Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Betty Rodgers’

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

January 18, 2017

N-Day

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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,Khe Sanh,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 26, 2016

When a Community Honors Their Own

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We have been all over the USA showing Bravo! to groups of people who’ve invited us. It’s always gratifying when someone wants it shown locally in Southwestern Idaho, which happened last November. The Boise State Veteran Services Office hosted a screening as part of the Veterans Week activities on campus.

Attending that event were women from the local Eagle Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, also known as the NSDAR. Not long before meeting them in person, we learned that they had decided to nominate Bravo! co-producer Ken Rodgers for the NSDAR’s Founders Medal for Patriotism, a very prestigious national award given to a person “who has displayed outstanding patriotism in the promotion of our country’s ideals of God, home, and country.” As part of this country’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, this was intended to thank Ken for serving, and for telling the powerful story of his company of Marines through film.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

The submission involved a lot of effort, including letters of recommendation from across the nation. We were thrilled when we learned that the award had indeed been granted by the national committee, and that it would be presented locally by the Eagle Chapter.

So on May 12, we got dressed up and drove to the Bishop Tuttle House in downtown Boise for the event. When we arrived, the ladies busied themselves with setting up the podium, tying balloons and decorating tables while we greeted a wonderful crowd of friends, old and new.

Visiting before the beginning of the ceremony. Left to Right: Lance Thompson; Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel; Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services, Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs, Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel, Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

We were gratified by the diversity and size of the gathering that came to be a part of the evening. These folks represented a chunk of the many friends that we have met in Idaho over the years.

Before the festivities commenced, Ken was awarded his own special tribute by eight-and-a-half-year-old Nicholle Bacon, a handmade certificate that was so spontaneous and so special he hung it in his office.

The program started with a welcome from Shannon Lind, an invocation by Jana Kemp, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Barbara Grant, and the American’s Creed led by Anita Allex.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

Then we heard comments from three champions of Bravo!. Lance Thompson spoke about how Ken resolved to give voice to those who had so long kept silent. Elaine Ambrose noted, “We were – and are – exact opposites. Ken’s quiet, distinguished, respected, and reserved. I’m noisy, clumsy, tolerated by others, and regarded as a comedienne. But, we both love to write, we honor our military, and we love our country.” Norma Jaeger gave us two quotes during her comments: Isak Dinesen said, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.”

Ken was then presented with the beautiful medal, and an American flag that has flown over both the US Capitol in Washington, DC, and the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. This was followed by Rebecca Bowen-Odom, who, along with her husband, Ron, was the mastermind behind the award. Rebecca read a congratulatory letter from Mindy Kammeyer, Reporter General of the NSDAR. Apparently Mindy was a flight attendant during the Vietnam War, serving our young men as they flew off to Vietnam, and then when they came back home again.

Ken spoke briefly about what the award and the film mean to him, commenting that he is not a rah-rah-let’s-go-to-war kind of patriot, but one who wishes to remember all who have dedicated a portion of their lives in service to our country. He closed his remarks by naming some of the men in his Bravo Company band of brothers who either lost their lives in Vietnam, or have since passed away. Those names became a very moving work of poetry.

A complete surprise was in store at this point in the program when Bravo! co-producer Betty Rodgers was presented with the NSDAR award for Excellence in Community Service for her part in producing the film.

Finishing up the evening with a bang was Idaho’s Senator Marv Hagedorn who spoke about his own military background, and then read a proclamation from the governor of Idaho, C. L. “Butch” Otter, declaring May 12 as Kenneth and Betty Rodgers Day! One of the whereas statements reads thusly:

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening's awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening’s awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

WHEREAS, those whom see “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor” will forever remember the story of the Siege of Khe Sanh, understand that freedom is not free and recognize that combat lives on forever in the daily lives of those who have experienced it.

The proclamation further states that the awards represent our “combined efforts to honor the service of Vietnam War veterans and their families.”

And that is where we turn to you, dear reader, and say we share these accolades with every single person who has walked the walk with us in one way or another. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we thank the NSDAR for the recognition, and especially Barbara Grant for her energy in keeping us informed throughout the entire months-long process.

Boise’s KTVB Channel 7, the NBC affiliated station, was on board to record the ceremony. You can view a short clip here.

As BRAVO! Marine Steve Wiese always says, “Bravo lives on!”

