early 60s Camelot times of JFK and Jackie, pearls and Hyannis Port. The one scene from an early Madmen episode that still stands out for me is Don Draper and his (then) wife, Betty, picnicking beneath stately trees in early summer with their picture-perfect children. When they leave, they don’t bother to clean up the mess they have left—why would they?

What a mess. That’s what a group of veterans told me on a Monday in late April 2014, when I was invited to visit a group of Warrior Pointe members in the recreation room of a cinderblock Christian church in Nampa, Idaho. The men ranged in age from grizzled Vietnam veterans to young soldiers who had just returned from Afghanistan. Their leader and Warrior Pointe founder, Reed Pacheco, walked in with a cell phone to his ear. He was talking with a family member of a veteran who had threatened suicide and needed an intervention fast.

Liza Long head shot 2013

Pacheco, himself a veteran, founded Warrior Pointe because he wanted to create a space where former soldiers could come together to talk about the issues that continue to haunt them. “The VA just isn’t there for us,” he said, as heads around the table nodded emphatically. This group of 20 men have taken a new mission upon themselves: no soldier left behind.

“The first thing people ask when you get back is ‘Did you kill somebody? How many people did you kill?’” one Vietnam veteran told me. “They just don’t understand how inappropriate that question is. We did what we had to do. You can’t know what it means to sit, 40 years later, in front of a television set reliving the same 40 seconds, over and over and over. You can’t know. You don’t want to know.”

I learned more than a few things about courage in my hour with this veterans’ group. And I also learned more than a few things about how the United States has let its soldiers down. I often wondered why so many veterans’ groups were opposed to the Affordable Care Act of 2010. “It’s the same thing as the VA,” one Afghanistan veteran told me. “You wait and wait and wait for care. And when you finally get in to see someone, they just give you painkillers instead of recommending surgery or something you need to actually fix the problem.”

That delay of care has been in the news recently, with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki facing allegations that VA clinics delayed treatment to vets who desperately needed it, then covered it up. You can read more about this issue here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2014/05/13/shinseki-set-to-testify-over-alleged-secret-list-hiding-va-treatment-delays/. No one disputes that patients died while waiting for care.

The Warrior Pointe organization recognizes that all of its members, no matter where or when they served, suffer from some sort of PTSD—Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The controversial DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) revised criteria for the disorder which is now described as “a history of exposure to a traumatic event that meets specific stipulations and symptoms from each of four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.” You can find out more about that here: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp.

Pretty much everyone who went to war to defend our country could suffer from PTSD.

But the Warrior Pointe veterans feel empowered to help each other, where they feel the Veterans Administration has failed them. “We are all brothers,” says Tom Bosch, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. “We understand each other. We can talk to each other. We can support each other.”

My father served in Vietnam. While the Don Drapers of the world were enjoying three-martini lunches and free love, my dad sent anxious audiotapes to reassure my mother, who heard nothing but bad news about the war at home. Dad didn’t have to serve. He was his father’s only surviving child. He set out to write his senior thesis in Political Science to defend the Vietnam War. As he researched the subject, he concluded there was no justification for America’s involvement in Indochina. Then he graduated from college and went to Vietnam anyway.

Theodore and Liza Long

Theodore and Liza Long

My dad flew medical rescue missions. As far as I know, he never killed anyone. He came home to life as a husband and father and used the GI Bill to pursue his passion to study law. But I will never forget the morning we were running errands in Bakersfield, California. The road was blocked to allow a parade, a hero’s welcome for the warriors of Desert Storm.

When I looked at my dad, I was surprised to see tears streaming down his cheeks. “They spit on me when I got home,” he said quietly. “They called me a baby killer. All I ever did was love my country.”

And as a defender of our country, my dad most likely suffered from PTSD.

Liza Long is a writer, educator, mental health advocate, and mother of four children, one of whom has a mental illness. She lives in Boise, Idaho. You can read more of Liza Long’s thoughts here: http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/.

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

April 30, 2014

Skipper Ken Pipes’ Reports on Veterans in the San Diego County, CA Jail

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I have been asked by Ken and Betty Rodgers to comment upon a special program that has been recently instituted by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department within their county jail system. The program’s goal is to stop veterans from returning to confinement in a never-ending revolving door scenario, which is a known and tragic aftermath of war. We hope to give our incarcerated veterans a chance to get back on—and stay on—the high road.

The hands-on supervisory authority for this program is the responsibility of retired Marine Master Sergeant G. Morales, who is the program administrator and chief counselor.

The three outside team members are Marine Combat Veterans: Bill Rider, Colonel Al Slater and I. Bill Rider and I served at Khe Sanh, and Al Slater did his time in the barrel in the unforgiving environment of the far Northern sector of the DMZ, in The Trace and along the Ben Hai River. He and his company of Marines battled the NVA to a standstill every time they crossed sabers. Both Bill and Al are members of one of the most famous Marine infantry units to serve in Vietnam, “The Walking Dead,” First Battalion, 9th Marines (1/9).

