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Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Veterans Courts

November 10, 2017

A PARADE!!!

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Thirty or so years ago I used to sit around with a buddy of mine and talk about Vietnam. We didn’t serve together overseas but did pull duty together at the Marine Barracks at 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego. His combat experience was quite different than mine, but he’d seen enough that it left its imprint on him.

We used to guffaw at some of the early Vietnam veterans groups and talk about how what they were angry about was that they didn’t get their parade. He and I didn’t need veterans’ groups or parades, either, or so we thought.

Being a Marine was good for making me a stoic. Being in combat, in my mind, made me strong, too strong to show any kind of weakness associated with my war and that included veterans’ organizations and associated activities.

But times change and things change and even an old trench rat can learn how to negotiate the mazes of life in different ways. And that includes even being in a parade. And so, on November 4, 2017, I was allowed the distinct honor of being one of four parade grand marshals at the Boise Veterans Day Parade.

Right to left: Ileen Bunce and Ken Rodgers wth Ileen’s Corvette. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

The other grand marshals were Mr. Clair Kilton, a World War II Army veteran who fought and was wounded in the European Theater; Mr. Harold Kwan, a Korean War Marine Corps veteran who fought in Korea, including the Inchon landing and the brutal battle at Chosin Reservoir; Colonel Tom Mahoney, a veteran of the United States Air Force, who flew in the opening mission of Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kilton passed away a few days before the parade, so his three daughters, Penny, Peg and Lisa, took his place, and I imagine how heart wrenching and at the same time uplifting that had to be for them.

On the day of the big hullabaloo, Betty and I arrived earlier than necessary which is something we do often. The threat of continued rain from the night before had abated, leaving only scattered black clouds that umbrellaed over the parade route which ran east down State Street in front of the Idaho State Capitol building, then on around to head west down Jefferson Street.

The crowd of parade officials, news folk, volunteers, politicians, generals and colonels, active duty military personnel and grand marshals gathered before the parade began for donuts, bagels, coffee and juice, and to become acquainted, and to get last minute direction.

One local Treasure Valley politico, State Senator Marv Hagedorn, with whom I am acquainted came up and told me that I was a good choice for the Vietnam veteran grand marshal.

Ken Rodgers, Khe Sanh Veteran and Grand Marshall. Photo courtesy of Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

I was most humbled by, as I have been throughout the entire experience of finding out about—and then living out—my choice as grand marshal for this particular parade. But it also bothers me and leaves me with a sense of guilt. I told Senator Hagedorn that it bothered me in some respects to be grand marshal because it might give people the impression that I was some kind of hero. I said, “I’m no hero. The heroes didn’t get to come home from Khe Sanh.”

He smiled and said, “But as grand marshal, you are representing those men since they can’t represent themselves.”

His words worked, at least for the moment, the day, the experience of riding down the street with the sun out and people waving and shouting good things at me.

Betty and I ended up in a snazzy Corvette owned and driven by Ileen Bunce, president of Valley Corvettes. There was only room for one passenger in the seats, so I sat up top. I had to remove my boots so that Ileen’s Corvette didn’t get trashed.

Before the parade moved out, we pulled into line and were placed behind a large mechanized weapon, a tank or a self-propelled piece of artillery from the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho Army National Guard.

As we waited, our breaths visible in the chill, the parade folks honored the late Marine, Art Jackson, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island of Peleliu in 1944.

A flight of A-10 Warthogs flew over the parade route as did, later, a flight of choppers. Even I found that a bit stirring.

There were all kinds of folks in the parade: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, first responders, boy scouts, girl scouts, school bands, floats from organizations and businesses, mayors and other politicos. The local media, including a live broadcast by KTVB Channel 7, were out in force giving detailed coverage of the parade for those who couldn’t make it.

When we finally took off, the tank in front of us roared to life and left the smell of burning fuel hanging in the air.

Right off the bat, we spotted our friends, Leland and Trisha Nelson, standing on a corner. The Nelsons have been great friends of BRAVO! over the years. We waved at each other. It felt good to me.

As we approached the state capitol, a huge American flag hung off of fire truck extension ladders. The autumn winds that are common this time of year in Boise lifted the flag and reminded me of surges on the ocean.

All the way down State Street, people greeted us. I waved back at moms and dads, children, elderly veterans, grandpas and grandmas. More than once, somebody yelled, “Semper Fi.”

A mechanized weapon in the Boise Veterans Parade. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

One of the more interesting experiences I had, early on, was that of a Korean War veteran (that’s what his ball cap announced) sitting in a folding chair on the south side of the street. As we approached, he rose and saluted. I looked into his eyes and it was like he was saying something to me, something I should be proud to hear. I saluted back. As a matter of fact, I saluted a lot of people—veterans all, I suspect—as we wound around the route of the parade.

As we turned off of State Street, the parade passed below some trees, maples of some sort, whose leaves were still clinging to the branches. They were tinted between rust and gold and when the tank in front of our Corvette roared beneath, the exhaust blew the leaves off of a lot of the limbs. As the leaves fell, they were momentarily captured by a gentle breeze and sailed one way, and then another.

As we went on, I thought about me, sitting up there, being honored for something I am not sure I have earned or ever will. But those leaves gently falling to the street made me think of the men I served with who didn’t make it home: Furlong and Kent, Aldrich and Rash, McRae and a lot of others whose names I don’t remember or didn’t know.