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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,The Basic School at Quantico,Vietnam War

May 18, 2016

The Basic School at Quantico

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In the last BRAVO! blog we wrote briefly about a visit we made to The Basic School (TBS) at Camp Barrett on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

While at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, his son-in-law Daniel Folz, Betty and I received an invitation from Marine Captain Joe Albano to come over to TBS and observe how Bravo Company’s ill-fated patrol of February 25, 1968 is currently being used to train Marine officers in the Scouting and Patrolling class. We were pretty excited about that, and surprised that they wanted to talk to us.

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O'Hara,  Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O’Hara, Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Upon our arrival we were greeted by Captain Albano, TBS Commanding Officer Colonel Christian Wortman, and Captains Josh White and Jason Duehring, an impressive group of Marine Corps officers. Captains Albano, White and Duehring are instructors at TBS training the future leaders of the Marine Corps.

And we were not the only ones excited about the meeting, so were these young officers. They were excited to meet two Marines who had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh as well as some of the folks involved with the production of BRAVO!.

After our welcome, the captains took us to various classrooms where the Scouting and Patrolling Operations class is taught, including a visit to the sand tables where the new officers work out scouting and patrolling scenarios.

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodges

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodgers

From there, we went to a lecture hall where Captains Albano, White and Duehring talked about how they teach the class and how they researched and worked on the Case Study related to the events of February 25, 1968.

When we first walked into the room, we noticed the BRAVO! DVD was sitting on the table with the instructors’ materials, which was a nice surprise. Then Captain Albano gave us an abbreviated version of the class. What surprised and humbled us even more was learning that the captains included clips from our film as part of the lecture. And a lot of the clips aren’t specifically about February 25th, but more about introducing the new lieutenants to the humanity of the Marines and Navy Corpsman they will command in the future. The presentation included Bravo Company men talking about, among other things, combat and brotherhood and fear.

During Captain Albano’s lecture, the students are advised of the events surrounding the Ghost Patrol—as the events of February 25 are commonly referred to—and to the disposition of troops on the ground on the morning of that fateful day. Then, amid the Marines of BRAVO! talking to them with the sounds of war in the background, the instructors, in a suddenly chaotic classroom simulation, fire questions at the students asking how they are going to deal with threats that are killing their Marines.

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O'Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O’Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White. Photo by Betty Rodgers

The class is taught, among other things, in a way that emulates the bedlam of combat, and if a student can’t come up with a solution to a question asked by the instructor within a matter of seconds, he/she gets told, “You just lost another Marine,” and the instructor turns to another student and fires questions at him/her. These simulated combat moments are intended to train the new lieutenants to think quickly and respond appropriately. The questioning is rife with tension and with an aura of the uncertainties encountered when opposing groups of warriors go to killing each other. Fear, confusion and pressure are recognized as elements one encounters in combat and which cannot be understood by a leader until they are experienced.

After Captain Albano finished up, we repaired to The Hawk—the club at TBS—for some refreshments and some time to talk about the film, war, Vietnam and the more current wars that the captains fought in.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

For years we have thought of BRAVO! as a way to preserve history and to educate the public about the Siege of Khe Sanh and the horror of combat, about brotherhood and death and fear. What an overwhelming thought it is to realize the men of BRAVO! are also helping to train today’s Marines.

Thanks to Captain Albano and the instructors at The Basic School for sharing their efforts with us old-time Marines and our guests.

Semper Fi!

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 Festivals,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 6, 2016

BRAVO! To Receive 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award

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After we put our first cut of BRAVO! in the can, I remember talking to one of the filmmakers we met during the editing process. An award winner himself, he talked about BRAVO! being a film that ought to be in the running for an Oscar.

At the time, with my lack of knowledge about the process of making films, I remember sitting out on the patio dreaming about Betty and me bouncing up the stairs to the stage to accept our Oscar our hearts thumping like .50 caliber machine guns. But then reality hit and we discovered how the Academy Awards really work.

First, you have to screen your film in both Los Angeles and New York and the funding requirements are overwhelming for an operation like ours. One hopes for a distribution agreement that would make it possible to have your film screened in LA and New York without you, the filmmakers, having to pay the tab for theater rental in those two cities. And though we tried to find a distributor, alas, it has yet to happen.

We’ve been on this filmmaking journey for six years now, and it’s been fun and rewarding and depressing and elating, a roller coaster ride for sure, and as we have gone along, we would have liked to see BRAVO! recognized by our peers, the filmmakers, and not having that happen was disappointing.