Bill, the team leader, is the founder and chief executive officer of the American Combat Veterans of War (ACVOW). I note that Bill and all volunteers in ACVOW receive no compensation. They are volunteers in the true, righteous sense of the word. Bill was with 1/9 before, during and after the second Battle of Khe Sanh, serving as a riflemen, fire team leader and squad leader until he took the hardest and last of his three hits and was evacuated out of country. Though it was never awarded, his unit twice nominated Bill for the Silver Star.

These two Marines are veterans of some of the most vicious, hand-to-hand combat and hardest fought battles in the history of the Vietnam War. I note in passing that the three of us wear a total of six Purple Heart medals. This is mentioned only in the context that when discussing the effects that hard, sustained combat can have on Warriors, we collectively and individually bring some bona fides to the table, lending credence to our observations, comments and recommendations.

Ken Pipes © Betty Rodgers 2014

Ken Pipes
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Our mission, which has been reduced to a Memorandum of Understanding, is currently awaiting review and approval by the sheriff and his staff. The short version of our mission is to assist these veterans in re-entering society in a productive and responsible manner. This will be done by assisting with job placement, education, establishing/re-establishing their veterans benefits to include discharge upgrades, medical, disability and limited financial assistance if needed/as available. Clearly, the official document is more detailed.

The veterans in the jail, and the three of us, with the assistance of Master Sergeant Morales, agreed to the necessity of establishing a couple of ground rules within which both sides could operate. Briefly, ground rule #1 recognized that the inside veterans and the three of us on the outside have developed over a number of years, rather well-oiled B.S. detection meters. That said, we agreed to not consciously force the use of this rare detector, and rule #2, and as important, agreed that what is discussed in the cell block stays in the cell block (CB). With those two essential operational rules, the program was set in motion.

The veterans who are in this test program have been carefully screened. Veterans who have committed violent crimes, such as serious assaults/batteries, child molestations and other similar crimes, are not in the program. Those who are selected, for the most part, have been accused/convicted of committing crimes that can be attributed to drug and/or alcohol related abuse problems, minor domestic violence issues and other crimes of this type; poor decision choices made while under the influence, which short-circuits normal thought processes.

The resulting group of 32+ veterans includes a couple of our vintage from the Republic of South Vietnam era. The numbers of specific War on Terrorism veterans increase as we get closer to the Iraq and Afghanistan ventures. I have made very satisfying and personal contacts with several of the vets in the CB—one will be released by the time you read this and will be working within a verified, excellent program. He was in 3/5, “The Dark Horse Battalion,” as a rifleman in what remains one of the fiercest of several tough battles in Iraq. Another is a long-serving SEAL with tours in both the above areas of operations. He is a good man who probably should not be where he is. Our consensus is that he will be released very shortly.

The group meets once a week, usually every Thursday morning or afternoon, and the sessions are critiqued and reviewed by the chief counselor and the ACVOW Team afterwards. The program as envisioned is constantly being fine-tuned, and it does vary from session to session. For example, on a recent Thursday, Bravo! was shown in its entirety to our veterans in their CB, or as we like to say, in their home, with their permission and on their time.

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

I refer to what we do, including the documentary screening, as training that is needed for each of them as they are all on an extended, unaccompanied tour of duty without dependents; not necessarily a bad way of describing their current situation. I must say that some veterans were completely overcome by the film’s content, the subject and presentation. As I scanned the common CB room, I noted several of the men were having trouble with eyes perspiring—most of these were verified combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Sounds kind of familiar?

After 4-1/2 months of data collection:

* 26 Inmate Veterans released
* 21 Inmate Veterans placed into a program
* 5 Transferred to state prison
* 1 Drug relapse (not arrested, returned to program)
* 1 Charges dropped and released to work-furlough (refused community service, subsequently rearrested)
* 0 Disturbances noted in the Veterans CB during this period

As many of you know, the ultimate success of programs like this can frequently get side-tracked; lack of funding, too many people claiming to be the daddy, fights over turf—the list goes on. I personally feel that this program, under the supervision of the chief administrator, Retired Marine Master Sergeant Morales, is progressing very well and that the credit for the success must rest with him, Bill Rider, and Colonel Slater.

Finally, The Program has been enthusiastically received and accepted by the veterans. They collectively feel it is beneficial, informative and very professionally conducted. If the initial data is any indication, the program is positively headed in the intended direction and at a manageable speed. I will attempt to keep everyone informed of our progress as this worthwhile project matures and develops.

I am proud to note that Ken and Mrs. Betty believe so strongly in what Mr. Rider and his organization are doing that the ACVOW received the net proceeds of the Vista American Legion Post 365 and the Fallbrook VFW Post 1924 documentary previews of Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.

For the Veterans, Team Morales and the ACVOW,

Ken Pipes

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.

