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Posts Tagged ‘1967’

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War,Warhawk Air Museum

June 14, 2017

On the Warhawk Air Museum and Journeys Through the Trenches of My Memory

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Last week I had the privilege of speaking before 150 folks at Nampa, Idaho’s Warhawk Air Museum. I talked about the making of BRAVO! and my experience at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Most of the attendees were veterans, many of them men who fought in World War II and Korea. There were also a good number of Vietnam War veterans as well as men and women who fought in the wars of the Middle East. We even had active duty United States Air Force officers, a front seater (pilot) and a back seater (weapons officer), who fly F-15E Strike Eagles out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Guest speaker Ken Rodgers and Barry Hill of the Warhawk Air Museum discussing the display screen prior to the event. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The Warhawk Air Museum is a local marvel as far as military museums go. Lots of old planes and choppers, but the most amazing thing to me is the personal testimonials and memorabilia available to view. As one of the men who attended the screening said, “It’s a very personal museum.”

The Warhawk also records video interviews of veterans talking about their combat experiences, sponsors field trips for school children and has educational classes so students in the area’s schools can learn about the military and wars directly from veterans, the folks who know the emotional aspects of combat.

Visitors who travel through Idaho go to see the museum as they pass through, and for some, a trip to the Warhawk is a destination in itself.

Thanks to Sue Paul and Barry Hill and the staff and volunteers at the museum for their support on my presentation as well as all they do for veterans and the memory of those who have served our country. If you are interested in finding out more about the Warhawk you can find their webpage at http://warhawkairmuseum.org/.

Some of the folks who attended the event at the Warhawk Air Museum. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Several weeks back I blogged about June 1, 1967. Today I want to write about June 14, 1967 at Khe Sanh. On today’s date in 1967 Bravo Company was dug in on Hill 881 South and still staggering from the events of June 7 when a patrol ran into an NVA ambush and we lost 19 good men.

Besides living with our collective grief and agony, at 16:15 on June 14, 3rd Platoon Bravo received an incoming sniper round and responded by calling in an 81 MM mortar mission that evidently silenced the sniper. Whether the sniper was actually nullified or if he moved to another location was not known.

Elsewhere in 1/26’s area of responsibility in the Khe Sanh region, Charlie Company discovered an enemy bunker and destroyed it with five pounds of C-4.

A look at Route 9 outside Khe Sanh. Notice the rough terrain.

The battalion’s command chronologies for 6/14 made the area sound relatively quiet for a war zone.

It was about this time that Bravo went out on patrol to Hill 881 North and beyond, and in the process of digging around in the old battle sites of the Hill Fights which happened in March and April of 1967, found the scattered remains of human bodies partially sticking out of the mud where a fresh torrent of rainwater had eroded what looked like a burial site.

Someone spotted a ragged uniform remnant and that led to someone else digging around in the red-mud mess and then a femur appeared out of the muck with swatches of what we assumed was an NVA uniform still attached. The bone was yanked out of the ground and the femur soon hung off the jungle dungaree trousers of some Marine whose name I cannot recall.

In my memory, I cannot see the Marine’s face but I can see that leg bone dangling off the left side of his dirty dungarees. I don’t think that lasted long. I suspect the platoon sergeant or some officer spotted the bone on the belt and delivered an order that the bone was to be disposed of. You hear stories over the course of your life about a Marine who cut off and collected the ears of his enemy or Marines who pulled the gold teeth out of the mouths of enemy corpses. I never saw any of that, but I did see the bone dangling off the leg.

I usually have a good memory for names and faces of the men I served with in Vietnam, but during this time frame, subsequent to the ambush of 6/7, the faces that haunt my memory are like a maze of eyes and mouths and skin colors. We were an ethnically diverse group, I believe, because that’s how it was back in the 60s before the draft was killed.

What became 2nd Platoon of Bravo 1/26 was a mix of men from both 2nd and 1st Platoons, which had taken the bulk of casualties from the event of 6/7/67. We had, for a short time, a new platoon commander, Ben Long, who went on to command 1st Platoon and then became Bravo Company’s XO during the Siege in early 1968.

A look at the mountains around Khe Sanh.

I often think how difficult it must have been to run an efficient platoon filled with a number of men who had no familiarity with each other. I know the Marine Corps prides itself on the ability of the NCOs to run the ship, but when you don’t know the man who’s got your back, it’s hard to trust him and if you don’t trust him, he knows it and if he knows it, he won’t trust you as much as he might need.

