Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’

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

March 20, 2019

On Memory, The Wall That Heals and Screenings of BRAVO!

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Betty and I journeyed to my old home town the week of March 4 to screen BRAVO! at the historic Paramount Theatre. The event was sponsored by Casa Grande, Arizona’s Marine Corps League Detachment 901 and was part of a larger slate of events including the Arizona Marine Corps League’s annual spring gathering along with the arrival of The Wall That Heals. You can find out more about The Wall That Heals here.

While in Casa Grande, we met with a group of Vietnam vets and helped raise and lower the colors at the Wall That Heals. We were introduced to Marine Corps League dignitaries and spoke to the League’s leaders about BRAVO! and the power held by a story of committed warriors fighting on in the face of long odds as did the Marines, Sailors, the Army, Air Force and ARVN personnel who were present at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Marine Corps League Meeting at the Paramount Theatre, Casa Grande, AZ. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

We screened the film twice, once to a small group of veterans and other interested folks, some of whom were present at Khe Sanh during the siege. We also screened the film to a large general audience and it was gratifying to see some of my old friends the Millers, the Hoopers, Marine Corps veteran Charlie Pierce and his wife Nancy come and watch the story. A lot of Vietnam veterans came to this showing and a number of them were in some way affiliated with the siege: pilots, crew chiefs, recon Marines, grunts, Seabees, communicators.

At both screenings, we had lively discussions about filmmaking, Khe Sanh and war.

Much thanks is in order to our wonderful new friends, Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Ross Scanio and his wife Renee, for putting the events together, and to Debby Martin, who provided the beautiful space for the screenings. Kudos, too, to Palmer Miller III and Lyle Dillie, warriors turned artists who provided combat art to enhance the experience. Thanks to Palmer and the Scanios for making a generous gift of one of Palmer’s unique American Flag paintings to Betty and me.

Left to Right: Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers, Debby Martin of the Paramount Theatre, Ross Scanio. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Renee Scanio was very interested in helping us get the word out about our new film, I MARRIED THE WAR, (you can find out more about the film here.) and voiced an appeal for funds to finish the editing of the film. Many thanks to Renee for her enthusiasm and support, and to Ross for his passion to serve fellow veterans.

On the evening of March 8, Betty and I attended a candlelight ceremony complete with bagpipes at The Wall That Heals. Some of the names on the wall are kids I went to school with: John Henry Armstrong and Wes Patterson and Efren Carmona and Guadalupe Rendon to name a few. I remember their vitality and how those moments we shared as boys are forever etched in my recall.

Betty and I also spent some time finding the names of men I served with in Vietnam and knew in some regard: Ed Furlong, Dutch Vercouteren, Ken Claire, Don Jacques, Greg Kent, Jimmy L McRae, and David Aldrich, to name some of those warriors. And with each and every one, images of those Marines and other veterans stepped out of the mist of remembrance to look me in the eye and it felt like they wanted to speak to me, but too much time and too much life had intervened.

At The Wall That Heals, March 8, 2019, Casa Grande, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

On March 29th we will be in La Grande, Oregon, to screen BRAVO! in recognition of National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The event will be held at Eastern Oregon University, in Room 102, Huber Auditorium in Badgley Hall Building, One University Avenue. You will be able to get tickets at the door and the donation will be $10.00 and $5.00 for students under 18. Proceeds will go to benefit veteran programs of American Legion Post 43. This will be an opportunity to meet Ron Rees, one of 14 Marines in the film, and his dynamic wife and veteran’s advocate, Tami.

Doors open at 5:00 PM for refreshments. Film will begin screening at 6:00 PM and will be followed by a Q & A session.

For more information about this screening, check out our Facebook event here: or contact Tami at 541-805-9565.

Here’s a copy of the poster for the La Grande Screening:

Poster for La Grande, Oregon screening of March 29, 2019

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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.

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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,Veterans,Vietnam War

July 11, 2018

Abandoned

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At my folks’ kitchen counter, it was harsh black coffee à la my father’s tastes, accompanied by unfiltered Camels. I’d consumed two pots of the old man’s bitter javvy because I’d been up all night partying around the hometown with a lot of my old friends from high school. One of them was working that summer as a lifeguard and I went with him to a swimming party at the town pool. Except I wasn’t swimming.

