Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for the ‘Listening Posts’ Category

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

May 31, 2017

Fire In The Hole!

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Spring started off with a bang for BRAVO!. The City of Idaho Falls in conjunction with Idaho Humanities Council and the Veterans Affairs Committee of Eastern Idaho sponsored a screening of BRAVO! in Idaho Falls’ historic Colonial Theater on April 6, 2017.

Over one hundred folks attended the screening which was followed by the audience’s spirited discussion of the film with a panel of Vietnam vets, a Vietnam-era vet, and a veterans’ counselor. Thanks to Mr. Ed Maronh and Mr. Bob Skinner and Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper along with the folks at the Idaho Falls Arts Council, the Colonial Theater, the City of Idaho Falls, the Idaho Humanities Council and the Military Affairs Committee of Eastern Idaho for their efforts in making the screening a big success.

Entrance to the Colonial Theater, Idaho Falls, Idaho

One of the most gratifying experiences for us was the number of youngsters who came to the event and who had a number of great questions about the history of the war and about current affairs including US involvement in the wars of the Middle East.

A number of folks also introduced themselves as teachers and college professors who entertained interest in showing the film to their students. We always love seeing BRAVO! used as an educational tool.

Coming up on the screening front: On or around Veterans Day, 2017, BRAVO! will be screened in Santa Fe. Please stay tuned for details.

Since since tomorrow is June 1, 2017, we thought a look back at some events and experiences in Vietnam fifty years ago, around June 1, 1967, would fit the moment.

The men of Bravo Company, 26th Marine Regiment, were dug in on the crest of wet and breezy Hill 881 South, not far south of the DMZ, not far from Laos, and west of the Khe Sanh combat base. At that time we Marines were patrolling off the hill, down tree lined draws, into monstrous swamps, along the ridges and into the shattered tree line of Hill 881 North, wearing only soft covers and no flak jackets.

That behavior would soon change, and we’d begin to go out of the wire wearing flak jackets and helmets. On June 7, 1967, elements of Bravo would walk into an ambush sprung by North Vietnamese troops that would leave 19 Marines and Navy Corpsmen dead and because the men were not wearing helmets and flack jackets, the damage inflicted by the NVA was much worse.

I remember enjoying going out on patrol without worrying about flak jackets and helmets, all the extra weight and the rivers of sweat they generated. But after June, 7, I didn’t mind wearing that extra gear.

As for June 1 itself…according to the command chronologies of the 1st Battalion 26th Marines, Bravo Company didn’t even go outside the wire on that date other than the requisite listening posts and ambushes (referred to quite often as “night activities”) that sneaked outside the concertina wire after dusk and hustled back before the sun came up.

It might have been about June 1 that we knocked down the copse of tall trees that obscured the fields of fire in front of 2nd Platoon’s sector down on the southern end of the hill.

I remember being on a work detail with a combat engineer—I think his name was Treadway—stuffing a satchel of C-4 plastic explosives inside a big roll of barbed wire. We inserted a blasting cap into one of the C-4 sticks, ran the wire back to a claymore mine detonator, and then we all ducked.

“Fire in the hole!”

What had once been a stately stand of very tall trees was gone. We knew it before the smoke cleared from the explosion. We knew it because as we knelt in the trench the overhead whine and whistle of what once was barbed wire and statuesque trees hurtled over our heads..

After that, we could see quite well, down to where the bend of the terrain turned steep towards the creek that babbled way below.

We needed to see so the NVA didn’t sneak up on us in the night and cut our throats. We had to destroy the trees and underbrush to clear our fields of fire. It was going on all over the Vietnam war zone from south to north. The enemy used the cover to his advantage and we destroyed the cover. Fire, explosives, bombs and Agent Orange. We needed to kill the trees.

The trench line on Hill 881 South.

Those early days of June 1967 were also encounters with huge rats and snakes and dripping mist and nights on listening posts with leeches crawling up your nose and into your mouth. It was violent thunderstorms with barrages of hail and so much precipitation that the runoff barreled down the trenches.

We were covered in mud and shivered, the skin of our hands wrinkled with too much moisture. Nasty sores that oozed puss day and night and hurt every time you moved appeared on arms and legs. Huge hives hung in the bamboo patches with the meanest bees in the universe. When they attacked, they came full bore and in depth, leaving the Marines who were unlucky enough to disturb the hive with hands and faces swollen several times their normal size.

But yeah, compared to what we encountered a week later on 6/7/67, or seven months later when the Siege of Khe Sanh began, these inconveniences were really nothing.

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,Listening Posts,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

August 27, 2014

The Agony and Ecstasy of Listening Posts–Redux

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Four years ago, when we were on the road to shoot interviews in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and to conduct research at the National Archives and the Marine History Division in the Washington DC area, I wrote only our fourth blog about the making of BRAVO!. That particular edition joined what has become a hefty variety of pieces about BRAVO!, the Siege of Khe Sanh, and the men and women both in the film and who helped make this project a reality. We think a visit back in time to that fourth blog is an appropriate subject for this week’s blog.

08/05/10

While the grackles, the kingbirds, the cuckoos and kites sung and hunted over San Antonio, Betty, Mark Spear and I interviewed and filmed eight retired or former Marines and a former Navy corpsman. As we sat rapt, listening to the emotion gushing like rain water running down a red Khe Sanh trench, one of the repetitive memories we heard centered on listening posts.