Fortunately we had a strong set of NCOs: Staff Sergeant Ward and Sergeant Blankenship and Sergeant Martinez, Corporal Dede, Corporal Poorman, Corporal Fideli and others whose names I can’t remember.

The Marines of 2nd Platoon were a dirty, ragged bunch, but Lieutenant Long and the NCOs held us together. We became a unit of Marines. We learned to trust each other and to work with each other despite a number of obstacles in leadership that kept coming to the fore after Lieutenant Long went to on to command the newly reconstituted 1st Platoon.

As the summer wore on, we moved from Hill 881 South to the combat base and then some of us went out on Route 9 for over a week after 1st Platoon busted up an NVA ambush intended to fry bigger fish, traffic of heavy guns going up to Khe Sanh. Then we moved on to Hill 861 and then back to the combat base and rivers of rain.

It was a summer of long patrols and nights spent out in the mist and rain waiting for an enemy that would not show up. Occasionally we took sniper rounds or someone got a glimpse of the enemy, but there was little action and when there is not action, Marines turn to work to keep themselves out of trouble.

So we dug and dug and filled sandbags and installed culverts made from 55 gallon drums with both ends cut out so the trenches would drain and we wouldn’t have to stand knee deep in the water that accumulated from the incessant precipitation.

We were damp and dirty and often soaked. But we persevered.

____________________________

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

May 31, 2017

Fire In The Hole!

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

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

Entrance to the Colonial Theater, Idaho Falls, Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fire in the hole!”

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

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

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

The trench line on Hill 881 South.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 10, 2014

On Scuttlebutt

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In last week’s blog I wrote about the letters I sent home to my parents while I was in-country in 1967-68. In preparation for that article, I read each of the letters. I am glad I did because it clarified some events for me (I really did see elephants and coffee trees) and it cleared up some haziness in my memory about the timeline of my tour there.

I also noticed some recurring subjects one of which was “scuttlebutt.”

Scuttlebutt originally was a British nautical term that named a water cask kept on deck for sailors to get a drink of water. Over time, the scuttlebutt became a place for sailors to gather and share rumors or gossip. The term is quite old and was purloined sometime around the turn of the 20th Century to refer to gossip. In the Marines of the 1960s, the term scuttlebutt referred directly to rumors.

In my letters I refer to scuttlebutt in a number of instances and now, with the actual history of events available for comparison, what I thought was going to occur in any given period of time most often turned out to not happen.

Envelope sent from Vietnam by the blogger to his parents. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Envelope sent from Vietnam by the blogger to his parents.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

A few examples of the scuttlebutt going around in 1967-68 with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines follows, as recorded in my letters written at the time. I had not been in the field south of Hill 55 very long when I wrote this on 4/27/1967:

Rumor has it that the first of July or August, we will rotate to Okinawa for a month of training and then we will be sent afloat as an SLF (Special Landing Force) where we will make landings at trouble spots in Vietnam. We will be based out of Olongapo, the Philippines.

Bravo Company was located just south of Hue on May 8, 1967 when I sent this:

The engineers are building a 20 mile road to a hill southeast of Phu Bai. We will act as security. The country is “virgin.” The only Marines in there have been reconnaissance Marines. When we get to the hill, we will secure it and set up there.

On June 22, 1967, nowhere near the “virgin” country (we never went on that road-building operation), I wrote this from Hill 881 South west of the Khe Sanh Combat Base:

Rumor also has it that we shall be rotating to Phu Bai and then Okinawa in the next couple of months. I also hope that that is one rumor that comes true.

On September 1, 1967 I wrote:

By the 15th the battalion is supposed to be in Phu Bai. From there who knows? Maybe to Okinawa.

Ken Rodgers, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

I never made it to Okinawa until I rotated back to the States when my tour of duty was up. I never made it to Olongapo either.

The thing that gets my attention now is how the scuttlebutt usually had us going somewhere away from the war, to a place with women and food and beer. I am not sure if that’s the result of my own wishes—how I interpreted the rumors—or if it was a unit-wide desire. I suspect that my comments in the letters are a result of both my own optimism and the hopefulness of the unit in general.

I do know that one of the things that kept me going over there—that might have helped me stay alive—was my optimism, my hopefulness. The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said: “Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”

During the siege, the world we inhabited was miserable, more than miserable, yet we laughed, we hoped, we dreamed of home.

I think all those references to being someplace other than where I happened to be, the misery of days of rain, the attacks by legions of leeches, the constant work and little sleep, the horror of the Siege of Khe Sanh, were nothing more than attempts to be optimistic.

