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Archive for the ‘Marines’ Category

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

April 20, 2019

Rats

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The scrabbling of the rats’ feet woke me. I listened to the rain. I wondered if daylight might be near or if the time ran closer to midnight. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was but then figured out that the sound of the rats’ feet was simply the rain in the gutters.

I rose and walked into the kitchen and checked the time. Dawn would show up in about an hour. I sat at the table and thought about the eighteen thousand six hundred and fifteen mornings I’d risen since my return from war and then pondered the memories that run at you like a man you never want to see again.

When I get up in the morning, I never know what segment of my experience in Vietnam will show up. It might be rats, or a sense that I’m not sure where I am. It might be incoming artillery rounds thumping my surroundings, or sitting in the trench sharing coffee out of a cup made from a C-ration can while sniper rounds snap over our heads. It could be all four, or more, in a rapid-fire sequence that leaves my heart hammering.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh just before the siege began in January 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

Or maybe something a little more benign.

Like going home and my swift transition from hell on earth to sleeping in the bed in the room where I had studied algebra and managed to sneak out the windows after my parents went to sleep.

One of BRAVO!’s oldest friends asked me, last week, if I might revisit one of those memories: the night I got home to Arizona.

I flew into Tucson on the evening of 4/11/68 and my best friend, his fiancé, and my mom and dad showed up and ran into me as I went downstairs to get my gear. We went to a great Mexican food restaurant and had dinner. We sat at a long table with me sitting with a wall to my back so I could see who came in and who went out and where and when anyone moved.

Idle chit chat bantered back and forth, about mutual friends and acquaintances, the weather, the political chaos. My best friend’s fiancé shot me a serious look and asked me about my war experience.

I began to talk about Khe Sanh: rain, mist, no sleep, humping high hills with lots of gear, filling sandbags and finally when I got to the serious stuff . . . the death, the fear . . . I noticed all of them eating, their faces down towards their plates. The reflection of light from my father’s balding pate hit me in the eyes and like a revelation, I understood that no one cared, or at least savvied, what happened to me.

Hippy wedding in Tucson, 1968. Photo by Bruce Hopkins/Tucson Citizen

To this day, I am baffled by the lack of respect, admiration, honor that I think almost all of us warriors thought we had coming when we stepped off those glorious flights home from Nam, back into The World.

With my father, my war created a tension that never resolved in the remaining twenty-one years he lived. More than once, we stood nose-to-nose, ready to tear each other’s hearts out.

Now, after all this time, I think part of the problem, especially with my good friends and family, is that they couldn’t understand, on a visceral level, what had happened at Khe Sanh and as such, there was nothing of merit, or meat, that we could discuss.

My father was a top sergeant in the Army but never saw combat. He once told me the most frightening experience he had was flying over The Hump (the Himalayas) from New Delhi, India to Chongqing, China, to pick up a Japanese prisoner of war. He had little with which to relate to my turmoil and my chaos had little room for him.

Yet I suspect that was only part of our problem, my problem. I think that when I came home, I wanted, I craved, I needed The World to be what it had been in 1966 when I joined the Corps, the kids cruising the town, the girls the same, my life as it had been.

But time is like a river that won’t stop running and what had been in 1966 . . . my life, my friends, my World . . . was not there in April of 1968. And I don’t think I understood that, and as such, the conflict between what I wanted The World to be and what was in reality The Way, were not resolved for 30 years, when I began to realize that I needed to dig into my experiences through getting sober, writing, and accepting that what happened at Khe Sanh was not who I was as a person.

What I thought I had come back to had moved on, leaving me in the detritus of memory.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Okinawa,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 12, 2019

On Okinawa

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About this time fifty-one years ago, I arrived in Okinawa on my way home from the war and the Siege of Khe Sanh. On the flight between Da Nang and Oki’s Kadena Air Force Base, I gazed around at the men on board. We looked battered, most of us donning dungarees so dirty and worn it seemed like we were prisoners bound for a life of confinement.

A Marine with whom I had an acquaintance, Corporal S, sat next to me. A cannon-cocker, I’d met up with him I don’t know where or when.


