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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 31, 2019

HAMBURGER HILL (MEMORIAL DAY 2019)

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Guest blogger Cobb Hammond’s article on the savage battle fought in May, 1969, originally published in the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL on May 24, 2019.

As Americans this weekend memorialize the casualties of our war dead, a small band of US soldiers of the 101st Airborne division will recall in their collective memories, comrades in-arms of a battle during the Vietnam War. The Battle of Hamburger Hill fought 50-years ago this month, is seared into the memories of its participants; a struggle in the heavily contested A Shau Valley. Fought over a specific mountain, known as Hill 937, denoted for its height in meters (approx. 3 thousand feet), it was also called Dong Ap Bia by the North Vietnamese, which translates into ‘Mountain of the crouching beast’.

Part of a chain of mountain ridges and numerous valleys, it sat one mile from the Laotian border and contained multiple ridges and fingers that came off the summit. The slopes of Dong Ap Bia were covered in extreme overgrowth of sharp elephant grass up to 7 feet, thick bamboo groves and triple-canopy jungle, making daylight appear as dusk. The entire area was a support system for the North Vietnamese infiltrating supplies and men into the South, and the general vicinity contained roads for trucks, major supply depots and the like.  After increased enemy activity had been noted by army recon teams in the valley, Operation Apache Snow commenced on May 10, utilizing a Marine Corps regiment, multiple airborne battalions and allied S. Vietnamese forces as well.  The 3rd battalion, 187th Regiment of the 101st – also known as the “Rakkasans” would be tasked with finding the enemy, on or around 937 and eliminating him. This understrength infantry unit was at 65% strength at the outset of the campaign due to recent engagements contributing to the attrition of the units.   The commanding officer of the battalion was Lt. Colonel Weldon Honeycutt, a no-nonsense career soldier and North Carolinian who had joined the army as a teenager at the end of WWII.

Hamburger Hill
Photo by Shunsake Akatsuka

On the morning of May 10, a one and one-half hour prep of the battlefield commenced, with multiple batteries of artillery opening, followed by dozens of sorties by attack aircraft and helicopters firing their ordinance.  At 7 am transport helicopters inserted the initial element of forces into landing zones in the valley, with one mission: find the enemy and make contact.  The first day drew only light contact for Alpha and Charlie companies. Due to the rugged terrain, extreme heat and thick underbrush progress was slow. Bravo and Delta, which were kept in reserve choppered in on the second day and incorporated into the general scheme of the attack.  The 1st battalion of the 506th regiment was working working its way north toward the area as well, but due to the hazards of the terrain and constant ambushes by the enemy would not arrive until the latter part of the battle, leaving the ‘tactical’ burden to the four rifle-companies of the 3/187. 

As day 2 absorbed into 3, the fighting intensified, clearly indicating to the commander that they were facing more of the enemy to their front than originally thought. In fact, as the battle progressed, the enemy, North Vietnamese, were able to fortify their forces on the hill. Little did US troops know at the time that they were facing the 29th NVA Regiment, which had distinguished itself in other battles previously. On May 14, the fourth day, Col. Honeycutt decided to attack more aggressively and could not wait for reinforcements, so orders were given to B, C and D companies to attack from different vantage points. Unfortunately, the attacks were unable to be well coordinated due to the terrain and because enemy resistance had become extremely heavy.  C Company which was counterattacked several times took the highest casualties on the day, losing its First Sgt, two of three platoon leaders, the company exec. officer and six-squad leaders; all either killed or wounded.  To compound matters, a helicopter gunship flew in and shot-up friendly troops, killing two and wounding at least twelve, mistaking them for the enemy. This was the first of three cases of fratricide during the battle.  As day fell to night after a day of fighting, the American soldiers could see enemy cooking fires above, which was usually unheard of in an engagement like this and could hear enemy troops hollering down at the men of the 3st battalion as well.

The topography of the landscape favored defense, and conversely the enemy did well in fortifying positions. They had built earthen-log bunkers- some 6-8 feet deep, with crisscross firing angles to take advantage of the slopes. The slopes also harbored dozens of spider-holes, allowing for a quick burst of gunfire or grenade throw with the enemy then stealthfully melting back into the earth. The NVA also had dozens of light and heavy machine-gun emplacements strategically placed and manned.

Hamburger Hill
Photo from M. Taringa

May 18th and 19th again witnessed the depleted airborne companies making progress, then gradually having to dig in, move forward or back down the steep slopes as the fighting devolved into a slugfest on the squad level; with each company making its own progress on sheer will.

