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

February 10, 2016

In Search of My Father (Part One)

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Today’s guest blogger, Ron Reyes, blogs about his father, also Ron Reyes, who was killed in action at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968, a date of some importance to the men of BRAVO! This is part one of a multiple blog story.

I was born February 28th, 1968. My father, Private First Class Ronnie (Baby Sanh) Reyes was killed March 30th 1968; he was 19. That is where my story starts.

I have always wondered who my dad was. I saw the pictures, heard the stories, but I never knew him. I had a pretty good idea who he was before he left. In fact, every time I got in trouble I heard, “Aye, Ronnie, you’re just like your dad,” but I had no clue who he was the day he was killed. In fact, no one did except his fellow Marines—his brothers. My mother Elaine always made sure that she answered any question I asked. She wanted me to know as much as possible.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes.
Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes

I studied everything about Vietnam. I looked at maps, interviewed soldiers from all branches. I watched every special. Every time I went to the library in school I would check out books about Vietnam. I was very interested in Khe Sanh; the only information I had about my dad was that he was there. This was something I needed to know. I searched out information all through school and into my late 20’s. That all changed on June 5, 1995, the day my daughter Danielle was born. I couldn’t believe it; I was a dad. I thought that was the coolest thing because I grew up without a dad. It was a strange feeling. I was so excited about my first child being born and at the same time at peace with my father. I realized I wasn’t going to find out about my dad, and decided it was okay.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, is very powerful. I hear it is very powerful. Everybody I know who has been to the Wall has brought me back a rubbing. I must have about 15 of them. Every time I get one, I do the same thing: research. I received a rubbing in the fall of 1998. My research technique had changed. I’d just bought a new computer, and decided to try the World Wide Web.

I was armed with one more piece of info at this point. About a year earlier I had visited my dad’s gravesite, just like I did on most Memorial Days when I was a little kid. I always read my dad’s name. PFC Ronald R. Reyes. This time I paid more attention to what the rest of the headstone said. CO D, 9 MAR, 3 MAR DIV. I had the day of his death (03/30/1968), the place that he was killed (Khe Sanh), the fact that he was a Marine, and now my first clue. I searched the Internet. Several hours later I found what I needed. I found a page that listed my father KIA with additional info. He was in Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, the Walking Dead. This was very exciting but didn’t mean much to me yet. I started researching the 1/9.

Back to the Internet. I took the information that I had and kept digging. I found an early version of the Khe Sanh Veterans site. In the site I found about 80 e-mail addresses. Out of that 80, I found 5 who served with D/1/9. I sent out a brief e-mail to all 5. I didn’t expect much, but was hopeful. That was on a Wednesday. What I didn’t know was that the New Orleans reunion was taking place that weekend. The weekend passed and I didn’t think much about it.

MCRD Recruit Platoon 124, Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes' outfit. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

MCRD Recruit Platoon 124, Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes’ outfit. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Tuesday night my phone rang.

I answered the phone, and the voice on the other end said, “Is this Ron Reyes?” “Yes it is, I said.” His response was, “My name is Eddie and I knew your father,” then silence. I wasn’t sure about what to say and Eddie wasn’t either. Could it be that after 30 years I was going to get the information I’d always wanted? I didn’t know if I wanted to hear whatever was waiting on the other end of the line.

“I was with your dad at Camp Pendleton and in Vietnam.” It turns out Eddie “Archie” Arcienega was with 2nd Platoon, D/1/9. My father was with Weapons. He told me how my dad had taken him back home to visit his parents (my grandparents). In Vietnam, Eddie told me, Ronnie would always check up on him and make sure he had everything he needed up front. He was a good Marine. I talked to Eddie for an hour. We talked about a lot of things. I got off the phone and told my wife, called my Mom, e-mailed some friends. I had to tell everyone except Pasqual and Ramona Reyes, my grandparents.

What was I going to say to them? Ronnie was the oldest of 4 kids, a leader in the family. My grandfather served with the Army in WWII. He fought from Italy into France where he was captured on his way to the Battle of the Bulge. He is a Bronze Star Recipient. The prison camp couldn’t break him, but the death of his firstborn son devastated him. I would have to think about how I would let them know the news.

