Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Bravo Company’

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

September 5, 2018

I’d Rather Take a Beating

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When my father died, one of his friends stood outside the chapel before the funeral service and told me, “I’d rather take a beating than go in there.”

I’ve often thought about that moment and I’ve even used the phrase from time to time, but I particularly felt that emotion twelve days ago as we laid Bravo Company, 1/26’s Skipper, Ken Pipes, in the ground at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The Skipper passed on in April, and in May there was a memorial service for him, but it didn’t seem like matters would be settled for family, friends and his Marines until he was finally interred in the place he wished to be laid to rest.

Getting the Skipper buried there turned out to be a four-month chore for his family and friends, and took the efforts of General Neller, the Commandant of the Marines Corps, General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, to override the bureaucratic layers that seemingly obstructed the Skipper’s last wishes at every turn. And it took a friend of BRAVO! Marines and the Skipper, Mr. PJ Staab, to help the family negotiate the heartburn of getting the appropriate location within the cemetery so that the Skipper’s wife, Sharon, could be buried next to him when her time arrives.

Left to right, Sharon, Conner, Sandra and Tim Pipes. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The graveside service for the Skipper itself was well done and the folks who showed up, including a number of Skipper Pipes’ family, friends, former Sheriff’s Department pals, military contacts, Marines and Corpsmen, witnessed a fine ceremony conducted by the family pastor and the United States Marine Corps, lead by Brigadier General Ryan Heritage, commanding general at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. General Heritage presented the ceremonial flag to Mrs. Pipes.

There was a rifle salute, a rendition of taps and a placing of mementos in and around Skippers burial urn, made by his son Tim.

The weather that day began with a light cloud cover but by the time we arrived at the service, it had turned sunny with a slight breeze from the Pacific Ocean to our west.

I served with Lt Colonel Pipes fifty years ago and for a long time I didn’t think of him often unless a flash of unpleasant combat memory invaded my thoughts. Even after our reintroduction in 1993, he wasn’t yet a big part of my life. But after making BRAVO!, that all changed and we became pretty close and talked often about . . . well, a lot of things.

The Skipper’s Urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Betty and I went to visit Sharon and the Skipper a number of times at his home in Fallbrook, usually associated with some event related to the film. He and I would sit out on his back patio and drink coffee, and invariably our talk would turn to the events of early 1968 at Khe Sanh.

We’d recall people and actions, death and horror, and quite often our palaver would veer into the realm of the intellectual. Discussions on the nature of war and combat and the behavior of individuals in the stressed world of a full-blown siege.

Earlier I mentioned my father, and it is interesting to me as I write this blog that he and I never had the kind of discussions about war and men that the Skipper and I had. Father and I didn’t discuss those sort of things because he had no combat experience even though he was an Army top sergeant in World War II, serving in India.

The Smith Brothers, Lt Colonel John and Lt Colonel Michael, add insignias to the Skipper’s urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

But the Skipper and I, yeah, we could talk about those things and reminisce and rue the deaths of all those fine men with whom we served.

And in some ways, since my father has been dead for almost thirty years, Lt Colonel Pipes became a kind of father figure to me. Someone who understood what I had become post-combat. Someone who’d felt the rage, the fear, the grinding memories that refuse to relent their hold on how a survivor of long-term combat sees the world he or she lives in.

We would sit and remember the men associated with the names of the dead and the living and our reactions—or mine did, at least—welled up from the soles of my feet, roared up through my legs into my innards and often made themselves manifest by the tears that eked out of my eyes, forcing me to look away and fight to get control of my emotions.

He was brutally honest with me about how he felt about the Siege and the men with whom he served. Sometimes the discussion turned loud and raucous as we recalled one of our comrades who acted out as big as all the hills around Khe Sanh. We talked quietly, we argued, and then agreed, then argued again, then hugged. What we knew, down in the bottom of our guts, no one else knew unless they had undergone the terrible initiation into the club of those who have faced the awful fangs of combat. And we tried to articulate that. He liked to call it, “riding the elephant and looking the tiger in the eye.”

He could rocket from laughter to rage to laughter. He pondered man’s inhumanity to man. He kept close watch for those who would harm his loved ones. Not unlike me.