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Until last year when BRAVO! was recognized as Best Documentary Feature in the 2015 GI Film Festival San Diego and that took a huge bite out of the disappointment.

And this year, 2016, brings even more good news for the film. The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation will be awarding BRAVO! the 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award for Documentary Feature on April 23 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Major Norman Hatch was a photographer and filmmaker who landed with the Second Marine Division at Tarawa where he shot footage for an award winning documentary film about that battle. He also documented the Marines’ combat on Iwo Jima and went on to spend forty-one years working with military films and photography.

This award is like getting a double shot of praise because the judges who chose BRAVO! are film industry professionals, so we are getting some more kudos from our filmmaking peers. And there is another angle to look at, too. To be chosen for this extraordinary award by this organization of warriors is for us every bit as important, if not more so, as being recognized by moviemakers.

To be told by your fellow warriors, so to speak, that yes, here’s to a job well done and yes, BRAVO! speaks to the agony and ecstasy of war, is an honor that makes us feel like we will pop all the buttons off the front of our shirts and blouses.

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, will be presenting Betty and me with this award. BRAVO! brother Michael E. O’Hara, who is in the film, plans on joining us (along with his son-in-law, Daniel Folz) for the event as does one of our biggest supporters, our friend Betty Plevney. It should be a great evening, beginning with the awards ceremony followed by a dinner at the Museum.

In some ways receiving the Major Norman Hatch Award feels like we’ve come full circle since it was a grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation back in 2010 that jumpstarted BRAVO!

We are humbled and happy and raring to go east to Quantico.

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 Festivals,Film Reviews,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

November 5, 2015

What’s Happened and What’s Up!

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It was a grand day in San Diego when BRAVO! was awarded the prize for Best Documentary Feature at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Co-producers Ken and Betty Rodgers were joined by Bravo Skipper Ken Pipes, his wife Sharon and their family Tim, Sandra, and Connor at the festival for an afternoon screening of BRAVO! before a full theater at San Diego’s UltraStar Mission Valley Hazard Center. Hosted by San Diego newsman and celebrity Bob Lawrence, a Q&A session followed the film. The Rodgers and Skipper Pipes were joined on the panel by Bill Rider of American Combat Veterans of War. Bill was with the 1st Battalion 9th Marines at Khe Sanh and has been a great supporter of the film. During the Q&A, Skipper Pipes delivered a stirring speech about war, memory, family and the events at Khe Sanh.

This award would never have happened had not Tim and Sandra Pipes noticed that the film fest was coming up. They gave Skipper Pipes and Sharon a heads-up and we submitted and are grateful that all the work over the years by all the folks who have labored on this film and all the folks who have supported us financially or otherwise has finally found recognition in the film community.

This entire experience couldn’t have been more appropriate, because San Diego County played a significant part in the story of Bravo Company. First of all, every man in the film deployed to Vietnam from there. It is also the home of the Pipes family, some of the men in the film lived in or were stationed in San Diego County after their service in Vietnam and some of the musical sound track was composed and performed there by the late Harry Partch. What a wonderful Welcome Home.

At the G I Film Festival San Diego: Left to right: Tim Lucey, Skipper Ken Pipes, Sharon Pipes, Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

At the G I Film Festival San Diego: Left to right: Tim Lucey, Skipper Ken Pipes, Sharon Pipes, Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The Film Consortium San Diego and KPBS, the local PBS station in San Diego County, in association with the GI Film Festival in Washington, DC, were the folks who put on the festival, and we wish to thank them for allowing BRAVO! a place of honor. Special thanks to Jodi Cilley of the Film Consortium and KPBS’ Claudine Casillas and Carla Conner for all their help.

A lot of old and new friends met us at the event and we had a great time visiting with them before and after the screening.

We enjoyed viewing some fine films concerning a host of topics about veteran and military life. The films were both short and long, documentary and feature.

BRAVO! friend John Giannini, a Vietnam Veteran and a filmmaker, had three films in the festival. His film about his father, ALDO GIANNINI – SERGEANT – UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS 1943-1946, was awarded the prize for Best Documentary Short. Congratulations, John! You can find out more about John and his films here.

You can find out more about the events at the GI Film Festival San Diego here. Concerning the photo gallery, you’ll find BRAVO! folks in the two Sunday albums.