On the morning of May 20, ten US artillery batteries opened fire on the hill and fired for almost an hour, before dozens of air sorties by tactical aircraft came in with napalm and 250 lb. bombs on the now denuded mountaintop. As fire stopped, up went the riflemen, working their way up the slopes and ravines encountering lighter resistance than previously encountered, and making it to the summit within two hours.

After enemy stragglers were cleaned out, the bloody mess of Hamburger Hill ceased.  623 enemy dead were counted, with a much higher casualty rate no doubt noted, as many were crushed in their earthen graves from bombs or taken by their comrades into Laos.  Of the airborne troopers of the 3/187, 39 were killed and another 292 wounded, more than 70% of the battalion. Total US losses were 71 dead and 372 wounded.  The battle although tragic, did accomplish its strategic task, albeit a costly one.

Guest Blogger Cobb Hammond

On this most reverent of days, remember these men, many which spent their last breath in that hellish place.  And one which was the most seminal event of their lives.

Cobb Hammond of Memphis, TN is a ‘Financial Advisor’ who writes on military history, military affairs and composes poetry. Cobb can be contacted @ chammond40@yahoo.com.

If you or someone you know are interested in sponsoring a screening of BRAVO!, please contact us!

DVDs of BRAVO! are available @ https://bravotheproject.com/store/

A digital version of BRAVO! is available in the US on Amazon Prime Video @ https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, BRAVO! is available on Amazon Prime Video UK @ https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

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

July 30, 2018

Wayne Moore

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Sometimes the work we do with the story of Bravo Company, 1/26, resonates in unexpected places.

Recently, I received the text below from someone who lost a friend, a Marine named Wayne Moore, who served with Bravo at Khe Sanh. Wayne was killed in action—for which he was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for valor—on what has become known as the Payback Patrol of March 30, 1968.

Wayne Moore’s photo on the Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces

Betty and I thought it worth sharing the message we received.

Hi,

I recently watched your documentary on the Battle of Khe Sanh and was amazed at what I had learned.

I knew one of the Marines mentioned several times that was KIA on 3/30/1968; his name was Wayne Moore. After 50 years I finally found out what had happened to the man that meant so much to myself and my family.

My Mom and Dad worked with Wayne in a furniture shop and were very impressed by him. So impressed we asked him to dinner a few times and then asked him to live with us in our home in Plymouth MA.

He dated my sister Linda and they were later married.

He was an extremely talented musician (played a Burns of London guitar) and played in a band as lead guitarist and vocalist. He was amazing.

Wayne Moore, center, playing his guitar,before joining the Marine Corps. His brother-in-law, John Hammer, is the drummer on the left. Photo courtesy of John Hammer.

I was a few years younger than him and he was like a big brother. He changed my life in ways that are still with me today, over 60 years later.

When he was KIA, my sister was devastated along with myself and parents. He was a figure larger than life and his death shocked us to our core.

I am the only remaining person of the people I mentioned and am now the only one that knows what happened on the day of his death in 1968.

I will be forever grateful to you and the fellow Marines that helped to make this project, especially Steve Wiese who seemed to know him the best.

If you could forward this to Steve so he can add these things to Wayne’s memory, I would truly appreciate it.

Steve Wiese. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Again, thank you for your efforts to bring the enormity of the Battle of Khe Sanh to life. Hearing his name and how he was killed was something that means a great deal to me.

John Hammer

Sometimes I wish that we could move beyond the seemingly eternal nature of the story of Bravo Company at Khe Sanh, and put those long ago events behind me, but getting messages like Mr. Hammer’s makes the ongoing efforts worthwhile.

Here is a link to Wayne Moore’s page on the Wall of Faces: http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/34976/WAYNE-P-MOORE.

***

On a separate subject, we wish to announce that Bravo Company’s Skipper, the late Lieutenant Colonel Ken Pipes, will be interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California, on August 24, 2018 at 10:00 AM.

***

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.

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

July 11, 2018

Abandoned

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At my folks’ kitchen counter, it was harsh black coffee à la my father’s tastes, accompanied by unfiltered Camels. I’d consumed two pots of the old man’s bitter javvy because I’d been up all night partying around the hometown with a lot of my old friends from high school. One of them was working that summer as a lifeguard and I went with him to a swimming party at the town pool. Except I wasn’t swimming.