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

April 16, 2014

Lou Kern Muses on Green Ghosts, Hill 950 and the End of the Siege of Khe Sanh

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I came down from the mountain a few weeks after the end of the Siege in June of 1968. I’d been up there for 11 straight weeks. Two of us radio operators from my company were stationed up on Hill 950 (3119 feet). We lived in a cave approximately 8 feet wide, 6 feet deep and 5 feet high which was dug into the hilltop. Large pieces of interlocking metal runway strips provided a ceiling that would not collapse. Of the dozen or so caves dug into the side of the hilltop, about half had metal ceilings and half had ceilings made from tree branches. The hilltop had been alternately “owned” by our forces and theirs and in the process had been overrun many times. The tree branched caves had been dug by the NVA, the caves with metal ceilings by American soldiers. We felt happy to have a cave made by our own Marines.

We managed to squeeze two cots, four radios, a lawn chair and everything we possessed into that space, as well as a few rats that became named companions. Most of the time up there was spent with Roy Hagino, a good-natured blue collar kid from Flint, Michigan, and proud of it. We two were running the radio relay for our recon teams in the jungle during the Siege.

Bits and pieces of that time still blow around in my mind. It was so unusual, so isolated, so beyond the reaches of safety, so frightening that those bits and pieces run out of my memory like sand out of an open hand. No shave nor showers, often without drinking water, eating C-rations dating from the early 50’s, sucking the juice out of cans of fruit to stay hydrated, constantly surrounded by the NVA and for one ten day period dead sure we would be overrun, writing final letters home and hoping an enemy soldier would bother taking them from our blood-soaked pockets and mail them.

We manned the radios in a 6-hour-on and 6-hour-off schedule to break the stranglehold of stagnant time as much as possible. There was absolutely nothing to do outside of our work. The mountaintop was about 30 yards by 30 yards, it had a sheer drop on three sides which is what made it defensible at all, and our caves were dug into the sides like earholes in a monk’s head. The place vibrated like an earthquake every time a chopper landed, which wasn’t very often. We were socked in by monsoon clouds about half of that time. The mouth of our cave was a small oval; there was a trench outside and outside of that a drop of about 400 feet. The jungle began at that distance and that was NVA territory.

Lou Kern © Betty Rodgers 2014

Lou Kern
© Betty Rodgers 2014

The NVA loved sniping at us, which meant that leaving the cave and exercising was risky business. Nothing to do but sit in that 5-foot-tall cave, monitor the radios, and try and rub out the knots that kept popping up in our muscles. I was taller and thin, Hag was built like The Hulk, his favorite comic book character. Our diet didn’t put weight on me, but Hag gained pounds like a snowball. Near the end of our stay a plump Hag would lay on his bunk, snoring and farting at the same time.

There are things I learned later about the Siege that I did not know at the time. There were about 6000 young men involved at the base camp and the rest spread out on the various mountains around the base: 881 South, 861, 861-A, 558, 64, 950, all famous among Marines and historians, each in their own way. There were more explosives dropped during the Siege than all the explosives of WWII combined. This in an area of about 2 square miles. That is a hard thing to image. It’s hard to imagine how most of us 6000 lived through all that, but we did, hunkering down in caves, bunkers and foxholes.

The ground shook almost constantly as the B-52s arc-lighted, and from the constant artillery, rockets, mortars, Gatling guns, grenades, machine gun fire, rifle fire and the screams of badly injured soldiers. We could see the B-52s on a clear day, 3 miles above, and we could see when they dropped their bombs because the giant aircraft suddenly lost half their weight and had to peel off or snap their wings. If we stared at the spot in the sky where they dropped their load long enough, the clusters of bombs themselves would become visible, shivering like cold dogs in their plunge into what had been for centuries a pristine sub-tropical jungle.

I also learned later that my small company was credited as the main factor in defeating the NVA at Khe Sanh. The enemy called us the Green Ghosts. We were always out there in the jungle in 4-man teams, our faces painted with camouflage, every item in our gear fixed so that it would make no noise, every surface covered or coated so it would not reflect light, every man a volunteer in what seemed to others like crazy suicide missions. Some were. We spied on the NVA right in their back yard. It caused them great grief. If they wanted to move a unit to assault Khe Sanh from a different angle, we knew. If they had a favorite supply route, we knew. We found their caches and blew them, we called in artillery or Phantoms or Skyhawks on their base camps, we took prisoners and captured sets of orders from runners we had killed.

