Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘1967’

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.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

November 10, 2012

On Tun Tavern, November 10th and Dan Horton

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Today is the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps which had its beginning at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Tun Tavern, a meeting place of some importance in 18th Century American history. Benjamin Franklin recruited militia there in the 1750s to fight Native American uprisings. Future presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson held meetings at the tavern, as did the Continental Congress.

On past birthdays, I have celebrated in local pubs, at formal dinners and elegant luncheons, but I spent the 192nd birthday on Hill 881, west of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines garrisoned the hill from mid-October of 1967 until the day after Christmas of that year.

On November 10, 1967, I am sure there was some kind of celebration up on the hill to take note of this important date to all Marines, but I do not recall what it was. Some of the Bravo Marines and Corpsmen who are still alive might be able to remember such a celebration.

On November 10th, 1967, Third Platoon, Bravo Company went out on a patrol at 06:50 hours and returned about 11:00 hours. Second Platoon sent out an LP and an ambush that night. I am sure First and Third Platoons did likewise.

Most of what I recall about mid-November of 1967 was rain and mist and cold. Official records kept by the 26th Marines say that the rainfall for the month of November was about four inches, but in my memory it rained all the time up there on Hill 881, and we patrolled in the drip and the sop and the mud. We worked in the mud and we slept in dripping hooches and sometimes out on the ground with leeches crawling into our noses. We went on ambushes and listening posts and long patrols through creeks and rivers and marshes over the ridges to the west, towards the Laotian border. We stood watch in wet mist that hung so close you couldn’t see ten feet. Oftentimes all night, all personnel manned the trenches as red alerts kept us up watching for the NVA to come hurling through the foggy dark onto our concertina wire barriers and into our positions.

It was wet, it was boring, it was ham and lima beans, beans and franks, chicken noodle soup, day in, night out. If there was a cake cutting on November 10, which is traditional on the Marine Corps Birthday, I don’t remember it on our hill, in our outfit.

I remember wet and work and little sleep and undermanned squads sick near to death of the routine. The only things to spice life up were the occasional sniper rounds snapping past your head as you filled sandbags or dug your trenches deeper, or the recon outfits that landed on the hill and departed the hill’s gates for more dangerous territory.

And what really interests me now, in 2012, is how tough we thought all that was…the mud, the rain, the damp, the leeches, the long patrols, the all-night red alerts in a blinding fog. And it was tough. But we didn’t know what tough was, compared to what would happen to us beginning on January 21, 1968. But that is a different subject, for a different time.

One of the men who served with me in Third Squad, Second Platoon, Bravo Company on November 10, 1967, was Dan Horton, a tough Detroit kid who we all wrangled and fought with, but whom we all loved. And could he sing. He used to sing tune after tune on those cold wet nights and we thought we had BJ Thomas right there in our leaky-roofed hooch. Dan used to yell all the time because he wasn’t getting treated fairly, and sometimes he’d go to fists with other Marines over it, but when the real fighting started the following January, he was there, covering your back and your flanks, his weapon locked and loaded. And he was there, too, fighting the leeches and the rain and the cold mists of 881.

Dan was one of the fifteen Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo Company featured in the film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

Unfortunately, for those of us who loved and revered him, for those of us who still survive from that 1967 Marine Corps Birthday, Dan left us to go to another universe, another Tun Tavern. And fittingly, if he needed to leave, he left us on the Corps’ 235th Birthday, November 10, 2010. Sempr Fi, Marines. Semper Fi, Dan Horton.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

March 20, 2012

The Larry C Banks Memorial

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Bravo! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on memories of his friend who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967.

Larry C. Banks and I grew up together. He “VOLUNTEERED” for the Army in ‘67 and I volunteered to go into the Marines about the same time. We spent our last leave home together at the same time before going to Vietnam.

Larry was killed in an ambush after only 28 days in country at a place known as Srok Rung. It was in a rubber tree plantation in the IV Corps area northwest of Saigon. Larry died while serving as an assistant machine gunner. They literally melted the barrel out of the gun before being overrun. His squad leader, Robert Stryker, won the Medal of Honor that day. Larry and the gunner earned Bronze Stars for valor.

I was at Khe Sanh on Hill 881s when Larry was killed. No one back home would tell me until after I came home in 1968.

I remember in 1978 I was having a brief conversation with a lady who graduated same class with us. (84 grads) When I mentioned Larry she gave me an ill look and said Larry who? It just infuriated me.