I had donned my new civvies and was out looking for a good time. I’d just gotten home on my second leave of the summer, upon transfer from 5th Battalion Recon at Camp Pendleton to the Marine Barracks at 36th Street Naval Station in San Diego.

I had no intention of swimming but as the party rocked on, several of my old school mates, one who was in his next to last year at the Air Force Academy and the other a Marine getting ready to do his second tour in Nam, decided I should get in the pool whether I wanted to or not.

What’s left at the end. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely.

Somehow, I managed to defend myself by turning the tables on them and throwing them in the pool. The confrontation rankled and in an attempt to calm my rage I managed to consume excess quantities of Coors. Thus my need for lots of coffee. And as for the unfiltered Camels, I loved, after filling my lungs with the smoke, the way that itchy little sensation snaked its way down my throat, ballooning into a marvel, like a narcotic, as it infested my blood, my muscles.

But what really brought me up short, sitting there at the counter, listening to my mother talk on the phone to some cousin who I was never sure how she was related, and my two nephews playing in the living room, shouting and shrieking, making my hangover more deadly, was the article I found in the Arizona Republic about the US abandoning the base at Khe Sanh.

I read it and drank a cup of coffee. Then I inhaled another Camel, which when I’d smoked it down as far as possible, I stubbed out in the heavy ashtray that looked like it was made from expensive cut glass. I read the article again, and again, and again as I drank more javvy and smoked and smoked and smoked.

I think I needed to keep reading it because it didn’t sink in. The information just couldn’t get past my eyes into my brain. Finally, it hit me like a doubled-up fist in the solar plexus. Betrayal, like your best friend sneaking off into the night with your girl friend, or worse, like being deserted out in the bush, left to die at the hands of the enemy.

As the notion that Khe Sanh was no longer a functioning base sunk in, faces popped into my mind, and names: Frenchy and Furlong, Aldrich and Kent, McRae and Norman. What the hell had they—and all those other Marines, and sailors and soldiers and airmen—died for?

In the years since we started making BRAVO!, I’ve met historians—military historians—who have explained to me that given the nature of the war, and the fact that the United States and its allies didn’t have a sufficient number of warriors to defend every place that needed to be defended, what happened at Khe Sanh—the leaving it, the abandonment—was necessary.

But I live my life on a personal level. What happened there in 1967-1968 happened to me. It happened to Frenchy and it happened to Kent. For me it wasn’t—and it damned sure isn’t now—generals and colonels sitting somewhere down in Saigon looking at big maps of South Vietnam with symbols depicting the various locations of our forces and the enemy’s.

It happened to me. I was sent to defend a place—Khe Sanh—that seemed so vital to our aims that we expended record breaking amounts of munitions to repeatedly beat back the NVA. The killing, the maiming, the destruction of the surrounding environment. What we left behind. Unexploded ordnance. Agent Orange. And the faces of the lost, their names.

In 1969, a year after sitting at my parents’ kitchen counter reading about the abandonment of Khe Sanh, I met a young Marine who came to the Marine Barracks at 36th Street Naval Station. His primary MOS was combat engineer. When he found out I had been at Khe Sanh, he told me he’d been part of the team that destroyed the base just before we finally turned tail and left the place. He told me how they’d blown up a lot of the familiar landmarks, headquarters bunkers, revetments for choppers, how they had blown up equipment that got left behind. As he told me about it, I could see he was proud of the job that his fellow engineers and he had done to destroy Khe Sanh Combat Base.

As he told me all about his joy about doing a great job of blowing stuff up, I sat on my bunk in the barracks. I pondered my pride, too, in my service during the Siege, and the thoughts of the destruction of the combat base, the abandonment left me again coming to the realization that all my comrades had died for….for….for what?

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

But nothing subsequent matched how I felt that morning with my harsh black coffee and my Camel after Camel after Camel. My hangover, my sullen memory of the night before having to battle friends to avoid going swimming in my brand new civvies, and the way those letters in that article in the paper about giving up on Khe Sanh seemed to leap off the newsprint and slap me in the face like a foreign language that I needed to learn before I could really understand the abandonment.

***

NEWS!

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: https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

***

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,Guest Blogs,Okinawa,Other Musings

May 28, 2018

The Bloody Chaos of Okinawa

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Today we want to share a guest post for Memorial Day from BRAVO! friend and supporter, Cobb Hammond. Cobb writes about military history for his home town newspaper, the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL.