Hill 950, 1968 Photo Courtesy of Lou Kern

Hill 950, 1968
Photo Courtesy of Lou Kern

In the cave, on the radio, all the conversations about the team’s activities passed through the relay Hag and I manned. Everything. Our activity, like all wars, was pure drudgery and boredom punctuated by raging, adrenalin-saturated chaos. During the days we tracked our teams on the maps we had pinned to the dirt walls. We relayed their situation reports, their calls for artillery or air support, their screams of “contact” which came through our speakers riding on a wave of rifle fire. At nights, if the teams were surrounded and dare not talk, we would ask them questions. “If the enemy is within 20 feet, click your handset twice.” We were their umbilical cord, their lifeline, the only reason they could survive at all in that environment. And the teams were the only reason we were up on this ancient mountaintop, hoping the NVA who surrounded us would let us live one more day. Hag and I agreed, they were monitoring our radios. That was more useful than killing us. They had tried that. 950 had been overrun many times. The NVA took it and we took it back. 1371 was taller but there was no place to land a bird. 1050, 950’s sister hill, was a perfect cone, the top just waiting to be attacked from any angle. But 950 was different, tall enough to be a radio relay, approachable on foot along only one narrow saddleback.

Eleven weeks of 6 on and 6 off, constantly in vicarious combat, our young bodies out of our own control from cramping, dehydration and a poor diet, engaging in long conversations about jumping off the 400 ledge if the enemy got to us, or at least throwing our radios off so the NVA could not use them. Last letters home, badly wrinkled photos taken in and out of a filthy pocket countless times. Isolating ourselves from the dozen grunts up there who shared our fate and whose job it was to guard us, protect us against what seemed the inevitable, perhaps the liberating AK-47 round to the head if it came to that.

Those guarding us were really kids. Hag was at the end of his tour and myself in the middle. The 26th Marines had decided not to waste any well-trained or hardened grunts up on 950, so they sent clerks and cooks, 18-year-olds who had not even been to infantry training. Hag and I were frightened with a reason; they were frightened without knowing why, and that is much worse.

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There was a young lieutenant with them. He stuck his head in Hag’s and my cave and began telling us what to do if we were overrun. He knew, or more probably just guessed, that we had more training and experience that his kids did not. “I want you two to man the machine gun right up by the saddle.” He showed us a sketch of the hilltop and his grand, Napoleonic plan. Hag shook his head sadly and replied, “Sorry Sir, but we are not under your command.” “I’m the highest rank up here, mister.” Hag hardened his expression and shook his head again and the Butter Bar stormed off. Hag then called our command back at our base camp. “Get the S-3,” he said and when the S-3 came on the radio Hag briefly explained the circumstances. And that was the end of that. The Butter Bar never spoke to us again. Hag told me, “I don’t mind being on the machine gun, but if we are in front of all these kids we’ll probably get shot in the back.”

In early May, NVA activity shifted and our ground artillery and the New Jersey sitting out in the Gulf with her 16-inch guns started firing right over our heads, nights and days on end with the constant whistling of 105s, 155s and the big 16-inch guns. The 105s went over with a whistle, the 16-inch shells like a freight train, wa-ruff wa-ruff wa-ruff. “Hope they don’t aim a little low,” Hag commented. A 16-inch shell, 2000 pounds of high explosives, would have vaporized the hilltop.

When the monsoons hit, it poured for days, then weeks, then a month, endless cascading sheets of water, isolating us even more from the outside world. Our cave exhaled the deep smell of the earth; it leaked, it creaked, the rats extended their stay to the days as well as the nights. Stuck up in the clouds like that, air support was not available. Artillery never had been. On a tiny peak like 950 an artillery shell even a few feet off dead center would miss altogether. The NVA got very bold. They set up camp in plain sight. We could hear them talking, see them silhouetted against their fires at night, watch them mill around in an easy manner during the day. The Butter Bar ordered his men to snipe at them; Hag rolled his eyes. He called S-3 again and the next day the sniping stopped. No need to aggravate them. If they came at us they came at us. Save your ammo for an assault. Hag and I tied our two repelling ropes together and together they still didn’t reach halfway down the 400-foot drop.

All the while the minutes dragged on like hours until a “contact” scream came over our radios and we did everything we could to assist a team out there in trouble for a short while.

Hag was getting short in Nam. Two weeks then one week and then dead time changed; he was busy ordering a new Firebird and obsessed with the details. His excitement helped me lean against the groaning of time. One day, one hour, one minute, then Hag stepped on a bird and a new guy jumped off. To this day I do not remember the new guy at all. Once Hag left I started calling S-3. “I’m seeing little people,” I said. After I told S-3 five days in a row about the little people S-3 promised to relieve me and a week after Hag was gone I was down from the mountain, ready, willing and able to soundproof my gear, paint my face and melt into the jungle like a green ghost.

Lou Kern on HIll 950, 1968 Photo courtesy of Lou Kern and Bob Fuller

Lou Kern on HIll 950, 1968
Photo courtesy of Lou Kern and Bob Fuller

Years later when the Internet came around, I tried to find Hag. I did, a year after his death. He died at age 50, leaving a family behind. He had tried to stop an armed robbery of the restaurant he managed and was shot four times. Never really recovering, he died a year later.