Ken Pipes understood things about me that my real father never understood, and because the Skipper is now gone, there will be a big void in my life and I’d rather take a beating than think about that.

To know him was a privilege, a gift.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

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

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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

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

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

July 30, 2018

Wayne Moore

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Sometimes the work we do with the story of Bravo Company, 1/26, resonates in unexpected places.

Recently, I received the text below from someone who lost a friend, a Marine named Wayne Moore, who served with Bravo at Khe Sanh. Wayne was killed in action—for which he was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for valor—on what has become known as the Payback Patrol of March 30, 1968.

Wayne Moore’s photo on the Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces

Betty and I thought it worth sharing the message we received.

Hi,

I recently watched your documentary on the Battle of Khe Sanh and was amazed at what I had learned.

I knew one of the Marines mentioned several times that was KIA on 3/30/1968; his name was Wayne Moore. After 50 years I finally found out what had happened to the man that meant so much to myself and my family.

My Mom and Dad worked with Wayne in a furniture shop and were very impressed by him. So impressed we asked him to dinner a few times and then asked him to live with us in our home in Plymouth MA.

He dated my sister Linda and they were later married.

He was an extremely talented musician (played a Burns of London guitar) and played in a band as lead guitarist and vocalist. He was amazing.

Wayne Moore, center, playing his guitar,before joining the Marine Corps. His brother-in-law, John Hammer, is the drummer on the left. Photo courtesy of John Hammer.

I was a few years younger than him and he was like a big brother. He changed my life in ways that are still with me today, over 60 years later.

When he was KIA, my sister was devastated along with myself and parents. He was a figure larger than life and his death shocked us to our core.

I am the only remaining person of the people I mentioned and am now the only one that knows what happened on the day of his death in 1968.

I will be forever grateful to you and the fellow Marines that helped to make this project, especially Steve Wiese who seemed to know him the best.

If you could forward this to Steve so he can add these things to Wayne’s memory, I would truly appreciate it.

Steve Wiese. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Again, thank you for your efforts to bring the enormity of the Battle of Khe Sanh to life. Hearing his name and how he was killed was something that means a great deal to me.

John Hammer

Sometimes I wish that we could move beyond the seemingly eternal nature of the story of Bravo Company at Khe Sanh, and put those long ago events behind me, but getting messages like Mr. Hammer’s makes the ongoing efforts worthwhile.

Here is a link to Wayne Moore’s page on the Wall of Faces: http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/34976/WAYNE-P-MOORE.

***

On a separate subject, we wish to announce that Bravo Company’s Skipper, the late Lieutenant Colonel Ken Pipes, will be interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California, on August 24, 2018 at 10:00 AM.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

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

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

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

***

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

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

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

July 11, 2018

Abandoned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

NEWS!

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

April 25, 2018

April 25–50 Years Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

NEWS!

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

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

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

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

***

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

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

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

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War,Warhawk Air Museum

April 16, 2018

At the Warhawk Air Museum

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On April 7, 2018, BRAVO! was screened to an over-flow crowd at Nampa, Idaho’s Warhawk Air Museum. The day began with a bluster but turned off to be beautiful as people from all over Idaho’s Treasure Valley and beyond came out to see the film and participate in the panel discussion that followed.

Around five hundred folks showed up and were greeted by the friendly museum staff. A bonus to anyone who came to see the film was a chance to tour the Warhawk’s spacious environs and spend time learning about the warplanes on exhibit and the lives of warriors whose memorabilia has been shared with the museum.

Vietnam veterans visit with members of the Eagle chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

If you come to Idaho, this is one of the places you might want to visit. The bulk of the exhibits are intensely personal and speak to the visitors about the men and women who have put their lives on the line for something they believe in, their country.

Besides the exhibits, the Warhawk is instrumental in working with schools to ensure that the military history of America gets taught. They are also involved in Honor Flights for World War II vets to visit Washington DC. An additional asset they provide the community is interviewing veterans on video. The finished products are sent to the Library of Congress as well as the interviewees. The Warhawk schedules a wide variety of special events as well as a monthly Kilroy Coffee Klatch on the first Tuesday of every month where guest speakers present programs of interest. The Klatch is free to veterans.