While BRAVO! was screening at the GI Film Festival it was also screening in Emmett, Idaho, as a benefit for Brave Hearts Idaho. Frontier Cinema of Emmett hosted two screenings with all proceeds going to help fund programs for Idaho veterans who are experiencing financial crises. Thanks to Brave Hearts’ Jim Kern, Heather Paredes of the Eagle Field of Honor, and Frontier Cinema’s Roy Dransfield for all their hard work on these screenings. You can find out more about Brave Hearts Idaho here.

BRAVO! will be shown on the campus of Boise State University on Veterans Day, November 11, 2015. The event begins at 6;30 PM in the Jordan Ballroom in the Student Union Building and will be followed by a discussion with a panel of combat veterans. The screening will be part of Boise State University’s Veterans Week celebration. You can find out more about the week’s events here, and we hope to see you there. Parking for this event is free in the Lincoln Parking Garage on the campus. There will be a person at the Lincoln Parking Garage parking kiosk who will give you the parking code or if you would rather get the code from us, please send along an e-mail to the e-mail account associated with this blog.

The award for Best Documentary Feature at the G I Film Festival San Diego. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The award for Best Documentary Feature at the G I Film Festival San Diego. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

On November 21, 2015, BRAVO! will be screened at the prestigious Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, California, as part of the events surrounding the library’s hosting of the Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of The Vietnam Memorial. The film and related events in Simi Valley can be found here.

On the movie review front BRAVO! just received a great review from THE BOISE WEEKLY’S George Prentice. You can read George’s piece here.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter, 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?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Film Festivals,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

October 12, 2015

The Humanities and the War in Vietnam

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History, political science, anthropology, psychology, law, sociology, music, literature, film! Plus the Vietnam War!

Last week Betty and I had the immense pleasure of participating in a symposium on the Vietnam War hosted by Dr. Russ Tremayne and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, Idaho, made possible in part by the Idaho Humanities Council.

The symposium was a two-day affair with presentations on the history of the cold war by Dr. Curtis Eaton of the College of Southern Idaho, on the genesis of the Vietnam War by Dr. Tremayne, on the constitutionality of the war itself presented by Dr. David Adler of Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public Policy, on the relationship between Idaho Senator Frank Church and President Lyndon B. Johnson and the conduct of the war by Professor Steven Shaw of Northern Nazarene University , on protest music popular during the Vietnam conflict by Tony Mannen of College of Southern Idaho, and on the Kent State incident where members of the Ohio National Guard shot and killed civilians at a war protest presented by Dr. Ron Hatzenbuehler of Idaho State University. All of this took place on Day One of the symposium.

Like many veterans of the Vietnam war, or veterans of any war, my experiences in war were visceral: fear, elation, despair, sadness, comradeship; things measured in the pulse beneath the skin on your wrist, the flow of blood hammering through your arteries, the swoop of exultation that erupts from your guts and zooms through the top of your head.

So I was fascinated, yes, even fetched by having my experiences, my emotions, in some manner dissected on a critical, analytical level that came at me from a number of differing disciplines collectively called the humanities.

As I sat there that first day, I thought the only thing missing was the personal aspect of the war. We heard about strategy and legality and history and big, sweeping concepts, but how did any of that speak to the intensely personal events of the war, the death, the trauma, the fear?

The Herrett Center at College of Southern Idaho, site of the symposium on the Vietnam War.

The Herrett Center at College of Southern Idaho, site of the symposium on the Vietnam War.

Then on Day Two, we got it, beginning with a screening of BRAVO! followed by a discussion of the war and its effects on men and women who fought it. And that began a melding of the academic with the visceral, the big picture with the personal, the disciplines of humanities study with the lives of the warriors who survived and those who didn’t.

And that combination, that melding, worked well, and I think it did because film and art (and film is an art), are also disciplines of the humanities that give us a different look at what happened.

The audience was made up of teachers and students and professors and veterans, and this fine mix of folks led to a heady discussion of the war as depicted in the film.

The screening of BRAVO! was followed by a presentation by Shawn Wong on how to teach soldiers to tell their stories. Wong is a novelist and professor of English at the University of Washington. He, along with actor Tom Skerritt, is instrumental in the Red Badge Project, an organization that encourages veterans to write their war experiences. You can find out more about Shawn Wong here and the Red Badge Project here.