Lou says this about himself:

I grew up on a farm in Iowa. I graduated in 1965 as a state champion runner and a member of the National Honor Society. I got my draft notice in January of 1966 and enlisted in the Marine Corps. I trained first as a radio operator and then as a Force Recon Marine at Camp Pendleton in 5th Force Recon Company. Among other schools, I attended Amphibious Recon School, Naval Divers (SCUBA) School, and Army Airborne School. I went to 3rd Force Recon Company, I Corps Viet Nam in February of 1968 and left Viet Nam and the Marine Corps in December of 1968. During my tour I spent 11 weeks on radio relay at Hill 950 and ran 20 deep recon patrols in the I Corps area. After the Corps I wandered through college, had a series of white collar jobs and ended up in construction at age 29. I have spent 35 years specializing in residential staircases. You can see some of my staircases at http://www.functional-art.com/. I have 4 children and 9 grandchildren, all of whom I am very proud.

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Guest Blogs,Vietnam War

September 18, 2013

Dear Sergeant Culliver

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BRAVO! supporter and enthusiast Brian Carn from Providence, Rhode Island, has spent years remembering something one of his non-commissioned officers did that probably saved Brian’s life back in 1975. As veterans of foreign wars and former members of the military will often tell you, they recall the acts that saved them, but don’t often get the chance to thank those who performed the acts. In today’s’ guest blog, Brian Cairn thanks one of his former NCOs, Sergeant Culliver.

Brian Carn in Korea

August 19, 2013

Dear Sergeant Culliver,

So, it’s taken roughly 38 years for the words in this letter to get said and to thank you for something you did at that time, and may well have long ago forgotten. Your actions on a soggy Korean field in saving some stumbling-around, dumb little private never earned its rightful recognition but that doesn’t in any way diminish the selfless act of bravery you performed that day.

Through that long and twisting road called life, I’ve become an inner city high school math teacher in Providence for the past 18 years. This past school year, a lot of my 9th graders were in our school’s JROTC program and they would always pummel me with questions when it leaked out that I had been in the Army years earlier. When asked about any close calls I had experienced, I told the story I will retell for you shortly, and how I never thanked the person who saved me, and how I always wanted to. With the students’ enthusiastic encouragement and before it’s too late, I’m writing to say “thank-you.”

I guess I should refresh your memory as to the events in question. I seem to remember it was somewhere around early to mid-summer in 1975 and 2nd Platoon had been assigned range control duties for an infantry unit on a live fire exercise with the old shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket of the time period, the M-72 LAW. We were on some wet range in a small valley, surrounded by hills on three sides. Old tank hulks were on the hills which we used as our targets. Six firing stations were set up, the idea being to have six soldiers at a time—after instruction on the M-72—fire their LAW and then exit the area before another six came online. I was assigned to work the first firing station. After we were instructed on the LAW ourselves, and had fired enough of them to be comfortable in the supervision of others, the exercise began. Besides making sure the soldier at my station was operating the weapon properly, I was told two things: keep track of the number of duds (so we knew how many to find and blow up later) and if you had a hang-fire, take it away from the soldier before they panicked, then start walking away from everyone with it.

Roughly half way through, an infantry soldier at my station had what turned out to be the only hang-fire of the day. I actually did what I was told (for a change!), took the tube from him and began walking away from everyone with it as instructed. While I was walking and gently carrying the hang-fire, I couldn’t help but notice the whooshing sound emanating from the device and that the sound was slowing down. When we had received our instructions on the LAW and what to do in the event of a hang-fire, this noise was not mentioned so I was getting pretty scared about what was going to happen when the noise stopped (and I had no fantasies about just getting a scorched face like Wiley E. Coyote on some Roadrunner cartoon if the damned thing blew up). I was agonizing over continuing as instructed or hurling the M-72 away from myself as far as possible and diving to the ground as my best survival option (a move I found out years later which would have had catastrophic results).

With my brain on overload from the impending decision point of what to do, my next recollection is having you right next to me on my left, calmly giving me the technical details that I was hearing the arming propeller spin down on the anti-tank rocket stuck inside the tube, and that when it stopped, if I dropped it, tripped with it, or even jostled it in any way, the projectile stuck inside would explode killing us both. Staying with me the whole time, you had me continue to carry the hang-fire a-ways further before gently setting it on the ground. At that point, you had me run to a safe location, you set an explosive charge next to the M-72 and ran to the same spot, and the resultant explosion destroyed the unexploded LAW projectile. I’d like to think that, given similar circumstances, I too could respond with the same level of courage and concern you did that day to save someone else. As disappointing to me that it’s taken this long for me to thank you, is the fact that you received no recognition of any kind for, I believe, saving my life by preventing me from doing something fatal through inexperience. The new lieutenant 2nd Platoon had just received was probably too green to realize what he had just witnessed and that he should have put you in for at least a Commendation Medal if not a Soldier’s Medal.