When we landed at Kadena, we deplaned and were ordered to fall in and stand at attention, which we didn’t do, and listen to a spiel given by a bunch of Marine Corps NCOs about what we could do on Okinawa and what we couldn’t while at Camp Schwab waiting transfer to the states.

Photo taken at Camp Schwab, 1971. Photo by Scott Parton – http://www.jonmitchellinjapan.com/agent-orange-on-okinawa.html, Public Domain, Link


Several of the two-hundred or so Marines who’d been on that plane barked out comments about POGs in Okinawa lecturing real warriors about what and what not to do.

Several of the NCOS jumped right in and instructed us that they were not any different from us; they’d just been wounded three times in Nam, so they had to finish out their twelve-month-and-twenty-day tour on Okinawa.

But collectively, we dirty band of ragged Marines, didn’t buy their explanations. The men facing us were decked out in snappy new dungarees and covers starched and formed as if they were all still in Boot Camp. We hooted . . . and this struck me . . . we hooted as if we could care less about how many times they’d been shot or wounded. And our derisiveness felt good to me, way down, and maybe it wasn’t fair of me or the rest of us, to put their service down, but at the time, it felt damned good.

The next morning we fell in and received orders for all of us to report here and there around Camp Schwab for mess and maintenance duty.

Right up front, Corporal S told the duty NCO, “Go to hell.”

Unlike him, I reported to the BOQ and spent the morning policing the barracks for transient officers. When I left for chow, I asked the duty NCO why they made us clean up while there were barracks full of new Marines headed to Nam who needed something to do.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh prior to the beginning of the siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

He didn’t answer, just scowled at me.

I have never figured out why they did that—made us clean up, unless it was punishment for our salty attitudes out on the tarmac at Kadena—and that morning stint was my last. I spent the next two days shooting hoops at the base gym with Corporal S.

My mother used to tell me, when I complained about vacuuming the house or mowing the lawn when I should have been playing with my buddies, that an idle mind was the tool of the devil, and maybe the Marine Corps had similar sentiments.

Nevertheless, if the Marines in charge of keeping things running at Camp Schwab depended on me and Corporal S, and I suspect, the rest of us who arrived on that flight out of hell a few nights before, they were sorely disappointed.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 8, 2019

News From La Grande, Oregon

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Ten days ago, we were privileged to show BRAVO! in La Grande, Oregon, to an enthusiastic crowd of 150 folks in a jam-packed auditorium at Eastern Oregon University. The event was scheduled as a way to do something special for local Vietnam veterans on March 29 which is National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Photo of the cake at the La Grande Screening. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

La Grande is located near the home of BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, whose story is one of the rock ribs of the film. Picturesque snow-capped ranges of mountains surround the valley where La Grande sits near the Grande Ronde River. The valley sported a spring green that shone in the daylight, no matter what time of day. After a long, wet, cold winter it was a pleasure to feel the force of the new season.

The evening began with a chance to feast and visit with Ron and his family, his friends, and numerous local veterans and other folks interested in the film, including Master of Ceremonies Brian Westfield and local Congressman Greg Walden.

After the screening, the audience engaged in a lively panel discussion with Vietnam veterans Ron Rees, Dennis Ross, George Knight and Ken Rodgers about war, veterans and the military.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees with his daughters. Photo courtesy of Kim Mead.

Ron made a special request to honor the men who have passed away since the making of BRAVO!. We remembered Marines Ken Pipes, Daniel Horton, Mike McCauley, and Lloyd Scudder, and cinematographer Mark Spear.

Betty and I felt honored to show our film to such a receptive group and to spend time visiting with friends, old and new.

These screening events are the direct result of a group of citizens working together, and this occasion was no exception. Hosting an Oregon premiere of BRAVO! was a dream come true for us, and we thank Ron and his wife Tami Murphy for putting the event together in concert with this impressive list of local sponsors: American Legion Post 43, Auxiliary Post 43, Legacy Ford, Copies Plus, Starbucks (Island City), Safeway, Hines Meat Co., Mission 22, The Landing Hotel, Side A Brewing, Fitzgerald Flowers, Dominos Pizza, and other individuals.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 30, 2019

Intuition–The Payback Patrol

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Fifty-one years ago the morning roared at us much too soon, the briefings and the saddling up and the waiting to barge outside the wire and into the NVA trenchline.