As we commemorate Memorial Day, 2018, many may recall a battle a family member may have been wounded or killed in, or themselves a vet, may have lost a comrade in arms. It should be refreshed in our consciousness that our WW II veterans are dwindling in number, and on this weekend of remembrance it should be incumbent upon us to recognize a battle raging 73 years ago this month; The Campaign at Okinawa.

This last battle of the War was not only the bloodiest of the Pacific theater but exhibited some of the most brutal and horrific fighting and battle conditions of the war; in that this was the first allied incursion on what was considered Japanese soil. This invasion was the first step in what was the initial phase before the eventual invasion of the Japanese home islands. The island of Okinawa was only 350 miles south of mainland Japan and was 463 miles square. It was populated by nearly half a million civilians and some 155 thousand Japanese troops of the infantry, air corps, and the navy, of which 80 thousand were front-line infantry troops. The strategic planning of the Japanese leadership before battle was to concentrate troops in several sectors that offered the most efficient use of troops—as well as the idea of inflicting the highest possible damage on US troops as they advanced.

Northern Okinawa was defended by one-division, whereas the more challenging terrain of the south was defended by 3 additional divisions- as well as multiple specialized brigades. This area was turned into four heavily fortified, ‘hedgehog’ defense sectors, taking tactical advantage of the topography, and the dense emplacement of artillery and mortars made it the highest concentration of fire the enemy used in the Pacific War.

Marines in Okinawa, 1945. Photo from Department of Defense Archives.

The ideal defense employed by the Japanese commanders, were to allow all US ground troops to move well-inland, and then to defend every crag-laden hill, ridge line and ravine as our forces moved forward. This was a totally different strategy of previous island battles such as Iwo Jima and Tarawa, where the beaches themselves were heavily contested. Seemingly every ridge and hill contained natural caves and promontories; which typically had artillery encased inside steel doors and machine gun emplacements pointing down the fingers and draws of the hills.

As the battle commenced on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the two Marine divisions, plus a regiment landed on the central and eastern part of the island and attacked on a northerly axis, whereas the initial two army divisions wheeled south across the narrow waist of Okinawa. The Army’s 96 Inf. Division began to encounter fierce resistance from enemy troops on those rocky ridges very soon, as it slowly moved south. The Army’s 27th division landed on 9 April and took over the right, or western-side of the push south. There were now three army divisions attacking here.

Enhancing the difficulty of the battle were the spring monsoon rains, which started in mid-April and didn’t let up until early June. The American foot soldier and marine became mired in mud and flooded roads, exacerbating the ability to supply men, evacuate wounded and navigating the steepening terrain.

As Marine Corps regiments moved forward abreast, going to the aid of the army divisions pulled off the line for a brief respite, they—as their army brethren, encountered fanatical resistance from the Japanese defenders. Later, in the largest ‘banzai’ attack of the war, some 2,500 Japanese were killed, with some of the fighting devolving into hand to hand combat. As of now, five US Divisions were fighting south by southwest—going against these formidable defenses, footnoting places embedded in the memories of the brave souls doing the fighting, and now infamous in military lore. Names such as Sugar Loaf Hill, where 1,600 marines were killed and 7,400 wounded; Hacksaw Ridge- recently immortalized on screen, telling the story of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss—and the formidable Shuri Line, where the Japanese planned their last defense in a series of ridgelines and strong points, taking the better part of a month to extinguish the enemy resistance. Fighting was so prolonged and intense in this area, that casualty counts are unable to be accurate, however it safe to say, tens of thousands of Japanese and easily over ten-thousand US troops became casualties of some sort.

Guest blogger Cobb Hammond.

Not to be forgotten, was the intense combat at sea just miles offshore, as Japanese ships and kamikaze planes attacked US naval forces mercifully for weeks, with some 36 US ships sunk with another 380 damaged, as thousands of enemy pilots went down in fiery deaths. The morbid toll of he battle, which ended unceremoniously on June 22, 1945 was five-thousand naval personnel, 4,600 army and 3,200 US Marines, with total wounded exceeding forty-thousand. It should be noted that the Battle for Okinawa had more cases of combat fatigue and mental breakdown than any other battle of the entire Pacific War, as thousands were taken off the line- simply unable to continue. Japanese losses run as high as 140 thousand killed and additional one-hundred thousand civilians unfortunately perished in the crossfire of this hell. Denoting the widespread ferocity and valor exhibited in this campaign, 24 Medals of Honor were awarded; 14 posthumously, including one Tennessean. It should also be highlighted that the recent death of a friend of this writer, Memphis native William Phillips of the 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division was a participant in this campaign.

