Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘1968’

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

April 20, 2019

Rats

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

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

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

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

Or maybe something a little more benign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

March 30, 2019

Intuition–The Payback Patrol

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

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

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


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

The mist smothers Khe Sanh. Photo by David Douglas Duncan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

February 25, 2019

Ruminations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

January 16, 2019

If

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll of concertina wire.

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

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

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

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

Roll of barb wire.

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

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

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

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

If.

***

On a separate note:

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

I Married the War

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

December 31, 2018

2018 In Review

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2018 is here and gone and 2019 begins tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

On a separate note:

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

I Married the War

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

October 11, 2018

Why I Fought the War

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Recently Betty and I watched a documentary film titled FIVE CAME BACK about filmmakers who served in the American military during World War II. Those men, Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, and William Wyler, produced some of the most iconic footage to come out of that conflict and in some cases placed themselves in great danger to get the shots to make the films.

One of the interesting aspects of discovering the military service of these men was how the films they made following their wartime feats changed and generally became more serious, thought-provoking pieces. Thinking about that, it comes to me that I also got a hell of a lot more serious about life after my service in Vietnam. My outlook became darker as I realized what we were capable of as human beings. Knowing it in the gut is different from knowing it in the brain.

As a filmmaker myself, I was also interested in why these men were compelled to go into harm’s way in order to document the events of WWII when they probably didn’t need to, and that led me to ponder why it is I went off to fight in Vietnam.

Over the years people have asked me if I “was drafted,” which I wasn’t, and I have found myself giving inconsistent answers when they subsequently ask me why I enlisted.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1967.

I don’t think what follows will be any great revelation about why a young man goes to war, but like others I served with and those before and after my time as a Leatherneck, I suspect I was moved by more than one reason.

Of course, unlike today, the draft was in effect when I enlisted in the Corps. I hadn’t received my draft notice but I wasn’t particularly interested in staying in college—they didn’t offer degrees in boozing and hell raising—so I expected the notice to arrive in my parents’ post office box as soon as the draft board got news that I wasn’t a serious student. So, maybe—and I want to stress the word “maybe” for all of the reasons that I lay out here—I decided to beat the draft notice and joined up.

How I joined is something of a story in itself that will remain for a later telling.

In World War I, II and Korea, members of my family served in the Army, the Navy, the Air Corps as it was known before Korea, and the Marines. I had five Marines in my family, one of whom was killed at Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1950, and since my father, a top sergeant in the Army during World War II, regularly derogated Marines, and since he and I regularly banged heads over everything, of course I chose to be a Jarhead.

I could have joined the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, or I could have just waited for the draft notice to arrive and then maybe I could get a doctor to provide a bogus excuse so I could be 4F, or I could beat feet for Canada. But I didn’t.

I tell myself as I write this that the Marines were my choice, in part, because they had a reputation for being the best and toughest to get through. I knew folks, again my relatives and some family friends, some school teachers, who were Jarheads, and they all had things to say that made the Corps look like it was tough—really tough—and they all warned me off of the Corps, and I believe now that the notion I needed to find out if I was man enough to make it was one of the primary reasons I joined the USMC.

A notion kind of parallel to that was the idea that going into battle was a way to see if one could measure up. And even though I’d read some of the “anti-war” literature such as Eric Maria Remarque’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, I suspect that all those messages about the horrors of war only made the specter of charging into the jaws of danger somehow attractive.

And so I went and did my duty and survived the horrors of Khe Sanh. When I came back, I subtly tried to rub it in my old man’s face since he spent all of his war time behind a desk working for generals.

A lot of folks think that patriotism was a big motivator for me and I suspect, a lot of other young men who went and fought in Vietnam, but I’m not sure it was a conscious one if it was a reason at all.

Most of us, back then, grew up around relatives who had fought the Germans and Italians, the Japanese, the Chinese Communists and the North Koreans, so service for a lot of us was something taken for granted. And there was the notion that we all had a duty to stand up and serve our country. Is that patriotism? Maybe.

Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller.