And I decided that those leaves were the souls of those men falling down around me, saying that it was okay for me to be up there on the back of that Corvette, representing them.

Thanks to General Walt Smith, Vicki Lindgren and all the other folks who made the 2017 parade a big success.

***

In other news about BRAVO!, Betty and I attended a screening of BRAVO! at Idaho’s Nampa Public Library on November 1, 2017, hosted by librarian David Johnson. A great group of folks came to see the film. Often, as the intensity of the narrative thickens the air with a palpable tension, a few folks will get up and go out of the theater for a respite, but not that night. The audience was engaged. Glad to see young veterans and older ones, too, among the group. Thanks to David Johnson and the Nampa Public Library for all their efforts to make this event happen.

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

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

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

Documentary Film,Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

October 27, 2017

Donna Elliott

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I bet it seems to our readers that all we ever do is post memorials, requiems, obituaries. I guess it’s inevitable since the Vietnam War is five decades past. The Vietnam Veteran generation is approaching its eighth and ninth decades of life. It only stands to reason that we would be announcing the passing of people important to the story of Khe Sanh and the siege.

Today we wish to remember Donna Elliott, the sister of a soldier who went missing in action on January 21, 1968, while on a mission to relieve the soldiers and Marines who were under attack at Khe Sanh Ville. Donna’s brother, Jerry, was a staff sergeant in the United States Army who was acting as a door gunner on one of the choppers that flew in under fire at Khe Sanh Ville. Donna spent much of her lifetime trying to locate his remains.

Donna was a writer and journalist, and a United States Army veteran, who passed on October 22, 2017 and will be interred tomorrow, October 28, in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

Donna E. Elliott

In April of 2012, we shared a guest blog from Donna about her search for Jerry. In memory of Donna and her brother, we are re-sharing her post:

Guest blogger Donna E. Elliott shares her essay, The Blade and the Cross, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Essay Contest prize winner, excerpted from her book, Keeping the Promise (Hellgate Press, 2010).

On 21 January 1968, my brother, SSGT Jerry W. Elliott was declared Missing-In-Action in Khe Sanh, Vietnam. When the 55th Joint Task Force (JTF) investigated the loss site in 1999, his buddy, Mike Teutschman and I were present. After interviewing two local residents who had scavenged the Old French Fort, the team presented me with a charred section of rotor blade from Black Cat #027. The blade had survived a B-40 rocket attack, laid undiscovered in the red dirt of Khe Sanh until found by a farmer, and then spent years holding up the corner of a cow pen. Jerry had left his position as doorgunner on a different chopper to assist survivors from this crashed and burning helicopter when he disappeared.

I brought it back to America. May 2000, found us in the Pentagon parking lot with Run For The Wall, waiting to ride in the Rolling Thunder parade and carry the rotor blade in a pine box to the Wall. Many notables mingled with the bikers, but I never knew the name of the man I remember the most. He stared at the blade for a long time before he spoke. He was one of two survivors from a chopper crash. The other crewmember had managed to return to the crash and recover a small piece of stainless steel from the helicopter, which he used to make two crosses. The vet reached into his pants pocket and a small piece of silver flashed in his palm. He explained this cross was never out of his sight; he carried it with him at all times as a reminder of the friends he had lost. Tears welled up in his eyes when he choked out, “I don’t know why I didn’t die that day; they were all such good men.” Around noon, the lead bikes began to roll out. As soon as the wheels stopped turning, strong hands reached out to carry the heavy wooden box to its final destination at Panel 35E in an honor guard procession. One by one, the riders touched Jerry’s name with bowed heads as a silent statement of respect. Overwhelmed, I left the Wall. Like a moth to a flame, I later returned. While bending over the pine box, which now overflowed with miscellaneous mementos, I lost my balance and leaned into the Wall to break my fall.

Donna Elliott at the Wall, 2000

That’s when I saw it. Tucked deep into a corner of the pine box was the small silver cross! For reasons unknown, the Vietnam vet from the parking lot had chosen to leave his talisman at the Wall in remembrance of Jerry. His gift an anonymous, selfless act, reminiscent of actions I’d heard combat vets share about their brother soldiers on the battlefield. I placed the cross on one end of the blade, where it gleamed boldly. I hope my nameless friend from the parking lot walked away from the Wall that day with as much peace in his heart as I felt at that moment.

Donna E. Elliott, a retired military photojournalist, values the peaceful surroundings of the family farm in the Arkansas Ozark foothills. In civilian life, she utilized her writing skills as a newspaper and radio news reporter, and freelanced as a human interest photojournalist. While in service, she earned the U. S. Army Command FORSCOM 4th Estate Award and three Minaret awards for excellence in journalism. Donna is a member of the Military Writers Society of America.

Used with permission of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (www.buildthecenter.org/) and Donna E. Elliott.

You can read Donna’s obituary here.

And you can find out more about her book, KEEPING THE PROMISE, here.

Documentary Film,Eulogies,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 20, 2017

Fiddler’s Green

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Earlier this year, Betty and I saw a documentary film by the director/producer Terry Sanders, titled FIGHTING FOR LIFE. The film recognizes how doctors and other medical personnel are trained at “the medical school no one’s ever heard of,” the Uniformed Services University. Besides anatomy and physiology and biology and regular medical training, many of the people who attend this university are trained for going onto the battlefield to heal and patch up the warriors of our country.