Wednesday night my phone rang. My wife Lori picked up the phone. She said it was “somebody named Pete who knew your dad.” This time I couldn’t wait to talk. It was a lot harder for Pete to gather his words than it had been for Eddie. Maybe it was because Eddie knew my dad had died, and on what day, but Pete Mestas went home that same day and was in a VA hospital for a couple of years. He didn’t find out my father was dead until he visited the Wall a few years before this call. He was looking for the names of the Marines that he knew died that day. Then he saw my father’s name.

I had always heard the story of how my father was hit by a mortar as he went to retrieve his buddy who was hit. I wanted to embrace the story, but understood that families like to think the best always. Pete was about to fill me in. He was in Weapons with my dad. Pete said they called my dad Baby Sanh because they knew his girlfriend was pregnant. He asked me what I knew about Vietnam, the Tet Offensive, Con Thien, and Khe Sanh. I told him I had studied it, and had the map of Vietnam tattooed in my mind. I knew my dad was in Khe Sanh.

Guest blogger Ron Reyes at a young age, at his father's grave. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Guest blogger Ron Reyes at a young age, at his father’s grave. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Next week, Ron continues with his story about searching for clues about who his father was and his resultant journey.

Ron Reyes lives in Moorpark, California. He has been married to his wife Lori for 23 years and is the father of 2. His son Ronnie is a junior in high school. His daughter Danielle is a junior in college and lives just 2 blocks north of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring, summer, fall or next 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.

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

January 27, 2016

On War Poetry

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In 1968, on today’s date, January 27, the Marines in the trenches at Khe Sanh were beginning to realize that what began on January 20-21, 1968, would turn into a period of horror and death and destruction which would become seared into the memories and psyches of all those who survived.

The 19th Century German philosopher and poet, Friedrich Nietzsche said: We have art in order not to die of the truth.

The truth of what happened at Khe Sanh often seems like a dose of reality so heinous that it is hard to swallow. We want to reject it as fantasy, as false memory, as fiction. But what happened there is truth with a bitter bouquet.

Down inside our minds, we try to figure a way to deal with that nasty truth and so, as Nietzsche probably would suggest, we often turn the truth into art. Over the last 2700 years and more, warriors have been memorializing their war experiences with poetry, which is certainly art.

Somewhere around the Eighth Century, BC, the Greek warrior poet, Archilochus wrote: “I long for a fight with you, just as a thirsty man longs for drink.”*

And in the intervening centuries, warriors have tried to reduce to poetry the profound impacts of combat through imagery be it sight, sound, smell, or the way the mist of a morning before battle gathers on the skin.

In the last one hundred years or so, war poets have been strong voices in articulating what they have witnessed as man has attacked and massacred his fellow man. A list of 20th and 21st Century war poets might include Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen from World War I, János Pilinszky and Randall Jarrell from World War II, Rolando Hinojosa and William Childress from the Korean War, Yusef Komunyakaa and Bruce Weigl from Vietnam, and Brian Turner and Jason Shelton from the wars in the middle east.

Although these poets have gained some fame, the efforts of trying to convert our wartime experiences into something we can look at on a page is a pretty common phenomena.

Skipper and poet, Ken Pipes, at Khe Sanh

Skipper and poet, Ken Pipes, at Khe Sanh

Fear, horror and pain; what we’ve witnessed and endured in war sometimes acts as a muse and invites us, the warriors, to create, even those of us who aren’t professional poets.

In today’s rendition of the blog, we turn to one of our own, Lieutenant Colonel Ken Pipes, USMC Retired, who served as the company commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the siege. Skipper Pipes is also featured in the documentary, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

Skipper Pipes’ poem is written in classic form, rhyme and meter, and is published here with his permission. Please respect his copyright.

Tribute and Tribulation
Khe Sanh Remembered

To the men who scaled their mountains
and Seized that far flung plateau,
To the men who held the arena
Against the best the enemy could throw.

Who walked the jungle covered valleys
And waded the leach laden streams;
Who moved through the green shrouded alleys,
Till their muscles cramped and screamed.

To those who fell wounded and bleeding,
Yet arose to fight on ’til the end.
To those who fell wounded and bleeding,
Never to rise up again.

To our comrades who carried the rifle;
Who fired both cannon and gun.
To those who supplied and fought with us
We knew that they’d never run.

To the pilots who flew the fast movers,
And herded choppers all over the sky.
Who calmly watched the green tracers
As they went arching and howling by.