As we contemplate this solemn weekend, shall we remember the sacrifice of so many on the bloodied rocky dirt of Okinawa.

Cobb Hammond is a financial advisor with Hammond Financial Advisory/Money Concepts, Inc. He writes on military history and composes short stories as a hobby. You can reach Cobb at chammond40@yahoo.com.

****

NEWS!

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: https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

***

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

March 19, 2018

Tear in the Fabric

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As we continue remembering the events at Khe Sanh 50 years ago, we are honored to share a recent poem by Lt. Col. Ken Pipes, USMC Retired, the beloved Skipper of Bravo Company, 1/26.

Tear in the Fabric

Shadows flicker, fire reflecting
off the pines at the midnight hour—
another time—or place—or both—
another brief shadow—
just at the corner of the eye—
thinking—seen—imagined—
50 years is a long half-century away/ago—then
just perhaps a brief shadow—
that draws the string to a tight close
at the top of the bag that holds
all the secrets in a holder that holds it all:
the secrets—memories—
most good, some not so good?
Names, pictures, times, dates—
a minor tear in the fabric and the past—
even the future—could be revealed.
And the time—time moves
with a speed all its own—
the tune sometimes out of synch—
then the beat settles in
and the march begins again—
sometimes at the slow—
but increased step of the Kepi Blanc
of the Legion Estrangier moving
out the gates of Forts
on the edge of some far flung and isolate outpost—
with flickering fire shadows
and movement out of the corner of the eye—
looked briefly like Don, Hank, Ken—Mac—
no—
it is but the tricks of the midnight hour
or the light fading from the glow
that was once yesterday.

Ken Pipes, on the right, signing posters for screenings of BRAVO! in Fresno-Clovis, CA in 2013. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

© Ken Pipes
March 14, 2018

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

February 14, 2018

14 February–Fifty Years Gone

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The big, new guy first showed up at Khe Sanh jammed, along with a lot of other Marines, into a C-130 that took incoming upon approaching the combat base. Lots of Jarheads sat on the deck and men on either side of the big, new guy got hit when NVA anti-aircraft fire perforated the skin of the plane. The flight returned to Danang, but he boarded another C-130 the next morning and returned to the combat base where they kicked the big, new guy off the plane before departure.

Corporal J put him in my fire team and there he stood, telling me about the blood and the flecks of flesh on that first flight as his head shook up and down like someone with palsy.

Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jittery, he reminded me of quail, just before you bust them with a blast from your twelve-gauge. Those quail sense their impending death before they really know you are stalking them.

I put the big, new guy on first watch that night and I kept going out and to check on him.

I’d ask, “You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m alright.”

Khe Sanh took a lot of incoming at all hours of the day and night and he was so frightened of getting killed by an enemy 152 MM round that he hit the red-mud deck face-first every time one of our F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers flew nearby. Ditto with outgoing barrages from the battery of Marine 105 MM howitzers right behind our fighting holes. Down where my own fear resides, I sensed that his fear meant trouble.

I checked on him just before hitting the rack. Ambient light gathered in the mist so I could see him. He held a fragmentation grenade in his hands.

“What’s the reason for the grenade?”

He bent his knees and hissed, “Gooks!”

I ducked, too and slammed up against the wall of the trench. I peered over the lip but didn’t see anything but the usual; concertina wire and the dark night sky and a wooden shed that I think the Airedales used to help guide airplanes in for a landing.

“Where?”

He whispered, “Right out there.” He used his head to motion towards the concertina barrier.

All I could see out there that might look like a man was that wooden shed.

I talked fast and hard. “There’s nothing out there.”

He spit, “Bullshit, I can see them.”

I said, “Don’t stare at stuff out there, makes you think it’s moving. Let your gaze rove.”

I heard it before I saw it. He’d pulled the pin on that grenade.

I cajoled, I ordered, I almost begged him to put the pin back in the grenade. Then I grabbed his hands and we got into a push and shove. Like I said, he was big and like most Marines who’d been in the bush for almost twelve months, I wasn’t much thicker than a cigarette.

While all of this transpired, I imagined the grenade going off and what it would do to our arms and stomachs and chests and hearts, our faces.

He finally gave up the grenade and the pin and I got the damned thing squared away and stashed in the fighting hole before I began to slap him and punch him and kick him and talk nasty about his mamma.

He wrapped his arms around me and slammed me to the ground and asked me politely to quit hitting him.