I had a second cousin, whom I called Uncle Bill, who was gassed while advancing through the thick woods of the Argonne Forest in the fall of 1918. There was Uncle Frank, shot in the head while serving with Brute Krulak’s Battalion of Marine Paratroopers on the island of Choiseul in WWII. I own a frosty memory of talk about my 1st cousin Reed Plumb, killed in action at Chosin Reservoir on the first day of the breakout. I imagine him stacked like a piece of cordwood in the back of a six-by with other dead Marines, frozen solid. There was a legacy attached to my being a citizen and some of it was inscribed in the blood of my family.

And so, for that reason and all the others mentioned and probably a few I haven’t even considered, I enlisted. Like those filmmakers I talked about when I began this piece, I came back with a darker view of humanity, but I went willingly into that maw of death.

***

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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh

September 26, 2018

Michael E. O’Hara Muses On Navy Corpsmen and Marines

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, a reprint of an entry from January 2016, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on Navy Corpsmen and Marines

The latter part of 2015 was not especially kind to me. I had a serious surgery in September and in November I suddenly fell ill once again and suffered a somewhat sustained period of time in the VA hospital, about 45 days all told. I am now home and greatly improved, Thank You very much. I mention that only because it reminded me of a time long ago and the special folks who endeared themselves to me.

Never, in our glorious past has any one group of individuals EVER earned the respect and the admiration of Marines across the globe than our FMF Navy Corpsmen, more commonly referred to as “Doc.” Most folks have no idea what these brave men have endured just to be called Doc. They train with the Marines, they deploy with the Marines, and they patrol with the Marines. They are as much a Marine as anyone can be without actually enlisting. Not a patrol goes through the wire without Doc.

Doc is everywhere. He was on the beach at Tarawa and on every island campaign in the Pacific. There was even a Doc who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Doc was at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir when Chesty Puller’s men were withdrawing through that awful frozen (-30) tundra of North Korea. Doc not only tended to the wounded but was required to deal with many horrific amputations due to frostbite. Sometimes they had a real M.D. to help, but not very often.

Doc was in Lebanon in 1958 and again in 1983 when the Marine Barracks was attacked and over 200 Marines were lost. Doc is everywhere. Doc has been to all the little unknown conflicts most people have long since forgotten. Doc also went to a place that became known as “The Nam.”

2 January 1968. Bravo Company, 1/26 had been deployed Oct-Dec to 881 South. When we left the hill the day after Christmas, 1967, we ran a long operation up the Rao Quan River to the north. It was January when we got back and were assigned to the combat base. The NVA had broken a truce (SOOPRISE) and we were called back to the base. We sacked in with Alpha Company on the north side of the runway. By midnight, Danny Horton and I were delirious. We had not used our purification tablets which made our water non-potable, and as a result were really sick.

John “Doc” Cicala, US Navy Corpsman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh.

Our platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, was dispatched to tend to us and we were taken straight away to a tent. A firefight had just erupted with members of Lima Company close to the tent we were in. I was so sick I never moved from the table. Everyone else was on the ground. This was the beginning of my very first hospital stay, if that is what you would call it.

I think I was there 16 days, maybe. They finally said we had amoebic dysentery. It can kill you if not properly treated. But Doc was there. This tent was known as the BAS, Battalion Aid Station. It was a dark, sandbagged hole in the ground. I don’t remember much of the first ten days but I know Doc took wonderful care of me. Soon I was discharged from BAS and sent back to Bravo. I was very weak.

I would see or hear about Doc’s brave actions many more times during the Siege. You see, the reason Marines love Doc is because they know that if they take a bullet, if they lose a limb to a mortar round and call for Doc, he will come, just like he has always done. It makes no matter how heavy the volley, Doc will charge into the guns to tend to his wounded Marines. He has always done so and he continues to do so to this day. Make no mistake, Doc for sure is one of our most unsung Heroes.

Doc Cicala from our 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, is a fine example. Shot through one of his lungs and with grenade fragments to his groin, he still continued on the day of the 25 February ambush doing what he could to help guide others who were literally crawling back to the perimeter on their stomachs.