Fog crouched over the base and added to the gloom that nested in my middle.

The lieutenant and staff sergeant soothed me, “We are just going out to get the remains of the men left out there on February 25th.”


Their words jangled. Deep inside my intuition, I sensed the day would turn to chaos and death and maiming.

The mist smothers Khe Sanh. Photo by David Douglas Duncan

Besides the staff sergeant’s words and the outgoing artillery prepping the NVA trenches, the only other sounds were the scrape of boots in the red mud, the creak of gear and the occasional hack from throats of Marines and Corpsmen.

Before departing the perimeter, the company staged in the trench. The staff sergeant and I went down the line, me behind with the PRC 25 radio, him in front checking web gear, whispering orders, whispering support, whispering motivational phrases.

I saw Corporal A sucking on a cigarette. His eyebrows arched up and I nodded. There was Corporal M inspecting a flak jacket on one of the men in his squad. Every night M and I listened to Armed Forces Radio. We told everybody we wanted to hear the news but we really wanted the music; the Mamas and the Papas, Otis Redding, The Turtles. And then, from time to time, we wanted to laugh and be frightened in a different sense at the same time, so we tuned the radio to Hanoi Hannah who usually had something personal, a warning, to say to us, the men of Khe Sanh.

When the order to move out rolled down the line, the clink and grunts and swish and stomp of Marines in motion rose up and hit the low lying fog and then came down over us like a parachute.

Outside the wire, our platoon—Second Platoon—set up, and that’s when it must have happened, Skipper Pipes giving the order, “Fix bayonets.” You would think that something so primal that hinted at the coming savagery would stick in one’s mind, but I don’t remember those words. I think every man who survives now who embarked with us that fatal day recalls that moment. Everyone but me.

The other two platoons, First and Third, passed through our lines and charged up the ridge and jumped in the NVA trench and started shooting and bayoneting the enemy. Our platoon followed. First and Third Platoons cleared bunkers with grenades and satchel charges and flamethrowers. Dead littered the ground. Theirs and ours, and one thing that stays bolted into my memory like it was part of my flesh and bone is how the dead all looked the same: sallow and surprised and once or twice, peaceful.

It was brutal, what happened that day, March 30, 1968. We lost 12 good men and as I recall, close to 100 wounded. According to what the records say, we killed 115 of the enemy, although I’m not sure how that number came to be.

Blogger Ken Rodgers. While at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the estate of Dan Horton.

Back inside the perimeter wire, after the battle, the staff sergeant and I stood in the trench by the gate and watched our men come back, faces drained to the color of ivory, their eyes suddenly gone from what earlier had been excitement to a look that’s come to be known as the “thousand yard stare.” Here and there a bandage over a bloody spot on an arm, or the side of the head; occasionally a man with an AK-47 he’d salvaged out of the mayhem.

It’s odd what my mind recalls about that morning. I draw a blank when trying to recollect the moment that the word went out to “fix bayonets.” But I do remember much of the blood and mud and mayhem; me getting hit in the side of the head by shrapnel from a mortar round; that exact moment and how it felt like a stone thrown in a calm pool of water and what I thought about sitting on my butt in the mud, aware that I’d been hit, not knowing the injury’s extent.

And I also remember, standing there with the staff sergeant, thinking about the difference between what the lieutenant and he told me about simply going out to get the dead and what really happened . . . what intuition told me would happen.

Last night we screened BRAVO! in La Grande, Oregon. More about that event next week.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 20, 2019

On Memory, The Wall That Heals and Screenings of BRAVO!

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Betty and I journeyed to my old home town the week of March 4 to screen BRAVO! at the historic Paramount Theatre. The event was sponsored by Casa Grande, Arizona’s Marine Corps League Detachment 901 and was part of a larger slate of events including the Arizona Marine Corps League’s annual spring gathering along with the arrival of The Wall That Heals. You can find out more about The Wall That Heals here.