At the screening, the Eagle, Idaho, chapter of the Daughters or the American Revolution provided snacks and water, and the Boise Police Department’s Honor Guard sang the National Anthem à capella.

Boise Police Department Honor Guard singing the National Anthem. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

As always, when large groups of people gather to view BRAVO!, the combined empathy in the facility was palpable. And the emotional power emanating from the crowd poured over into the discussion afterwards. On hand to talk about the Siege of Khe Sanh were BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees who came over with his family from the La Grande, Oregon area, Dennis Ross, also from eastern Oregon who flew B-52s over the battlefield of Khe Sanh, Dave Crosby, a flight engineer on C-130s that came in several times a day to keep us supplied with ammo, chow and mail, and Phil Nuchereno, who served with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during the Siege. BRAVO! co-producer and co-director Ken Rodgers was also on the panel.

The audience heard some different points of view from what normally arises in these panel discussions following screenings of BRAVO!. Besides hearing about the men trapped in the combat base, we heard from men who flew bombing missions to beat back the NVA and men who made the dangerous journeys into the base to keep the warriors of Khe Sanh stocked with the necessities of surviving a siege and men who were outside the base, on the hills, running patrols to interdict NVA forces moving to overrun the base.

One of the surprises of the day happened right after the screening and before the panel discussion when we asked everyone who had been at Khe Sanh to come forward for a group photo. Five additional men who had served with the Army and the Marines came forward and we got to meet some new friends.

A big thanks to the Warhawk Air Museum’s John and Sue Paul, Colonel Pat Kilroy, Heather Mullins and the crew of efficient, personable volunteers who made this event one of the big milestones in BRAVO!’s history of film screenings. Thanks too, to veteran Frank Turner who came up with the original idea to screen the event to commemorate the Siege of Khe Sanh after fifty years.

Mike Shipman of Blue Planet Photography shot photos for the event. Mike has been a stout supporter of BRAVO! from the beginning. So here’s a shout out to Mike and you can find out more about his work here.

Some of the Khe Sanh veterans who attended the screening at the Warhawk Air Museum. Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman/Blue Planet Photography.

Thanks also to Barbara Grant and the caring members of the DAR for their unsung work providing repast to our audience.

We would also like to thank KTVB Channel 7 for enthusiastically getting the word out, and the Idaho Division of Veterans Services for helping sponsor the event.

Screenings like this are one way we keep the discussion rolling forward about what war and its aftermath is really like and as a way to recognize our military veterans.

Ooorah!

You can find out more about the Warhawk Air Museum and all they do for veterans and the community at large here.

***
NEWS!

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

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

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

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

***

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

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

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

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

April 11, 2018

Home

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Fifty Years Gone—April 11, 1968

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

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

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

Iwo Jima from the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I just shut up.

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

***
NEWS!

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

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

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

***

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

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

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

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

April 9, 2018

Big News for BRAVO! on Amazon Prime

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Dear friends of Bravo! – Our film has just hit Prime Video on Amazon! We couldn’t be more excited because now this profound story is available via streaming to an entirely new audience!

It has been a long and wonderful journey to bring our labor of love to this point, and it’s all due to the many people who have come alongside to make it a reality. First was receiving Bravo Company Skipper Ken Pipes’ endorsement, then the encouragement from film experts Lance and Pamela Thompson. We knew we were on our way when the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation gave us a start-up grant. Next came the men who said, “Yes, I will tell my story,” and making the connection with the late Mark Spear who became our perceptive videographer. Of course Bravo! would not be the film it is today without the heart, talent, and expertise of our incredible editor, John Nutt, who provided the top-notch editing and post production.

BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR

Since then, we could never begin to list the people who have become a big part of Bravo! with their encouragement, financial support, feedback, screenings, DVD purchases and a myriad of other efforts that have spread this story far and wide, ultimately helping to touch the hearts of thousands of veterans and others. Now we believe that on Amazon, our film will touch thousands of more lives.

Amazon will help Bravo! reach this new audience if it gets 100 reviews before the end of April. We’d be most grateful if you and your friends would show your support of these courageous men by leaving a heartfelt review (however brief), and a rating. Could you take a few minutes to help us with this? If so, click the link below and stream the film (you can let it run in the background if you’ve already seen it, but you must stream the entire film).