The final presentation was made by Iraq War veteran and novelist David Abrams, author of the acclaimed novel FOBBIT, on how the veteran might go about telling his/her war story. You can find out more about David Abrams here.

So the first day was academic and the second was about story…personal story.

It was a heady experience for Betty and me to participate in such a comprehensive and stimulating look at my war.

Thanks much to Dr. Tremayne and his cohorts, professors Shilo Smith and Matt Reynolds. Thanks too, to the Idaho Humanities Council for their part in making this event happen.

On the screening front, check out these three important events! BRAVO! will be screened at the ninety-nine-years-young Frontier Cinema at 127 W. Main Street in Emmett, Idaho, at 3:00 and 6:00 PM on October 18, 2015. Advance tickets are $8 per person by calling (208) 867-9277, or $10 at the door. Seating is limited. All proceeds will go to Brave Hearts of Idaho, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that helps veterans dealing with financial crises.

Also on October 18, BRAVO! will be screened as part of the GI Film Festival San Diego at 12:30 PM. The location is the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center. Admission is $10 general admission and $8 for veterans and active duty military. We are very proud to announce that BRAVO! has been nominated for Best Feature Documentary at this event. Come meet Bravo Company’s commanding officer, Ken Pipes.

On Veterans Day, November 11, 2015, BRAVO! will be shown on the campus of Boise State University as part of the week long celebration of veterans sponsored jointly by Omega Delta Sigma, the veterans fraternity at Boise State, and the university’s Veterans Services Office. The screening will be held in the Jordan Ballroom of the Student Union Building at 6:30 PM and admission is free to the public. There will be a panel discussion with veterans of both the Vietnam War and the Middle East conflicts following the screening. Parking will be available.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall, winter, or 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,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

July 29, 2015

BRAVO! at the Northgate

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Earlier this month, BRAVO! was treated to some pretty special attention in Idaho. Filmmakers Betty and Ken Rodgers were the guests of Maggie O’Mara of Idaho’s KTVB Channel 7, the NBC affiliate in the southwestern part of the state. Maggie interviewed both Betty and Ken, gave them the distinction of Seven’s Heroes, and produced a short piece about the making of BRAVO!.

Later in the week, the Rodgers went on live TV with KTVB’s Carolyn Holly in a segment that included the interview with Maggie. Carolyn wanted to talk about the film, the Vietnam War and about a screening of BRAVO! that occurred at Boise’s Northgate Reel Theater on July 2, 2015. You can see the 3-minute news clip here.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers preparing for interview at Boise's KTVB.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers preparing for interview at Boise’s KTVB.

The screening at Northgate was a fundraiser for Eagle, Idaho’s FIELD OF HONOR and was attended by one hundred filmgoers.

Eagle’s FIELD OF HONOR is a living tribute, flying six hundred American flags to “show appreciation to U.S. military personnel, including our veterans, who defend our freedoms and preserve the country’s safety.” The annual celebration begins on Armed Forces Day and runs through Memorial Day weekend. You can find out more about the Eagle Field of Honor here.

The BRAVO! crew really enjoyed working with Field of Honor organizers Heather Paredes and Kathy Coburn. We met a lot of great folks at the July 2nd screening, and enjoyed visiting with BRAVO! supporters young and old.

Left to right: The Eagle Field of Honor's Heather Paredes and BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers at the screening of BRAVO! at Boise's Northgate Reel Theaters.

Left to right: The Eagle Field of Honor’s Heather Paredes and BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers at the screening of BRAVO! at Boise’s Northgate Reel Theaters.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town in late summer, fall, or winter, 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,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 15, 2015

The Thunderbolts

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I don’t recall much about the Marine who recruited me into the Corps in the summer of 1966. A lot of men who served with me know the names of their recruiters, but I only recall a hazy image of a rawboned, hardened man who piqued my interest by advising me that the Corps was tough and to make it a young man had to overcome a series of obstacles, and the difficulty of those obstacles limited the number of men who would eventually call themselves Marines.

My recruiter was right about the challenges of becoming a Marine, especially the overcoming of the obstacles that bar one from becoming part of that fraternity of men who can call themselves Devil Dogs.

An upshot of being part of the Marines is an attitude that as a Marine, you served with the best. Not one of the best, but the absolute best. And for me, it followed that all other services were generally inferior to the Marine Corps. I learned to call men and women who served in the Army “dogfaces,” men and women who served in the Navy “squids,” “swabbies” or “ducks.” Folks who served in the Air Force were “fly boys” or “wing-wipers.”