I say “nothing more,” but as I think about it, that staying optimistic was a key thing in me staying alive. Since I had something to hope for, it made me work harder to stay alive.

My old buddy Joe Skinner who was a Marine Corps officer at the end of World War II once told me, “Hope is one step from despair.” When he told me that, I laughed hard. It’s true. When the jaws of despair are gnawing on you, whispering in your ear that all is folly, hope and optimism are the things that help keep you going, help keep you alive.

The 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson said it well:

# 254

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

On the screening front, mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona on February 15, 2015 at the historic Paramount Theater. Doors open at noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow. We will give you more details about this screening as they become available.

We are also pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

December 4, 2014

On Letters Home

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I found them in an old blue binder, one of those flimsy ones with a cheap vinyl cover. All the letters I sent to my family while I was in the service from 1966 through 1969. I had no idea my mother had kept them. As I re-read them, I was surprised by a number of things: back then I had very poor penmanship although it was much more legible than it is now; I initially wrote in cursive, something that one sees very little of these days; I was naive at the beginning of my Vietnam tour, cynical and somewhat bitter at the end; except for several letters sent berating the anti-war protesters back home after we Khe Sanh defenders got infamous on the covers of Time and Life and Newsweek, for the most part, I shined my parents on about what was going on in the places I was located in Vietnam.

An envelope I used to write my parents while I was in Vietnam. © Ken Rodgers 2014

An envelope I used to write my parents while I was in Vietnam.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote on March 28, 1967, the day I got to Danang, Vietnam:

“Instead of getting 3-4 weeks of jungle training in Okinawa, we got 60 hours of shots, blood donating, plus work parties. We got here at 3:30 this morning via Continental Airlines. We’ve just been sitting around in the filth and heat and humidity–getting sticky and dirty…”

Or this from November 17, 1967:

“I got a new pair of jungle boots today–my other pair, 5-1/2 months old, were literally falling apart at the seams.”

On January 8, 1968 I wrote:

“By the time you receive this letter I should have only about 90 days left in country.”

On February 26, 1968:

“A newsman from NBC got my picture the other day. Look for my flick on TV.”

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

On March 10, 1968, I wrote a diatribe, what I described at the time as “podium pounding” that included deleterious comments about the North Vietnamese and about the war protesters at home. Some of the more plain vanilla narrative from that letter follows:

“…we aren’t sitting around waiting to die, we are sitting around waiting for the time we can go home because we are alive and are going to live because it takes more than 16,000 (the real number of NVA was closer to 40,000)…idiots to beat 5000 (the real number of US personnel–USMC, Navy, Army, Air Force and South Vietnamese allies was closer to 6000) Marines face to face…”

As I read these letters I reflected on how long it took for letters to get delivered from my family and friends to me while I was at Khe Sanh, and vice versa, how long it took for mine to get home. It usually took weeks for correspondence to get from back-in-the-real-world (as we called it) to me in the bush. Oftentimes letters and packages got lost. Mail was our lifeline from the “real world.” It helped keep our morale up, helped stiffen our spines.

Photo of part of a letter I wrote my parents on March 28, 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. By this time I was trying printing my words as a way to make my letters more legible. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Photo of part of a letter I wrote my parents on March 28, 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. By this time I was trying printing my words as a way to make my letters more legible.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

Now, troops overseas can communicate almost instantly with the folks back home. Besides the old method—the mail—one can telephone, email, Skype, video teleconference and instant message. Same results, I think, but the immediacy of it all, I suspect, makes those direct contacts pretty common should a warrior choose it to be so.

Back in my day, you could go to Danang and wait in line in the middle of the night to call home. I only knew of one or two Marines who took advantage of the service. Most of the time I was mired in the bush and Danang was a long ways off, and when in Danang I was going somewhere, to a school or on R&R or to raise some hell at China Beach.

Think about how it must have been for Caesar’s legionnaires back in 53 BC. Correspondence must have taken months, if it happened at all, and once a warrior tromped off to Gaul, he may never be heard from again.

For most of us, family ties are strong and the memories of home and thoughts of returning there are a powerful bond that help Marines keep their spirits up and allows them to function whether it be on watch, on a work party or in battle.

While we fought in Vietnam, our loved ones needed our letters. We needed theirs.

On the screening front, we are pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

August 13, 2014

New Honors for the Fallen of Khe Sanh

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We posted a blog in June of this year that pondered, among other things, a firefight that occurred northwest of Hill 881 South on June 7, 1967. Two platoons of Bravo Company, 1/26, were involved in that battle. Before the acrid scent of gunpowder had disappeared, it was clear that Bravo had taken a significant number of casualties.