I always assumed that medical training is medical training, but as the film shows, the way we are taught to treat the women and men who fight our wars is, in many instances, governed by a different set of needs revolving around combat. It’s a pretty obvious conclusion when I think about it right now, but until seeing the film it hadn’t occurred to me what special skills military doctors, dentists, nurses, medics and corpsmen require in their efforts to save and mend lives.

Miramar National Cemetery, San Diego, California. Photo courtesy of Miramar National Cemetery.

I bring this up because last Tuesday, October 17, 2017. Lt. Commander Dr. Edward Feldman was buried at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego, CA, and his interment got me thinking about the medical folks I served with in Vietnam.

Dr. Feldman was one of the physicians who served with the 9th and 26th Marines during the Siege of Khe Sanh. And like so many of the doctors and corpsmen I served with, his story is remarkable. He arrived at Khe Sanh on January 3, 1968, eighteen days before the beginning of the Siege. Almost immediately, on the opening day of the big battle, January 21, 1968, Dr. Feldman was called upon to perform an amazing feat of surgery. He removed a live mortar round from the abdominal cavity of a Marine. For his action, he was awarded a Silver Star. Below is a quote from his Silver Star Award. I will let you read for yourselves what an astounding act this surgery was.

When the Khe Sanh Combat Base came under heavy mortar and rocket attack on 21 January 1968, a wounded Marine was taken to the Battalion Aid Station where preliminary examinations revealed a metal object protruding from a wound in his abdominal region. Further examination disclosed the possibility of the object being a live enemy mortar round. Quickly assessing the situation, Lieutenant Feldman directed the erection of a sandbag barricade around the patient over which he would attempt to operate and summoned an ordnance expert to identify the object and assist in removing the suspected explosive device from the injured man. Disregarding his own safety, Lieutenant Feldman removed his helmet and armored vest and exposed himself to the danger of a possible explosion as he began to operate. Displaying exceptional professional ability while performing the delicate surgery under flashlights, he succeeded in removing the live round from the Marine and directed an assistant to carry it outside for disposal. By his courage, exceptional professionalism and selfless devotion to duty at great personal risk, Lieutenant Feldman undoubtedly saved the life of a Marine and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

You can read Edward Feldman’s entire Silver Star citation here.

Dr. Edward Feldman. Photo courtesy of Before They Go.

Dr. Feldman was also, during his tour of duty in Vietnam, awarded a Bronze Star with Combat V for his actions with Charlie Med at the Siege. The United States Army awarded him a Bronze Star for Valor when, just before he was to rotate back to the States, he went into the field to medically assist a company of Army warriors and ended up acting as the commanding officer when the unit’s officers and senior NCOs were either killed or wounded in action.

After his service in the United States Navy, Dr. Feldman went on to establish medical practices in New Jersey and then California.

I found a comprehensive interview on the internet that he gave to the Navy and you can access it here.

You can also read Edward Feldman’s obituary here.

The medical folks at Khe Sanh were necessary to the Marines and by virtue of their bravery, from both doctors and corpsmen, earned the undying devotion and respect of the Marines who inhabited that hellhole.

Medical personnel in action during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Photo by Dave Powell.

I don’t know if it was Dr. Feldman, or one of the other physicians who went out with us on the patrol of March 30, 1968, where the Marines of Bravo Company, 1/26 assaulted an NVA battalion entrenched on a ridgeline south-east of the combat base. I guess it doesn’t matter who it was, but in my mind I imagine it being him.

I don’t know what physicians do out on the battlefield except try to save lives, but I imagine there is a set protocol for particular procedures: triage for a quick assessment of a casualty’s chances of surviving, then application of tourniquets, bandages, administration of drugs like morphine and other forms of emergency treatment.

But the thing is, out there on that day, bullets were flying and incoming artillery and mortar rounds fell all around us, killing or wounding many of us. And the doctor, whoever he was, and his corpsmen, were subject to death and dismemberment by the same hostile fire that beset the rest of us.

We often think of doctors in an office, rushing down the halls of a hospital, or even attending to the wounded in a field hospital, but not treating wounded Marines in the bottom of a bomb crater. If Edward Feldman didn’t draw that duty on that day, if ordered to do so, he would have been out there with his scalpel and the other tools he’d need to save lives. I don’t doubt that.

Waiting for the wounded at Khe Sanh. Photo by Dave Powell.

My experience with doctors at Khe Sanh was almost nonexistent. If I had a problem, it was handled by a corpsman so I don’t know if I ever crossed paths with Dr. Feldman. Nevertheless, I salute him—and all the medical personnel who put their lives in danger to save others—for his courage and his skill in the face of imminent danger.

There’s an old Navy myth about a magical afterlife called Fiddler’s Green where sailors go when they die, where never-ending laughter and a fiddle that plays forever and echoes of dancing feet ring.

My company commander at the Siege of Khe Sanh, Lt. Colonel Ken Pipes, mentioned Fiddler’s Green when he alerted all of us old Jarheads of the passing of Dr. Ed Feldman.

Like so much of what makes up the naval milieu, there is a ditty about Fiddler’s Green that goes like this:

At Fiddler’s Green, where seamen true
When here they’ve done their duty
The bowl of grog shall still renew
And pledge to love and beauty.

Revel in your time at Fiddler’s Green, Ed Feldman.

Semper Fi!

