Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Long’

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 5, 2016

Full Circle

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Next week Betty and I will be journeying to Texas, to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion which will be held at San Antonio’s El Rancho Tropicana Hotel.

Just a little over six years ago, we set out from Montreal, Canada, where we were attending the Montreal Jazz Festival with our friends and relatives, Chuck and Donna Dennis, to head out to San Antonio for the 2010 reunion, and to film nine of the interviewees in the film, BRAVO!.

Back then, when we began the journey to tell the story of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the Siege of Khe Sanh, we had little to no knowledge of how to make a film. But, we knew we needed interviews, so undaunted, we marched on and showed up in San Antonio, made arrangements for a space to conduct interviews, picked up our videographer at the airport and proceeded to film the men.

John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael E O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese sat down and talked to me and the crew about their remembrances of the siege and what it meant to them then, in 1968, and what it meant to them in July 2010.

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

I often think of the intestinal fortitude these men demonstrated as they sat down and let their emotions bleed out for all the world to see. I recall sitting there across from them, hearing their stories, marveling at the way they just let it all spill out, and if it wasn’t all, it was certainly enough to wow the folks who would eventually work on and sit down to watch their powerful testimonies about fear, death, loss and ultimately, their victories over the obstacles that their experiences at Khe Sanh threw in front of them. The men were inspiring.

Now, six years later, we are going back to San Antonio and for me, it feels like we are coming full circle. Two of the men in the film, Dan Horton and the aforementioned Lloyd Scudder, are no longer with us as is also the case with videographer Mark Spear, and it makes me very happy that we got the interviews done—in the case of Dan and Lloyd—before these Marines left us.

I am also very grateful that we got to know Mark Spear before he made a way too early journey from those he loved and those of us who appreciated his sensitive, funny, artistic nature.

Some of the men in the film will not be there in San Antonio to sit around and talk about the war and our memories of it and how the film affected our views of that experience. And I wonder, in the case of those who have not said so, if BRAVO! in any way changed their lives, helped or hindered them in their ongoing drive to live on in spite of the mental and physical affects of the combat we faced during the Vietnam War.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

Personally, what can I say about what BRAVO! has done for me? Well, for starters, I can say that I am now hooked on making films.

And I am now immersed in the world of combat veterans and all the accoutrements both good and bad that come with having let oneself become so immersed. Organizations, acquaintances, events, travel—yes, it’s greatly changed the world I personally inhabit.

And I think, in some ways, it’s helped me come to grips with my own horrors, the ones that lurk just behind me as I try to keep the memories of January, February, March and early April 1968 caged in some form of mental box.

It taught me that the men I knew in the trenches at Khe Sanh survived (as did I) second-by-second high grade fear, wounds, loss, and in most cases came out the other end able to deal with all the bad stuff. It taught me that the soul, however one wishes to describe or define it, can be ripped, stripped, battered and stabbed, but in the end, it can still emerge in triumph.

The keenest knowledge I’ve gained is the realization that instead of being alone, I know that there are a multitude of warriors who have experienced what I did—the constant fear that rides you like you were an underfed jackass, the need to be brave even though it may lead to your death, the loss of your friends’ lives. I have siblings, so to speak, who have trod or are now treading the treacherous ground with me.

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

For years, intellectually, I understood that I endured what millions have endured in war, but emotionally, I felt all alone, out there on a limb so to speak where no one could reach me.

Making BRAVO! taught me that there are others, right now, out there with me.

So I’m looking forward to getting to San Antonio and seeing who I know so we can sit around and talk about it all. Maybe we will laugh and maybe we won’t, but it will not matter, because I will not be alone.

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,Veterans Courts,Vietnam War

June 15, 2016

On Veterans Courts

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Several weeks back we wrote a blog entry about how BRAVO! has become a part of the training regimen for new Marine officers at The Basic School at Quantico and we were amazed, as filmmakers, how the movie had grown into something we could not have imagined. What began as an attempt to tell a story about a small group of Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh has since been used, for example, in college film classes, and high school history classes, and several California prisons, and creative writing classes and as part of a symposium on the humanities and the Vietnam War.

To the list of uses, add BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR as a tool to help veteran court personnel understand the ravages of war and why some veterans might go off the rails, so to speak, and run afoul of the law.