THANK YOU for helping us with this exciting milestone for Bravo!. As always, we really appreciate your support.

Click here to go to Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor on Amazon Prime.

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

April 6, 2018

Juxtaposition

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

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

Susan Parker. Photo courtesy of Susan Parker

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

Juxtaposition—March 30, 1968

By Susan Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so she did.

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

April 4, 2018

Out of This Place

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50 Years Gone—April 4, 1968

Early that morning, I got the word to go home. Staff Sergeant A stomped down the trench and told me as I sat with Marines of 3rd Squad sharing C-ration coffee and unfiltered Camels and palavering about women and GTOs.

He’d told me twice before that I was going home: once, the day after the Payback Patrol, and then two days later, only to find out he was joking, as he liked to call it. When he said that, “I’m just joking,” he laughed and leaned over and slapped his quadriceps.

I didn’t think it was funny. And on this particular morning, as I looked at him like he was full of crap, he glared at me like all staff non-commissioned officers in the Marine Corps were wont to do. I still didn’t believe him, and I sat there looking into his eyes and I’m sure my feelings swarmed across my face.

Photo of Dong Ha, 1968. Reminiscent of the transient barracks where the blogger spent the night of 4-4-68. Photo from Pinterest.

He said, “Get up and go home, Rodgers. That’s an order.” And he clomped off.

I followed him down to the platoon command post and stuck my head in and Lieutenant D said, “Good luck, Rodgers, you’ve been a pretty good Marine. Occasionally damned good. Sometimes not so good. Gather your gear and get down to the company CP and report to Captain Pipes.” He got off his cot and stuck out his hand. His big mitt enveloped mine as we shook.

I divvied up my M-16 magazines and poncho liners and other gear among any of the men who needed them and figured I’d fight it out later with the supply personnel when I showed up short of gear in Phu Bai.

I walked up and down the trench slapping hands and jive-assing with everybody in 2nd Platoon that I knew, and then marched for the company CP. When I stuck my face into the bunker men crammed the innards: radio operators, the company gunny, the executive officer and Captain Pipes who sat against the sandbagged walls with his arm in a sling and other parts of his head and torso bandaged due to the wounds he received on the Payback Patrol.

The executive officer told me I was a day early, and that I should go back to 2nd Platoon. Captain Pipes asked me what platoon I was in, and when I told him I was in 2nd Platoon and was the platoon sergeant’s radio operator, he asked me if I’d been out there on Payback (we didn’t call it that, then, we called it March 30th). I nodded and he smiled. In an earlier blog where I wrote about Christmas Eve, I said that when Captain Pipes smiled at me back then, it was the only time a Marine Corps captain had ever smiled at me. But it wasn’t because he smiled as I stood there at that moment. And he said, “Let him go.”

The executive officer sent me down to Battalion where I explained my situation to a bunch of corporals who sent me to see sergeants who referred me to staff NCOs who sent me on to see a major who sat alone in a big room in a deep bunker. This is one of the damndest memories I have of this experience. When he asked me if I’d been on the Payback Patrol and I said, “Yes, Sir,” he took my orders and signed them and then he stood, snapped to attention and saluted me. For a moment I felt flummoxed, and then I saluted him back. Then he shook my hand. That was pretty amazing, a major saluting me in reverse order of how it should be.

I headed for the LZ where the helicopters came in to deliver men and gear and pick up men and body bags filled with people killed in action.

On the way down there, I stopped and looked off to the southwest to Hill 471 which was under assault from elements of the Walking Dead, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. As I watched the tiny figures head up that hill, I thought about hand-to-hand combat, bombs and incoming, dead people. And then I went on down to the LZ where I sat for hours as chopper after chopper came in. When I tried to get on each one, the crew chief would shake his head or yell, “That’s a negative, Marine.”

Sometime during my wait, another Marine showed up who’d been through training with me back in The World. He was also going home. He was a lance corporal whose last name was R. He looked battered, skinny, his face gaunt after seventy-some-odd-days of incoming and pitched battles. He needed a new set of dungarees.

