Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘9th Marine Regiment’

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

May 15, 2019

Remember the Mayaguez

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Forty-four years ago this week the SS Mayaguez, a US merchant ship, was captured by the Khmer Rouge on the coast of Cambodia (Kampuchea.)

President Gerald Ford decided that an emphatic response was called for and so elements of the 4th and 9th Marine Regiments boarded Air Force helicopters and assaulted Koh Tang Island.

What occurred on Koh Tang proved, for the men who fought there, a disaster due to lack of planning and the need to make a quick and vigorous statement to the communist regime that had just taken over Cambodia, as well as put our other enemies on notice that though we’d left Vietnam, we weren’t going to be kicked around.

Thirty-eight US personnel were killed in action in the assault and on the briefly occupied beachhead on Koh Tang. Three Marines were left behind and subsequently killed, one by being beaten to death by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Fifty US personnel were wounded and three CH-53 choppers were destroyed.

SS Mayaguez, photo courtesy of By US Air Force. Public Domain,

 

Some years ago, while Betty and I worked on BRAVO!, one of the historians at the Marine Corps History Division talked to Betty and me about making a film about the Mayaguez Incident. He told me that the chronicle of what happened at Koh Tang was one of the pieces of Corps history that begged additional telling and a documentary might be a good way to relate what happened.

I remembered well the incident and thought it might be of interest, so I ordered some books on the subject and read about what occurred on Koh Tang.

Betty and I never made that film, but the details of the affair still haunt my memory; the lack of planning, the need for politicians to make big statements about what were, and what were not, hostile actions acceptable to the United States of America.

What happened to those men who assaulted Koh Tang dredged up all my emotions from back in 1975 after we’d just hightailed out of South Vietnam and left our allies there to face the onslaught of NVA. I couldn’t get it out of my head, the pictures of folks trying to get out of Nam and us bugging out with what seemed to me very little regard for what responsibility we had.

I’d first heard about our final retreat from Vietnam while driving down the road between Stanfield and Casa Grande, Arizona, past the fields of newly planted cotton and off in the distance, the desert mountains to the north, capped with snow. The news announcer blurted out of the radio that we’d left the country. It came as no surprise to me. I’d been expecting the fall of Saigon.

I was in my boss Charlie Weaver’s truck and I didn’t say anything to him. What could I say? Well, I could have probably articulated boatloads of things—my chagrin, my rage—but instead, I said nothing, just looked at the ditches full, the irrigation pipes pouring water into the rows of freshly planted cotton.

So, when the Mayaguez incident occurred a few weeks later, I went into a funky rage that infested every notion that invaded my mind.
A friend of mine, with whom I’d served in the Corps (but not in Nam), called me on the landline and asked me what the hell we thought we were doing attacking Cambodia.

He was anti-war. I was ambivalent, my Vietnam War experience like a noxious dose of Castor Oil that someone had crammed down my mouth.
I thought I’d fought the good fight. I thought we’d fought the good fight. I hated that we had cut and run after all the death and maiming. Intellectually, I understood what happened, but emotionally I felt like something was trapped in my gullet and would blow up like a balloon that would explode and take me down. Down.

 

Blogger Ken Rodgers, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

My friend baited me with comments about Marines and the war in general. It wasn’t so much about his distaste with our country’s actions, but something we did back and forth: baiting, teasing, arguing about war and politics.

That evening, with the phone in my hand and at my ear, I boiled like acid was eating the cells in my brain. . It hurt.

It still does.

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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.