Brian Carn's platoon in Korea. There are three rows of soldiers in the photo. Sergeant Culliver is the third man from the right in the second row. Brian Carn is the fourth man from the left in the second row.

Time marches on and now I find myself teaching inner city youth, usually vulnerable 9th graders who are in intervention math classes. If I caused pain to some of you old sergeants like our Squad Leader Staff Sergeant Jones or our Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Cooper, believe me I’ve paid penance many times over teaching in what is a very difficult environment. I know full well what it’s like to feel extremely frustrated yet to still love the charges in front of you who are the cause of your temporary angst. I’ve had many successes over the years, including a student, now a major, who went to West Point from what was then the worst school in Rhode Island. A lot of what has made me successful as a teacher was modeled by sergeants like yourself and the others; it just took a while for those lessons to be recognized and learned. So, my successes as a teacher have also been yours and theirs. By direct extension, every student I’ve been able to make a positive impact on thanks you for probably saving me from having been turned into so many scraps of bloody clothing so long ago. And I, of course, thank you again as well.

Sincerely,

Brian Carn

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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.

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

July 26, 2013

Guest Blogger Ruth Salter On the Power of Story and Memory

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I recently received my copy of Bravo! in the mail and sat down to watch it again. The first time I experienced it at a screening at Boise State University, I was nearly overwhelmed by the stark power of the storytelling. There was too much to absorb in one sitting: too many deep wounds revealed, too much delayed closure. This is a film jammed with stories that demand re-visitation and reflection.

Something that struck me during my second viewing was the repeated use of “the world” to refer to life outside of Vietnam, life before war and the imagined life after it. Marines promised each other, “I’ll see you back in the world,” which underscored for me how extremely unreal life in the battle zone must have felt. Life in besieged Khe Sanh was so impossible to adapt to and to comprehend that it wasn’t even considered an earthly experience. Recently I heard a Korean War vet relate a similar kind of story: one night while on sentry duty, he watched a beautiful full moon slowly rise above a hill and illuminate the battlefield below. His first thought was that this can’t be the same moon that rises back home. Dislocation and surrealism…hallmarks of many combat veterans’ stories.

Decades later, many Vietnam vets have only made it halfway home, living with one foot in “the world” and one back in the battle zone. Some even have two feet planted in the past, at least for part of each day. I was struck by Michael O’Hara’s revelation in Bravo! that every morning before he is fully awake and has his first cup of coffee, he’s back in a trench at Khe Sanh. Every single morning he feels “bodies up to my kneecaps.” Returning daily to the horrors of combat, straddling two extremely different existences sounds horrific to me—I struggle to understand how someone could ever find peace while seesawing between the past and the present, the trenches and “the world.” But Michael didn’t look horrified. Instead, he states, “That’s OK; I’ve come to accept that. I’m not supposed to forget all that stuff.”

But not all combat vets have come to terms with their wartime experiences. Memory is a double-edged sword, capturing our finest as well as our worst moments. Memories of combat can teach non-participants about the realities of war. And the dead walk again in memory. However, when memories painfully invade and occupy the present, derailing daily routines and relationships, action needs to be taken.

Sharing these memories is powerful medicine. Stories externalized are easier to manage. Somewhere I read the injunction “either own your story or it owns you.” When stories find the light of day after being buried for years, deep healing can occur. In the veterans’ writing group I facilitate, memories are shared aloud in conversation and written down to preserve them. Whether captured on paper or on film, the healing power of storytelling is something that can help unstick boots from battlefield mud and plant them more firmly in the present day.

Sharing stories can help both the teller and the listener find the path to insight and healing. Author and psychologist Edward Tick in War and the Soul explains: “Telling our story is a way of preserving our individual history and at the same time defining our place in the larger flow of events. It reveals patterns and meaning that we might otherwise miss as we go about the mundane activities of living; it invites us to see the universe working through us.” Stories also unite tellers and listeners, forming a community of shared witness. War stories, like those so artfully portrayed in Bravo!, can therefore become tools of reconciliation and restoration.

For information about the Boise Area Veterans’ Writing Group, please visit http://boisevetswriting.wordpress.com/ or contact Ruth at ruthsalter@boisestate.edu.

Ruth Salter has a Master of Fine Arts degree and is a lecturer in the Department of English at Boise State University.

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

June 15, 2013

On Super Gaggles, CH-46s and Re-Supplying Khe Sanh

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Marine Michael Phillips flew re-supply choppers into Khe Sanh and the surrounding hills during the siege. Here he tells us what it was like.

My name is Michael Phillips, and I was a Marine Corps pilot with HMM-364 Purple Foxes helicopter squadron during the siege at Khe Sanh. Every day during the siege, we sent 8 CH-46’s to resupply the hills and Khe Sanh between 24 February 1968 until 9 April 1968. This came to be known as the “Super Gaggle” in aviation history.