While in Casa Grande, we met with a group of Vietnam vets and helped raise and lower the colors at the Wall That Heals. We were introduced to Marine Corps League dignitaries and spoke to the League’s leaders about BRAVO! and the power held by a story of committed warriors fighting on in the face of long odds as did the Marines, Sailors, the Army, Air Force and ARVN personnel who were present at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Marine Corps League Meeting at the Paramount Theatre, Casa Grande, AZ. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

We screened the film twice, once to a small group of veterans and other interested folks, some of whom were present at Khe Sanh during the siege. We also screened the film to a large general audience and it was gratifying to see some of my old friends the Millers, the Hoopers, Marine Corps veteran Charlie Pierce and his wife Nancy come and watch the story. A lot of Vietnam veterans came to this showing and a number of them were in some way affiliated with the siege: pilots, crew chiefs, recon Marines, grunts, Seabees, communicators.

At both screenings, we had lively discussions about filmmaking, Khe Sanh and war.

Much thanks is in order to our wonderful new friends, Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Ross Scanio and his wife Renee, for putting the events together, and to Debby Martin, who provided the beautiful space for the screenings. Kudos, too, to Palmer Miller III and Lyle Dillie, warriors turned artists who provided combat art to enhance the experience. Thanks to Palmer and the Scanios for making a generous gift of one of Palmer’s unique American Flag paintings to Betty and me.

Left to Right: Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers, Debby Martin of the Paramount Theatre, Ross Scanio. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Renee Scanio was very interested in helping us get the word out about our new film, I MARRIED THE WAR, (you can find out more about the film here.) and voiced an appeal for funds to finish the editing of the film. Many thanks to Renee for her enthusiasm and support, and to Ross for his passion to serve fellow veterans.

On the evening of March 8, Betty and I attended a candlelight ceremony complete with bagpipes at The Wall That Heals. Some of the names on the wall are kids I went to school with: John Henry Armstrong and Wes Patterson and Efren Carmona and Guadalupe Rendon to name a few. I remember their vitality and how those moments we shared as boys are forever etched in my recall.

Betty and I also spent some time finding the names of men I served with in Vietnam and knew in some regard: Ed Furlong, Dutch Vercouteren, Ken Claire, Don Jacques, Greg Kent, Jimmy L McRae, and David Aldrich, to name some of those warriors. And with each and every one, images of those Marines and other veterans stepped out of the mist of remembrance to look me in the eye and it felt like they wanted to speak to me, but too much time and too much life had intervened.

At The Wall That Heals, March 8, 2019, Casa Grande, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

On March 29th we will be in La Grande, Oregon, to screen BRAVO! in recognition of National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The event will be held at Eastern Oregon University, in Room 102, Huber Auditorium in Badgley Hall Building, One University Avenue. You will be able to get tickets at the door and the donation will be $10.00 and $5.00 for students under 18. Proceeds will go to benefit veteran programs of American Legion Post 43. This will be an opportunity to meet Ron Rees, one of 14 Marines in the film, and his dynamic wife and veteran’s advocate, Tami.

Doors open at 5:00 PM for refreshments. Film will begin screening at 6:00 PM and will be followed by a Q & A session.

For more information about this screening, check out our Facebook event here: or contact Tami at 541-805-9565.

Here’s a copy of the poster for the La Grande Screening:

Poster for La Grande, Oregon screening of March 29, 2019

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 25, 2019

Ruminations

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Fifty-one years ago today at Khe Sanh, Marines from 1st and 3rd Platoons of Bravo/1/26 went out on patrol from the combat base and walked into an ambush that killed 27 Marines and Corpsmen and wrecked the psyches and memories of a hell of a bunch of young warriors.

This event, now known as the Ghost Patrol, has been written about a lot by both me and other folks, and it was the subject of a field problem in the Scouting and Patrolling Course at the United States Marine Corps Basic School where all new Marine Corps officers and warrant officers receive training. So what I say here isn’t any revelation of new events.

What strikes me now, after all these years, is how raw the memories can be when someone recalls the names, the weather, the terrain, the terror of that day.

For those who survived, the memories are indelibly scratched into the psyche and cannot be kicked out of the mind. For those of us there who witnessed that massacre in one way or another—what happened—the memories are also pretty much inescapable.

