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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.
___________________

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,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 28, 2016

Ironies and Coincidences

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Thirteen days ago Betty and I left San Antonio, Texas, after the completion of the 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans reunion.
We were glad to see all our Khe Sanh Veteran friends, and to meet some folks we hadn’t met before.

We were also saddened because a lot of the men in BRAVO!, a number of whom we interviewed in San Antonio at the same location in 2010, were not able to be with us for a number of reasons. We did get to see and visit with John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley who are in the film. As always, it was great to talk about the present and to remember the past. It is especially nice to sit and talk to men who are the only ones who understand what one went through at Khe Sanh.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

Besides Doc Cicala and Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley, we also got to spend time with Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo 1/26, Bruce “T-Bone” Jones, Mike McIntyre, and Jim “Doc” Beal. What a heartening time we had with these fine men.

After all these years we tell our tales, our eyes big, sometimes with the faint acceleration of the heartbeat. Sometimes we slap a table top and laugh, some somber and dark moment remembered because of the black humor we employed to mitigate the constant fear that ground inside our guts.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

While in San Antonio visiting with our friends and comrades, we spent some time working on our new project, a documentary film about the wives of combat veterans. The working title for this new effort is I MARRIED THE WAR.

We met with a woman whose husband, whom we also spent time with, served during the Middle East war. In addition, we met a couple who have been married since he came home after the war in Vietnam. In addition, we also visited with a woman from the east coast whom we will interview about her experiences as the spouse of a Khe Sanh vet.

On our journey down to San Antonio from our home in Idaho, we managed to stop and spend a few moments of reflection at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. The memorial is a somberly beautiful structure that seemed to fit in an almost ungainly way against the flaming autumn colors of the surrounding Sangre de Christo Mountains. It wasn’t a complementary fit between the memorial and the red, golds and russets of the aspen and cottonwoods and maples and oaks. It was something more with a hint of irony. The memorializing of something horrible in contrast with something beautiful. The man-created versus the natural, and the stark dissimilarity between the two, was quite marked and emotionally attractive.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Betty and I also had the opportunity to spend some time with our longtime friends from Central Texas, Mary and Roger Engle.

We got to visit with Gregg Jones, author of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH. Gregg was in town speaking to a group associated with B-24 crews from World War II about his upcoming book concerning the B-24 Liberators of World War II.

The 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion was a fine experience, and on the road home, as always, we made time to stop and spend some moments taking in the locales we passed through. Particularly meaningful was the opportunity to journey off the more beaten paths of freeways and national highways and go to Pleasant Hill, New Mexico, in search of the grave site of Ken Pipes’ great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Pipes, who is buried in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Ken Pipes was the Skipper of Bravo Company, 1/26, and is dearly revered by the surviving men who served under him.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Pleasant Hill isn’t a town, it’s a community of farmers and cattle ranchers near the border with Texas. The locals congregate around a fire house, a church and the cemetery which are all separated by a quarter or half section of farm or grazing ground. The land is flat, part of the high plains where the wind loves to blow and you can see for miles.

We did find the Skipper’s great-grandfather’s grave, and it has been well maintained.

One of the many other ironies and coincidences I thought about on the trip was how, in the 1980s, I used to hunt pheasant at Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. At the time I had no idea the Skipper had relations buried in the cemetery there. I didn’t know anything about the Skipper other than he had led us through the Siege of Khe Sanh and he let me leave Khe Sanh a day earlier than my orders allowed. I can see him now in my mind as I recall him then, sitting in the Bravo Company command post, his arm in a sling and other parts of his body bandaged in clean white material already smudged with the blood red mud of Khe Sanh.

Adding to the eerie air of coincidence is the notion that my great–grandfather was also named Andrew Jackson, last name Rodgers, who also hailed from the same region as the Skipper’s Andrew Jackson.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

And then it was home for a time to get caught up before we move on with BRAVO! And I MARRIED THE WAR.

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,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 5, 2016

Full Circle

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Next week Betty and I will be journeying to Texas, to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion which will be held at San Antonio’s El Rancho Tropicana Hotel.

Just a little over six years ago, we set out from Montreal, Canada, where we were attending the Montreal Jazz Festival with our friends and relatives, Chuck and Donna Dennis, to head out to San Antonio for the 2010 reunion, and to film nine of the interviewees in the film, BRAVO!.