Our day began with a 05:30 briefing at Phu Bai, then up to Quang Tri to be briefed again by General Hill. After that we flew over to Dong Ha and picked up our externals. Since it was IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) at Dong Ha, our first aircraft took off on a heading for Khe Sanh, aircraft # 2 took off 10 degrees to the left, aircraft # 3 10 degrees to the right, etc., until all 8 were airborne. We normally punched out around 8,000 feet, on to Khe Sanh where we would orbit for 30-40 minutes while the artillery, F4 Phantoms, A6 Intruders and A4’s provided gun support for the hill that we would resupply. One of our biggest concerns was that of a mid-air collision. We had so much air support that F4’s were constantly zipping in front of us. At that altitude and at our weight, we barely had enough power to maintain elevation, so when we flew thru their exhaust it was not unusual for us to lose control and drop 3-400 feet prior to regaining control.

When the command was given for us to begin our run, we had to lose 8,000 feet of altitude but still maintain enough power to land at the LZ. On the way down our gunners would begin firing their .50 caliber guns, careful not to hit the Marines on the ground. The NVA AK-47 was not very dangerous to us until we reached around 1,500 feet in elevation above the LZ. The major problem for us was maintaining proper spacing between aircraft, or we might have to attempt to hover at 900 feet. We simply did not have enough power to do so. It was essential that aircrafts #1, 2 and 3 get on to the hill or the LZ at Khe Sanh and off without wasting any time. Or else the balance of the flight was trying to hover, and a pilot could not do so.

Hill 881 South was our most difficult as we owned that hill and the NVA owned 881 North. We could always count on intense fire from there. One hill that did not receive much publicity was 558. This hill was in a slight ravine and there must have been 100 mortar tubes there. Keeping them supplied with ammo was a fulltime job.

After we completed the resupply we left for Quang Tri, refueled and flew back to Phu Bai. Every Marine base in I Corps was surrounded. When we got back, our gunners took the .50 caliber guns out of the A/C down to the perimeter as we got hit by the NVA each night. Our crew chiefs worked all night to fix the battle damage to our A/C. We could have done nothing without the crew chiefs. They were superb.

It was not unusual for us to take 50 rockets at a whack. Afterwards the NVA would always put a round in every half hour, so out to the bunkers we went. This ensured that we got very little sleep. Flying that CH-46 lacking sleep was a chore and all of our pilots became extremely rude, ugly, tense and it did have an effect on how efficient we were.

Approaching Hill 881 South (or any of the other Khe Sanh LZ’s) was somewhat more sophisticated than I mentioned earlier. When we began our descent it always reverted back to the individual pilot’s skill and his ability to shoot a good approach. Controlling the rate of descent, controlling spacing, controlling air speed, maintaining turns (RPM’s), running out of ground speed and altitude at the same time over the LZ was imperative. Dropping the external as “softly” as possible was a never-ending challenge. If any of the A/C in front of you did not do these things, you had to make adjustments, quickly. We simply did not have enough power to hover at 1,000 feet so sometimes one had to drop out of the sequence and go to the Khe Sanh Combat Base airstrip to hover, then air taxi to the hill. This was not a good thing as the Combat Base runway always took a lot of rockets and mortars, and you were exposed to more fire than desired.

If one A/C screwed up, overshot the LZ, he had to come to a complete hover, back up to the zone, bounce around some; this took time. It was time that the A/C behind him did not have to sacrifice. The CH-46 does not stop on a dime. In our haste to get in and out, sometimes our airspeed was excessive. It was adjustment time for everyone behind the pilot who was trying to get into the LZ.

Prior to flight school, I went to Basic School in Quantico. There I studied tactics, explosives, rifle range (M14) .45 pistol, everything that a Second Lieutenant is supposed to know. (Not much, huh?) As a result I had many friends that were 0311, and it provided me with a very good understanding of what the grunts were going through. Since I was not there with them, I could not actually experience in depth their plight, but I did have enough knowledge to admire their courage, never giving up, never leaving a wounded man in a hot zone.

During and after Tet, I had occasion to fly many medevac missions. Some of these required that I land in a rice paddy, 100 meters from the tree line where we were taking intense fire. The plexiglass cockpit and 1/8 inch aluminum skin of the A/C did not slow down an AK-47 round, and we paid a price.

I am proud to say that in the Marine tradition, we never left a wounded man in a hot zone. Never. He was coming out, and was going to be on a hospital ship in 20 minutes. It was not that I was a hero, all of our pilots, and all of the pilots from other squadrons did the same. All in a day’s work to support the Private with a bayonet on the ground. The same was true if one of our recon teams was compromised. They might have to run for a mile to find a LZ big enough for us to land, but we took them out.

Probably more than you wanted to know about the day-in, day-out life of a CH-46 driver.

You guys were the greatest, a shame that none of you (us) ever got the recognition that we deserved.