To Gentleman Jim, our commander,
And Jaques, Claire, Morris and Chief.
To Snake, Mike, Korkow and Rash,
And other heroes we respect and keep.

To Stubbe, our brave navy chaplain,
Who interceded for us as our link.
And to DeMaggd, our battalion surgeon,
Whose skilled hand drew us back from the brink.

To Blanchfield, and our navy corpsmen,
The finest and most courageous of all;
Who daily and nightly fought to reach us,
Refusing to succumb to the law.

So now as we move far from the valley,
And the years march away to the fore,
We and our families remember,
All those who made it happen; and more.

© Ken Pipes

Oorah for the Skipper! Ooorah! for poetry. Ooorah! for art.

If you have further interest in war poetry, you can find examples here from those mentioned earlier: Siegfried Sassoon contemplates a letter home to a mother here: Wilfred Owen muses on a gas attack here: ; János Pilinszky ponders prisoners of war here:
Randall Jarrell writes about the men who crew bombers here: Rolando Hinojosa contemplates friendly fire here: William Childress remembers the Korean War here: Yusef Komunyakaa at The Wall here: Bruce Weigl muses about the world between war and home here: Brian Turner on the bullet here: and Jason Shelton on Iraq here.

*From William Harris, Prof. Emeritus Classics, Middlebury College. (http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/Archilochus.pdf).

Ken Pipes, The Skipper and poet

Ken Pipes, The Skipper and poet

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring, summer, fall or next 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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 20, 2016

On Warriors, Professional Athletes, the Super Bowl and the Siege of Khe Sanh

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During the winter season the National Football League playoffs are juxtaposed with the anniversary of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Teams from the NFL bang heads in the tournament push to the Super Bowl and I attempt to employ my anticipation for the big game to balance the Khe Sanh Siege depression that often presents its ugly face.

I have watched most of the Super Bowls and in my younger years, Super Bowl Sunday may have been the most important day of the year to me.

Now it’s lost a lot of its sheen, but when I see news reports about the Steelers and the Cowboys and the Packers and the Chiefs, my memories riffle back through the years to the first Super Bowl.

I was not a Green Bay Packer fan back in the 1960s, mostly because I tend to favor underdogs and I was tired of them winning again and again and again.

And so when one of my fellow Marines suggested we figure out where to watch the Super Bowl, I wasn’t particularly interested. Not being a fan of the Packers and not giving the Kansas City Chiefs much of a chance to beat them, I probably said something like, “Who cares?”

I was in Infantry Training Regiment, getting whipped into shape for combat in Vietnam. Stationed at Camp San Onofre at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, we were near the end of our training and he—his name, I think, was Rick Schaan—wanted to get away from the Quonset huts and the grinder and find something else to do. He was a diehard Packer fan, to boot.

Anyway, having nothing better to do and loving football, I said, “Okay. Sure.”

We hitched a ride down to an enlisted man’s club sitting just south of San Clemente Beach, and we sat in a bar and watched Green Bay whip Kansas City.

View of the Pacific Ocean from the old Enlisted Men's Club at the beach on Camp Pendleton. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

View of the Pacific Ocean from the old Enlisted Men’s Club at the beach on Camp Pendleton where Rick Schaan and Ken Rodgers watched Super Bowl I. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Not long after, we were off to Vietnam, Schaan to his billet and me to the 26th Marines and eventually to Khe Sanh, the Siege.

Super Bowl II was played on January 14, 1968, between the Packers and the Oakland Raiders. Two months later I found out that the Packers won that game, too. I was sitting in Khe Sanh in the platoon commander’s hooch on radio watch, going through a pile of old Stars and Stripes.

I recall seeing the notice about the game and as I remember it now, contrary to all the blare and hoopla surrounding the professional sports these days, the report on Super Bowl II was short and somewhat buried beneath news about Korea, Germany, the war in Vietnam and the lists of who died in combat prior to the week of that particular issue.

That Stars and Stripes was months old, but that shouldn’t be surprising, given the delays getting mail in to us during the Siege. Sometimes we went days, even weeks, without seeing mail.

I can remember reading the newspaper report on the game, thinking about it, and consciously making a decision to put that piece of info back somewhere where it wouldn’t hinder my attempts to stay alive. When you are surrounded by thirty or forty thousand enemy determined to kill you, who wins the Super Bowl isn’t a particularly big deal.