Listening posts—rather mundane words for a mundane (most of the time) night duty related to combat activities in a hostile environment. In the Marine Corps, a fire team usually mans (or in my tenure manned) a listening post (LP). Four men and a radio go outside the outfit’s night perimeter to listen for approaching enemy combatants. Mundane, unless the enemy shows up, and then the men in the listening post become pretty much incidental to the good of the bigger unit, the ones they are doing the listening for. And doing their duty as Marines, they may be trapped and killed, maimed, captured, never to get back to lovers and sons, and if they beat feet towards the security of the perimeter, in front of the enemy, they may get shot by their own men because the listening post personnel are often indistinguishable from the enemy. In Bravo! the documentary, the danger associated with LPs will squeeze your gut.

Mark Spear at the 2010 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the 2010 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion
© Betty Rodgers 2010

I recall an LP when the siege was raging. We waited until darkness fell and then crept out the east end of the Khe Sanh air strip finally stopping short of our assigned position. I always felt that we should never go to the same spot time after time. We crawled into the jungle grass and covered up with ponchos so we could read a map with a flashlight if we needed to. Below us, the Song Rao Quan cut a deep ravine as it rushed towards its conflict with the saltwater South China Sea. American jets shrieked over. So rocket and artillery shy were we, we cringed at the sound of the jets as they streaked over us and dropped bombs somewhere to our front. We heard the thunk of mortar rounds leaving the tube. In the dark of the night we spotted aiming stakes—enemy aiming stakes illuminated by some type of red lights. We estimated the position and called in artillery, “Fire mission.” The barrage whistled over us like the jets, but with less basso, more tenor, some alto harmonied in. Below in the Rao Quan River valley, the rounds crashed like they were landing in the next century. The aiming stakes still remained. I essayed that they were far beyond where the rounds landed. I whispered into the radio handset—based on where I thought I’d heard the rounds land—“Up 100 left 100.” The voice of the lieutenant repeated my words. We heard the gun mouths bark the next barrage and again it sung over us and landed far below. The enemy mortars still thunk, thunk, thunked. Somewhere to our rear the crash of a rocket round inside our perimeter. The aiming stakes still glowed in the misty pitch black. I adjusted my estimate, again, missed, and we spent the long night with arty going in and out, like a badminton shuttle cock going back and forth over the net. I don’t think we ever hit the target, though we may have scared the hell out of them, because the aiming stakes’ red lights disappeared. The lieutenant barked at me over the radio about ”What kind of spotter was I?” I pouted most of the night about that and in the morning just before the first light we sneaked back in. Off to the west, between Khe Sanh base and Hill 861, I saw rockets spew off the ground. Seconds later I heard them crash into the far end of the air strip. I might have called in and told them where those rockets had come from, but I was still pouting.

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

An LP wasn’t something you wanted to get sent out on, with all that death waiting in the black of the misty nights. A couple of our platoon big shots, the lieutenant’s radioman and the platoon right guide, both went to sleep on radio watch in the command post. We all were deprived of sleep, our eyelids like trap doors on a sniper’s hole. We couldn’t sleep because of duty’s call or because the NVA hammered us day and night, so I wasn’t surprised that they nodded off. I had a way of going half to sleep when I ended up as the platoon sergeant’s radio operator. I could somehow doze and somehow stay alert enough to call in my sit-reps every fifteen minutes and call out to the listening post and get their sit-reps, too. Being a big shot and then getting sent out on an LP was like a kick in the cojones. Everyone sniggered at you behind your back. I’m glad I never got caught sleeping on radio watch.

The last LP I remember going on was later in the siege and I got a surprise from the lieutenant about how it was to be conducted. My team was going out with a fire team of South Vietnamese Rangers. I rolled my eyes at that one and complained, “They can’t even speak English. How the hell we going to communicate?” The lieutenant told me, “Just get your asses out there when it starts getting dark and go out to those slit trenches at the end of the runway and set in for the night. Like you’re supposed to do.” I whined, “But, the NVA know exactly where that. . .” “Shut up,” he barked, “we know exactly where it is, too, so if something happens we can come out and get your asses. “ I kicked at the red clods in the bottom of the trench and said, “Aye aye.” He said, “And if you have to come in early, make sure you come in first so those Marines down there in Alpha Company don’t blow our Ranger friends away.”

There were four of them. Four of us. We Marines were skinny, half starved, but compared to them we were giants. They were bowlegged and short, wiry, though, and they all had flinty looks in their eyes as we sat in a deep Alpha Company bunker lit up with ten or twelve candles. We were wary of them, the rumors we’d heard about them all being North Vietnamese sympathizers. The way they sneaked glances at us made me ponder why they were wary of us.

After the night went totally black, we sneaked out the gate in front of Alpha Company and bent over like bugs scuffling across the airstrip. We hustled out to the two slit trench fighting holes at the end of the strip. I pointed to the left and the four Rangers slipped in and sat down. I could see what light there was reflecting off their eyes which were as big around as the bottom of a forty-millimeter anti-aircraft round. They sat as still as stones.

We Marines plopped in the other trench and I started whispering the watch schedule, two of us awake, two asleep, two hours on, two hours off. I tried to whisper some orders to the Rangers, but either they didn’t hear me or ignored me. The breeze whispered through the tall elephant grass out to our fronts. All night I imagined, or dreamed, a platoon of NVA sneaking up on us. Their helmets festooned with pieces of grass to hide their passage. They didn’t, though, because the next morning in the false light I elbowed the sleeping Marines on each side of me to wake up. I looked up at the Ranger fire team leader who was glaring at me. He took his right index finger and drew it across his Adam’s apple and then nodded to our front. I made a sign with my thumb for him and his team to get up. We bug-scuffled back in the opposite direction of the enemy to the Alpha Company gate. Me in front so they didn’t shoot the Rangers.

As I said in the beginning of this post, what got me thinking about LPs were the men we interviewed for our documentary.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Nampa, Idaho, on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Lodge. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30, followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. http://www.wyakin.org.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall or winter, 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 you can help us reach more people.