*******

Upcoming creening information:

In conjunction with the Ken Burns documentary, the Nampa Public Library in Nampa, Idaho, will screen BRAVO! on November 1, 2017. Doors open at 6:30 PM and the free program will begin at 7:00 PM, followed by a Q&A. A panel discussion with Vietnam Veterans is scheduled for November 8. The Nampa library’s website is http://nampalibrary.org.

On April 7, 2018, the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho, will host a one-day symposium in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Siege. The event will encompass a forum for educating the public about the Siege of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War, as well as an opportunity for a Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion. Activities will include a screening of BRAVO! and guest speakers remembering the battle. Khe Sanh Vet Mike Archer, author of two heralded non-fiction books on his Khe Sanh experiences, will be one of the featured speakers. You can see more about Mike at http://www.michaelarcher.net.

Mark your calendars now, as this will be a stellar event in a world-class air museum. We are still in the planning stage, so if you would like to participate and were involved with the siege, or just want to help, please contact me at 208-340-8889. An event like this can only happen with a core group of committed volunteers. We can’t do it without you! For more information on the Warhawk Air Museum, check out their website at https://warhawkairmuseum.org.

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

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

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

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

August 16, 2017

Perfect Pitch

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I recently heard someone on the radio talking about an Austrian composer and violinist named Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler who fought with the Austrian army during the early days of World War I.

Here is a short biography from Wikipedia about Fritz Kreisler:

Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler (February 2, 1875 – January 29, 1962) was an Austrian-born violinist and composer. One of the most noted violin masters of his day, and regarded as one of the greatest violin masters of all time, he was known for his sweet tone and expressive phrasing.

Photo of Fritz Kreisler.

He served briefly in the Austrian Army in World War I before being honourably discharged after he was wounded.

On the radio show, the announcer talked about Fritz’s perfect pitch, or absolute pitch. According to Wikipedia:

Perfect pitch is a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.

Besides its value in the realm of music, Fritz’ perfect pitch endeared him to the men who served with him in the trenches during World War I. Perfect pitch enabled Fritz to distinguish the sounds of incoming and to tell his comrades where incoming artillery rounds were going to hit.

In his memoir, Fritz said this about the sound of incoming:

I, too, soon got accustomed to the deadly missiles, in fact. I had already started to make observations of their peculiarities. My ear, accustomed to differentiate sounds of all kinds, had some time ago, while we still advanced, noticed a remarkable discrepancy in the peculiar whine produced by the different shells in their rapid flight through the air as they passed over our heads, some sounding shrill, with a rising tendency, and the others dull, with a falling cadence.

Hearing about Fritz’ abilities to pinpoint artillery round sounds and the location they would strike led me to think about the trenches of Khe Sanh and how, if one survived long enough and had scrambled away from close encounters with 152 millimeter shells lobbed at us from Laos, then he may be gifted with the ability to tell where a round was going to hit.

I remember yelling at new arrivals during the months of February and March that it was time to move when I heard the report of certain 152s leaving the mouths of caves across the Laotian border on their way to wipe us out. There was a particular “thump” sound—more hollow than the sound of the rounds that fell farther away—that told me it was time to di-di mau for a safer place. Usually, the new guys would look at me like I was stupid or crazy, but if they survived that round, they paid attention to me the next time I announced it was time to move.

Michael O’Hara at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

Unlike Fritz, I couldn’t accurately predict the impact area for all the incoming: the 130 MM, the 122 MM, the various mortar and rocket rounds, the sniper rounds, all of which we received plenty.
And every one of them made a different sound.

I remember those big rounds, those 152s sounding like a train.

In our film, BRAVO!, Michael O’Hara made this comment on 152s:

“But it’s like a freight train coming through the bathroom when you’re taking a shower. And you know it’s coming and you can’t get out of the bathroom.”

Michael also said this about the big guns firing into Khe Sanh Combat Base:

“I thought to myself, this is crazy. People don’t understand what it’s like for all that artillery to come in like that. It’s just terrifying. It’s meant to do more than just tear up your body. It’s meant to tear up your mind. It will scare you to death.”

But it wasn’t just the 152s that could kill you. It was all of the various types of hardware the NVA threw at us.

The late BRAVO! Marine Lloyd Scudder said this about incoming:

“Every time there was incoming or the ammo dumps, you know, were blowing up, I was scared to death. That shhhheeeww and the whistling of the rockets and the poof of the mortars and the kapoof sheeeewhirwhirwhir. That right there scared the hell out of me.”

Yes, the big stuff could kill and maim, but the silent slap of a sniper round could get you, too. And the worst part about it, as anyone who has been sniped at knows, is you don’t hear the round coming because that sleek and stealthy killer travels faster than the speed of sound. I suspect that muzzle velocity is responsible for the old saying, “You don’t hear the one that kills you.”

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees had this to say about snipers:

“ . . . rounds from a sniper. It was like a mosquito. They were buzzing your head constantly . . . you just realized that was a bullet.”

Lloyd Scudder. Photo courtesy of the late Lloyd Scudder

Besides being killed or maimed, there was the psychological assault–as alluded to earlier by Michael O’Hara–that all of that incoming delivered to each one of us in the Khe Sanh area; not just the Combat Base, but Hills 861, 861A, 558, 950, 881 South, Lang Vei, and Khe Sanh Ville.

Again, Ron Rees:

“You hear it leave the tube and then just the seconds that it takes . . . and you know how long it is . . . when you heard it leave the tube, you knew how long you had, and from the time you heard that round leave the tube until it hit, you imagined death; you’re thinking all along, Is it you?”