I had donned my new civvies and was out looking for a good time. I’d just gotten home on my second leave of the summer, upon transfer from 5th Battalion Recon at Camp Pendleton to the Marine Barracks at 36th Street Naval Station in San Diego.

I had no intention of swimming but as the party rocked on, several of my old school mates, one who was in his next to last year at the Air Force Academy and the other a Marine getting ready to do his second tour in Nam, decided I should get in the pool whether I wanted to or not.

What’s left at the end. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely.

Somehow, I managed to defend myself by turning the tables on them and throwing them in the pool. The confrontation rankled and in an attempt to calm my rage I managed to consume excess quantities of Coors. Thus my need for lots of coffee. And as for the unfiltered Camels, I loved, after filling my lungs with the smoke, the way that itchy little sensation snaked its way down my throat, ballooning into a marvel, like a narcotic, as it infested my blood, my muscles.

But what really brought me up short, sitting there at the counter, listening to my mother talk on the phone to some cousin who I was never sure how she was related, and my two nephews playing in the living room, shouting and shrieking, making my hangover more deadly, was the article I found in the Arizona Republic about the US abandoning the base at Khe Sanh.

I read it and drank a cup of coffee. Then I inhaled another Camel, which when I’d smoked it down as far as possible, I stubbed out in the heavy ashtray that looked like it was made from expensive cut glass. I read the article again, and again, and again as I drank more javvy and smoked and smoked and smoked.

I think I needed to keep reading it because it didn’t sink in. The information just couldn’t get past my eyes into my brain. Finally, it hit me like a doubled-up fist in the solar plexus. Betrayal, like your best friend sneaking off into the night with your girl friend, or worse, like being deserted out in the bush, left to die at the hands of the enemy.

As the notion that Khe Sanh was no longer a functioning base sunk in, faces popped into my mind, and names: Frenchy and Furlong, Aldrich and Kent, McRae and Norman. What the hell had they—and all those other Marines, and sailors and soldiers and airmen—died for?

In the years since we started making BRAVO!, I’ve met historians—military historians—who have explained to me that given the nature of the war, and the fact that the United States and its allies didn’t have a sufficient number of warriors to defend every place that needed to be defended, what happened at Khe Sanh—the leaving it, the abandonment—was necessary.

But I live my life on a personal level. What happened there in 1967-1968 happened to me. It happened to Frenchy and it happened to Kent. For me it wasn’t—and it damned sure isn’t now—generals and colonels sitting somewhere down in Saigon looking at big maps of South Vietnam with symbols depicting the various locations of our forces and the enemy’s.

It happened to me. I was sent to defend a place—Khe Sanh—that seemed so vital to our aims that we expended record breaking amounts of munitions to repeatedly beat back the NVA. The killing, the maiming, the destruction of the surrounding environment. What we left behind. Unexploded ordnance. Agent Orange. And the faces of the lost, their names.

In 1969, a year after sitting at my parents’ kitchen counter reading about the abandonment of Khe Sanh, I met a young Marine who came to the Marine Barracks at 36th Street Naval Station. His primary MOS was combat engineer. When he found out I had been at Khe Sanh, he told me he’d been part of the team that destroyed the base just before we finally turned tail and left the place. He told me how they’d blown up a lot of the familiar landmarks, headquarters bunkers, revetments for choppers, how they had blown up equipment that got left behind. As he told me about it, I could see he was proud of the job that his fellow engineers and he had done to destroy Khe Sanh Combat Base.

As he told me all about his joy about doing a great job of blowing stuff up, I sat on my bunk in the barracks. I pondered my pride, too, in my service during the Siege, and the thoughts of the destruction of the combat base, the abandonment left me again coming to the realization that all my comrades had died for….for….for what?

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

But nothing subsequent matched how I felt that morning with my harsh black coffee and my Camel after Camel after Camel. My hangover, my sullen memory of the night before having to battle friends to avoid going swimming in my brand new civvies, and the way those letters in that article in the paper about giving up on Khe Sanh seemed to leap off the newsprint and slap me in the face like a foreign language that I needed to learn before I could really understand the abandonment.

***

NEWS!

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: https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

***

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.