One of the men killed in that action was HN (Corpsman) Gregory Vercruysse. Last month I heard from Gregory’s younger brother, Dean. Dean and I have traded e-mails about that day, about Gregory, about memory and honor.

Marines on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of NamViet News

Marines on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of NamViet News

In November of this year, Gregory is to be posthumously honored by the city of Liberty Lake, Washington. Greg (as his brother Dean refers to him) will be memorialized at the City of Liberty Lake’s Fallen Heroes Circuit Course by having a circuit station named after him. First dedicated in September 2013, the course’s stations will all be designated in the name of one of Liberty Lake’s fallen.

This isn’t the first time that a blog we have written about one of the men who served at Khe Sanh has given rise to a member of the family contacting us. We receive queries about loved ones who were killed in action or who were wounded or who managed to get home in one piece but who are now gone.

Sometimes all this blogging and filmmaking and creating art and recording history about the events centered around the Khe Sanh locale gets to be a heavy load. Yet, when it starts to feel like we are spitting into the wind, someone like Dean Vercruysse contacts us about his brother or a cousin and suddenly the importance of what we are doing becomes clear again.

If you are interested in seeking out more about the City of Liberty Lake’s Fallen Heroes Circuit Course, you can find information HERE.

Bravo Blogger Ken Rodgers looking back at you.

Bravo Blogger Ken Rodgers looking back at you.

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

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help us reach more people like Dean Vercruysse.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

July 16, 2014

Something of Value

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Bravo Company 1/26 came off of Hill 881 South on July 10, 1967, and went into battalion reserve at the combat base, first at the west end and then into the trenches on the north side of the perimeter. Bravo stood line watch, ran patrols, listening posts and ambushes for the next ten days.

On July 21, Mike Company, 3/26, engaged elements of the North Vietnamese Army northeast of the base and suffered five KIA.
If I was aware of Mike Company, 3/26’s casualties, I don’t recall. When units got hit around Khe Sanh I usually went into a funk; scattered, not focused on cleaning my rifle or gathering the rest of my gear in case we charged into the maw of battle. I would flit from task to task, smoke a Camel, clean part of my weapon, grab some grenades, smoke a Camel…I don’t recall doing any of these tasks.

View  looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

View looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

On the same date, another Mike Company—Mike 3/3—was also out in the vicinity of Mike 3/26 and they, too, took casualties; 11 KIA. Again, I have no memory of that event or the edgy fear that probably gnawed at the back of my brain as I tried to stay focused and not look like I was afraid.

Also on that same day, Bravo 1/26’s First Platoon was out east of the combat base patrolling down Route 9 when they got ambushed. Three men were killed on that patrol: one 81 MM forward observer with H & S Company, 1/26, and two men from Bravo’s First Platoon. Some of the men in our film BRAVO! were on that patrol.

As soon as Second Platoon, my outfit, got the word about First Platoon being ambushed, Sergeant Michael Dede came down the line and told us to gather our gear.

I shared a bunker with a salty Marine who had come over to Bravo earlier in the year from 3/26. He was a short-timer. I do not recall his name. At that moment, he was teaching me how to play Back Alley Bridge and as we played our cards, he was cleaning out my pockets. We were playing for money—Military Payment Certificates—because, as he told me in his clipped Boston accent, if you weren’t committing something of value, then you wouldn’t be at your best.

Dede told us to get ammo, grenades, poncho liner, and other gear we’d need for a helicopter insertion in support of First Platoon. My bunker mate sat back and grinned, and as I tried to gather my gear, flitting like a mosquito from one item to the next, he cajoled me to keep playing the game since there was no guarantee we’d be going anywhere.

I recall him saying, “You know how it is. Hurry up and wait.”

So as I got my gear together and rumors of death and combat circulated like demons among the men of Second Platoon, he collected more and more of my MPC.

Finally, Sergeant Dede came down the line and told us to assemble on the air strip and await choppers to transport us out to assist First Platoon. My bunker mate was so short he didn’t have to go. I can see him, right now in my mind’s view, leaning back on his rack, smiling, his big red mustache and his disheveled shock of red hair implanted in my memory. He was counting my MPC.

We sat on the air strip in the sun. It was hot and we were nervous. Some of us talked incessantly. Some of us didn’t say anything.