And as this happened, sometimes over a thousand times a day, day after day, it had an effect, a life-long effect.

When people plan for the future, near-term or farther out, and I’m involved in their plans, I often times find myself thinking, “Why are we spending all this time working on plans? We don’t know what the future will bring. This is all a waste of time. A minute from now we might all be dead.”

Ron Rees. Photo Courtesy of Ron Rees.

Ron Rees had something to say about that, too:

“I really learned to live—because of the incoming and counting and everything else—to live by the second. You hear people say they live like that, I mean they literally live like that. My whole life I’ve never stopped living like that.”

As I thought about Fritz Kreisler in World War I and the men at Khe Sanh during the Siege, I felt a strange sensation, a linkage, related, I suppose, to the notion that even though there was a span of more than fifty years between Fritz’ experiences with the horrors of war and mine, we both learned to survive, and in some instances that survival was related to our ability to employ perfect pitch or some facsimile thereof.

***

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,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 2, 2017

Requiem for a Warrior–Michael H. McCauley

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The bonds created by shared fear and the horrors of battle are strong. For years I didn’t understand that. For years I didn’t understand that the bonds forged between warriors who endure the fury of combat even existed. For forty years I felt there really were no such bonds.

Since most Vietnam veterans chose to clamp our mouths shut and corral our memories of combat, the opportunities for us to begin to understand the emotional linkage that exists between warriors were not taken advantage of for decades.

Mike McCauley in Marine Corps dress blues.

I recall the first time I talked to one of my old comrades. It was 25-plus years since I’d escaped the savagery of war, and when we first talked it was like I’d found someone I’d been looking for even though I didn’t know I’d been involved in any such search.

Yet there was something pulling at me and over the intervening years since that initial contact, that attraction, that magnetic force, so to speak, has drawn me into close relationships with the men who shared the nightmares of Khe Sanh with me.

One of those men was Michael H. McCauley. I didn’t know Mike in Vietnam. I might have seen his face as I walked by on my way out on patrol or ambush. We might have nodded at each other and maybe exchanged a comment.

Mike McCauley on a panel of Marines at the screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, Idaho, 2013

He was in First Platoon and I was in Second. He was a relative new guy compared to me. We hadn’t a lot in common . . . me a desert rat from Arizona and he a city boy from Boston. But what we did have in common was the Marine Corps and over seventy days trapped inside the concertina wire perimeter of Khe Sanh Combat Base.

And boy what a bond. We became good friends and I’m not sure that’s even the right word to describe our relationship. We were comrades; we were men who understood what very few could understand. We had knowledge—emotional and intellectual and intuitive—that I really wouldn’t want anybody else to learn because how you learn it, the price of it, is too damned high.

Nevertheless, we were comrades who understood leeches and jungle grass and the roar of 152 millimeter artillery rounds storming at you. We understood the glint in the eye of the enemy, be he living or dead. We understood combat. We could talk about it. And we could laugh about it, among ourselves of course, but not with many of the uninitiated.

Mike liked to hand out these hats to men who served with BRAVO! They were his creations.

And Mike liked to laugh. He was quiet most of the time. A listener with a quick wit. A man who endured much in his life during and after the war.

Mike was a man whom I liked to be around. It was easy being around Mike. No angst, no bullshit, just a straight-up guy. A very kind man beloved by many whether they were war comrades or not.

In the war, Mike saw a lot more hell than I did. He endured the siege and then continued with BRAVO! all spring and summer and fall of 1968 when the 1st Battalion 26th Marines were locked in repetitive battle with the enemy in other locations around South Vietnam.

And like all of us veterans of war fighting, I believe the warrioring took its toll on Mike.

In early July of this year, Mike left us to go wherever it is you go when you pass on. I think he believed that to be some kind of heaven.

Ruth and Mike McCauley in Moscow, Idaho, 2013.

He’d been pretty damned sick for a while. I’d call him up or he’d call me and we’d talk and he’d tell me—he’d man right up—about exactly what was happening to him. It was sad and he was courageous and it hurt me every time we talked and every time I thought about it after switching off the cell phone.

I’m going to miss Mike’s laugh. I’m going to long for his smile and his wry comments in that Boston patois I’d know anywhere.

And yet I’m grateful I can still laugh with him, and recall the Siege of Khe Sanh with him, every time I watch BRAVO!. But not without shedding a tear or two when I think about how much I miss him.
All of us Vietnam veterans are on a march, one from which we can’t fall out, to join Mike and all the other men we served with in that long-ago conflict.

Mike will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, a place of honor and dignity, on August 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM. Arlington, a place he deserves to rest.

Our deepest condolences to Mike’s devoted wife, Ruth McCauley, his big and boisterous family who embraced Betty and me with open arms, and the multitude of his many beloved friends around the country.

Documentary Film,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans

July 5, 2017

Stouthearted and Indomitable

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Idaho recently honored Medal of Honor recipient Arthur J. Jackson in a memorial ceremony held at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise. Art passed away on June 14, 2017.

Art’s Medal of Honor was for his actions as a Marine PFC with the Seventh Marine Regiment on the island of Peleliu in 1944. You can read the citation here.

A young Art Jackson with his Medal of Honor.

The United States Marine Corps was involved in Art’s memorial and they brought Marines from Washington’s 8th and I Barracks as well as Marine Corps Band members who serve in the President’s own band.