Back then, football fans had their heroes—Jim Brown and Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas and Deacon Jones, to name a few—but in those days, athletes weren’t as well paid as they are now and they weren’t worshiped like they are now, as I remember it.
In the late 1960s a game was only a game and not a life-and-death event, contrary, it seems, to all the hype we get twenty-four/seven from the sports promoters and sports reporters who make a living convincing us these games are the most important things in the world.

Back when I was young a lot of the great athletes were veterans of either (or both) World War II and Korea, and had given up some of their playing careers to serve the country. Now, I rarely see the name of any veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan up in the sports’ heroes shining light hoopla.

Blog author, Ken Rodgers, while serving at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara.

Blog author, Ken Rodgers, while serving at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

It’s sad to me, that while we have thousands of our youth going out, losing legs, arms, suffering Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD or being killed, these sporting icons are getting paid all the money they make. I don’t blame these young stars for taking the money. It’s there and we, the American public, are willing to pay for all the hype.

And therein lies the irony. We have met the enemy and he is us, as I think the Walt Kelly cartoon character Pogo said. It’s us. We glorify these young athletes because they can run and jump and throw and think fast. I think we should be glorifying our returning service people, too. Imagine if they got paid like the sports stars of today. I don’t think it would take long for the public to send up a savage ballyhoo about the high cost of war.

I know I may be dreaming, but what if we increased the pay of these kids going off to war and gave them some real recognition instead of a “thank you for your service” as we head out the door to work, to work out, to go to a concert.

So, I may not watch the Super Bowl this year, because I’ve gotten kind of sick of all the fanfare about super jocks making super money for nothing more than a game. But I am certain I will wrestle with my Khe Sanh Siege depression and I will also lift my glass to all the younger warriors who are willing to use their arms and legs for something more important than scoring touchdowns.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this spring, summer or next 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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 16, 2016

On Navy Corpsmen

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on Navy Corpsmen and Marines

The latter part of 2015 was not especially kind to me. I had a serious surgery in September and in November I suddenly fell ill once again and suffered a somewhat sustained period of time in the VA hospital, about 45 days all told. I am now home and greatly improved, Thank You very much. I mention that only because it reminded me of a time long ago and the special folks who endeared themselves to me.

Never, in our glorious past has any one group of individuals EVER earned the respect and the admiration of Marines across the globe than our FMF Navy Corpsmen, more commonly referred to as “Doc.” Most folks have no idea what these brave men have endured just to be called Doc. They train with the Marines, they deploy with the Marines, and they patrol with the Marines. They are as much a Marine as anyone can be without actually enlisting. Not a patrol goes through the wire without Doc.

Doc is everywhere. He was on the beach at Tarawa and on every island campaign in the Pacific. There was even a Doc who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Doc was at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir when Chesty Puller’s men were withdrawing through that awful frozen (-30) tundra of North Korea. Doc not only tended to the wounded but was required to deal with many horrific amputations due to frostbite. Sometimes they had a real M.D. to help, but not very often.

Doc was in Lebanon in 1958 and again in 1983 when the Marine Barracks was attacked and over 200 Marines were lost. Doc is everywhere. Doc has been to all the little unknown conflicts most people have long since forgotten. Doc also went to a place that became known as “The Nam.”

2 January 1968. Bravo Company, 1/26 had been deployed Oct-Dec to 881 South. When we left the hill the day after Christmas, 1967, we ran a long operation up the Rao Quan River to the north. It was January when we got back and were assigned to the combat base. The NVA had broken a truce (SOOPRISE) and we were called back to the base. We sacked in with Alpha Company on the north side of the runway. By midnight, Danny Horton and I were delirious. We had not used our purification tablets which made our water non-potable, and as a result were really sick.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh.

Our platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, was dispatched to tend to us and we were taken straight away to a tent. A firefight had just erupted with members of Lima Company close to the tent we were in. I was so sick I never moved from the table. Everyone else was on the ground. This was the beginning of my very first hospital stay, if that is what you would call it.

I think I was there 16 days, maybe. They finally said we had amoebic dysentery. It can kill you if not properly treated. But Doc was there. This tent was known as the BAS, Battalion Aid Station. It was a dark, sandbagged hole in the ground. I don’t remember much of the first ten days but I know Doc took wonderful care of me. Soon I was discharged from BAS and sent back to Bravo. I was very weak.