I don’t know that I thought about it then, but I think about it now. Something of value. Some MPC in a game of Back Alley Bridge. Some casualties out on Route 9. My young life available to what…be wounded, killed, captured, honored? Something of value, like the lives of those 19 Marines who died in our TAOR that day, and the wounded men, too, whose names we don’t put up on monuments.

Finally, the helicopters arrived and we loaded up and away we went.

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo by Betty Rodgers

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

***

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois on July 24, 2014. Sponsored by American Legion Post 758, this event begins with registration at 5:00 PM. The film will be screened at 5:30 followed by a Q & A session with Co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, and Echo Company, 2/26’s Tom Eichler, the president of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Complimentary snacks will be provided and there will be a cash bar with beverages of your choice.

The program will end at 8:00 PM. Reservations are required. To reserve your seats please go to the Eventbrite registration page @ https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com/.

Please note, this event is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall or winter, please contact us immediately.
DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

June 11, 2014

Remembering June 7, 1967

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As I write this blog, the date is June 7, 2014. Recognition of the date leads me to ponder a June 7 forty-seven years ago.

Not long after returning from Vietnam in April, 1968, I was cruising the streets of my home town with one of my high school friends who looked at me and said, “Rodgers, you could fall in a bucket of manure and come out smelling like a rose.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to that comment but now I remember thinking that, yeah, I’d been lucky in my life.

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

During the Siege of Khe Sanh I was one of the lucky members of Bravo Company. I didn’t go out on the Ghost Patrol and my platoon, 2nd, wasn’t in the first wave of attackers as we assaulted the NVA on March 30, 1968. Yes, I had to deal with incoming and snipers and going out on listening posts at night, but for the most part I was pretty lucky. And yes, I learned to tell where incoming was going to hit by the sound it made leaving the tube and yes I didn’t stick my head up so a sniper’s round could rip the top of my head off, but sometimes you didn’t hear the incoming leave the tube and sometimes you had little choice, you had to stick your head up. So you needed some luck to survive.

Some folks say that luck is only being prepared but in the case of the Marine Corps, you really don’t have any choice about when you get picked to go into action.

I was pretty lucky before the Siege, too, because I didn’t go out on the Bravo Company patrol of June 7, 1967. Two squads from 2nd Platoon went out on a company-minus patrol which we thought would be a routine exercise off the north end of 881 South that morning. The squad I was in was chosen to remain behind and man the lines. I was pretty new to the outfit, so I remember that it seemed like just another day in my tour. Instead of humping the hills outside of Khe Sanh, I’d fill sandbags and stand watch.

It wasn’t long before we could hear activity going on and it wasn’t the kind of activity that you want to hear. Even though I didn’t know a lot of the guys in our platoon very well, I can still remember feeling empty. Empty and a little frightened, too. Our squad leader was monitoring the action on a radio, or trying to, and gave us some confused information about what was going on. It all sounded like a lot of chaos to me. Bravo Company hadn’t been lucky and had walked into a well-planned ambush, or at least that’s what I remember.

A trench line on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of marines.org

A trench line on Hill 881 South.
Photo courtesy of marines.org

Eventually the battle was ended and our men came back in. There was only one problem. We were short 18 Marines and Corpsmen. And I knew some of them.

I had never felt anything like what I felt as I heard the list of names of our dead and saw the blank look on the faces of the men who returned. I knew well enough to keep my mouth shut and not say anything stupid. I wanted to apologize and to sympathize and to…I wanted to reach out to them but I realized that wouldn’t do much good.

The men of 2nd Platoon who didn’t go out on that patrol sat there and talked in hushed voices. Inside, in my guts and my chest, I felt drained, like something had vacuumed my innards. I couldn’t imagine what the men who had been out there felt like. (Later in my tour, during the Siege, I would get firsthand experience.)

One of the things I remember best from that day is my fireteam leader’s reaction to news that his best buddy was KIA. They’d come over from 3/26 about a month before. My team leader was the most stoic man I ever knew but on that day he cried. He didn’t try to stop the tears. He didn’t try to hide them. He let them go and they streamed down his brown face. I wanted to reach out and hug him but we didn’t do that kind of thing back then, or that’s what I believed, anyway.

A few days later we reorganized the platoon and within several weeks we acted like we had forgotten all about what happened on June 7. But we hadn’t. We were just trying to move on, hoping to be lucky enough not to end up like those good men who hadn’t come back from that action.