Back then, when we began the journey to tell the story of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the Siege of Khe Sanh, we had little to no knowledge of how to make a film. But, we knew we needed interviews, so undaunted, we marched on and showed up in San Antonio, made arrangements for a space to conduct interviews, picked up our videographer at the airport and proceeded to film the men.

John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael E O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese sat down and talked to me and the crew about their remembrances of the siege and what it meant to them then, in 1968, and what it meant to them in July 2010.

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

I often think of the intestinal fortitude these men demonstrated as they sat down and let their emotions bleed out for all the world to see. I recall sitting there across from them, hearing their stories, marveling at the way they just let it all spill out, and if it wasn’t all, it was certainly enough to wow the folks who would eventually work on and sit down to watch their powerful testimonies about fear, death, loss and ultimately, their victories over the obstacles that their experiences at Khe Sanh threw in front of them. The men were inspiring.

Now, six years later, we are going back to San Antonio and for me, it feels like we are coming full circle. Two of the men in the film, Dan Horton and the aforementioned Lloyd Scudder, are no longer with us as is also the case with videographer Mark Spear, and it makes me very happy that we got the interviews done—in the case of Dan and Lloyd—before these Marines left us.

I am also very grateful that we got to know Mark Spear before he made a way too early journey from those he loved and those of us who appreciated his sensitive, funny, artistic nature.

Some of the men in the film will not be there in San Antonio to sit around and talk about the war and our memories of it and how the film affected our views of that experience. And I wonder, in the case of those who have not said so, if BRAVO! in any way changed their lives, helped or hindered them in their ongoing drive to live on in spite of the mental and physical affects of the combat we faced during the Vietnam War.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

Personally, what can I say about what BRAVO! has done for me? Well, for starters, I can say that I am now hooked on making films.

And I am now immersed in the world of combat veterans and all the accoutrements both good and bad that come with having let oneself become so immersed. Organizations, acquaintances, events, travel—yes, it’s greatly changed the world I personally inhabit.

And I think, in some ways, it’s helped me come to grips with my own horrors, the ones that lurk just behind me as I try to keep the memories of January, February, March and early April 1968 caged in some form of mental box.

It taught me that the men I knew in the trenches at Khe Sanh survived (as did I) second-by-second high grade fear, wounds, loss, and in most cases came out the other end able to deal with all the bad stuff. It taught me that the soul, however one wishes to describe or define it, can be ripped, stripped, battered and stabbed, but in the end, it can still emerge in triumph.

The keenest knowledge I’ve gained is the realization that instead of being alone, I know that there are a multitude of warriors who have experienced what I did—the constant fear that rides you like you were an underfed jackass, the need to be brave even though it may lead to your death, the loss of your friends’ lives. I have siblings, so to speak, who have trod or are now treading the treacherous ground with me.

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

For years, intellectually, I understood that I endured what millions have endured in war, but emotionally, I felt all alone, out there on a limb so to speak where no one could reach me.

Making BRAVO! taught me that there are others, right now, out there with me.

So I’m looking forward to getting to San Antonio and seeing who I know so we can sit around and talk about it all. Maybe we will laugh and maybe we won’t, but it will not matter, because I will not be alone.

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

March 9, 2016

Requiem for Ex

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

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

Ron Exum at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion

Ron Exum at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Exum was a fine man, a spiritual man.

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

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

Semper Fi, Ex.

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

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

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

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

November 19, 2014

On Sweet Pacific Breezes and Film Screenings, Reunions and Survival

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This past week the BRAVO! team spent the week at the Khe Sanh Veterans annual reunion at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, California.

We met again with men who served with Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment before, during and after the Siege of Khe Sanh. We also met new friends and old friends from other outfits and shared stories, memories, tears and laughs.

Every year these events get more intimate and emotional for us. The ties that bind the survivors of any crisis are strong and can only be severed by death. This is very true for the men who served during the Siege. For those of us who endured the horror of that prolonged battle, the bonds of comradeship are stout. As one looks across a room full of veterans of that action, he knows that the people sitting out there, even if he does not personally know them, all understand the lifelong tensions and anxiety that simmer down inside.