Second Platoon’s Doc Thomas Hoody, who spent many nights braving the incoming artillery patching up Marines, would visit me in the night twice during the month of March to check on my wounds.

I am sure the Docs in first platoon showed every bit as much raw courage and bravery as well. But one of the most searing moments of my tour came on 30 March when Doc and I met up close and very personal when our roles were reversed in the middle of one of the bloodiest damn firefights of the entire war.

Richard Blanchfield had served better than 6 years as a United States Marine. He got out, enlisted in the United States Navy and became a Doc. He was a replacement for the Third Platoon on 30 March. He had only been there a few days at the most. I didn’t even know him.

By the time I met him, the entire company was at “Fix Bayonets” and we were definitely engaging Charley. In fact, we were all in a virtual dead run to get these guys who had killed so many of our fellow Marines. Doc Blanchfield was well ahead of me. He had already tended to a wounded Marine and had just got up on the edge of a bomb crater when mortars simply rained down on him and the whole command group as well.

When I reached the edge of the crater, he was about halfway down and sliding in the loose dirt. There were two dead Marines and numerous dead NVA in the crater. Those two Marines certainly earned their pay that day. Doc had, by this time, stuck 2 morphine needles in his own leg. His arm was nearly blown off at the shoulder. At first I was in as much shock as he was, but I regained my composure and began to tie him off. After slowing down the bleeding, I tied two battle dressings together and wrapped him all around so he at least wouldn’t do any more damage to what was left of his arm. I thought he would die.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh

The battle was still in full assault so I laid him back and comforted him as well as I could and left him. I have not seen him since but he did survive and miraculously his arm was saved.

After getting involved with the Khe Sanh Veterans in 1992 I found out Doc Blanchfield was living in Oceanside, California. We talk once a year on the phone. He has never failed to send me a card for each and every holiday since that first call. I still have not seen him. He was very pained by what happened to him and I understand. He did say Thank You that first call.

Like I said earlier, I was in the hospital over this past Veterans Day holiday. Most folks understand that 10 November is the Marine Corps Birthday, so we were also celebrating 240 years of glorious history. That is a very long time for sure, a time in which we have come to celebrate the lives and courageous acts of many from our ranks. I could write pages, even a book or two recounting all of our Heroes for sure.

A wheelchair-bound Marine (a volunteer) was my only visitor on this Marine Corps Birthday. He had lost both legs in Vietnam. We had a grand conversation. He brought me candy, S/F.

I have read a great deal about the wars of the last ten years and the men who have gone in my stead now that I am old and grey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you this generation is lost. I am just as proud of our young Marines today as I ever have been.

And never forget this: Wherever you find these Marines, you will find Doc, ready, willing and able to charge into the guns if necessary. He will, as he has always done, come when he hears the word Doc.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara.

Semper Fidelis to our Navy Corpsmen everywhere you serve.

Michael E. O’Hara served with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during 1967 and 1968. He earned three Purple Hearts.

***

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,Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

September 5, 2018

I’d Rather Take a Beating

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When my father died, one of his friends stood outside the chapel before the funeral service and told me, “I’d rather take a beating than go in there.”

I’ve often thought about that moment and I’ve even used the phrase from time to time, but I particularly felt that emotion twelve days ago as we laid Bravo Company, 1/26’s Skipper, Ken Pipes, in the ground at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The Skipper passed on in April, and in May there was a memorial service for him, but it didn’t seem like matters would be settled for family, friends and his Marines until he was finally interred in the place he wished to be laid to rest.

Getting the Skipper buried there turned out to be a four-month chore for his family and friends, and took the efforts of General Neller, the Commandant of the Marines Corps, General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, to override the bureaucratic layers that seemingly obstructed the Skipper’s last wishes at every turn. And it took a friend of BRAVO! Marines and the Skipper, Mr. PJ Staab, to help the family negotiate the heartburn of getting the appropriate location within the cemetery so that the Skipper’s wife, Sharon, could be buried next to him when her time arrives.