The weather was warm, but not hot, and a breeze out of the west set the flags to fluttering.

Art and Sally Jackson at a celebration of Art in 2016 in Boise Idaho. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

A good sized crowd arrived in time to see Art honored with a 21 gun salute, a flyover by Marine Corps F-18s, a service delivered by the Boise Rescue Mission’s Reverend Bill Roscoe, and a solemn presentation of the American flag to Art’s wife, Sally.

I got acquainted with Art last year while we interviewed Sally Jackson for our upcoming film I MARRIED THE WAR about the wives of combat veterans. I was lucky enough, while Sally was being interviewed about her art work or going through old photos of family and friends, to chat with Art at some length.

Marines from 8th & I honoring Art with a 21 Gun Salute. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

At the time, Art was ninety-one, so his memory was a little worn and I doubt he remembered me the few times we met, but he did tell me some things about his service in the Marine Corps. He talked about the miserable weather at Cape Gloucester and the horrible ordeal of Peleliu and the brutal and grueling grind of Okinawa.

When Art told me these stories he’d stop midsentence and stare off at the other side of the living room, and I knew he was back there, reliving those moments, whatever they might be at that instant.

I don’t know, he may have been thinking about what he was telling me, or it could be something else: the face of a Marine who stood beside him in one of the firefights, or it could have been a recollection of the dead volcanic terrain of Peleliu, or the shattered families, the frightened children and other locals on Okinawa.

The rest of Art’s biography is interesting and you can read about it here.

On Peleliu, Art’s actions came to be referred to as “the one-man assault.” He was responsible for killing fifty Japanese soldiers—solo, no help.

Members of the President’s Own Marine Corps Band performing at Art’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

When I think about what that means, killing all those men, leads me to think about my own combat experiences. For the most part, my time at Khe Sanh was spent dodging incoming—everything from 152 MM artillery rounds roaring in from Laos to 7.62 rounds from SVD sniper rifles. But in one instance I was involved in an assault into an entrenched position of an NVA battalion.

On that day, after an hours-long often hand-to-hand struggle, the men of my outfit, Bravo Company, decimated that battalion of NVA. Some of my comrades were honored with Navy Crosses and Silver Stars and Bronze Stars, but as far as I can recall no one did anything to match what Art Jackson did on Peleliu.

People talk a lot about courage when they talk about Art Jackson.

What is the nature of courage?

Dictionary.com defines courage as follows:

The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

I don’t hold with the notion that what Art did or what others do in times of intense pressure is done without fear. I suspect courage comes forth in spite of fear.

Sally receiving the American Flag from Art’s coffin. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

A couple of quotes I found on the Internet seem to match what my experiences have led me to surmise:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” ~ Mark Twain

“Courage is feeling fear, not getting rid of fear, and taking action in the face of fear.” ~ Roy T Bennett

Most of what I did in my stint during the war—and I was under fire a lot—was to do what was required of me and sometimes that placed me in extreme danger. And although I was scared, whether I did anything or not made no difference. I was still scared.

And also, after all the forty-nine-plus years since I left the war, I’ve come to believe that a lot of what I did that led me to eschew my own safety on the battlefield was due to peer pressure. I thought then and I believe now that next to death and maiming, and maybe, in some instances even before those horrible results of combat, behaving so that I was not thought of as a coward by the men with whom I served was the prime motivator for my taking actions that were life endangering.

Fear is a powerful motivator and left unchecked it can eat a man or woman up, drive them to inaction in a situation demanding action, can force them to hide when those they love die. To overcome that requires courage.

Lastly, besides peer pressure and duty, a man or woman engaged in combat will go above and beyond to help their comrades. Some people call it love. I don’t know what to call it other than regard for those with whom you share a bunker, those who make you laugh, who walk through the valley of death with you, who will pull you to safety when you get shot. As a Marine, we all felt we owed it to our brothers to help them if they were in extreme danger. A creed, I guess, that seems to be overdone these days, but more than a creed, something, on second thought, that is akin to love. And somewhere in there, I’m sure courage is involved.

I don’t know what Art Jackson’s reasons were for doing what he did. Maybe it was all of the above.

I am glad I got acquainted with Art Jackson. He was a national hero. The citation for Art’s Medal of Honor states that he was “stouthearted and indomitable.” I think that’s something all of us would, in some fashion, like to be.

Rest in peace, Art, and Semper Fi.

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

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

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

March 29, 2017

On Payback and Recapture

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One of the things that I’ve discovered during the process of making BRAVO! is how the memories of various men who went through the same events are different. What I remember, someone else doesn’t remember at all, or remembers in a very different way, or maybe the only difference is in a detail or two.

And a follow-up to that notion is the question: Because we don’t remember events the same, are all, one, or none of the memories not the the truth? And that begs another question: Does it matter?

Tomorrow, March 30, will be the 49th anniversary—if that is the correct word—of what has come to be called the Payback Patrol.

On that day, March 30, 1968, I had just a few more days to make it through my thirteen month tour of duty without getting hurt or killed.

Bayonet and Scabbard for an M-16

We had been told, as I recall, that the patrol out the southeast gate of the Khe Sanh Combat Base was to be a standard patrol to bring back the twenty-seven Marines and Corpsmen we hadn’t saved or salvaged from the nasty events related to the Ghost Patrol of February 25, 1968.

I also recall that when I was told that the patrol would be “standard” some little message kept sneaking into my consciousness whispering something like, “Don’t believe them. It will be hell out there.”

