Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘“Battalion of Kings”’

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

January 18, 2017

N-Day

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winter has been ferocious in Idaho this year with lots of ice and snow, below-zero temperatures, then rain and flooding. One local weatherman predicted death and destruction, causing locals to clean out the shelves of grocery stores and hardware outlets in anticipation of days of dark and death and privation.

And even though the local weatherman’s predictions turned out to be overblown, the season’s hostile weather seems to act as a perfect metaphor for what did come to pass at Khe Sanh Combat Base on January 21, 1968.

During these cold days of winter in the 21st Century, the minds and memories of survivors of the early days of the Siege of Khe Sanh turn to the horrible events of the first day of the Siege.

It wasn’t cold and ice, but it was death and destruction, mist and fog, and the raining down of mortars, rockets and artillery from the North Vietnamese Army which had begun to surround us in the days leading up to 21Jan68. The NVA attack was then followed by our ammo dump erupting for hours.

Recently, I received a book in the mail from Reverend Ray Stubbe titled, PEBBLES IN MY BOOTS, VOLUME 4, which is a compilation of writings that Ray has written mostly concerning Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment (my old outfit and the subject of the film BRAVO!) at Khe Sanh.

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Ray was the battalion chaplain before and during the Siege and is the foremost historian and memory keeper of all the men who served there. His informative books include VALLEY OF DECISION (with John Prados) and BATTALION OF KINGS.

One of the more interesting things about Ray’s most recent book is that he included information that has been translated from North Vietnamese records about the Siege. I learned some of the North Vietnamese combat lexicon referring to Khe Sanh including the term they used to denote 21Jan. They called it N-Day.

N-Day was one of those days when you woke up and found yourself trapped in a world that, even though you had pondered the possibilities,, was a thousand times worse than what you might have imagined.

What made the day even more chaotic for me was my earlier dogged refusal to believe it was approaching even though we were constantly warned about the impending arrival of an Armageddon of sorts.

As I look back on it now, I suspect my reluctance to believe in the oncoming holocaust was because I’d been hearing about imminent threats for months, none of which had come to pass, and I also suspect it was a naïve optimism that I would somehow waltz through a generally combat-free thirteen month tour and onto the flight that would haul me back across the pond to the good old USA.

Nevertheless, the manure hit the fan early the morning of 21Jan and it drove me out of my bunker and into the trench. It was like I would imagine the end of the world, the worst thing you could dream up. Loud, crashing, frightening, we were all facedown in the trench for a short while before our officers and NCOs kicked us in the butts and made us come to grips with the sorry stink and roar of battle.

I remember getting hit, believing I was paralyzed until one of my mates knocked red clay clods off of my back, laughing at me because I thought I’d never walk again.

And then the base ammo dump, not more than fifty meters away, went up in fireworks that added to the eerie reality of the Dante-esque morning. It was Hell in the real, not something from a movie or a poem, but the genuine Hades that all of us Marines had secretly hoped for when we sat in the classes at Boot Camp and heard the stirring stories of Marine heroes Presly O’Bannon during the First Barbary War, Smedley Butler during the Boxer Rebellion, Dan Daly at Belleau Wood in 1918 and John Basilone on Guadalcanal.

But be careful what you wish for because stories of heroism and grit in the face of death are a bit different than being gripped in the maw of chaos.

When the ammo dump went up, it was electric, voluminous, colorful, and loud, like the Devil’s own fireworks. Old Nick’s claws gnashed the sky and his big-gun drums thundered so that the hard red ground thrummed like a bevy of kettle drums. The CS gas grenades and ammunition stored in the dump also caught fire and spread across the trenches before settling in. We had to put on gas masks and looked like bugs, and when people spoke, it sounded like one was listening to those people talking from the insides of #10 fruit cans.

We watched the wire perimeter with the sure knowledge that Charley would be coming through the barrier any minute, sappers first, then a banzai assault of men intent on impaling us on the shafts of their bayonets.

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

My memories of it fit and start, and I suspect they reflect what it was like to me—alive in a world impossible to imagine and almost impossible to accept, except men were dying from the NVA incoming and men were lying in the trench with shattered bones where our own rounds that had cooked off in the ammo dump had rocketed straight up and then plummeted on top of them.