On June 1, 2016, BRAVO! was screened at the 2016 Justice For Vets Convention in Anaheim, California and an interested group of attendees watched the film and then participated in Q & A with the filmmakers. The questions asked were incisive and spoke to the attendees’ interests in veterans, TBI, PTSD, crime and justice.

The folks who came to see the film were judges, attorneys—both prosecuting and defense—court clerks, mentors, psychologists, police personnel, parole and probation officers, court coordinators, and more.

As I attended the conference, the thought came to me: Why do veterans deserve a different court system than everybody else and over the course of a couple of days, I got some answers.

Veterans courts aren’t the only courts that treat offenders differently. There are drug courts, and mental health courts and tribal courts, to name a few. So veterans aren’t the only folks getting special treatment in the justice system.

I heard more than one presenter at the conference explain it this way: Veterans went to serve the country and it is understood that the service was often hazardous. Now they have returned and have had some troubles transitioning into civilian life. Many of them have physical injuries and injuries to the soul and now it is time for us, American society, to serve them in their time of need. Like they did for us. And one of the ways we can serve them is to allow them to go through the veterans’ court program.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Apparently, the first veteran’s court was established in Buffalo, NY. There are over two hundred veteran court systems in the country now and the trend is growing in local jurisdictions nationwide.

And why? They seem to work. One of the founders of the Buffalo veterans court is Patrick Welch, PhD, a Marine who served as an enlisted man in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart for the wounds he received there. Dr. Welch told a group of us why veterans courts are important, “Because incarceration doesn’t work.”

So, to avoid institutionalizing veterans in the prison system, it is thought to be cheaper and more effective to run offenders through a special court system.

These courts are fairly new and the experience society has had with them has yet to stand the test of passing years, but time after time Betty and I heard that the recidivism—the rate of veterans coming back into the court system after having successfully completed veterans courts—is significantly lower than the old established court system. This is a major win.

We initially became interested in veterans courts here in Idaho where we have six veteran court systems and it appears they are doing a good job of helping veterans who run afoul of the legal system for one reason or another.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

We couldn’t be more pleased to know that BRAVO! has now become a tool to help veterans court professionals and volunteers understand the underlying trauma generated by combat.

And thanks you very much to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Justice for Vets, Terrence Walton and his entire staff at the NADCP for inviting us to screen BRAVO!

So, to the men of BRAVO!: Cal Bright, John Cicala, the late Dan Horton, Ken Korkow, Ben Long, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Tom Quigley, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese, a big oorah! Because in overcoming your reluctance (and fears) that created a barrier to you telling your stories about the Siege of Khe Sanh and all its horrors, you have, besides recording an important piece of history, become educators to the folks who administer our veterans courts.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, winter or next spring 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,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Vietnam War

November 19, 2014

On Sweet Pacific Breezes and Film Screenings, Reunions and Survival

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This past week the BRAVO! team spent the week at the Khe Sanh Veterans annual reunion at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, California.

We met again with men who served with Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment before, during and after the Siege of Khe Sanh. We also met new friends and old friends from other outfits and shared stories, memories, tears and laughs.

Every year these events get more intimate and emotional for us. The ties that bind the survivors of any crisis are strong and can only be severed by death. This is very true for the men who served during the Siege. For those of us who endured the horror of that prolonged battle, the bonds of comradeship are stout. As one looks across a room full of veterans of that action, he knows that the people sitting out there, even if he does not personally know them, all understand the lifelong tensions and anxiety that simmer down inside.

One of the most exciting things that happened to us at the 2014 reunion was being joined by our family. Son Jim and his wife Norma, along with their daughters Justyce and Jayden drove over from Casa Grande, Arizona. Daughter Sarah and husband Baruch along with their daughter Isadora came in from Seattle, Washington. We were all present at the reunion banquet when Justyce, who received a scholarship from the Khe Sanh Veterans Association, was recognized by the scholarship committee chair, Dan Fisher.

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long © Betty Rodgers 2014

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Thanks to Tom Eichler, John Pessoni and the rest of the leaders of the Khe Sanh Veterans for all their hard work in putting the event together. Now, next year, on to Savannah, Georgia.