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

April 25, 2018

April 25–50 Years Gone

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On leave at home in Arizona, waiting to head to Camp Pendleton for my next Marine Corps billet, I spent a lot of time partying and sleeping and driving around at five AM on dusty farm roads, moving at 70 MPH or faster in my parents’ brown Buick LeSabre, a chilled can of Coors on the seat between my legs.

Feeling guilty because I’d promised the men of Bravo, 1/26, special things that I would send along when I got home: brownies, cookies, a fifth of Chivas Regal. Instead of arranging to send those goodies, I got drunk and ate home-cooked chow and aimlessly drove amongst the cotton and alfalfa fields like a sheriff’s deputy speeding to a bank robbery.

Cotton crop ready for harvest near the author’s original home in Arizona

Later in the Arizona mornings, with a newspaper on the kitchen counter and a cup of Folgers steaming in my hand, I read about the war. Most of what I read concerned news about battles in places I did not know, head counts of dead people, both the enemy and our folks. I suspect I hoped for news about the men I’d served with, but 1968 was a tumultuous year for the war and a host of stories were out there; too many, I imagine.

Even though I tried, I couldn’t shove scenes of my year at war out of mind. Wrecked helicopters and busted sandbags and triple canopy jungle that hid who knew what, the tangle of vines, and the last two-and-one-half months of my tour, the thump and thunder of incoming, incoming, incoming.

All the images and sounds of war got mixed up in keg parties in the foothills north of Tucson and me in the Buick LeSabre, sitting in the drive-through lane at six in the morning at Pinal Liquors waiting for them to open, or on a date in Tempe with one of my old girl friends, me not having anything to say about anything that was familiar to her about English 101 or Sociology or what kind of swimming suits her other friends were planning to wear when they went water skiing at Saguaro Lake the next weekend.

On Easter, my mother demanded I go with her to church where she had volunteered me to deliver a speech about the war in Vietnam. I stood up in a church for the last time—unless it was for a wedding or a funeral—and tried to get the words out that might enlighten folks about what it was like to crawl through mud and slime to save your life.

Afterwards, all the ladies in the church who were friends of my mother’s cornered me with attempts to tell me how glad they were that I made it home, but to me it was like being trapped, under attack by an enemy I could not understand. I didn’t think I could somehow explain that instead of a brotherhood based on Jesus like we’d heard about that day, I survived because of a brotherhood based on the 7.62mm bullet and the bloody bayonet and the M79 grenade launcher, and that my salvation at Khe Sanh came in part from men I didn’t even know—nor probably ever would—who sortied out of Thailand and Guam with B-52s loaded with tons of bombs and by jet pilots who dropped napalm on the NVA hidden in the valleys to our front and all the supply flights that kept us knee-deep in ammo and fed with a minimum amount of chow.

So I fled church for a Camel cigarette and another sortie down to the liquor store for a six-pack of Coors and a pint of Old Crow. Ooorah! And then I drove around the streets I used to know, and thought and remembered.

When I pondered then and think now about Khe Sanh—the Americans who died in that place, and who knows how many of the enemy—I see the red dust on everything and the red mud that got on your hands and face and stuck like cement to whatever it came in contact with: M16s, entrenching tools, jungle boots. I see trenches roaring with runoff from rain, rain, incessant rain, and I see Marines standing knee-deep in the torrent as the black night surrounds them, choking down their thoughts of home. I see men crammed into bunkers sharing lies about sex and home and cars and fighting. I see grunts storming up the sides of steep hills choked with jungle grass that sliced their skin. I see bodies on the ground, their faces the yellow tint of the dead. I see myself leaning over to find out if I know who the dead might be. I see a hell of a waste of lives spent over a piece of land that, when matters settled out, wasn’t that important.

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

I see young men who went to war as Marines and who for the most part proved eager to quash the evil of the world. In my mind’s eye I see many of their names etched into the black stone on The Wall and who they were and what they did in Vietnam will weigh down my thoughts as long as I am able to think.

The memories of the dead—and the living—are strong.

***

NEWS!

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime. Please check it out if you are interested, and please consider sharing this news with your friends and contacts whom you think might be interested in seeing the film. And please ask them to give us a review if they would. It will help get the film out to a broader audience.