In 1993 there was a memorial dedicated on the courthouse lawn to all who had served in all wars. It was the first time Larry Banks’ named had been spoken publicly since he perished. I lashed out at the crowd for never acknowledging his sacrifice as I read his name. When I boasted to my mother after it was over, she chided me publicly in front of all and asked me this question, “And what have you done?”

It was at that moment that the Larry C. Banks Memorial was conceived. Within 16 months a scholarship had been established with the newly formed community foundation (we were their first account) and the new High School Gymnasium bears his name to this day. Hundreds of folks pitched in to make that happen. It was my dream but other people made it happen.

This past Veterans Day was a special tribute in the gymnasium for Larry, presented by the staff and children at the school for the benefit of all our Veterans. NO one, and I mean no one, will ever say to me ever again, “Larry who.”

By the way, Larry served with 1st Battalion 26th Infantry Regiment USA. I served with 1st Battalion 26th Marine Regiment (infantry) USMC 5th Div. How about that!

Michael E O’Hara spends a lot of time researching and honoring all American veterans of all wars. He also spends a lot of time with his granddaughters.

Vietnam War

August 18, 2011

August in Nam

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In August, 1967 the war in Vietnam raged. In I Corps, Marines died all along the DMZ. But in Bravo Company…..rain. Floods gushing down the trenches. Rebuilding the bunkers on Hill 861. Digging drains for the trenchlines and installing fifty-five gallon oil drums with their tops and bottoms cut out. Places for the floods to charge down the hill and gouge out blood red creases in the hillside. Trying to burn the trash dump….hazardous duty. Five gallons of gas, five gallons of diesel fuel. Damp matches from the inside of your damp jungle utilities. Damp skin. Fingers ridged with white wrinkles. One match out of ten ignites. When you manage to get the fire into the dump it erupts with a searing whoosh that knocks you off your feet. Sears your eyelashes, your eyebrows. An unforeseen consequence of war.

Patrols. No enemy. Boredom. Ambushes, listening posts. No enemy. Boredom. Dig dig dig, rain rain, mud, wet feet, wet skin. No enemy. Boredom. Fearless B. dancing on top of the machine gunner’s bunker as he yells expletives at the non-existent enemy. He flaps his arms like a goony bird. We stand wet watches in the knee-deep water…at night. Marines go to sleep on watch. A court martial offense. “In the old Corps,” the old salts say, “they’d have summarily shot you in the head. As you slept. You are putting everybody in danger.” We go to sleep on watch. A slap on the helmet instead of a court martial. The harsh tap of a .45 caliber pistol barrel on the top of your helmet instead of a .45 caliber slug in your temple. Bored.

Down off the north side and along the Song Rao Quan as it cuts a deeper valley. Hints of cigarette smoke that doesn’t smell like ours. Cold c-rats as we get excited and hunt something to shoot. Anyone not on our side. Who’s out there. Nothing. Stale scent of unfamiliar tobacco…that’s all.

At night, again, reports of probes and a Marine tosses a grenade that sounds like a dull whump as it explodes in the head-high jungle grass. We go on alert as the frogs click and the crickets click and we click the safeties of our M-16s. Nothing but the moon on the south horizon and the breezes whispering over the wet sandbags that build our bunkers. The one night all  month we are not choked by fog. We whisper to the man on the next post about all the girls we laid before becoming Jarheads. We lie. Nothing. We go back to sleep.

Someone rolls a smoke grenade down the steps into the Lieutenant’s hooch. He stomps sputtering and cussing up the stairwell and gets tripped as he lurches into the foggy black of night. Yellow smoke mixes with mist. He splays on his face and gets kicked in the ass. Jungle boots retreat in the mud amid laughter. The next morning he tries to track his attackers but the steady rain has jumbled the waffle prints of the boots. We all snigger as we hide our dirty faces in our dirty dungaree jackets.

One night a patrol out through the gate on the trail to 881 South. It is so dark you can barely see the man standing next to you. Mist drips off the end of your nose, your weapon, your trousers are damp. The jingle of dog tags and the creak of web gear. The crack and snap of rounds being chambered in M-16s. Somewhere a cigarette lighter clangs. The acrid scent of Marlboros assaults your nose. The nip of it feels right on your tongue. You tote a Browning 12-gauge. Out the gate and into a bamboo thicket so dense it chokes all the air out of your lungs. Vertigo, vertigo. You don’t know what’s out in front. Death breathes a deep sigh that tingles the bones in your spine. Cobras, out there, Charlie. Death. The dredge of boots through the sloppy red mud. Out the other side into a dark less dark. Grayer than the black that invaded your soul and left you lost for the twenty-five paces you had to act brave. Back in the bamboo thicket.

Out here, no sign of Charlie. Nothing.