Left to right, Sharon, Conner, Sandra and Tim Pipes. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The graveside service for the Skipper itself was well done and the folks who showed up, including a number of Skipper Pipes’ family, friends, former Sheriff’s Department pals, military contacts, Marines and Corpsmen, witnessed a fine ceremony conducted by the family pastor and the United States Marine Corps, lead by Brigadier General Ryan Heritage, commanding general at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. General Heritage presented the ceremonial flag to Mrs. Pipes.

There was a rifle salute, a rendition of taps and a placing of mementos in and around Skippers burial urn, made by his son Tim.

The weather that day began with a light cloud cover but by the time we arrived at the service, it had turned sunny with a slight breeze from the Pacific Ocean to our west.

I served with Lt Colonel Pipes fifty years ago and for a long time I didn’t think of him often unless a flash of unpleasant combat memory invaded my thoughts. Even after our reintroduction in 1993, he wasn’t yet a big part of my life. But after making BRAVO!, that all changed and we became pretty close and talked often about . . . well, a lot of things.

The Skipper’s Urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Betty and I went to visit Sharon and the Skipper a number of times at his home in Fallbrook, usually associated with some event related to the film. He and I would sit out on his back patio and drink coffee, and invariably our talk would turn to the events of early 1968 at Khe Sanh.

We’d recall people and actions, death and horror, and quite often our palaver would veer into the realm of the intellectual. Discussions on the nature of war and combat and the behavior of individuals in the stressed world of a full-blown siege.

Earlier I mentioned my father, and it is interesting to me as I write this blog that he and I never had the kind of discussions about war and men that the Skipper and I had. Father and I didn’t discuss those sort of things because he had no combat experience even though he was an Army top sergeant in World War II, serving in India.

The Smith Brothers, Lt Colonel John and Lt Colonel Michael, add insignias to the Skipper’s urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

But the Skipper and I, yeah, we could talk about those things and reminisce and rue the deaths of all those fine men with whom we served.

And in some ways, since my father has been dead for almost thirty years, Lt Colonel Pipes became a kind of father figure to me. Someone who understood what I had become post-combat. Someone who’d felt the rage, the fear, the grinding memories that refuse to relent their hold on how a survivor of long-term combat sees the world he or she lives in.

We would sit and remember the men associated with the names of the dead and the living and our reactions—or mine did, at least—welled up from the soles of my feet, roared up through my legs into my innards and often made themselves manifest by the tears that eked out of my eyes, forcing me to look away and fight to get control of my emotions.

He was brutally honest with me about how he felt about the Siege and the men with whom he served. Sometimes the discussion turned loud and raucous as we recalled one of our comrades who acted out as big as all the hills around Khe Sanh. We talked quietly, we argued, and then agreed, then argued again, then hugged. What we knew, down in the bottom of our guts, no one else knew unless they had undergone the terrible initiation into the club of those who have faced the awful fangs of combat. And we tried to articulate that. He liked to call it, “riding the elephant and looking the tiger in the eye.”

He could rocket from laughter to rage to laughter. He pondered man’s inhumanity to man. He kept close watch for those who would harm his loved ones. Not unlike me.

Ken Pipes understood things about me that my real father never understood, and because the Skipper is now gone, there will be a big void in my life and I’d rather take a beating than think about that.

To know him was a privilege, a gift.

***

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,Post Combat Mental Health,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 22, 2018

But Still . . .

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First it was the dreams

No, wait, that’s not what was first; what barged in first was the envelopment, the saturation, the occupation of my bones and blood, my mind and my soul by the searing recollections of what happened at Khe Sanh.

The realization of what I’d seen men do to each other, do for each other, in some of the bloodiest combat in the Vietnam War, got on me, in me, over me . . . so all-encompassing that it’s really impossible to articulate the real impact of that kind of war experience. The whys, the implications of humanity’s behavior in combat haunt me to this moment.

And then it was sleep, as much time as I could steal. I was accused of having depression. I told everyone I was just tired.