While we were at the reunion, we slipped away to screen BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR at American Legion Post 291, Newport Beach, California. While the calming Pacific breezes wafted over the sailboats berthed at the pier outside the post, an earnest audience of seventy-plus people saw the film. Among the attendees were BRAVO! Marines Skipper Ken Pipes, Ben Long, Ken Korkow, Mike McCauley, John Cicala and Tom Quigley. Also there were other men who served with Bravo Company, Jim Beall and Charles McIntire. Area residents Ray and Barbara Doyle and Robin Zimmermann who contributed both music and expertise to the film came and visited with us and watched BRAVO!

A big shout-out to Tony Arrigo, Jim Kaylor and Roger Henry who worked hard to make sure the event came off without a hitch.

Something about the contrast between balmy southern California weather outside and the intense representation of the violence, agony and redemption depicted inside during the screening of the film seemed to make the day more poignant.

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann. © Betty Rodgers 2014

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Aside from the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion and the Newport Beach screening, BRAVO! was featured in an outstanding news feature by reporter Matt Burke in The Stars and Stripes which serves the United States’ military community worldwide. You can read the article here.
http://www.stripes.com/news/special-reports/vietnam-at-50/the-bloody-battle-of-khe-sanh-77-days-under-siege-1.314627

Up next for the BRAVO! team, back to Idaho for a battery recharge and plans for screenings in March 2015 to coincide with the first year of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and for Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter or spring, 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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

June 18, 2014

Notes on the Springfield, Illinois Screenings of BRAVO!

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Last week Betty and I flew into Chicago, rented a car and drove down to Springfield, Illinois, the burial place of our 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. We traveled there as the guests of the Staab Family and to screen BRAVO! at the Hoogland Center for the Arts as part of a Flag Day benefit for the planned Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial in Springfield.

We arrived in town and were met by BRAVO! Marine Tom Quigley, a native son of Springfield who was instrumental, along with PJ Staab and the Staab Family, in making these events happen.

The next morning, Betty and I met Tom at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library where Tom and I were interviewed by local radio personality Jim Leach of WMAY radio. Betty, Tom and I were impressed with Jim’s knowledge of the Vietnam era and the Siege of Khe Sanh in particular. You can hear the interview here: http://wmay.com/assets/podcasts/20140612jlsBravo.MP3.

Later, Betty and I walked down to the Hoogland Center for the Arts where we met with their events manager, Vanessa Ferguson, and checked out the facilities for the screening. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at the First Presbyterian Church and looked at their seven fabulous Tiffany stained glass windows and the pew where the Abraham Lincoln family sat during church services.

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O'Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O’Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey.
Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

During the day, Bruce & Francine Jones and Bruce & Judy Stuckey arrived. Bruce Jones, alias T-Bone, was a radioman for 81 Millimeter Mortars and spent a lot of time on patrol with Bravo Company. Bruce Stuckey was a radio man for Bravo Skipper Ken Pipes. That evening, we all went out for dinner at Saputo’s Italian Restaurant where we were joined by Tom’s wife Nancy and daughter Erin Parsons and her family. If you are ever in Springfield, I suggest you try the fare at Saputo’s. It is rumored that Al Capone liked to dine there, and as we tucked into our ravioli and manicotti and other dishes, I imagined seeing Al parade in with his entourage, all wearing natty summer suits and two-toned fancy shoes, ladies of the night hanging onto their arms.

Also arriving in Springfield later that night was BRAVO!’s associate producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.

The day of the screening, Betty and I and BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, who had arrived early that morning, toured the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum—definitely worth the fees and the time it takes to watch the films, view the exhibits and look at all the memorabilia.

BRAVO! Marines Cal Bright and Ben Long with his wife Joyce, and John “Doc” Cicala who was one of Bravo Company’s corpsmen, arrived that day too. We all met at the Hoogland before the screening and had a moment to visit while Carol, Betty and I worked with the staff to make sure everything was in order.