And it was N-Day and it was pure hell and after it calmed down later in the day, I remember thinking, “Okay, now I’ve experienced that, I suspect (or maybe I should say hope) that we won’t have any more of it.”

But once again, my naiveté was proven to be a shoddy and dangerous outlook, because what began on N-Day went on for another seventy-six days.

The anniversary of N-Day (and my wife and co-producer/director, Betty wonders if N-Day might refer to naiveté, too), which approaches, looms huge in the minds of those who survived it.

And thanks to Ray Stubbe, I can read extensively about what happened to Bravo Company from the perspectives of us and the NVA.

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,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

July 2, 2014

On The Many Faces of Fear and the Quest for Closure

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I recently received a telephone call from a gentleman I met last year at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in Nashville, TN. He reminded me that he had come to the reunion back in September to see if he could find out information about his cousin, Glenn Sanders from Alpha Company, 1/26 who was KIA at Khe Sanh in late June, 1967.

When we met in Nashville, I couldn’t help him because Glenn Sanders was with a different outfit than mine, so I introduced him around to some of the men I knew who were in Alpha 1/26 and that’s the last I knew of him until he called me last week.

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Here’s some background: In the early morning hours of June 27, 1967, the NVA rocketed and mortared the Khe Sanh Combat Base, killing and wounding a number of Marines from 1/26. Later that day, elements of CAC Oscar-3 and the Third Battalion, 26th Marines, first probed and then assaulted Hill 689 southwest of Khe Sanh where the incoming from that early morning was fired.

A number of men were killed and wounded before Hill 689 was secured by the Marines of 3/26. All tolled, the number of men KIA on those days, according to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, was 28.

I was up on Hill 881 South with Bravo Company when all this action took place. We could hear the combat and were on 100% alert while the fighting occurred.

During the dark hours the fog was so dense you could carve it with a K-bar. Jim Richardson from Albany, Georgia, and I manned a bunker on the west side of the 881 South. We whispered back and forth to each other. Jim had been a mortician before enlisting in the Corps, so we probably whispered about death and dead bodies. We did that to keep our minds off what was out there crawling around, intent on killing us.

I recall one instance in particular when we heard something out to our front. The mist was so thick that water dripped off the top of the bunker and down onto the sandbagged parapet at the front of our position. Drip, drip, drip. But what we heard beyond that was more distinct. It was scraping, like maybe someone was crawling up to the concertina wire in front of our bunker. We snapped our M-16s off safe and leaned against the parapet.

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

It happened in less time that it took for one of those drips to leave the moldy green sandbags and fall the foot or so to the parapet below. An enormous rat—he must have been two-and-a-half feet from the end of his tail to the tip of his nose—leapt down on the parapet right in front of Jim and me.

At first I thought a grenade had hit the front of our position. Both Jim and I ducked as the rat slapped the sandbag and still not sure what had hit the parapet, we fell to the deck and covered our necks until we heard the critter scrabble off the sandbags and into the night.

How we had the discipline not to light up the night with our M-16s and send that rat to rodent hell, I do not know. Or maybe it wasn’t discipline at all; maybe we were too frightened to do anything more than react.

We both laughed. We laughed so loud that the platoon sergeant and the squad leader came down the line and hissed at us to shut up.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

The dichotomies and ironies of combat were and are never ending. Down below us at the combat base and out on Hill 689, Marines and Corpsmen were dying. NVA soldiers were dying. And we were up on Hill 881 South giggling that we had been attacked by a rat. And we were so relieved that it was only a rat, all we could do was laugh.

One of those dying men was Glenn Sanders, the cousin of the man who I met in Nashville and who called me last week. He wanted to report that he had made contact with a number of the men in Alpha Company, 1/26, and even though none of them remembered Glenn, they did tell him the circumstances of the attack the early morning of June 27, 1967.