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

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be shown in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

***

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

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

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

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

April 11, 2018

Home

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Fifty Years Gone—April 11, 1968

I fidgeted inside a Continental Airlines 707 in Okinawa waiting for the B-52s lined up on the flight line to take off. I glanced at the tattered and dog-eared pages of a Max Brand book I’d been trying to read for months about a buckaroo named Destry. Then I peered around at the others on the flight, all of them Marines (other than the crew), none of whom I knew. I looked out the port hole and studied the B-52s again. Their dark fuselages ginned-up images of hell, avengers and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When the B-52s finally rolled forward, their long wings drooped and prompted metaphors of sharp-taloned hawks.

And then we were airborne, over the Pacific, headed for home, my thoughts saturated with scenes and noises and stenches of the battlefield. And even though I tried to read about Destry, nothing else managed to crowd into my mind except memories of Khe Sanh.

We flew over Iwo Jima. It looked like a distorted version of a figure eight and I wondered about all those men who had died over that little piece of volcanic rock.

Iwo Jima from the air.

At El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, we deplaned. I wanted to drop down, do a pushup and kiss the deck, but I didn’t. We put up with Marine Corps hassle as we processed to go on leave and then board a bus to LA and the airport.

After I got my airline ticket to Tucson, I called home, trying to tell someone that I needed a ride, but no one answered. I finally contacted the mother of my best friend who told me she’d make sure someone showed up to get me.

I waited in the airport lounge, smoking Camels and drinking real beer—Coors beer—wanting someone to say something about me being home, being alive, being a Vietnam vet who’d sacrificed for his county. Nobody said a damned thing except the bartender who muttered “thanks” when I left him a tip.

Not long before I climbed aboard my flight, a young Marine came in and plopped down at the bar in a seat next to me. He was going on leave before shipping out for Nam. He wanted to know what it was like. I said, “Keep your head down.”

On the flight to Tucson, I sat next to a girl who seemed about my age. She wouldn’t look at me. I could have struck up a conversation but I didn’t know what to talk about. I didn’t think she’d care about 152mm artillery rounds that shook the ground, severed arms and legs, and if they landed too close to you, forced blood out of the pores of your body.

At Tucson, my parents met me as I headed down a set of stairs to baggage claim where my best friend and his fiancé waited. I could tell by the way they all stared at me that I wasn’t quite the person they’d expected.

We went to a well-known Mexican food restaurant in Old Town. I craved green chili. After we sat, I ordered a Coke. I wanted a beer but didn’t think my mother would approve.

Our meals arrived and I talked about Khe Sanh, what I saw, how I felt. They didn’t look at me, just turned to on their ground beef tacos, their green chili and queso enchiladas.

For decades after, when thinking about that moment, the top of my father’s balding head would invade my mind. It was what they showed me as they ate: the tops of their heads.

Blogger Kn Rodgers at Khe Sanh in 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

At the time, I thought nobody was interested in what happened and maybe, in general, that was the attitude of a lot of Americans; they didn’t want to have to consider the particulars of death and carnage. But now, I think, my family and friends just didn’t know how to respond to what I described, since the Siege inhabited a universe too far outside the ken of their experience.

So, I just shut up.

By myself in the back seat of my parents’ Buick, riding through the black Sonoran Desert night, I looked out the window and thought about Khe Sanh, the siege, the dead, my fear, the memories of which I naively imagined would just slip away.

***
NEWS!

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime. Please check it out if you are interested, and please consider sharing this news with your friends and contacts whom you think might be interested in seeing the film. And please ask them to give us a review if they would. It will help get the film out to a broader audience.

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be screened in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

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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,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War,War Poetry

April 6, 2018

Juxtaposition

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We have posted poems here friends as well Marines who fought at Khe Sanh and elsewhere during the Vietnam War, including poetry from friend and supporter Betty Plevney, Vietnam veteran and Marine Barry Hart and most recently Bravo Company’s Skipper, Ken Pipes. Poems are a good way to capture the imagery and action related to combat.

Recently I wrote a blog about the Payback Patrol of 3/30/1968. One of our friends, Susan Parker, who is an ardent supporter of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, read that blog and was moved to compose a poem.

Susan Parker. Photo courtesy of Susan Parker

She captured, in my opinion, both the agony of combat and the disconnect between the world at home and the world of war. Check it out!