I would see or hear about Doc’s brave actions many more times during the Siege. You see, the reason Marines love Doc is because they know that if they take a bullet, if they lose a limb to a mortar round and call for Doc, he will come, just like he has always done. It makes no matter how heavy the volley, Doc will charge into the guns to tend to his wounded Marines. He has always done so and he continues to do so to this day. Make no mistake, Doc for sure is one of our most unsung Heroes.

Doc Cicala from our 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, is a fine example. Shot through one of his lungs and with grenade fragments to his groin, he still continued on the day of the 25 February ambush doing what he could to help guide others who were literally crawling back to the perimeter on their stomachs.

Second Platoon’s Doc Thomas Hoody, who spent many nights braving the incoming artillery patching up Marines, would visit me in the night twice during the month of March to check on my wounds.

I am sure the Docs in first platoon showed every bit as much raw courage and bravery as well. But one of the most searing moments of my tour came on 30 March when Doc and I met up close and very personal when our roles were reversed in the middle of one of the bloodiest damn firefights of the entire war.

Richard Blanchfield had served better than 6 years as a United States Marine. He got out, enlisted in the United States Navy and became a Doc. He was a replacement for the Third Platoon on 30 March. He had only been there a few days at the most. I didn’t even know him.

By the time I met him, the entire company was at “Fix Bayonets” and we were definitely engaging Charley. In fact, we were all in a virtual dead run to get these guys who had killed so many of our fellow Marines. Doc Blanchfield was well ahead of me. He had already tended to a wounded Marine and had just got up on the edge of a bomb crater when mortars simply rained down on him and the whole command group as well.

When I reached the edge of the crater, he was about halfway down and sliding in the loose dirt. There were two dead Marines and numerous dead NVA in the crater. Those two Marines certainly earned their pay that day. Doc had, by this time, stuck 2 morphine needles in his own leg. His arm was nearly blown off at the shoulder. At first I was in as much shock as he was, but I regained my composure and began to tie him off. After slowing down the bleeding, I tied two battle dressings together and wrapped him all around so he at least wouldn’t do any more damage to what was left of his arm. I thought he would die.

The battle was still in full assault so I laid him back and comforted him as well as I could and left him. I have not seen him since but he did survive and miraculously his arm was saved.

Michael E. O'Hara

Michael E. O’Hara

After getting involved with the Khe Sanh Veterans in 1992 I found out Doc Blanchfield was living in Oceanside, California. We talk once a year on the phone. He has never failed to send me a card for each and every holiday since that first call. I still have not seen him. He was very pained by what happened to him and I understand. He did say Thank You that first call.

Like I said earlier, I was in the hospital over this past Veterans Day holiday. Most folks understand that 10 November is the Marine Corps Birthday, so we were also celebrating 240 years of glorious history. That is a very long time for sure, a time in which we have come to celebrate the lives and courageous acts of many from our ranks. I could write pages, even a book or two recounting all of our Heroes for sure.

A wheelchair-bound Marine (a volunteer) was my only visitor on this Marine Corps Birthday. He had lost both legs in Vietnam. We had a grand conversation. He brought me candy, S/F.

I have read a great deal about the wars of the last ten years and the men who have gone in my stead now that I am old and grey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you this generation is lost. I am just as proud of our young Marines today as I ever have been.

And never forget this: Wherever you find these Marines, you will find Doc, ready, willing and able to charge into the guns if necessary. He will, as he has always done, come when he hears the word Doc.

Semper Fidelis to our Navy Corpsmen everywhere you serve.

Michael E. O’Hara served with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during 1967 and 1968. He earned three Purple Hearts.

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

January 8, 2016

BRAVO! Gains International Recognition!

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Today’s guest blogger, the United Kingdom’s John Henden, ruminates on BRAVO!

BRAVO!

A REVIEW BY JOHN HENDEN

Bravo! is a documentary film which is neither pro-war nor anti-war. Using an extensive compilation of film archive, still photos and sound effects, the main impact of the film is provided by the moving personal testimonies of US Marine Corps veterans of the Battle of Khe Sanh, during the Vietnam War. It was the most intensive battle in the history of warfare, lasting 71 days.

Ken Rodgers, the writer of the film, has achieved a remarkable feat in providing the viewer with the most accurate account, to date, of the endurance, courage and heroism of the Marines from Bravo Company, who survived the siege from 20th January to 31st March 1968. Several of the veterans interviewed had suffered life changing mortal injuries in combat and others had found their own ways to overcome their mental wounds. One veteran interviewed said, “They never treated the mind. There was no preventative or proactive teaching.” Another said: “Shrinks don’t have a clue what to do with you.”