One of the most exciting things that happened to us at the 2014 reunion was being joined by our family. Son Jim and his wife Norma, along with their daughters Justyce and Jayden drove over from Casa Grande, Arizona. Daughter Sarah and husband Baruch along with their daughter Isadora came in from Seattle, Washington. We were all present at the reunion banquet when Justyce, who received a scholarship from the Khe Sanh Veterans Association, was recognized by the scholarship committee chair, Dan Fisher.

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long © Betty Rodgers 2014

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Thanks to Tom Eichler, John Pessoni and the rest of the leaders of the Khe Sanh Veterans for all their hard work in putting the event together. Now, next year, on to Savannah, Georgia.

While we were at the reunion, we slipped away to screen BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR at American Legion Post 291, Newport Beach, California. While the calming Pacific breezes wafted over the sailboats berthed at the pier outside the post, an earnest audience of seventy-plus people saw the film. Among the attendees were BRAVO! Marines Skipper Ken Pipes, Ben Long, Ken Korkow, Mike McCauley, John Cicala and Tom Quigley. Also there were other men who served with Bravo Company, Jim Beall and Charles McIntire. Area residents Ray and Barbara Doyle and Robin Zimmermann who contributed both music and expertise to the film came and visited with us and watched BRAVO!

A big shout-out to Tony Arrigo, Jim Kaylor and Roger Henry who worked hard to make sure the event came off without a hitch.

Something about the contrast between balmy southern California weather outside and the intense representation of the violence, agony and redemption depicted inside during the screening of the film seemed to make the day more poignant.

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann. © Betty Rodgers 2014

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Aside from the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion and the Newport Beach screening, BRAVO! was featured in an outstanding news feature by reporter Matt Burke in The Stars and Stripes which serves the United States’ military community worldwide. You can read the article here.
http://www.stripes.com/news/special-reports/vietnam-at-50/the-bloody-battle-of-khe-sanh-77-days-under-siege-1.314627

Up next for the BRAVO! team, back to Idaho for a battery recharge and plans for screenings in March 2015 to coincide with the first year of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and for Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. 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/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

October 26, 2012

The Great Adventure Film Tour

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BRAVO! co-director and co-producer Betty Rodgers muses on the summer of 2012’s screening tour.

Ken and I have been home from our “Great Adventure Film Tour” for three weeks now, allowing us time to reflect on the experience as we settle back into our lives in Boise.

To recap, we headed south from Idaho through Utah, dipping quickly into the heat of summer as we scurried across deserts and mountains, prairies and plains toward Dallas for our first screening. There we showed BRAVO! to more than 125 attendees at the Vietnam Veterans of America Annual Leadership Conference and were introduced by our host, Michael Keating, to many of the important people who drive the organization forward. The VVA’s founding principle is, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

From right to left, Michael Keating, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers at the VVA National Leadership Conference.

From there we took the sultry road through pecan orchards and goat ranches to Brownwood, TX, where we were the guests of Mary and Roger Engle, longtime friends and fans of BRAVO! Mary put together a first-class screening at the Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom on the campus of Howard Payne University. One of the hosts for the evening was former Marine Gunnery Sergeant Billy Murphey, the local Veterans Service Officer, who arranged for a local Marine Corps League color guard to formally kick off the program. The auditorium was filled to capacity. The editor of the Brownwood Bulletin, Gene Deason, interviewed us and wrote an insightful article about the event and the film.

Next we ventured on to lower temperatures in Memphis where we were greeted by our host, Cobb Hammond, a historian of the Vietnam War. Cobb gave us a wonderful tour of Memphis, including the Mississippi River, Beale Street, and a drive by Sun Records. He also made sure we enjoyed the superb BBQ at the Blues City Café, and bemoaned the fact that we were not experiencing typical (sweltering) Memphis summer weather. Thank goodness! Our screening was also hosted by Khe Sanh survivor Skip Funk, and Mason Ezzell at LSI. Guests came from far and wide and included a Korean War veteran.