Juxtaposition—March 30, 1968

By Susan Parker

Dressed in jungle green,
you ran through the hell fires of war,
blood trickling down your face,
the stench of phosphorus and death
pungent on the tropical air, dragging
dead and dying men through a muddy trench,
grenades and bombs exploding,
sounds of gunshot ringing in your ears.

Fearless in facing the enemy,
you were “cutting the mustard.”

Dressed in virginal white,
I strolled the length of a red-carpeted aisle,
sheer tulle veil covering cheeks ablush with excitement,
high-heeled satin pumps pinching manicured toes,
gardenias glistening with morning dew
softening the early spring air,
organ music of “Here Comes the Bride”
echoing through the church.

Ignorant of your courage and sacrifice,
I was cutting the wedding cake.

Writer and poet Susan Parker was born in a small town in Northern California but never enjoyed the cold, gray and damp weather. One who embraces change, she traveled south throughout the years finally moving to Tucson, Arizona where she found warmth and inspiration for her writing. Susan is the author of Angel on My Doorstep—An Ordinary Woman’s Journey with Those from the Other Side, an autobiography of her lifelong paranormal adventures, with emphasis on those that took place before, during and after her husband’s passing. She has also published a book of poetry, Lady by the Bay, and recorded a CD, She Rode a Wild Horse, which includes her original Western poetry along with poems written by others.

Susan Parker on the left with Vietnam veteran Eric Hollenbeck of Blue Ox Millworks, Eureka, California. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

About her inspiration for her latest poem, “Juxtaposition—March 30, 1968,” Susan says that during one of her conversations with Ken several years ago he mentioned the importance of the date to him. Susan realized that this was the same date that she married her first husband, and how different their lives were on that day. With a twinge of guilt, she thought to herself, Ken lived in a nightmare world while I lived in a fairy tale world, oblivious to the horrors of war.

Reading Ken’s blog post this March 30th, she was moved to tears. Her muse shook her by the shoulders and shouted, “You have to write this, this juxtaposition of your lives on that day!”

And so she did.

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On the screening front: On April 7, at 1:00 PM Bravo will be screened at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho. following the screening, there will be a panel of Khe Sanh survivors who will talk about the experience. You can find out more about the event and the Warhawk Air Museum here.

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be screened in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

***

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,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 9, 2018

9 February 1968—Fifty Years Ago Today

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Early in the sequence of events that make up this blog, I sat on top of a bunker with a Marine as he fired a fifty-caliber machine gun at anything that moved outside the concertina wire. F-4 Phantoms, F-8 Crusaders and A-4 Skyhawks swooped down and dropped bombs and napalm. Suddenly, in flames, enemy warriors erupted from a depression in the landscape. Like burning matchsticks with legs, they ran and we pomp-pomp-pomped at them with that fifty-caliber.

Almost immediately the whistle of rockets sent us diving for cover. In a memory that periodically crashes into my consciousness, I recall a Marine sprinting across a stretch of open ground just before I hit the deck.

When the shock of landing on my head retreated and the stench of explosives cleared my nasal passages, I heard screaming. The fifty-caliber machine gunner and I leapt out of the trench and scrabbled over to the Marine who’d been running. A chunk of shrapnel from one of those incoming rockets had severed his arm and blood shot out like a rampant river.

We tried a tourniquet as we hollered for a corpsman who, mercifully for both the wounded Marine and us, showed up.

That was just the beginning of a series of events that set me to gnawing fingernails.

In the early hours of 5 February, NVA troops attacked and breached the perimeter of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines’ perimeter on Hill 861-A. We hunkered down in our fighting holes on Red Alert and waited to be attacked.

PT-76 Tank

The following night, the NVA attacked the Special Forces installation at the ville of Lang Vei, a community a few miles southwest of the combat base. Again we were up all night on Red Alert.
Word slithered down the trench like a four-foot spitting cobra that the assault on Lang Vei included tanks.

TANKS!!!!

All night I heard the clank of metal, like the sounds tank tracks make as the vehicle turns. The NVA did employ PT-76 tanks that night. I often wonder if those sounds that shivered me with terror were real or if I just made them up, my imagination fueled by fear.

For me the ring of death began to choke our esprit de corps. Facial expressions seemed grimmer, teeth gritted tighter, eyes stared out of sockets like they watched the end of the world. The humor grew as dark as the nights into which we peered. And the incoming kept slamming into our bunkers and trenches, sending debris and red dust flying.