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Guest Blogs,Vietnam War

May 27, 2013

They Remember, by Connie Gibbons

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They remember…

…the reality of war. Danger. Smells. Artillery bombardment, relentlessly screaming for days on end. Brothers and sisters falling; the ground awash in blood red puddles and rivulets. Fog shrouded mountains and dense foliage hid enemy, relief, and incoming. Sticky, wet, ruby colored helicopter floors. Too much blood. Not enough blood. Explosive, pounding, tragic battle. Nighttime arc light revealing faces darkened by soot and terror; 1000 yard stares. Peace and calmness coming only in death.

They remember…
…ravages of countless fallen; those they could not leave behind, but could not immediately go after. Today, and most days for more than forty-five years, their lives and loss are painfully grieved. Brothers and sisters, all. Those who had your back and you, theirs. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Wretching terror from aging memories.

Today, especially…

Remember…

The Fallen,
…and those who remember their fall.

BRAVO! supporter and blogger Connie Gibbons writes from the Pacific Northwest where she lives with her husband, Greg, a Marine from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Guest Blogs,Marines

May 26, 2013

Cobb Hammond on the Second Battle of Fallujah

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On this Memorial Day, millions of Americans will honor the American service members who gave the final sacrifice in battle. Historically, we have remembered those who died in the great wars of the last century — World War I and World War II — or in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. But we should also recognize that the others who died in our more recent wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, perished in no less suffering and gave no less a sacrifice.

One of the pivotal, and arguably most bloody episodes of the Iraq War was the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004. Early that month U.S. Marines commenced Operation Phantom Fury, an effort to clear the city of insurgents who had taken strategic control of the city the previous February. Fallujah’s 300,000 inhabitants had mostly vacated the city, leaving as occupiers 3,000-plus well-prepared insurgents, identified primarily as Iraqi Shiites, Syrian and Libyan rebels and mujahedeen-jihadists.

Cobb Hammond

Most of the residential structures in Fallujah had enclosed courtyards in the back, with double-thick walls and rooftop balconies, making the task of clearing and control difficult and extremely hazardous for U.S. riflemen. In addition, many of the alleyways, side streets and boulevards were planted with mines, booby traps and other improvised explosive devices, and the insurgents had constructed a labyrinth of defensive tunnels that extended for blocks and gave them a tactical advantage.

Not of help to the U.S. forces was the willingness of many of the enemy to fight to the death.

The assault commenced officially on Nov. 7, 2004, as Marines attacked across the entire northern axis, working south by southeast.

The operation was led by Regimental Combat Team “1,” which consisted of two Marine infantry battalions, supported by a mechanized Army battalion. They were designated to assault the western half of Fallujah. The other forces were designated Regimental Combat Team “7,” made up of two Marine battalions and an Army infantry battalion, along with other army and even Iraqi Army units. These forces would attack due south, and then southeast. British units also were active outside the city, keeping infiltration into the city to a minimum.

Many of the tactics employed came by way of difficult experience 36 years earlier during another Marine-led assault at Hue City in Vietnam.

As coalition forces advanced, building by building, enemy forces would allow entry into many houses, only to detonate explosives as gunfire rained down from stairwells and up from “spider traps” cut into floorboards. In other cases, front and back doorways would be barricaded with first a steel, then a wooden door (heavily booby trapped); the forces who penetrated the building would be welcomed by a fusillade of fire.

One of the most intense fights during the 10-day battle occurred at the Muhammadi Mosque in central Fallujah, where Marines found an almost impregnable fortress manned by approximately 200 insurgents. Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, fighting house to house, battled for 16 hours to capture the mosque, during which time they were attacked by every conceivable weapon, including suicide bombers. After much grit and spilled blood they gained control of the mosque, where they found tons of stored weaponry and munitions, and stores of narcotics for use by the insurgents.

The farther south coalition forces went, the more resistance stiffened. Many of the enemy they encountered wore the uniform of the mercenary jihadists who had infiltrated Fallujah the prior year — after the formal war against the Iraqi government was declared over.

For several more days the U.S. coalition rooted out the insurgents, ending on Nov. 18, except for the minor mop-up operations that continued well into December.

The final tally on coalition force casualties was 95 killed and 600-plus wounded; 51 of the dead and more than 450 of the wounded were U.S. Marines. Many Marines were wounded more than once, returning to duty with their secondary wounds not counted in the official tally. The number of dead among the enemy was placed at 1,200 with an equal number captured, most of whom were wounded. Hundreds of others undoubtedly escaped and avoided capture.

The bravery of the U.S. forces cannot be questioned, as two of the Marines were awarded Navy Crosses for valor and many others received Silver or Bronze stars for heroism in action. One of the U.S. Army battalions was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, for professionalism and performance in continuous combat — an honor, it should be noted, that is not given out easily.

On this weekend of solemn remembrance, let us take note of these men who gave their all, and sacrificed much.

Cobb H. Hammond writes on military history and is an investment broker with Carty & Company Investments. A different version of this blog post appeared in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, TN on May 26, 2013.