Despite the poor reception many received from their fellow Americans, when they returned, there was a determination to live on after.

John Henden. Photo Courtesy of John Henden.

John Henden. Photo Courtesy of John Henden.

Sponsored mainly by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, with financial support from countless others, this is an important film. It is an accurate portrayal of what really happened. Many of us well remember the news reports coming out of Khe Sanh during the war, but there is nothing more moving than the detailed descriptions of what really happened from the mouths of those who were there. The personal accounts, often through tears, from real people, paint a vivid picture.

This film is a must-see for military historians. Many Viet Vets, generally, could benefit also, as part of their making fuller sense of their experiences all those years ago; and some, as further steps towards full combat operational stress recovery.

John Henden, BA (Honours), RMN, Diploma in Counselling (University of Bristol), MBACP, FRSA, is a counselor, therapist and trainer who lives and works in the United Kingdom. John is a UK Military Welfare Workers’ Trainer as well as an internationally renowned author. Prior to founding the John Henden Consultancy, he worked in NHS mental health services for over 20 years, both as a manager and practitioner. His client list includes drug and alcohol agencies and young people’s counseling services. He has a background in psychology, is a qualified counselor and a member of the British Association of Counseling and Psychotherapy. He is a presenter at both the European Brief Therapy Association and Solutions in Organizations Link-up, being a co-founder of the latter. He has a special interest in the areas of suicide prevention and trauma and severe stress. He is the author of Preventing Suicide: the Solution Focused Approach (Wiley) and Beating Combat Stress: 101 Techniques for Recovery (Wiley-Blackwell). You can find out more about John at http://www.johnhendenconsultancy.co.uk/.

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. They make great gifts. 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,Vietnam War

December 30, 2015

After 48 Years, Pondering the Siege and the Men Who Fought There

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This time of year with all the celebratory hoorah around the holidays, I tend to let the Siege and its ramifications lie fallow while I have a good time with family and friends.

But after January 1, I know I grow reflective, and a little sullen, I suspect, as I begin to remember that event and not just the death and fear and mayhem of the battle itself, but the people who served there with me—the ones I can remember, anyway.

In this Christmas season, though, I have been thinking about the Marines and Corpsmen with whom I humped the hills, stood watch and ultimately was caught up with in the 77-day Siege.

I arrived at Bravo Company in late March 1967 so I had served in Nam ten months before the Siege began, and during that time I got to know a lot of Marines who had arrived before me and who rotated out before the Siege began. The names of some of those men escape me now, as do their faces, although occasionally I can see a face but the name won’t come to mind.

Marines of Bravo! Quiles Ray Jacobs and Dan Horton © Michael E. O'Hara

Marines of Bravo! Quiles Ray Jacobs and Dan Horton © Michael E. O’Hara

In Second Platoon I was pretty tight with Deedee and Belfontaine and Mitchell and Fritschie and Roman-Colsada and John T. Poorman and a lot of other Marines whom I had known fairly well in that special intimacy that only warriors know. But by January 21, 1968, those Marines had gone home, or in the case of Belfontaine, somewhere else in the Republic of Vietnam.

In my recollection, Bravo Company had a lot of men rotate back home in the fall and early winter of 1967-68 and a bevy of new guys arrive so that when the manure hit the big blower, a lot of our Marines and Corpsmen were pretty boot. I may have been one of only seven or eight men who had been in 2nd Platoon before we arrived at Khe Sanh in May of ’67.

Some of the guys who came in the fall became pretty good buddies of mine, but I don’t even recall well more than three of the men who arrived after the Siege began in January.

Combat veterans say that you don’t want to know the names of the new guys because if you get to know their names, then they become something more than a helmet and rifle and flak jacket; they become your mates and in a way more special than just acquaintances who walk the flanks or stand watch with you. And when they die, some part of you dies with them.

The names of almost all those new guys escape me now and I may have never known them back then. The three I clearly remember all died, one at Khe Sanh and two later when Bravo Company went south.