Consequently, this man who was searching for clues and information about his cousin’s death has been able to pass on to friends and relatives news about this Marine who didn’t make it out of Khe Sanh. And furthermore, on Memorial Day, 2014, this Marine who was killed at Khe Sanh was honored by the family’s local church. It may be 47 years late, but at least the honoring happened and hopefully those friends and family who remain alive, who knew this Marine, have some kind of closure.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. 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 you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

February 21, 2012

Basketball

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Khe Sanh survivor and Bravo Company Marine Ron Rees muses on history, the present, and coincidence.

More than a “Coincidence?” I will let the reader decide this. I have my own take on it, which came over me instantly; it needed no thought.

If you do not know me, I coach girl’s JV Basketball. My girls were to play their rivals on Friday, February 10th, 2012. It would be a huge game for us since we had beaten this team once by 3 points and lost the last game at their gym by 3. That set the stage for the game we played against them on the 10th of February, at which the winning team was to become the league champion. It was at home, in our gym, our crowd. For me as their coach, even more pressure. I was very nervous, I wanted the win as much as the girls did, and I didn’t want to let them down as a coach. I would have to do and say all the right things at the right time, etc.

A backdrop to the story: Before every game, during the flag ceremony, I personally (silently) thank all those Brave Marines from Bravo 1/26 who made the ULTIMATE SACRIFICE during the siege of Khe Sanh, 1968, and then thank and honor all others for their sacrifice at Khe Sanh and all previous wars. “Your sacrifice has allowed these kids here tonight to play this basketball game in a safe and secure country. Your sacrifices were not in vain. Thank you. Thanks to each of you for your sacrifices, and for allowing us the privilege of playing this basketball game. AMEN!”

Then it was Friday, February 10th, and the showdown time was in sight, the nerves were not any better. As I checked and double checked to make sure I had everything, I started out the door, and out of nowhere, something told me “it’s a special day,” and to go check my copy of Battalion of Kings (a tribute to our fallen brothers who died because of the Battlefield of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, written by Chaplain Ray Stubbe to whom we are indebted) and make a note to honor those who specifically died on this exact date 44 years ago. I have never done this before.

On page 186, there they were, six Brave Marines:

BROWN, SSGT WILLIAM LEO H&HS-1
CALVIN, SSGT GLENN HENRY E/2/26
D’ADAMO, MSGT JOHN JR VMGR-152 (DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS)
DEVIK, LCPL DANIEL RALF VMGR-152 (DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS)
PETERSON, COL CARL ELVING 1 MAW
WALBRIDGE, SSGT GEORGE WILCOX H&HS-1

After writing down their names, I decided to read a bit further. The first sentence that describes their doomed flight read (only in part, out of respect I will not recount details): At noon a silvery KC130-F of VMGR-152, #14981, call sign BASKETBALL-813….

My heart dropped to my feet. OMG, I was not ready for this at all. Call sign BASKETBALL! I was instantly blinded by my tears, the emotions overwhelming, at randomly going to this book to HONOR whoever it was who died on this same date 44 years ago, and then reading this first sentence.

To me, this absolutely was NO COINCIDENCE. A greater power than I set this up so these men could be a part of ONE MORE BASKETBALL GAME. Someone on that plane was a baller (basketball player). They had life one more time, 44 years later. A couple of my players played like they had never played before, even though I always tried to get them there.

I have wanted to share this story so badly, but on the 10th there was nobody to tell, and I could not tell the team, at least not yet. I will. It would have been too much in one night for them and some still had another game to play. I couldn’t tell the other coaches because they still had their game to coach. My wife was with our daughter at a hospital 5 hours away testing our granddaughter. But I felt that the story was certainly bigger than me and bigger than our game, even though we did win it. We were never behind in the game and won by 5pts.

No, the real story that needs to be told is for, and all about, SSGT BROWN, SSGTCALVIN, MSGT D’ADAMO, LCPL DEVIK, COLONEL PETERSON, and SSGT WALBRIDGE. They are the heroes for their sacrifices 44 years ago, and now, they are…you decide! I will tell you, they were at that game and I did silently recognize them at the start of the game, which was the only time I have ever specifically honored anyone outside of my father.

Semper Fi
Ron Rees USMC
Bravo 1/26