Then, later, a few years, it was the dreams that began to snake into my brain like a slinking King Cobra intent on striking my mind and debilitating me for the balance of my life.

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

Forty-five years ago, I punched my first wife in the face when she tried to wake me and find out what was wrong, while I dreamed. Sometimes I remembered the dreams when I woke, but that time I didn’t. Other times I would come to in a cold sweat. Sometimes—and this still happens—I would awake to my heart hammering in my chest.

More than once I recall lying beneath the damp sheets in the dark, my breath sharp, eyes straining, listening for someone to come sneaking down the red clay trenchline and then realizing I wasn’t at Khe Sanh, but just coming out of a nightmare. I can’t tell you what it felt like as relief swept into my consciousness and literally over my body. I would lie there and think, “That’s not real. It’s just a memory.”

And there was rage, and estrangement and hyper vigilance . . . locking the doors and then checking again and again to see if they were locked.

If other drivers drove vehicles in a way that scared me or made me anxious, I burst into long diatribes about their family lineage. I still do.

I stopped toting my pistol twenty-five years ago because I was afraid that in a fit of rage I would shoot somebody for something that seemed monumental at the moment but only trivial after my rage—and the fear that fueled the rage—subsided. Then I’d witness the cell doors clang as I began my murder sentence.

If I heard something outside, either day or night, I’d rise—I still rise—from my desk, a chair, my bed, and move quietly to a window so I could peek out.

One Saturday night years ago a foolish young man—who at the time I didn’t recognize—who wanted desperately to be my friend kept calling me at midnight, just messing around, breathing into the phone and not talking. After six or seven of those calls, I screamed at him about what I would do if he didn’t stop.

Then he came to my apartment and scratched at the windows, the doors. My pistol was beneath the seat in my truck, so I rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife I could find. Trying to be stealthy, I sneaked up to the front door and listened. Outside, traffic hurried down 36th Street and somewhere a siren sounded. Then again, the sound of someone scratching the front door. My heart pounded and I felt like a young Marine engaged in hand-to-hand combat, enraged and deadly. I managed to unlock the door and throw it open simultaneously and then leap out with the knife held in position to drive it into the intruder’s vitals.

A big man stood there, trying to look in my front window. I took a long step and grabbed the collar of his shirt as he turned to look at me. Lucky for him and me, light from the next-door neighbor’s outside lamp shined on his face and I recognized him in time to stop the thrust of that knife into his heart.

Sometimes I was—I am—roused by the smell of rotting flesh—maybe a dead cow or someone’s deceased pet—which pulled me back to Khe Sanh where the wind would blow just right and you smelled the dead people out there in the no man’s land between the enemy and us. Then the memories would flood in.

Sometimes when I walked down the street or stood in the back yard, the loud bang of a car backfire or some other loud sound assaulted my being and I ducked or flinched as I looked around for the death associated with that noise and wished—not thinking, just reacting—for some place to hide. Then I’d hope that no one observed me in that moment of weakness. That hasn’t stopped, either.

Or the fireworks shows that my family expected me to attend. But the loud noises scared me and I couldn’t explain to them my fear. And I hated to admit it was fear.

Sometimes it was the sense that I was being watched by someone as I pushed a grocery cart down the aisle of the local store. Or maybe while I walked across the street. I still find myself stopping to look around and see who’s out there watching me.

While driving, I’d swerve to avoid a brown paper bag or a black plastic one because, maybe, just maybe, there could be a booby trap concealed inside. I considered myself pretty damned foolish when that happened, and yet . . .

And sometimes I felt the need to get away from crowds so I could stand back and watch to see who might be interested in doing me and mine harm. I shy away from crowds.

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Sometimes it was the need to get away from crowds because all those people crammed together could die—easy targets jammed up like that. One round. One suicide bomber wearing a vest full of C-4 and rusty nuts and bolts and steel ball bearings. You can see that happening, right?

And I know help is out there, and I’ve been to see the shrink—or shrinks—and I’ve done other things to mitigate the rage, the paranoia, the estrangement. But still . . .

***

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 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.