Even if you were in the Corps, if you worked in supply or chow or the armory, you were a “pogue.” If you were in the Marine Air Wing, you were, once again, a “wing-wiper.”

When I joined the Marine Corps, my recruiter guaranteed me a spot in the Air Wing if I went in for four years. By the time I finished my recruit training, when they told me I was to be a grunt, I had no desire to raise hell about not being made a “wing-wiper.” By then I was indoctrinated. I was—and indeed wanted to be—in “the best.” My service at Khe Sanh reinforced my opinion about the ranking of services. The men I fought with were the best. No doubt in my mind.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, right, visits with Thunderbolt pilots.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, right, visits with Thunderbolt pilots.

Yet though we, the Marines of Khe Sanh, withstood the onslaught of North Vietnamese Army fury for over seventy days, it would be naive not to give credit to the people who supported us. The pilots and other warriors who bombed the enemy to our front, who supplied us, who worked in the rear to make sure the necessary supplies and ordnance were available . . . the men and women who did that were “dog faces,” “ducks,” “wing-wipers” and “pogues.”

I believe that without the efforts expended by those folks on our behalf, I very well could have been either dead or locked up in an NVA prison camp.

Nevertheless, over the ensuing years since surviving my time in Vietnam, I have on too many occasions referred to “dog faces” and “swabbies.”

And it wasn’t just a one-way pejorative harangue from Marines towards other services. I’ve been called “sea going bell hop” and “jarhead” more instances than I care to count. My father, who was a top sergeant in the Army, took every chance he could to derogate Marines. Often he called them “gyrenes” coupled with any one of a number of expletives that I will not mention.

But true to all that is existentially Jarhead, I laughed at all those pejoratives and interpreted them as loving nicknames that the lesser warriors of the world employed to name the finest.

With that as background, last week, BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, BRAVO! supporter and Navy pilot Leland Nelson, Betty and I ventured down to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho, where we had the honor of screening BRAVO! for the pilots, navigators and support personnel of the United States Air Force’s 389th Fighter Squadron, the Thunderbolts.

We met a number of pilots and navigators and weapons officers, and I must say, these young warriors were mighty impressive. They gave us a look at some of their jet planes, the F15E Strike Eagles, one of the Air Force’s more successful fighter-bomber aircraft.

The jets our warriors fly into harm’s way are so high tech that the people asked to fly and maintain these planes need to be smart, tech-savvy, and own nerves of steel. At the speeds these weapon systems fly, split second decisions are the name of the game and those who participate must be physically fit and mentally sharp.

The folks we met at Mountain Home, from my observations, seemed to own all the necessary skills to fly the F15E, plus they are funny, curious, polite and driven to serve the nation.

I don’t really care if one hates war or loves it or ignores it, the young folks we have operating these high grade weapon systems, be they F15E or stealth weapons or tanks or choppers, are worthy of our respect and admiration. They don’t make policy for this country. They aren’t politicians or generals. They are the folks who do the deed when called upon.

And all of us who journeyed down to Mountain Home couldn’t have been more impressed or prouder of these “kids,” as I like to call them.

These “fly boys” and “fly girls” are a special breed of folks who are willing to put their lives on the line and do so at high speeds.

Driving home, I decided to stop referring to our servicemen and women as “Squids” and “Dogfaces” and “Wing-Wipers.”
They deserve to be called warriors.

Christina Iverson, a big friend of BRAVO! and one of the folks responsible for the film’s great reception in Idaho served with the Thunderbolts prior to mustering out of the Air Force. She had this to say about the 389th Fighter Squadron: “The best life lessons for me were while I was assigned to the 389th Fighter Squadron: Thunderbolts. Hard job, good people.”

Christina Iverson, BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire. Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography

Christina Iverson, BRAVO! supporter.
Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography

A big Marine Corps OOORAH! to Air Force Major Staci “Rio” Landers for setting up this event.

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

January 7, 2015

Author Julie Titone Muses on War and Writing

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When I drive U.S. Highway 95 through North Central Idaho, I often stop near the top of White Bird Hill. A shelter there overlooks the battlefield where Nez Perce braves tangled with the U.S. Cavalry in 1877 before taking their epic flight toward Canada.