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Photo Courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

But it’s not just the combatants who live with images of those men. There are also the families who haven’t been able to forget, either.
Since Betty and I made BRAVO!, we have had a lot of communications with folks who lost family members at Khe Sanh.

I recall one day picking up my cell phone and seeing I had a voicemail message from the brother of a Marine killed on the Ghost Patrol. He had found me by chance when he discovered a DVD of BRAVO! in a museum. He hadn’t known about the film until then, and was stunned to see his brother’s name listed in the litany of the dead from that terrible day, February 25. We talked a number of times and I told him I did not know his brother, but if I could help him with any info, I’d be happy to do so.

Then I remembered that a friend of ours had sent a donation to memorialize this Marine in the film credits. In fact, he had recovered the Marine’s remains when a patrol from Bravo and Delta Companies, 1/26, went out and retrieved them.

Here’s what really sticks with Betty and me. My Marine buddy and the brother were able to meet up and talk about memories, about what happened, and hopefully the get-together helped the deceased Marine’s brother process the recollections and questions that had flooded his mind for over fifty years.

Stark image from the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Not long after, I received a call from another man whose brother was also KIA on the Ghost Patrol. I knew that Marine, not well, but still, we’d arrived at Bravo Company about the same time and although he went to a different platoon, my recollections of his renown as a joker, a gung-ho Marine, an ebullient young man who entertained his comrades, matched the brother’s memories.

We discussed that Marine and the film and I could tell from the telephone conversation that what I said had helped him settle something in his thoughts—what it was I have no idea, but it was palpable over the phone.

When we set out to make BRAVO! it was an endeavor to tell the story, preserve the history if for no one else, at least for me. But the creation of the film has turned into so much more for not just Betty and me, but also for lots of other folks who have those memories and ties that they don’t want to chuck out like a set of dirty dungarees. After all the years, the intimate pain still grates.

BRAVO! lives on and as proof, we have more screenings coming up in March.

Blogger Ken Rodgers while at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

On March 9, 2019 at 5 PM the film will be screened at the Paramount Theatre in Casa Grande, Arizona—my hometown—in association with the Arizona Marine Corps League’s spring convention. The screening is open to the general public. The event will begin with a panel discussion followed by the film, then a Q&A will end the evening. Proceeds from the event—a $10 advance donation per attendee or $15 at the door or VIP seating at $15.00—will go towards funding the Marine For Life program that helps Marine Corps veterans and their families transition from active duty to civilian life, including education opportunities, employment and other veteran and community resources. More details about the event can be found here: https://m901.org/category/event/.

On March 29, 2019, BRAVO! will be shown in La Grande, Oregon (our Oregon premiere!), as part of the local Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans celebrations. More details soon.

We look forward to seeing you at these events, and greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word. Semper Fi.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

January 16, 2019

If

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I woke this morning and thought about the date, and like most mornings as I lie in bed, I contemplated what I’d done while in Vietnam on that same date.

On January 16th, 1968, the morning was probably misty and the sense of urgency that had risen since the early part of the month was alarming to a lot of us.

I have written about this before, about the word coming down from Battalion and Regiment that something big was about to occur.
I was on the back end of my tour and kept telling myself that it was all bullshit, like a boy crying wolf, something the higher-ups simply dreamed up to keep us on edge like fighting men need to be.

Blogger Ken Rodgers. While at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the estate of Dan Horton.

In the late Spring of 1967 I’d been sent down to Phu Bai to a combat demolition school, and so over the course of the year, I’d been called upon to detonate suspicious caches of mortar rounds and rocket rounds we’d found out in the field while on patrols.

I always had a healthy respect for det. cord and blasting caps and C-4 and explosives large and small.

“Fire in the hole,“ I’d yell, and hope like hell that the NVA hadn’t planted that little cache on top of something bigger—a thousand pound bomb or something like that—which would erupt beneath me when I set the smaller load of munitions off. If that happened, I’d be blown to smithereens.

Anyway, on or about this date in 1968, I went on a detail with a Marine whose name I can’t recall to set out some munitions that would blow the hell out of anyone trying to come through the rows of concertina wire—the German kind—that we’d been stringing every morning the weeks before.

Roll of concertina wire.