Later that night, I told Corporal J to get him out of my fire team. J told me to settle down, but I wasn’t settling down. A man as frightened as that big, new guy would cost us lives. So away he went, to Weapons Platoon to be an ammo-humper for a machine gun team.

Over a month later, we assaulted a ridge southeast of the Gray Sector at Khe Sanh. By that time, I’d moved on from a fire team leader in a rifle squad to become a radio operator in the platoon command post.

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

Staff Sergeant A and I moved down a trench as the war hammered around us. Sallow-faced dead people littered the field. Explosions rocked the ground, throwing red dirt into the air. Everywhere you advanced, bullets snapped, guns roared, men yelled and men screamed.

Trying to stay focused on radio communications, I looked off to my right—to this day, the memory is one of my strongest—and I saw a machine gunner thumping a Marine’s head with the butt end of his M-60.

It stopped me cold in my tracks. In my mind, the Marine getting pummeled has always been that man with whom I’d wrestled over that grenade. As sure as those quail I wrote about earlier know you’re going to bust them with your shot, I knew—I know it now—it was the big, new guy getting his head bashed in.

I think all combat vets intuit this but don’t really want to talk about it, how fear can crush your throat and grab your gonads and twist you into someone you never imagined you’d become.

***

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

January 20, 2018

50 Years Ago Today–Spooky

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January 20

On today’s date, fifty years ago and the day before the Siege of Khe Sanh erupted, I woke my fire team before first light to go on a work detail.

One of the men in my team slept hard and didn’t like to wake up. This happened a lot. I finally told him if he didn’t get out of the rack and eat some chow, I’d kick his ass.

That was a mistake. We didn’t really think much of each other. He jumped up and wrapped me in a bear hug. A strong kid from Detroit, he squeezed and made mention about my heritage and my mother. I thought he’d crush my chest.

Somehow I struggled and freed my arms and with my left hand found a metal bucket on a shelf in the bunker. Using both my hands, I clutched it and drove it down on the top of his skull.

He dropped me as blood shot into his brown hair, down the sides of his head and over his forehead into his eyebrows.

Concertina Wire. Attribution: Wikipedia

My stomach churned at the sight of all that blood and I figured there would be hell to pay. I sent him to see the corpsman while we ate chow. Word came back that he went to the battalion aid station to get his head stitched up.

We went off and built a concertina wire barrier somewhere behind the main trench lines. All day I worried about the private, his split open head and the ramifications with which I would have to deal.

While we pounded posts into the ground and strung concertina wire, a Huey flew over with a man hanging below. It looked like his hands were tied to a cable. The helicopter had no markings that would identify it as an American chopper.

We all watched as the Huey flew above a line of ragged trees that grew along the south side of the base and dragged the dangling man through the tree tops. I still imagine the sounds I imagined at the time—snapped bones, ripped flesh, the wash of guts and other organs impaled on the remains of broken branches.

For years, I didn’t remember the incident of the chopper dragging that man but I did remember splitting the private’s head open. Not until the mid 1990s did I recall the Huey and the dangling man and it wasn’t until 2010 that I was sure I’d seen what I saw. I was worried that I had taken someone else’s memory and made it mine. One of the men who we interviewed for BRAVO! asked me, while we were filming him, if I remembered seeing the Huey and the man hanging below.

Fifty years ago, when we arrived back at our fire team area the private with the busted head waited. He seemed quite pleased with a head full of stitches and that he didn’t have to help string concertina.

As I stood there peering at the top of his head, someone down the line set off a claymore mine by accident. When I looked that direction I saw Marines charging into their fighting positions and for the first time, an inkling of what was to come at the Siege of Khe Sanh snuck into my consciousness.

A time lapse of Spooky firing it’s miniguns.

Later that night, I took first watch. A heavy mist hung over the combat base. I walked up and down the trench, thinking, I suspect, about the bloody skull and the man who’d been hanging from the bottom of that Huey. I know I thought about that claymore mine and the echoes of its explosion that bounded along our lines.

I heard a soft, low moan and shivered. A waving line of red tracer fire sketched out of the sky and out to the front of our position. We called that moaning weapon, an airplane, Puff the Magic Dragon but it was more commonly known in Vietnam as Spooky.

And spooky it was as the red tracers etched a curved crimson line into the misty night and the low, sad moan of its sound followed and made me think of lamentations from spirits of the dead.

Ken Rodgers prior to the beginning of the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

As I got ready to go off watch, I stood at the back of my hooch and stared into the night.

It was spooky.

***

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,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.

***

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.