Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘April 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.

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

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