This Marine, who was a machine gunner and also a combat engineer, stuffed rolls of barbwire with sticks of C-4 that, when detonated, would turn everything and everybody that was exposed into shards and splinters and toothpicks and chunks of bloody flesh and bone and sinew. And it wasn’t just him; it was me, too, doing the stuffing, trying to keep my mind on my business so I didn’t manage to blow the two of us to kingdom come.

Sensations like spider legs crept up my spine as we loaded the explosives in the rolls of wire and then inserted a blasting cap in the top of the C-4 and strung detonator wire back to bunkers so that, if and when—and at the time, “if” was there in my head, and as long as “if” was there, the reality of what was to come remained only a possibility—the NVA came through our wire defenses with his blood curdling screams. And if that happened the Marines in their bunkers could squeeze the detonators and blow the enemy to pieces.

If, yeah, if. We were just being prudent. We were exercising the caution that maybe we should have had back in September and December when it seemed all we did was slip and slide in the monsoon slop, never building any decent bunkers or trench lines.

As I did my dangerous and dirty work, I stymied thoughts of the mayhem of screaming voices, AK-47 reports, explosions, and then, when my handiwork was set off, the bloody chaos of bodies torn to shreds and how if one was caught out in an open place above the sandbag trenches, he’d be taken apart so that no mortician could ever put him back together.

Roll of barb wire.

I tried not to squirm as I thought about my endless curiosity and how I might want to watch what madness I’d created when one of those makeshift weapons went off, and in my desire to witness it, lost my head to the hurtling shards of metal thrown from the exploded barbwire.

Here’s the thing, I know I had that thought because it haunts me now as I write this; it haunts me every time I think of it. So I clung to my notion of “if.”

In my mind, just because we were up all night on Red Alert, and working all day on barriers and sandbags and trenches and bunkers, and improving the qualities of our defenses didn’t mean anything would ever come of it.

I’d heard it all for almost eleven months; I’d heard it all.

If.

***

On a separate note:

Betty and I are making another film titled I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II until the present. We have finished interviewing eleven dynamic wives and have now embarked on turning their stories into a documentary film.

I Married the War

This last Monday morning we delivered all our footage, photos and a preliminary script to our editor, John Nutt.

We are soliciting donations to help us get this movie edited, sound mixed and color corrected. If you are in a giving frame of mind, please check out the website for the new film at http://imarriedthewar.com/ and scroll down to the section about donating.

We appreciate our friends and followers and know we cannot succeed at our filmmaking efforts without their generous support.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

December 31, 2018

2018 In Review

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2018 is here and gone and 2019 begins tomorrow.

For BRAVO!, in many ways, this was a banner year. We continued to meet new people, screen the film, and in early April we managed to get the film up on Amazon Prime. In the process, we received over 130 great reviews that reinforced our decision to make this documentary and spend the next eight years getting it out to the public.

But in one way it was a profoundly sad year for us and the surviving Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. We lost our Skipper in late April, and it hurt. Ken Pipes was a man who profoundly affected the men whom he led during the Siege of Khe Sanh. He was our leader, adviser, our good friend; and his leaving left holes in our perceptions of our world, the future and where we go from here.

As so often happens with funerals, we were fortunate to meet up with a lot of our Khe Sanh comrades and other friends of BRAVO! at both the memorial service for Ken Pipes as well as his interment ceremony in San Diego at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. If you get the chance to pay your respects, you will find that the Skipper rests in one of the most beautiful locations in California.

Filmmakers Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

On the screening front, in early April, BRAVO! was shown to an enthusiastic crowd of close to five hundred folks at Nampa, Idaho’s Warhawk Air Museum, and over the Memorial Day weekend, friend of BRAVO!, Vietnam Veteran Marine Barry Hart, hosted a very successful screening in Paris, Tennessee.

When we began this journey, we didn’t know where the path would lead us and we are continually surprised by the people we meet and the places we go related to this film. Over the last ten years, many times, I’ve foreseen the end of the road, only to have it veer off in a new and surprisingly satisfactory direction.

Even as we make our new film, I MARRIED THE WAR, (See more here) about the wives of combat veterans from World War II to the present conflicts, I suspect that BRAVO!, as Steve Wiese likes to say, “will live on.”