And as it turned out, it was. Twelve Marines lost their lives and most of the other ninety or so participants on our side were wounded. I think, collectively, we killed a lot of our adversaries. But to make matters worse, we didn’t have the opportunity to retrieve our fellow Ghost Patrol Marines because we were locked in mortal combat with the entrenched NVA for hours.

While I was interviewing the men of the film, BRAVO!, it surprised me that some of them recalled the events of March 30 differently than I did. Some remembered that they were told we were going out to assault an entrenched battalion of the NVA’s best troops. Not something I heard or if I did, I chose not to believe it, and if I did that, why? Because I wanted to put the best face on it? I suspect that could be the answer. Optimism is something I have a healthy load of.

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh.

One of the other things I don’t recall is the order that Skipper Ken Pipes gave to his radio operator, Tom Quigley, to, “Be advised, fix bayonets.”

Tom Quigley passed that order along to the rest of us via our radio network and as a radio operator, I must have heard that order.

No less than five of the interviewees of the film remember that moment very well—the fixing of bayonets and the inference they took away from the order: that they would be involved in up-close and personal combat, in some cases hand-to-hand battle, and all the images of death in close proximity that one’s mind could dredge up to scare the hell out of you.

With that many of the men spontaneously recalling the event at the interviews some forty-two years later, individually with no prompting from me, I have come to the conclusion that I must have blanked that memory out.

I wonder why. Was it because the thought was too horrible for me to deal with?

I wasn’t personally part of the combat where Marines and NVA soldiers were locked in fights that required the use of bayonets. And since I wasn’t, maybe my memory and my mind settled on the things that did happen to me: getting hit in the side of the head by mortar shrapnel, watching Marines satchel charge and flame throw bunkers with the enemy in them, running out front to call in artillery fire so we could begin to retire and collect our dead and wounded, watching Second Lieutenant Moscato trip a booby trap and get hit in the chin with a Willie Peter round that caused his face to smoke, to find my buddy David Aldrich’s body being carried back to the base after we retired from the battlefield.

It was a horrible day. One of those times, if you are thinking about the Marine ethos, that you associate with what happens when Marines go to war. Although not as long-lived, but over its four or five hour duration probably as savage, the Payback Patrol was akin to Belleau Wood, or Peleliu or Chosin Reservoir. On March 30, 1968, there were enough monstrous memories for every one of us who survived to store away a whole bevy of them and still not recall everything.

Ken Pipes

It’s curious what you do recall, sometimes, from those moments. One would think that the only thing that mattered was those ultimate instances where your survival was challenged in a terrifyingly personal way in a grippingly personal moment. But one of my clearest memories is of the faces of the dead. How the NVA all looked to me like they were fifteen years old and how the faces of the dead Marines began to change color, becoming sallow, and after a while they seemed to me to be no different in that regard—the tint of the skin—than the enemy. And of course, in the most important way—all of them being dead—they were no different.

I have been thinking a lot, over the past few months, of memory and how important it is for our mental health, that we have the ability to extract these mementos of horror and retell them so we can somehow better deal with the effects they have had on who we have become.

And if one man’s truth isn’t the same as mine in terms of what we recall, I don’t think it really matters. What matters in this regard, it seems to me, is that we learn to confront the reservoirs of monstrance that our un-dealt-with memories harbor.

I know that tomorrow a lot of men who were on the Payback Patrol will join me in recalling their own individual memories of those particular instances—fixed bayonets, charging the NVA trench, killing other men up close—and thinking about them.

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

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

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

March 22, 2017

Ghosties–Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 43 years.

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

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

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

March 10, 2017

Bookie 762. . .Redux

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Betty and I and our guest writers have been maintaining this blog site for six and one-half years. From time to time we venture back and read what showed up on the site in the past. Here is a blog I wrote in March of 2011 as we were weorking on the intial edits for the film.

Photo of a Marine Corps C-123.

Photo of a Marine Corps C-123.

On March 6, 1968 a planeload of Marines on a C-123 with a call sign of “Bookie 762” flew in from the real world in Danang and upon arrival at Khe Sanh combat base was damaged by incoming North Vietnamese Army .50 caliber machine gun and 57 millimeter recoilless rifle fire. She lost three of her engines, and the pilot veered off to return to Danang. From our vantage point, she got lost in the fog. Later, we learned she crashed. No survivors. There were 5 Marines from Bravo Company on that plane:

Herbert Aldridge

Willis Beauford

Joseph Brignac

Winford McCosar

Ron Ryan

Ron Ryan shortly before the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara.

Ron Ryan shortly before the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

At the time, when the word came down the trench, the faces of the survivors in Second Platoon wore expressions of fear, shock and surprise.

I knew Corporal Ron Ryan fairly well, as well as that curious battlefield intimacy we enjoyed at Khe Sanh allowed. He was a machine gunner who’d been with Bravo Company, I think, since early October, 1967.

At the time, it all reeled by in my mind like movie cartoons. My breath shrunk in my chest, grew shallow. Red mustache, dirty dungarees, big smile, Ryan kicking asses when catching Marines asleep on watch. Our shared miseries like no water for showers, not enough chow, constantly cleaning rusty rifles, incoming attacks, more incoming attacks, how we surfaced after they let up and laughed and laughed and laughed. We would see him no more. My head spun.