The very capable A/V tech estimated that over 300 folks came out to donate funds to help build the Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial and to watch BRAVO!. The evening started off with a reception hosted by the Staab Family. Right before the film was shown, Master of Ceremonies PJ Staab introduced all of the Khe Sanh vets in attendance, and we were honored by an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience. I haven’t ever been honored like that since my return from Vietnam in 1968. You must recall that the Vietnam Veteran wasn’t particularly popular back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Somehow we were blamed for our political leaders’ decisions, so the standing ovation was particularly heartwarming. And the ovations didn’t stop there! We were also honored at the end of the film as the credits ran, and yet again before a snappy and informative Q & A session that followed.

The scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The next morning, all of the BRAVO! folks met for a special breakfast and then as some headed home, five us—Michael E. O’Hara, John “Doc” Cicala, Carol, Betty and I—traveled over to the Staab Funeral Home where lines of motorcycles threaded across the parking lots in anticipation of the annual Ride in Honor, a bike run to four of the area’s veteran’s memorials.

I had never been around one of these bike runs—I’ve heard about them—so it was exciting to see all the bikes with their multi-hued frames and the colorful characters who were riding them. Again, the bikers chipped in funds to participate in this event with the proceeds going for the Purple Heart Memorial.

Just prior to the run, PJ Staab invited us to meet his Aunt Catherine, the last of the World War II era Staab generation. We of course said, “Yes,” and followed PJ upstairs to visit with Aunt Catherine for a while. And what a delight! She’s seen the film twice and wanted to meet us.

Then it was off in a roar of engines to the veteran’s shrines, the first being the Oak Ridge Cemetery where the planned Purple Heart Memorial will be built. Also located at Oak Ridge is President Lincoln’s tomb as well as commemorative tributes to the men and women who fought and died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Michael E. O’Hara, Doc Cicala, Bob Cowles, Tom Jones and I made up a detail that placed a wreath on the Vietnam War Memorial.

I have never been a part of anything like the placing of the wreaths, so it was humbling to be a participant. Both Bob Cowles and Tom Jones have been instrumental in getting the Purple Heart Memorial project off the ground. Betty and I first met Bob Cowles, a US Army veteran of the Vietnam War, when he arranged for us to interview Tom Quigley for BRAVO! in 2010 at the Springfield VFW Post. Tom Jones, also a Vietnam Veteran and Navy Corpsman who served with Force Recon, is the author of the novel LOST SURVIVOR about an African-American’s journey to fight in Vietnam.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

After placing the wreath at Oak Ridge, we proceeded to travel to the memorials at New Berlin, Spaulding and the National Veterans Cemetery at Camp Butler where we again placed wreaths at each location. We were treated to a poetry reading and to a trumpet rendition of “Taps.” Before departing Camp Butler, the crowd of bikers lined up and hugged and thanked each one of us for our service. It was intimate and humbling for each of us. For a generation of veterans who were pretty much shunned by their country, it is amazing, after 46 years, to be getting some thanks for what we did. We were young then, and wanted to do what was required, and we wanted to do it well.

We finished the day with another trip to Saputo’s, this time with PJ Staab and his lovely wife Ruth. For me it was sausage and peppers with a side of spaghetti. And they got the red sauce right.

Thanks to PJ Staab and the Staab Family, to Jessica McGee, to the Marine recruits who acted as ushers at the screening of the film, to the Hilton for our lodging and the Hoogland Center for the Arts for a screening venue, to all the folks who came to see BRAVO! and to Springfield with its wonderful memorials. And thanks to Carol Caldwell-Ewart and to the men of Bravo and their wives for traveling to participate in this special weekend.

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,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

June 4, 2014

BRAVO!’s Michael E. O’Hara Delivers a Stirring Speech; News on Upcoming Screenings

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara was the guest speaker at the Brown County, Indiana, Memorial Day celebration hosted by Veterans of Foreign War Post 6195. The event was held on the courthouse lawn and Brown County’s fallen veterans of war were honored. Michael O’Hara is an articulate and passionate man who, when he sets out to do something, does it with an eye to perfection. His speech is moving and memorable and does us all proud. You can read Michael’s speech here:

http://www.thisisbrowncounty.com/2014/05/28/welcome-home-vietnam-veterans/.

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo!

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!

On a separate note, as we move into the summer season, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in a number of places. Here’s what we can tell you about future showings right now. We hope you will join us or send an interested friend or relative.