One time, a Montana family was there beside me, surveying the high-country panorama. Two grade-school boys were debating who kicked whose butt in the historic battle. Finally the younger one turned to his mom and asked, “Did we lose?”

An older man who was with them replied. He said: “Everybody loses in war.”

Book cover for BOOCOO DINKY DOW, MY SHORT CRAZY VIETNAM WAR

Book cover for BOOCOO DINKY DOW, MY SHORT, CRAZY VIETNAM WAR

Uncle or grandpa, I don’t know. But I’d bet that man was a veteran. I heard his same weary conviction in the voice of Ken Rodgers when he told me once, “Nobody hates war more than a soldier.”

If you’re reading this, you know Ken served in Vietnam. He and his wife, Betty, created the “Bravo!” documentary about the siege of Khe Sanh, capturing the memories of Ken and the other Marines who survived those 77 hellish days. They travel widely to screen the film.

I know Ken and Betty because I’ve been on a similar journey, giving readings from the Grady Myers memoir “Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War.” The title comes from the way American soldiers pronounced beaucoup dien cai dau, a French-Vietnamese expression that meant very crazy. Off the wall.

I was married to Grady during the 1980s. Like Betty, I was the wife who decided those war memories should be preserved. Besides, as a journalist, I knew a good story when I saw one: A funny, artistic and nearsighted Boise teenager is transformed into Hoss, an M-60 machine gunner who nearly dies in battle.

PFC Grady Myers

PFC Grady Myers

I was the scribe for “Boocoo Dinky Dow.” Grady, a professional artist, provided illustrations. After he died in 2011, I published the book.

I found it satisfying to honor a talented man, the father of my son, by making his experiences part of the Vietnam War literature. “Boocoo Dinky Dow” is in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial archives and Texas Tech’s Vietnam Archive. It has found its way into libraries and veterans’ centers, has been discussed in book stores and living rooms. Grady’s war-related artwork is now in the permanent collection of the National Veterans Art Museum.

Publication did more than end a decades-long book project. It started a personal journey. My life is richer for the torrent of stories coming back at me in return for sharing Grady’s.

I’ve heard stories from Marines, Navy and Army vets. But also from nurses and protesters and USO performers. And COs who were conscientious objectors and COs who were commanding officers. And pilots and submariners, professors and cops. And women who waited for brothers and sons who came back unscathed, at least on the outside. I’ve talked to people forged by war and people broken by it.

Even the stories I don’t hear intrigue me. At “Boocoo Dinky Dow” readings, I’ve learned to watch for the guy at the back of the room, a guy in his 60s. He sits there, arms crossed, maybe nods a time or two. As others in the audience come up to chat, I look over their shoulders and see him head out the door. Can he not bring himself to talk about what he did in the war, having suffered what journalist David Wood calls “moral injury”?

Author Julie Titone and Vietnam Veteran Bill Crist at the National Veterans Art Museum

Author Julie Titone and Vietnam Veteran Bill Crist at the National Veterans Art Museum

Maybe he doesn’t feel worthy of recognition. Or doesn’t think he’ll get it. One combat vet told me, “I don’t want to be thanked for my service. I didn’t want to go. I was drafted.” Two sentences later, he was explaining how he worked hard not to resent Iraq and Afghanistan vets for having been welcomed home by the public.

Mixed emotions and complexity are the hallmarks of this war-story enterprise. How must it feel to have watched buddies die in a war that became a synonym for failure? Last time I Googled the words “another Vietnam,” there were 143,000 results.

I feel plenty of confusion myself. I grapple with the increasing awareness that, in addition to horror and waste, war yields friendship, pride, and the occasional vanquishment of evil. War is a stage for both despicable crimes and crystalline acts of conscience. As Grady’s memoir and the “Bravo!” documentary show, war can inspire art.

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

When Ken told me that “nobody hates war more than a soldier,” he was responding to some angst I shared with him. I was fretting about the fine line that exists between honoring warriors and promoting wars. I didn’t want to step over that line. Frankly, I’m still not sure where it is.

But Ken is right. Most combat veterans fully understand the words that Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe said in surrender. That he was tired of fighting. That he would fight no more, forever.

Julie Titone’s articles and photographs have appeared in regional, national and international publications as well as college textbooks and literary collections. She lives in Everett, WA. To learn more about the authors of “Boocoo Dinky Dow” and to order the book, visit shortcrazyvietnam.com.