Marines of Bravo. Steve Foster and Doug Furlong Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines of Bravo. Steve Foster and Doug Furlong
Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

By the time I left the company, there were few old salts, just mostly young guys, some of them still wet behind the ears and just out of training. But man, what Marines they were. Proud of their heritage and their training. As were almost all our warriors in the Vietnam War, these were men from a wide range of ethnic roots and regional locations. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and whites. It was a mixed bag of backgrounds yet they hung together because hanging apart would have probably meant the complete destruction of the Khe Sanh Combat Base and the surrounding hilltop fortifications.

But I don’t think fear was the only motivation to fight side by side with people who were different from you. There was something more going on. Some of it was pride in the Corps and pride in the unit, but deeper than that was a realization that no matter how different the backgrounds, the dialect, the skin color, the religion, most of us recognized that these men, these fellow warriors, were decent human beings just trying to survive.

Some will point out that the enemy was probably a collection of similar kinds of folks and I won’t deny that. But when in war, the enemy is the enemy and not your friend, and those folks over there fighting for the other side had no difficulty killing us any way they could.

Though as former enemies, we could all meet in Khe Sanh today and shake hands and reminisce and admire each side’s fighting prowess and perhaps even become friends, but back in 1968 we were enemies bent on killing each other.

And that’s the way it was and that’s the way it is and I’m afraid that’s the way it will always be.

A lot of my friends who don’t like war—and who likes war?…certainly not me—may not care for the notion that we were enemies then but could be friends now. So why not be friends all the time?

Good question yet a moot point, I suspect.

Yet combat is in a most ways about killing and combat is a thing that has its own characteristics, its own thingness, so to speak, and inside that thingness is a metaphorical universe with attributes about how combat is and is not done. And in many instances, executing those attributes well is an admirable thing outside and beyond the moral aspects of war and killing.

And what I am trying to get at here is that these boot Marines, these new kids, operated inside, for the most part, the attributes of that thing—that combat, and in my mind are to be admired for their courage, dogged loyalty to the Corps and their fellow Marines. Yes, they are to be admired and revered and remembered.

So for those new Marines who came to Khe Sanh after January 21, 1968…wow. Here’s a holiday tip of my hat to every one of them who were dumped into the midst of bedlam. Semper Fidelis.

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. They make great gifts. 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

December 14, 2015

Giving Thanks

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December is the season of short days, long chilly nights and reflection on what has passed and what is to come. For many it is a season of giving and of thanks. Recently, Betty and I have been thinking about what we have that we wish to give thanks for.

Last October at the GI Film Festival San Diego, after the master of ceremonies announced BRAVO! as the winner of the Best Documentary Feature, I stood at the podium with the award in my hand and prepared to give some kind of speech, maybe something I had been planning for, should we be lucky enough to win.

But instead of any planned words I might have scratched on a three-by-five index card, what flooded into my head was a vision of all the people who have worked on this film or, in some way, helped move the process along be it actually being interviewed, working on the film, helping fund the film, sponsoring screenings, writing blogs, or graciously passing the word. We love every referral.

At that moment at the podium, faces dodged in and out of my mind. Some I recognized, some were avatars of sorts, for all the folks who have helped BRAVO! along the way whom Betty and I have yet to meet in person.

For us, filmmaking is a group affair: storytellers, video makers, editors, sound people, music folks, promoters, sponsors, funders and the list goes on and on.

Recently we gathered at the home of film sponsors Elaine Ambrose and Ken McKay for a celebration recognizing BRAVO!’s success at the GI Film Festival. Joined by some of our earliest supporters, we enjoyed talking about filmmaking, BRAVO!, and a host of other issues and ideas including our newest film project which we will announce very soon. A hearty Marine Corps ooorah to Elaine and Ken for their generous hospitality.

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.

That evening was one more example of the support we have received from our cohorts…cohorts in the creation of BRAVO!.

Literally hundreds and hundreds of people have stepped up to help us along the way and we wish to say THANK YOU for all you have done and continue to do.

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 and there is still time to order copies for the holidays. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. They make great Christmas gifts. 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.

America's Middle East Conflicts,Book Reviews,Documentary Film,Eulogies,Film Festivals,Film Reviews,Other Musings

December 3, 2015

November Remembered

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Ken and I often ponder the life of BRAVO! and marvel at its journey. This November, for example.

The Veteran Services Office and Omega Sigma Delta hosted Boise State University’s 2nd annual Veterans Week. The festivities included featuring a different branch of the Armed Forces each day. Appropriately, Tuesday November 10—the Marine Corps’ 240th birthday—was Marine Corps Day.