• Springfield, IL – The Staab Family of Springfield presents BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR on June 13, 2014, 7:30 PM, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts located at:

420 South Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois.

The film’s producers, along with several of the men featured in the film, will take part in a Q & A session immediately following the screening. Never before have so many of BRAVO!’s stars attended any one screening. You will meet Cal Bright, John Cicala, Ben Long, Michael E. O’Hara, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers and Tom Quigley. Springfield is Tom Quigley’s hometown. Also in attendance will be the film’s Associate Producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.

This is a free event, but donations will be gratefully accepted for a proposed Purple Heart Memorial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Here’s a link to the radio ad about this event. You will hear the voices of Dan Horton, Steve Wiese and Michael E. O’Hara. Staab Family IN HONOR WEEKEND 060414

Michael O'Hara in Vietnam

Michael O’Hara in Vietnam

• Chicago, IL – Union League American Legion Post 758 presents BRAVO! on July 24, 2014 at the Union League Club of Chicago.
More details to follow.

• Southern California – We are screening the film in Southern California around The Marine Corps Birthday and Veteran’s Day. Specific times, dates and locations to follow.

• If you would like to host a screening 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

January 19, 2013

BRAVO!: An Appreciation

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BRAVO! supporter Jean Hegland muses about the film, history and the Vietnam War

Although I grew up with the Viet Nam war, it was never very real to me. I was born in 1956, and in the 1960s when my parents began to watch the nightly news on our family’s first television, reports of Viet Nam conflict were nightly fare when I wandered into the living room to check on dinnertime. After Walter Cronkite had finally announced, “And that’s the way it is,” and the television was turned off, discussions about the wrongness of the war and the inadequacies of the politicians who were promoting it were often a topic of my parents’ conversation as we ate.

But despite its frequent appearance in my family’s living and dining rooms, in many ways the Viet Nam war was an abstraction. I knew my parents were against the war—I couldn’t fathom how anyone could actually be for the crumpled bodies and destroyed landscapes I glimpsed on our TV screen—but no one I knew was directly affected by the conflict. My parents’ affiliation with the military had ended when they were discharged at the end of World War II (my father from the Army and my mother from the WAVES); and the draft was cancelled and the conflict in Viet Nam was officially over before any of my brothers or boyfriends were impacted. Later, when I went to college, there were few vets in the circles I ran in, and those I did meet—and occasionally even dated—seemed very reluctant to discuss their experiences in what they called “Nam.”

I suppose I was used to veterans staying silent about their war experiences. Although my mother privately told me that my father had been decorated for his service when he was a medic in the South Pacific, he himself never spoke of his experiences to anyone. I never heard my uncle or my aunt speak about their experiences in WWII, either, nor my other uncle who had been a fighter pilot in Korea, nor my great uncle who fought in France in WWI. And of course my ancestors who’d fought for the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War and those who fought for America during the Revolutionary War were also silent.

Novels such as Johnny Got His Gun, and The Red Badge of Courage, and later, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Things They Carried, and Matterhorn taught me a little about what war might be like for a soldier, but I have Ken and Betty Rodger’s remarkable documentary film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to thank for bringing the experience of soldiers at the Siege of Khe Sanh excruciatingly close.

I understand that no one who wasn’t there can ever really appreciate what those men endured during the 77 days of siege, and I also have some inkling of what a truly remarkable group that particular battalion of soldiers were, but after having watched Bravo! I feel I know much more than I did before about a soldier’s experience of the horror, pity—and glory—of war.

I wonder if anyone can listen to Cal, John, Daniel, Ken Korkow, Ben, Frank, Mike, Ken Pipes, Tom, Ron, Ken Rodgers, Lloyd, Peter, Steve, and Michael share their stories without experiencing both shudders and tears, if anyone can watch that film and not be haunted by it afterwards. Each time I watch Bravo!, I am appalled by the situation those men—then kids the age of my lovely son and his dear friends—were literally thrust into as they leapt out of moving planes and had to scurry to safety. I am heartbroken by the suffering they endured and the appalling waste that occurred. But I am also struck by the fierce, bright spirit of each of those men, by their commitment to each other in the face of such horrible odds. I am stirred not only by their courage in 1968 when they sacrificed so much to defend what turned out to be “a worthless patch of ground,” but also by their courage now, as veterans willing to risk further tears and nightmares in order to share their memories with the rest of us. Thanks to them, I feel I understand much more than I did before—not enough, to be sure, but a great deal more.