Lance Corporal “J” looked at me with his huge .50 caliber eyes and shook his big, helmeted head. He glanced down at the red mud in the trench bottom and kicked at it with a scuffed jungle boot. He peered at me and said, “Lord, don’t you know it’s a terrible, terrible thing.”

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O'Hara.

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

He shook his head again, “Terrible…life is terrible.” Then he let the slightest grin come across one-half of his mouth as he whispered, “But better him than me.”

We both laughed, surreptitiously, of course. There was a lot of gloom from the other Marines standing there, pondering life and its aftermath.

He said it a little louder, “Better him than me.”

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

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

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

February 23, 2017

Reclaiming the Story

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I recently received two articles from friend and BRAVO! supporter Norma Jaeger about the power of story to help heal mental health issues. As I read the articles I was particularly struck by two notions.

One: The notion that we need to reclaim our stories—and by that I mean that the memories we have, whether they are related to combat or not, are somewhere in our minds—and by reclaiming them, rethinking them, telling them for the first time or relating them again, we allow ourselves to investigate how those stories are relevant to who we have become.

Two: Mention the unmentionable; dig down and remember those instances that are so horrible and so frightening that we want to hide them from ourselves. Quite often our failure to think about, relive, and analyze the unmentionable moments of our lives can lead to mental and/or physical issues that may be harmful.

Cal Bright

Cal Bright

The interesting thing is that when we try to hide the unmentionables from ourselves, they really don’t hide down there, dormant, obedient, submissive. They try their damnedest to worm their way out of the vault in which we attempt to lock them. They want out, they need to get out. Out, so we can examine them and discover what they really mean vis à vis the person we are now as well as the person we wish to become.

For Khe Sanh veterans it is the season of remembering. The particular time of year rolls around every January and sticks in our minds through the end of spring. For the various men who served during the siege there are ample examples of unmentionables that for years have been crammed and stuffed into the dark and inaccessible places of our memories.

John "Doc" Cicala

John “Doc” Cicala

Three days from now, on February 25, most Khe Sanh vets will recall—and in some cases mentally relive—a platoon-sized patrol outside the east end of the combat base. That event has come to be called “The Ghost Patrol.” The Marines of 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/26 and later 1st Platoon of the same outfit ran into a slaughter house of an ambush sprung by the North Vietnamese. The battle decimated the Marines and left them mired in the chaos of combat. They received little help from the combat base. They saved each other the best they could. Some were forced to save themselves, and in a number of cases, could not comprehend how they even managed to survive.

Now, forty-nine years later, that patrol…that ambush…has gained a sort of fame, so to speak, where the lessons learned by the warriors on both sides are now being taught to the incoming generation of new combatants.

According to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s publication titled PEBBLES IN MY BOOTS, VOLUME 4, the North Vietnamese Army uses the events of February 25th in their training on how to set up ambushes. And as Betty and I found out last spring while at Quantico to receive an award for BRAVO! from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, The Ghost Patrol is also the subject of a field problem during a class on Scouting and Patrolling in The Basic School which all officers in the Marine Corps attend before they are assigned to their initial deployments.

Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss

For those of us who endured or witnessed that sorry, sorry event, the magnitude of what happened in The Ghost Patrol is imprinted on our souls. But other people not involved in the death and mayhem, most of them not even alive in 1968, also saw—or see—value in remembering, in a kind of way, the events of that day.

And aside from instructional purposes, is there any other value in recalling what happened on February 25, 1968?

In BRAVO! three Marines, Cal Bright, Steve Wiese and Peter Weiss and one Navy Corpsman, John Cicala, talk about the events of that day. The pain and horror, the knife-edged realization that the memories remain as virulent now as they ever were, are etched all over their remembrance of The Ghost Patrol. Maybe the recollections are a little softened by time, but they are still capable of delivering an overdose of pain.

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

They reclaimed their stories. In the moments when I interviewed them, they told—they witnessed again—the horrors of that day. I can only imagine the courage it took for them to discuss events that even though decades old, could disrupt the calm demeanor these men normally carry. The moments they described—mentioning the unmentionable, the painful unmentionable, to one degree or another—bore on their faces like a map of the blasted land around Khe Sanh in 1968.

I am not a psychologist and don’t pretend to know much about how moral injury, PTSD and TBI affect us, but I believe that those four men, by revealing to us their memories about The Ghost Patrol, found some relief from the nagging images and the unpleasant reactions they suffer as a result of that infamous battle.

Marines on The Ghost Patrol.  Cal Bright on the left. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Cal Bright on the left. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

And I think there is something in their examples for each of us to think about. Most combat veterans have experiences like The Ghost Patrol in one form or another, and a lot of the memories of those moments stay chilled in the recesses of their minds. And not just combat vets, but every one of us has things dwelling in our memories that we would rather not think about; things that fester there like splinters jammed deep beneath the skin. Like all things that fester, they can become toxic and dangerous, and as such we need to acknowledge them through talking to a friend, a counselor, writing them down, painting or drawing them in a picture, or reliving them in a documentary film so we can begin to put them in their proper place inside the framework of our lives.

Again, we should reclaim those memories instead of letting them simmer in the back of the mind. Let them become a vital and much less toxic part of who we have become. Retelling our tales, whether to a friend, in a poem, or to a mental health professional, allows us the opportunity to change the foreign into the recognizable. It makes that which remains unspoken into the verbalized and may very well allow us access to a new sense of awareness about our story and its relationship to our wellbeing. And that can’t do anything but help.

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

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

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