C-130 taking off at Khe Sanh.

On 8 February, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, the celebrated “Walking Dead,” had a platoon overrun in one hell of a nasty firefight near the “rock quarry” west of the main combat base. Again, we stood prepared on Red Alert.

I wondered if I’d ever see my mother again, or my best friend, or my girlfriend—even though I really didn’t have a girlfriend. The pit in my stomach felt bigger than Arizona, where I’m from. I walked around in a perpetual state of dry mouth, trying to keep my hands from shaking, talking a tough, vulgar patois to the men with whom I served. For the most part, I reckon they were doing the same thing.

The next day, the 10th, a C-130 plane approached the combat base. This plane, call sign “Basketball 813,” flew south of the base and the men in my fire team and I watched it as we filled sandbags.

Antiaircraft fire struck “Basketball 813” which struggled around to the west end of the strip. Smoke and fire flared out of the fuselage as it landed. The plane roared down the runway until it careened off the south side of the tarmac and pitched into a ditch. It erupted in flames.

We all broke for the wreckage which wasn’t that far away. One of the most vivid memories I have of my time at Khe Sanh is watching men come out of the cockpit through those big windows at the front of the plane. They hung by their hands and dropped to the earth. It was a long drop.

Blogger Ken Rodgers prior to the beginning of the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

As I watched that conflagration, it seemed almost unreal. Revulsion, fear, despair did not rear up in me as I realized that whoever was in the back of the plane would burn to death. I was immune. Mayhem and catastrophe were an everyday occurrence. This realization haunts me.

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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

April 22, 2015

On Lincoln’s Hearse and Veterans

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From 1 May 2015 through 3 May 2015, the City of Springfield, Illinois, will be the site for a re-enactment of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. It’s been one-hundred-fifty years and a few days since President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, by John Wilkes Booth.

BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR folks know Springfield as the home of Tom Quigley who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Tom is also one of the men in the film.

Last June, 2014, Tom and his buddy, PJ Staab of Staab Funeral Homes, arranged for BRAVO! to be screened at the Hoogland Center for the Arts located in Springfield. A number of Marines and Corpsmen from Bravo Company attended the event.

PJ is a man who, I believe, wants to help heal the wounds we have on the inside of us, our damaged spirits. He is also one of those individuals who dreams of events or projects and then makes them happen. While we were there in Springfield, he told us about a project he had started in concert with the re-enactment of President Lincoln’s funeral. His dream for the re-enactment was to create an exact replica of the hearse that bore Lincoln’s body to his tomb and to have the hearse built by veterans. Lo and behold, here we are in 2015 and sure enough, the hearse has been completed for all intents and purposes.

But there’s more to the story. Last February, Betty and I were in Arizona for a screening of BRAVO! and a visit with friends and family. PJ was in California, picking up the partially completed Lincoln Hearse in Eureka in preparation for hauling it to Tombstone, Arizona. He contacted us and said if we were available he’d like us to meet up with him and see the hearse.

At the time, we were visiting BRAVO! friend and supporter Susan Parker whom we told about the trip from Eureka to Tombstone. She’s from Eureka originally, so she had an idea who might have built that part of the hearse, her old schoolmate, Eric Hollenbeck. When PJ called, I asked if by any chance a Mr. Eric Hollenbeck was with him, and he said, “Yes!”

So we put Susan on the phone with Eric and we all made a date to meet in Tombstone on February 22nd.

It was cool and breezy on the way down from Tucson to Tombstone and we met up with PJ there at around 9:00 AM. Susan and Eric visited about Eureka back in the 60s, before Eric went into the Army and then on to Vietnam.

Left to right: Eric Hollenbeck and Susan Parker. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

Left to right, Eric Hollenbeck and Susan Parker. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

We visited with PJ, admired the hearse, and subsequently talked to Eric about his creation. Eric and his students at the Blue Ox Mill School for Veterans, which is a vocational school for combat veterans, built the box for the hearse.

Eric told us that when he started, he had no idea what the dimensions of the hearse were until an original railroad bill of lading was found that noted the size of the rear wheels. With those dimensions, Eric and his team of combat veterans-turned mill workers were able to scale the hearse’s precise dimensions using photos taken back at the time of President Lincoln’s burial.