Bravo! has not changed the opinion I grew up with that the Viet Nam War was a horrible mistake, but it has deepened my sympathy for everything that those who fought in it endured, increased my appreciation for everything that they achieved, and my gratitude for the huge sacrifices that they made. It has given me fresh insight into all the silent warriors in my own family, too, and has encouraged me to reflect on the strange and compelling machine that war is, and why it is that we humans seem to have such a hard time getting beyond it. For all that, I am very grateful.

In addition to expressing my gratitude to the brave men who allowed their intimate stories to be captured on film, I also want to applaud Ken and Betty Rodgers, whose hard work and commitment brought Bravo! into being, and whose skill as interviewers (along with Mark Spear) and vision and craft as story-shapers helped to make Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor the compelling—and transformational—film that it is.

Jean Hegland is the author of the novels Into the Forest and Windfalls.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

May 22, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Ben Long

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I was at Illinois State University in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois, when I enlisted in the Marine Corps, and arrived in Vietnam sometime in the first part of May, 1967. Within a few days, I was sent to Khe Sanh. At that time I was 24 with my birthday being July 23.

Ben Long at Khe Sanh

When I arrived, I became Executive Officer of H&S Company and I think I worked in that position for about a month. On June 8, 1967, I became 1st Platoon Commander of Bravo Company the day before 1st & 2nd Platoons were in a firefight, and there were quite a few wounded. Both lieutenants were wounded in the firefight so the two platoons were combined for a while till more men joined us. I continued as 1st Platoon Commander till late January or early February when I became Executive Officer of Bravo Company under then Captain Ken Pipes. I remained XO of Bravo for a while after leaving Khe Sanh.

As a Platoon Leader we did a lot of patrolling and night ambushes. In July of 1967, 1st Platoon was reinforced with weapons, 60 mm mortar and artillery FOs. We were to check out 9 grid squares along Route 9. They told us that they were going to bring 155s up to Khe Sanh by Route 9. On July 21 we ran into what we thought was a battalion-size unit setting up to ambush along Route 9. I have read later that they say it was only a company. By the grace of God our squad in column up off the road in the thick elephant grass triggered them before we reached their ambush sight. We did lose some men but only a few compared to what could have happened.

Ben Long

I presently work with an international interdenominational Christian ministry called The Navigators. Navigators are people who love Jesus Christ and desire to help others know and grow in Him as they “navigate” through life. While ministering in Singapore for 16 years, my wife and I became accustomed to the Chinese culture. So today we work a lot with Chinese students at the University of Iowa.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

March 1, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Ken Korkow

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In today’s post, we introduce former Marine, Ken Korkow.

Ken Korkow, United States Marine

I was 20 when I arrived at Khe Sanh and 120 when I left – but had not celebrated another ‘birthday’ while in country.

I enlisted from Blunt, South Dakota – where I was in the top 10 of my high school class (because there were only 8 in my class).

At Khe Sanh, I volunteered for nighttime ambush duty, was temporarily in charge of the Bravo 1/26 3.5 rocket section, was 60 Mortar Section Leader (my MOS), was designated as ‘protestant lay leader’ by Ben Long, stole firearms and ammo from Graves & Registration, stole socks and food from the supply tent. I killed, hated, cried – until I vowed to never have friends or feelings again.

Now – I understand God doesn’t waste pain – and my wife and I share the life-changing message of new life in Jesus Christ with business and military men and women. What we have learned gives us insight into some of what others have experienced – plus gives us the credibility to have some degree of access into their private lives. To accomplish this – I personally must stay very close to my Lord – otherwise I can easily revert to my old ways.

Ken Korkow

Ken Korkow was wounded in combat at Khe Sanh and received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for combat valor. The Governor of South Dakota named a special day in his honor – as South Dakota’s most highly decorated Viet Nam veteran.

With degrees in Agri-Economics and Business Administration, Ken’s career path led him to where he is today, the Regional Director of Christian Business Men’s Committee USA Heartland, serving Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

He is a former member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association; former president, Central South Dakota Board of Realtors; and former president, North and South Dakota Farm and Land Institute.