So, to all our friends and followers, we wish you a fabulous 2019. We are eternally grateful for your interest, friendship, and support. Our work wouldn’t be possible without you.

***

On a separate note:

Betty and I are making another film titled I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II until the present. We have finished interviewing eleven dynamic wives and have now embarked on turning their stories into a documentary film.

I Married the War

We are soliciting donations to help us get this movie edited, sound mixed and color corrected. If you are in a giving frame of mind, please check out the website for the new film at http://imarriedthewar.com/ and scroll down to the section about donating.

We appreciate our friends and followers and know we cannot succeed at our filmmaking efforts without their generous support.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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,Marines,Vietnam War

December 14, 2018

Christmas in Nam

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The Christmas season is upon us and as I do every year, I think about many of the Christmases I’ve lived through including my tour with the 26th Marines in Vietnam.

In the house where I grew up, we celebrated Christmas with lots of hoopla and family and giving and eating and singing Christmas carols, getting bicycles and sleeping bags and new shotguns. So when I went to Nam, I harbored expectations that Christmas might still be something special. But it wasn’t, at least not in the traditional sense of the festivities to which I was accustomed.

A story that I often see mentioned in articles on the internet describes Christmas on the Western Front, World War I, 1914. Across the British-German trench lines, combatants on both sides met and observed spontaneous and unofficial truces and exhibited a more Christ-like behavior to one another than they had been practicing during the preceding months. Although in some places, this apparently did not happen and there were some vicious battles fought on Christmas Day between Allied and German troops.

Christmas on Hill 881 South, 1967. Jimmie McRae. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

I don’t think Christmas truces happened in World War II or Korea, but I believe the opposing powers, the NVA and Vietcong and the US and its allies, declared one every year from 1965 through 1972 in Vietnam. It seems to me the truces served as an attempt to recognize that some level of humanity remained in the most savage of human interactions.

In 1967, the Christmas truce was in effect, but few of the Marines with Bravo 1/26 up on 881 South believed it would come to pass.
We ran a long patrol the day before Christmas, we ran a short patrol on Christmas Day followed by hot chow that was delivered up on the hill via chopper from the combat base. We got some mail and although I can’t say for certain, I suspect I received hand-dipped chocolate bonbons and cookies and white cotton socks and candles from my family, all of which I shared around the squad.

On Christmas Eve, we had a church service and before I went on watch, I decided to go down and participate. On the way to the tent where they held the service, I listened to men softly speaking about the holiday and whether or not the truce would hold.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

In the church tent, the chaplain and his assistant led a non-denominational service that included some songs, communion, a sermon with some readings from the Bible. One of the songs, I think it was the last one we sang—which I didn’t sing even though we had been given reproduced copies of the words—was altered from the original “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” (also known as the Navy Hymn) written by William Whiting and adapted with the all-service lyrics and an added stanza composed specifically for the Marine Corps which read:

Eternal Father, grant , we pray,
To all Marines, both night and day,
The courage, honor, strength and skill
Their land to serve, Thy law fulfill;
Be Thou the Shield forevermore
From ev’ry peril to the Corps.

While everybody else was singing I heard the words, “Fire Mission called in to the 81mm mortar battery just outside the church service. That was followed by mortars leaving the tube, the crash of them off to the west, towards Laos, and I wondered who was out on Christmas Eve, during the Christmas truce, that needed a fire mission. Maybe it was just the regular interdiction barrages we sent out, or maybe it was a recon team out there in danger.

I thought it all pretty weird. Truce and Christmas and Jesus’ birthday and the words to that hymn and killing and 81mm mortars.

It jarred me on a spiritual level. Deep and hard and so damned incongruous.

I went back and hit the rack but soon was awakened by the words, “Red Alert.” So, there wasn’t a Christmas truce at all, and I wondered who decided there was or wasn’t, and we all stood watch, all night, the fog so thick you could almost lean up against it. Gloomy and full of the ghosts of doubt and death and fear.

But we weren’t attacked that night. We didn’t hear any sound of sappers sneaking up to the wire. We didn’t hear anything but the occasional cough of a Marine on watch or the soft cries of someone in a nightmare.