With Ken still behind the wheel, the galloping Honda CRV then transported us to Washington, DC, and the home and culinary sanctuary of my cousins, Chuck and Donna Dennis, who also hosted us two years ago while we did research for the film. We attended the annual reunion of the Khe Sanh Veterans and screened BRAVO! to a standing-room-only crowd. We were pleased to have three members of the “cast,” Steve Wiese, Ken Korkow and Doc Cicala, in the audience. Our friends Betty and Lee Plevney, Connie and Greg Gibbons, Mark and Elaine Kramer, and Ron Exum each contributed greatly to the success of this event.

BRAVO! screening in Washington D C

And then finally, Boston. Beautiful Boston, where we were the guests of Marie Chalmers and the family of Vincent Mottola, a Marine from Bravo Company who gave his life at Khe Sanh. Marie not only hosted the screening, but also gave us a delightful whirlwind tour of the city. BRAVO! was shown at the West Roxbury VA with the assistance of Diane Keith, and a color guard of local Marines. The appreciative audience was comprised of local folk as well as people from southern California to Rhode Island. It was also a special afternoon for families…both the Mottolas and the family of “cast” member Mike McCauley.

And then we headed north, then west, happily donning sweaters and jackets in the cooler clime.

To say the least, we are exceedingly grateful to those who invited us to their meetings and cities to screen BRAVO! And without the hospitality of friends and family along the way, the trip would not have been possible. Their belief in the film and its importance is responsible for the huge positive response we have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy as more screening requests come our way.

Now we are back home and once again searching for a corporate sponsor and/or a distributor. We are making daily contacts to find that one personal connection that will help send BRAVO! out into a national or worldwide audience.

And we do so with the glorious memories of our journey. Ken chose to drive the entire way, which concluded at about 12,900 miles. I was the navigator, ice chest and luggage manager, and scribe. Ken was the car packer, itinerary planner, tour guide and historian. To travel with Ken is to learn of people, places and events; to learn of geography, geology and the solar system.

Along the way we were able to see migrating snow geese and more than 70 species of birds, plus wildlife such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bear, and coyotes, but nary a moose. The “Moose-on-the-Loose” signs were posted nearly everywhere in the north like a promise, but one that was not fulfilled. They say it was because we didn’t drive at night.

A Moose on the Loose sign

A stand-out for me was the people all over the North American continent who give themselves to history and place and talk about it with great passion and eloquence. There is the person behind the counter at our national parks, the ranger who drives from monument to monument with a speech and armful of maps and photos for each stop, the archaeologist who thrills at the find of the day. There are the greeters at the information centers who welcome you to their country, state, or city. There are the servers at restaurants who talk about what it’s like to live in their towns, and the bus drivers who care about the movement of the icefields and their watersheds.

And because we drove eastward through the US, and westward through Canada, we gained a vast knowledge of the beauty of our North American Continent and its people. It was both reassuring and rewarding. And best of all, it gave us an even deeper sense of what every Marine—and every person who serves to defend and protect our continent—is committed to preserving.

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

September 4, 2012

Why I Fight

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Last Friday afternoon we screened BRAVO! to over one-hundred-thirty viewers at the Sheraton Pentagon Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, at the annual Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion.

Big thank-yous are due to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion, Tom Eichler, Neil Kenny, as well as the staff of the hotel. Special thanks are in order also to big BRAVO! supporters Betty and Lee Plevney who underwrote the costs of the screening. Greg (Delta Company, 1/26) and Connie Gibbons and Mark (Charlie Company, 1/26) and Elaine Kramer and Bravo Marines Ron Exum and Tom Steinhardt also deserve hearty Ooooorahs! for their help in staging the screening.

This screening was the second time the movie has been shown at the reunion and the crowd was made up of new viewers and previous viewers too.

Most of the viewers were affiliated with the Khe Sanh Veterans organization, but there were other guests too, who saw BRAVO! for the first time including supporter and short story author extraordinaire, Siobhan Fallon, whose book of short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone, is a wrenching and enlightening look at the price a family pays when their loved ones go off to war.

Every time we screen BRAVO! special things happen. We meet people who were at Khe Sanh who give us a unique take on the experience of siege warfare, old comrades emerge from the depths of memory to eat BBQ in the chair next to us, new friends show up and spark the internal magnets that form the bonds that tie us all together, no matter our nationality, our political opinions, our language, our race.

The man who helped Betty and Connie and Greg and Mark and Elaine and I set up the screening room and the equipment was from Ethiopia and has been in the Washington, DC, area for about one year. I noticed he spoke excellent English and I said so. He told me he had gone to school in Great Britain where he was educated in the film milieu.