The names of those men:

Lance Corporal James Blaz
Lance Corporal John Chase
Corporal Ronald Crooks
Lance Corporal Ronald Enderby
Corporal Edward Furlong
Private Gale Gotti
PFC Thomas Healy
PFC Kenneth Johnson
Lance Corporal Kenneth Keefer
PFC Steven Millett
PFC Larry Morris
PFC Wayne Pitts
PFC Frank Shovlin
PFC Philip Van Deusen
Lance Corporal Edward Vercouteren
HN (Corpsman) Gregory Vercruysse
Corporal Walter Ward
PFC Larry Worthen

Semper Fi, Marines.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

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Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

October 8, 2013

On David Aldrich, The Wall and Khe Sanh

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David Aldrich

Panel 47E, Row 007 of The Wall.

The Wall, Panel 47E, Row 007

I’ve been having an ongoing e-mail conversation over the last several years with a Marine named Dave Evans who was in Marine Corps Training in the States with David A. Aldrich. Both of these Daves arrived together in Danang, South Vietnam in March of 1967 and one Dave went to Hill 55 with the First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. That was Dave Aldrich. I arrived on Hill 55 a day later. So Aldrich (that’s what we called him…we didn’t normally call anyone by first names in Vietnam) and I got to know each other fairly well, even though we were technically assigned to different platoons after our initial orientation while in the main battalion position on Hill 55. Aldrich, I believe, had an MOS of 0351 (the virtual wall states that he was an 0311) which meant he shot what we called “rockets” but which might be more simply understood as bazookas. I was an 0311, an infantryman, a grunt. I was assigned to Second Platoon and he went to Weapons Platoon, Bravo Company.

Aldrich was a quiet guy with a big smile, as I recall, and a mellow sense of humor. He stomped through mud and jungle grass with 1st and 3rd Platoons on patrol, too, but it seems like he was with us, 2nd Platoon, most of the time through the spring and summer of 1967 as the 26th Marines moved north from Hill 55 to the Khe Sanh Combat Base. He was with us through the monsoon season and up on Hill 881 South in the fall of the year. He was there, sharing chow with us, and jokes, playing cards, listening to the newest music on Corporal Mitchell’s portable record player…Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Aretha and Otis Redding and The Jefferson Airplane.

Those days through the fall of ’67 were hard, wet and dreary and Aldrich was along all the time, shooting his rockets when necessary. Dealing with the wet rounds that failed to go off. That was tough for him, getting those dud rounds, those wet rounds, out of those tubes without them cooking off and blowing his arms and face off. I recall how cool he was about it. If he was sweating, he remained unflappable, only the barest hint of tension in the grit of his teeth. But even if he was scared (and of course he was) he certainly didn’t want it to show…we were Marines.

When the siege began he came around my bunker a lot and stood watch with us and he and I talked about going home…home…like heaven. I remember one terrible day, February 25, 1968, our Third Platoon got ambushed and First Platoon went out to relieve them and they got ambushed, too. We, Second Platoon, were left to man the company’s lines. The NVA was pounding the trench line with sneaky 82 millimeter mortar, rockets and train-wreck 152 millimeter artillery, keeping us down, keeping us locked in the perimeter so we couldn’t go get our friends, our mates, who were dying out there within ear shot.

It was one of the worst days of my life. My whole body shook. I imagined the red fire and searing teeth of death and conflagration. The end was here and I didn’t want to face it. I wanted my life.

As this was going on, Aldrich came up and engaged me in conversation. He must have seen my shaking. I can only imagine how white my face must have been. How shrunken down into my utilities and flak jacket I must have been, as if that could have made any difference. But he didn’t act like he was seeing anything out of the ordinary. He soothed me with his words. He steadied me.

Aldrich and I survived a lot during the siege. We both made it all the way to the end of our tours. Then came March 30, 1968, what has been called the Payback Patrol. Aldrich had one day to go…he was scheduled to leave the field on March 31. I was scheduled to go on April 1. The evening before the patrol, the word got passed to me that Aldrich was looking for me so I went to his bunker, stuck my head in, saw he was slouched on a cot. I went in and sat down. He abruptly handed me an envelope. I said, “What’s that for?”

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

“Make sure my parents get this?”

“What is it?”

“My dog tags.”

I began to yell at him. I refused to accept the envelope. He said, “If I go out tomorrow, I won’t come back alive.”

I yelled. I yelled. I yelled. “If you believe that now, that’s what will happen.”

He nodded. I said, “You’ve got to believe they can’t get you. If you believe they can’t get you, they won’t.”

He shook his head. We went back and forth, he resigned, me enraged, angry, and screaming. He wasn’t buying what I was saying. I didn’t accept the envelope.