***

On a separate note:

Betty and I are making another film titled I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II until the present. We have finished interviewing eleven dynamic wives and have now embarked on turning their stories into a documentary film.

I Married the War

We are soliciting donations to help us get this movie edited, sound mixed and color corrected. If you are in a giving frame of mind, please check out the website for the new film at http://imarriedthewar.com/ and scroll down to the section about donating.

We appreciate our friends and followers and know we cannot succeed at our filmmaking efforts without their generous support.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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

Book Reviews,Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

November 12, 2018

Read This Book

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Bill Jones is a wry and intelligent man who knows how to spin a tale of war. I recently finished reading a third and final iteration of Bill’s book titled THE BODY BURNING DETAIL and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get a fresh look at the world of a Marine combat vet in Vietnam.

Bill served as a communicator with the 12th Marines and spent the bulk of his tour of duty out on remote hills and outposts not far below the DMZ.

One of the things about this book is Bill’s use of irony to make the point of how absurd combat is when stacked against the world we live in here in the US. The prose is tight, irreverent, funny, and at times breathtakingly intense. And it moved me to moments of reflection on war, my war, his war, how they were so similar and then again, different.

As readers, we are down in the red mud with Bill as it rains both literally and figuratively, monsoon moisture and mortars. It’s hot. He’s scared. He is dirty. He’s pissed off and he wants to go home. But he also loves his comrades, will fight beside them and for them in the face of nasty odds.

Some of Bill’s mates are funny, some not so funny, not ready for the war. We meet rear echelon personnel on hand to make his life miserable. We are introduced to Marines who thrive in the realm of killing, maybe too well.

Incisive and illuminative writing, Bill’s prose doesn’t lag and it doesn’t veer off into areas that have nothing to do with the narrative flow of a Marine in a combat zone. In some ways, Bill’s story isn’t unlike a lot of other coming-of-age, quest to find out who you are, Vietnam War memoirs: Young man enlists, goes through boot camp, goes to war, survives and goes home to an unappreciative and even hostile environment. But what makes this book different, what makes it work, is the narrator’s self-effacing voice that admits he doesn’t like war or the Marine Corps, for that matter. Like I said, it’s loaded with irony and understatement. You laugh a lot, or at least smile, while you read it.

Bill received his draft notice and on being inducted was confronted, along with a number of other draftees, by a Marine sergeant looking for recruits. As Bill describes it in the book:

“I need two more,” the sergeant announces. “Any volunteers?”

Two hands are timidly raised. One of them, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, is mine.

And yet, there is still the business of the war, and what young warriors do in war, and what is done to them. In a poignant scene from way out in the bush, some dead NVA are burned for sanitation reasons and for quite some time after, the stench of burning flesh infects the noses and minds of the Marines trapped inside the wire on an isolated hill under constant mortar attack and threat of a ground assault.

That scene works like a metaphor. It’s graphic and nasty to think about, and some of the distaste you feel arises from the notion that the stench of those bodies still lingers in Bill’s memory and thoughts. In some ways it remains in ours too, as we think about the figurative odor that still hangs around fifty years after the war, said stench being a lot of things: Anti-war protest, the nature of our leaving the South Vietnamese to their bitter fate, and what all veterans of combat face, the loss of the persons we were before we
marched off to combat.

The book cover for THE BODY BURNING DETAIL by Bill Jones.

This book does not pull punches.

In another striking scene, Bill describes being in his hole at night on what he calls, “LZ Sitting Duck.”

There is a dead, putrid smell in my hole. Lighting a match, I find a piece of scalp, still with a shock of black hair, embedded in the wall.

It is from one of the NVA soldiers we set on fire.

Bill is a poet—and there are poignant poems embedded in the prose of his memoir—who has written some fine war poems as well as cowboy poetry. His story will not be unusual to those of us who have faced the world he describes in THE BODY BURNING DETAIL, but the way he tells his tale is compellingly different.

If you want to know more about the Vietnam War and/or add to your store of narratives that might help you better understand what the hell happened over there, READ THIS BOOK.

You can find Bill Jones’ book here. And some of his poetry here.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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.