He went back to Ethiopia to make documentary films but evidently made a film that angered the government.

As he told me this story, I thought about all the people who come to this country and what we represent to the world. Not only are we a money generating machine, a jobs caldron, we are also a beacon of respite and opportunity in a world of mayhem.

I often ponder why I joined the Marine Corps back in 1966. It is okay now to say I was a big patriot (whether or not I really was) back then, but for a long time it wasn’t cool to be patriotic. I may have been patriotic to some degree, but I was also curious to find out about combat and to see if I could match up to the demands of fighting in the greatest unit of light infantry the world has ever seen.

Yes, I often ponder why I fought the war in Vietnam and today, thinking about the documentary filmmaker from Ethiopia who can’t go home because of what he said, I choose to say that the biggest reason I fought in Vietnam with Bravo Company, 1/26, was so folks like our Ethiopian filmmaker can come here and speak what they believe, no matter who it irritates.

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

August 28, 2012

BRAVO! Screening Update

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Here is updated information about upcoming screenings of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel
900 S. Orme Street
Arlington, VA
Room: Cavalier A & B
Time: 1:00 PM

Saturday, September 8, 2012

West Roxbury Division Veterans Affairs
1400 VFW Parkway
West Roxbury, MA
Time: 3:00 PM

Room locations may be subject to change in which case we will provide further updates.

Please contact us at 208-340-8889 or ken@bravotheproject.com for more information.

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

August 20, 2012

From Marie Mottola Chalmers

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Our minds have a way of bringing us back in time. When I stand at my cousin Vinnie’s grave on the Vietnam Memorial lawn at Oak Grove cemetery in Medford, MA, I am a young woman again of 21. A flag is presented, Taps are played, gun salutes go off. It all comes back to me.

PFC Vincent Antonio Mottola was 18 years old when he was killed at Khe Sanh on February 23, 1968, leaving behind his mother, father, two brothers and many cousins, aunts and uncles who loved him.

As one of the men from Bravo described Vinnie, he was funny, irreverent (definitely), and carried his own weight.

Vinnie Mottola


Almost 44 years later, my nephew Jimmy was watching a documentary about the siege at Khe Sanh. It sparked a desire to find out more about Vinnie. He had never known Vinnie. My nephew was born 3 years after Vinnie died. This is how my nephew Jimmy found out about “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.”

By this past January I was in contact with Ken Rodgers, Bill Jayne and others who remembered Vinnie. Bill Jayne remembered the day Vinnie was killed. To be able to speak to other Marines who knew Vinnie after 44 years was surreal. They were able to answer our questions about how he was killed. The muses online gave me the opportunity to get to know these fine men and learn about the siege at Khe Sanh from the Marine point of view.

Come the end of August I hope to join these gallant Marines in D.C. for the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion, listen to their stories and see a preview of the documentary. There are plans for a Boston showing on Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 3pm at the West Roxbury VA hospital facility if anyone is interested. We also would like to hear from anyone else who might remember Vinnie.

Marie Chalmers: Mchalm1044@aol.com.

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

August 1, 2012

Updates on Travel and Screening of BRAVO!

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Betty and Ken are going on tour to screen BRAVO! in a number of locations across the United States.

Here is a schedule—in some cases firm, in some cases tentative—of screenings:

August 9, 2012 at 1:30 PM at the Omni in Irving, TX

August 13, 2012 at 6 PM at Howard Payne University’s Constitution Hall in Brownwood, TX

August 20 and/or 21, 2012 in Memphis, TN (Tentative)

August 31, 2012 at 1:00 PM at the Sheraton in Arlington, VA at the annual Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion. (Tentative)

September 8, 2012 at 3 PM at the Veterans Affairs facility in Boston, MA

If you live in one of these areas and would like to have more information about these screenings, please contact Ken Rodgers at ken@bravotheproject.com. Attendance is by invitation only, so let us hear from you.

We plan to see hot weather and thunderstorms but a cooling trend would be nice as we travel east. We appreciate your efforts on behalf of BRAVO! Thanks for spreading the word and thanks too, for those continuing donations at https://bravotheproject.com/donate/.