The next day was four or five hours of speeded-up, slowed-down hell. It was like Dante says in his poem, Inferno, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.” I survived it and a lot of Marines didn’t. I remember walking down the red dirt road after we were ordered back into the perimeter. Men staggered along the lane. Some wore bandages on their heads, their arms and legs; some wore looks on their dirty faces that reminded me of dead people. Two men dragged a body down the middle of the road. I passed them and looked down. Even though his face was turned into the red clay, I knew it was David A. Aldrich, Corporal, USMC.

I’ve been haunted by these images for over forty-five years. What could I have done to prevent Aldrich’s death? What could he have done? Did my failure to accept the envelope with the dog tags dishonor him? Maybe when I get done writing this, the images will stop coming.

Later that day the word came down the trench line asking if anyone had seen Aldrich. He was missing in action, they said. I went up to the platoon Command Post and told them I had seen his corpse. “You’re sure?” they asked me. “Yeah,” I said. The platoon sergeant went up with me to Battalion headquarters and I signed affidavits of some sort saying I’d seen him dead. I signed the papers. He was dead. Killed in action.

For years I’ve had a sneaking fear that somehow I was wrong, and David Aldrich is locked away in some prison cell in Hanoi. Seeing his name on the wall soothes that fear. Somewhat.

Dave Evans asks that if anyone knew David Aldrich, please contact him at usmcdevans@yahoo.com.

There will be a screening of BRAVO! in Santa Rosa, California on October 30, 2013. See details at https://bravotheproject.com/upcoming-screenings-of-bravo/

DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale at https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please like us at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/.

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

September 26, 2013

Marines Cordileone and Moffat Finally Honored

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Over forty-six years after the fight, Marines Joe Cordileone and Robert Moffat of Mike Company, Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment are finally being recognized for their actions in combat at Hill 881 South on April 30, 1967. Cordileone has been honored with a Silver Star and Moffat with a Bronze Star.

A Scene from the Battle for 881

On April 30, 1967, while Cordileone and Moffat were fighting for their lives and the lives of their comrades, Bravo Company, First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marine Regiment, the subject for the film BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, was operating southwest of Danang around Hill 55. Bravo Company and the rest of the First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines moved up to Khe Sanh in early May of 1967 where they would remain through the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Even though the Vietnam War has been extensively chronicled through a variety of media, the voices and actions of individual veterans of the Vietnam War were muffled for decades, due in part, to the American public’s ambivalence and downright hostility towards the conflict and by association, the men and women who fought it.

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

When I returned home from Vietnam, my parents picked me up at the airport in Tucson, Arizona and immediately took me to a Mexican Food restaurant where we were joined by my best buddy and his fiancé. While we dined on enchiladas and rellenos, I started telling them what the Siege of Khe Sanh was like. They would not look at me. I remember seeing the overhead light reflected from my father’s balding head as he kept his face buried in his meal. I understood right then, that to talk about the war in Vietnam was something that made people uncomfortable. They didn’t want to discuss it, or they didn’t know how to discuss it.

But now forty-some odd years later, instead of slowly emerging, the individual stories from the veterans themselves are beginning to flood as the men and women who fought in Vietnam get recognition for a job well done in a war that was very unpopular.

A hearty Marine Corps OOOHRAH to Marines Cordileone and Moffat.

You can read more about the awards for Cordileone and Moffat at http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2013/sep/20/marines-khe-sanh-silver-star-medal/.

DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale at https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please like us at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/.

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

May 7, 2013

On Hill 55, Sonora and Soledad

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This is the season of May Day when the flowers bud and a sense of new life comes to mind, the scent of lavender, the new green on aspen trees, the longer days announced by the five-thirty-AM song of the mating robin.

May Day is a big holiday in some countries with strong legacies of unions and socialism.

Spring and May Day (as do many other stimuli) make me think of my early days in Vietnam and what we, the men who fought at the Siege of Khe Sanh, were doing not long before our lives collided with the mayhem that was Khe Sanh.

On May 1, 1967, the 1st Battalion 9th Marines was on Operation Prairie IV in the Dong Ha area of operations. The 3rd Battalion 26th Marines was operating around Phu Bai. The 2nd Battalion 26th Marines was on Operation Shawnee with the 4th Marines in Thua-Tien Province. The 1st Battalion 26th Marines…my battalion…was operating in the Hill 55 region southwest of Danang.