There was a student veteran’s art exhibit, flags on The Quad, and ribbons on a memory tree. There was faculty and staff education on PTSD and TBI. There were legal clinics, and an impressive all-day conference about understanding veterans’ issues. Featured experts were Dr. Larry Dewey (author of War and Redemption) and Dr. Brian Meyer from the HH McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, VA.

The Idaho National Guard Band at the BSU Veterans Day Festivities. Photo courtesy of Lori Sprague

The Idaho National Guard Band at the BSU Veterans Day Festivities. Photo courtesy of Lori Sprague

Wednesday was the first-rate Veterans Day Celebration in Boise State’s beautiful Stueckle Sky Center. Attending with a great variety of veterans, professors, students, musicians, and other citizens, we enjoyed a tasty buffet, moving words from honored guest speakers Travis Hayes (President of Omega Delta Sigma) and Mischa Brady (Post Commander at VFW Capitol City Post 63), and live music by the Gowen Field Army National Guard. The program concluded with songs by the Garfield Elementary Choir. Their earnest and accomplished singing brought a tear to the eye.

Later that evening, BRAVO! was shown to an appreciative audience at the Student Union Building, followed by an exemplary guest panel of veterans, moderated by Sheldie Stetz. On the panel, Vietnam veteran Col. (Ret) Delbert Provant was joined by present-day war veterans Mischa Brady, Amanda Carling, Matt Thorusen, and Brandon Woodard. Their responses to questions were thoughtful, honest, and wise, garnering tremendous respect from the audience.

To have BRAVO! included in such a week at an American university reminds us once again that the job of our film is to educate. We look forward to many more similar events. It was an honor to be included on the planning committee with Lori Sprague, Dr. Chris Wuthrich, Travis Hayes, Mark Heilman, Norma Jaeger, Josh Bode, Corinna Provant-Robishaw, and John McGuire.

The panel for the screening of BRAVO! @ Boise State on Veterans Day. L to R: Sheldie Stetz, Mischa Brady, Amanda Carling, Matt Thorusen, Colonel Delbert Provant, Brandon Woodard. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

The panel for the screening of BRAVO! @ Boise State on Veterans Day. L to R: Sheldie Stetz, Mischa Brady, Amanda Carling, Matt Thorusen, Colonel Delbert Provant, Brandon Woodard. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers


* * *
Speaking of honors, we were thrilled to have BRAVO! featured at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, on November 21. The screening was scheduled in conjunction with The Wall That Heals. According to organizer Ron Reyes, there was a packed house for the film. Here are excerpts from his report:

“We had VFW, DAV, American Legion, and a lot of representation from different branches.

“…I went into why this is an important film with a rare glimpse of how Marines speak to each other.

“(In addition to the seating) there was a large area to stand and I know we had several people standing. I stepped out and watched the film and the crowd from the terrace above…This was a great viewing area for me, and allowed me to have a beer in honor of dad, and reflect.

“They had a stage and a podium set up with a mic stand on either side…I took a hand mic, and gave one to my son so he could run from person to person. That turned out to be a good bonding moment for me and my son.

“March 30, 1968, Payback Patrol was a significant day for our family, as that was the day my father was killed not too far away… Being a Gold Star Son always catches people off guard, and usually opens someone up to tell their story…The thought was to talk a little to get the session going, and…(then) Vietnam Vets spoke. It was very important for each vet to be able to connect, to be heard. It didn’t matter if they drove a general or loaded bombs or fought like hell. It all mattered.

“The event was a success and everyone involved was happy for the turnout.”

Ron’s father, PFC Ronald Reyes who served with 1st battalion/9th Marines, died at the Khe Sanh Combat Base in 1968 just two weeks after he learned he had a son. Ron said his father risked enemy fire while running from bunker to bunker passing out cigarettes in celebration. In just three days, Ron will leave for Vietnam with a group of other Gold Star Sons and Daughters to hopefully stand near the spot where his father gave his life.

Photo of part of the audience at the screening of BRAVO! at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Photo of part of the audience at the screening of BRAVO! at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

And so our journey goes: Meeting heroes of every modern conflict, the people who care about them, and Gold Star Sons and Daughters. It is a great honor and a privilege.

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. They make great Christmas gifts. 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.