From there it was skill, dedication and determination.

Eric served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and saw a lot of combat. The man he delivered the hearse to in Tombstone was Jack Feather who was the hearse’s lead builder and the man who convinced Eric Hollenbeck to work on the hearse in the first place.

Jack was also a Vietnam veteran who saw combat during his tour. After PJ headed for the airport and a flight back to Springfield, Betty, Susan Parker and Eric’s wife Viviana sat in Jack’s office and visited while outside Eric, Jack and I recalled our tours in Vietnam. It was an emotional morning for me and I think for them, too.

Left to right: Jack Feather and P J Staab. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

Left to right: Jack Feather and P J Staab. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

As we talked, a bond that I cannot name developed between us, or maybe it didn’t develop, it may have been there all along just waiting for these days, forty-seven years on, to come to the fore and all made possible by PJ Staab and his drive to honor veterans, veterans’ stories, and to help human hearts heal.

The veterans who helped build the hearse will be flown to Springfield for the May events.

You can find out more about the Lincoln burial re-enactment events in Springfield at http://lincolnfuneraltrain.org/2015_event.php. More information about Blue Ox Millworks is at http://www.blueoxmill.com/index.html. Information about PJ Staab can be found at http://www.staabfuneralhomes.com/staff/paul-john-staab-ii/. More information about Jack Feather’s company, Tombstone Hearse and Trike, is available at http://tombstonehearse.info/.

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

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

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

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

February 18, 2015

On Arizona and Veterans

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A light drizzle washed the dust off the day last Sunday and set the stage for a great screening of BRAVO! at Casa Grande, Arizona’s historic Paramount Theatre. A hundred folks showed up and listened to music, looked at art and saw the film.

The interesting thing to me about the art was that it was all performed and mostly created by veterans. I think the creation of art is a potent tool in helping veterans who suffer from PTSD and TBI to analyze and handle these war-caused maladies.

The screening of BRAVO! was a benefit for the Pinal County non-profit, HOHP (Honoring/Hiring/Helping Our Heroes of Pinal County) that works to assist veterans with all types of issues: homelessness, veteran health benefits, education, housing. You can find out more about HOHP at https://hohp4heroes.org/site/home.

Two enthusiastic ladies selling tickets to the Casa Grande screening on 2-15-2015. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Two enthusiastic ladies selling tickets to the Casa Grande screening on 2-15-2015.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

The event, besides featuring music, art and film, also had silent and live auctions to raise funds for HOHP, and a lunch was served. All of the efforts spent on putting this event together and all of the items auctioned and eaten came about as a result of the fine volunteer folk of Pinal County.

Joining us in Casa Grande was BRAVO! Marine, Ken Korkow, recipient of the Navy Cross for his actions on the Payback Patrol of March 30, 1968, at Khe Sanh. Ken was joined by his wife Liz and friends and members of the extended Korkow family. Ken talked to the folks at the screening about his efforts to help veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Thanks Ken and Liz for all you do for veterans and for BRAVO!

A big Oooorah! goes out to Debby Martin of the Paramount Theatre and all of her wonderful volunteers for their work in making the venue an accepting place to hold such an event. Kudos, too, to Palmer Miller, veteran’s case-worker for Arizona Congressional District One. Besides emceeing this event, Palmer, a 23-year veteran of the United States Army, was responsible for creating a lot of the art on display.

We have been invited back and have worked with Debby and Palmer now on four different screenings at the Paramount and all have been a unique and big success. We saw a lot of old friends and made some new ones and we wish HOHP all the best in their efforts to help the veterans of Pinal County, Arizona.

BRAVO! Marine Ken Korkow addressing the crowd at the 2-15-2015 screening of BRAVO! in Casa Grande, AZ. Photo courtesy of Sharon Miller

BRAVO! Marine Ken Korkow addressing the crowd at the 2-15-2015 screening of BRAVO! in Casa Grande, AZ.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Miller

On the screening front:

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be shown at the Egyptian Theater in Boise, Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here at http://www.egyptiantheatre.net/event/2886/?instance_id=28.

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held at the Williams Conference Center at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 27, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, suggested donation of $5.00 and there will be beverages and snacks provided; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015; at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, time yet to be determined; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, 6:45 PM; and in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time yet to be determined.

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

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

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