I arrived at Hill 55 sometime towards the end of March 1967 or early April 1968. I recall the smells and the tastes in the mouth, the burning heat, the occasional night-time mortar attacks. All of it was new and exciting. Seeing bamboo vipers and lepers and elephants and the hope of seeing tigers, looking at the punji stakes and booby traps, and of course getting a chance to fight the enemy. And why not, that was what we were in Vietnam to do. To fight the enemy and Communism and to keep it from spreading around the world.

Whether we were successful or not at stopping Communism I will leave to the reader, but for me, there it was. I wanted adventure, and today I think I was in Vietnam because I wanted to fight.

And early on I got my chance. Not long before the 1st of May, 1967, a Seabee drowned in a river not far from Hill 55. I do not know the river’s name because it was all too new to me…the smells, the men I served with, the environment.

Two CH-46 helicopters showed up as our platoon—2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 26th Marines—queued up with weapons, flak jackets and a lot of excitement. The platoon sergeant, a gunny with a championship handlebar mustache and toting a Browning semi-automatic shotgun, told the other new guy and me that we weren’t going on this Sparrow Hawk operation because we weren’t “real” Marines. I remember feeling the disappointment of being left out, like when the girl you hankered after in high school started hanging out with all the older guys.

As we sulked off towards our hooch, the gunny called us back and motioned us onto the chopper. I have no idea what transpired in those moments after we turned away from the whapping chopper blades and the faces of our fellow grunts—faces taut, eyes round and large, and I imagine now, dry mouths. Regardless of what was said to the gunny or why he changed his mind, I felt like a kid full of balloons.

Without questioning the why of our redemption as “real” Marines (because as Marines, “Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die”), we crammed ourselves on the CH-46. How long we were in the air, I have no sense, but I doubt it was very long because all I recall was looking at that other Marine Corps-green CH-46 chopper flying behind us, the green jungle below, the grim faces of the silent men jammed into the body of the airship, and as we descended, the wide river and the big sand bar in the middle of the water that was our LZ.

The two choppers settled into the sand and being the last man on, I was first off. I knew what to do. I’d show that damned gunny that I was a “real” Marine. I knew we needed to get off the chopper and establish a perimeter around the helicopters until we had all disembarked.

As I ran across the white sand, I noticed little eruptions at my feet. I heard things snapping past my head and an instant later I heard hollow pop sounds coming from a tree line off to our front. I slowed to get a better idea of what was making the sand erupt as well as those sounds.

Someone kicked me in the butt. Hard. Someone knocked me into the sand. I started swearing—after all, I am a Marine. I am sure I cussed—and looked up to see who had knocked me down, but before I could see who was treating me this way, the face of my fire team leader, Lance Corporal Pacheco, was right before my eyes. He hissed at me. “You want to get shot? Keep down and start firing your rifle. They are shooting at you.”

As if to show me what to do, he cranked off a short burst from his M-16 and then rolled over and started talking to the other new guy. I started shooting, too.

All of a sudden everybody jumped up and got on line and we charged that tree line shooting into the jungle, and when we burst into the tree line there was nothing there but a ten-foot-wide strip of vegetation, and beyond, more white sand and no sign of the enemy.

We got the word to assemble back on the landing zone and as we boarded the two CH-46s we hooted and hollered and the gunny was gripping hands and yelling stuff I don’t remember and he even hugged my shoulder like I was a “real” Marine. Riding back to the company’s base of operations, I mused on those bullets that had been hitting at my feet, snapping by my head. I was lucky no one shot me.

And later, at the siege, I was lucky many times. Very often not at the wrong place at the wrong time. I survived to go home sometime in early April 1968, just before the siege ended. But my comrades who still had time on their tours of duty went on to endure more at Khe Sanh and then beyond.

By May 1, 1968, the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines was at Wunder Beach. The 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines was on Operation Lancaster II in the Camp Carroll area. 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines was south and west of Quang Tri City. 1st Battalion, 9th Marines was on Operation Kentucky in the Cam Lo district not far from the DMZ. I was on leave in Arizona. 

On a separate note, BRAVO! will be screened twice in Sonora, California, on Armed Forces Day, May 18, once at 5 PM and again at 8 PM. These screenings are being ramrodded by Khe Sanh brother Mike Preston and presented by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391 and Columbia College. See more details about the screenings here. Please help us pack the house; it is a fundraiser for the local VVA chapter.

On May 28, 2013, BRAVO! will be screened at Soledad State Prison (Salinas Valley State Prison) in Soledad, California. This screening is not open to the public but is remarkable because of the large number of veterans incarcerated there who will be able to see BRAVO!

If you would like to see BRAVO! screened in your area, please contact us.