We chatted, but not much, mostly just sat there as I pondered all I’d seen. The horrors and the blood and the flesh separated from the tendons and bones of men I’d come to revere. Every time a loud noise sounded, R would flinch and so would I, and I wondered if I looked as bad as he did, and then I understood that I did.

A pile of filled body bags were stacked against a sandbagged revetment. I kept looking at them and wondering if I knew any of the intelligences that had once inhabited the remains.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

Late in the day, a CH-46 came in and R and I got on along with those body bags. On the flight to Dong Ha, even though I was ordered to do so, I refused to sit down in case we took anti-aircraft fire through the bottom of the bird. I wanted to make the smallest target possible.

At Dong Ha I checked into the transient barracks and spent over an hour in the hot shower trying to get the red mud of Khe Sanh out of the pores of my skin, as if cleansing myself of the dirt of that place would purge me of all that I had seen.

Later, after chow—real chow, hot chow—I stood outside the mess tent with a group of Marines, one of whom I’d known well in boot camp and ITR. For several hours I listened to men talk about Tet and Hue and Con Thien, including that Marine. I could tell by the way he kept staring at me that he wanted to hear my tale. But I didn’t say anything about anything.

No words could dig their way from my thoughts to my mouth.

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

March 30, 2018

Cutting the Mustard—March 30—Fifty Years Ago

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In situations where folks failed to accomplish a goal, my father used to say, “He can’t cut the mustard,” like Mickey Mantle striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven of the World Series. He’d say, “Couldn’t cut the mustard.” So as I write this, I wonder if one of the big reasons I joined the Marine Corps was to see if I could “cut it.”

A lot of folks join the Marines because they think it offers excitement and adventure and an opportunity to test one’s mettle. My experience at Khe Sanh tested me in ways I never imagined beforehand, and none sticks in my mind so much as March 30, 1968. Some images that come forth:

– Before dawn, the fog, the trench prior to going out the gate to attack a battalion of NVA. Not a word uttered, just Marines weighed down with grenades, M72 Light Anti-tank Weapons, magazines for M-16s, belts of machine gun ammo. Warriors leaning against the red mud trench walls smoking cigarettes, the fiery ends like beacons at the edge of the world. And then out we go.

– A mortar crashing between Staff Sergeant A and me, blowing both of us onto our butts. A chunk of shrapnel embedded in my head. In my mind, a sensation like the ripples one sees after a stone is tossed into a pool of water. A peaceful few seconds where I am not caught in a life-or-death sequence of savage events.

What Khe Sanh looked like at the end of the Siege. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely.

– At the top of the ridge, watching First and Third Platoons in the enemy trench. The noise, the smoke, the death. Getting doctored by the Corpsman while the Gunny worries if I’m alright. His hands shaking. And that shakes me up—that old battler being frightened.

– Then into the enemy trench as Marines drop grenades and satchel charges into bunkers manned by the NVA. Our guys burning them out with flame throwers.

– The dead littering the trenches, the shattered ground around. Sallow-faced dead men, and hard to know if they are theirs or ours.

– Moving to the front of the battle, seeing a machine gunner thump an ammo humper with an M60. Me knowing that the humper didn’t cut the mustard.

– Running past the Company Command Post that’s hunkered in a bomb crater. A North Vietnamese prisoner on his knees. A barrage of enemy mortars falling into the command post. Smoke clouds and mud eruptions. As the chaos clears, most of the Marines lying on the deck, dead or wounded, and if not, standing there drenched in blood. Someone shooting the prisoner with an M1911A .45 caliber pistol. The prisoner’s head jerking as he falls on his back.

– Being out front in the blasted terrain where our advance ends, calling in an artillery barrage to protect us from their counter attack as we retire and gather our dead and wounded.

– Being sent with Lieutenant M who has lost his radio operator. He keeps jumping out of the trench as we head back to the combat base. I keep telling him to get back in the trench because he will set off booby traps. But he is a lieutenant (although a very new one) and I’m an enlisted man. The next time he jumps out of the trench, he does what I feared. He trips a booby trap. A round erupts out of the ground and strikes him. Since his back is to me I can’t see what happens but it stops him cold and I know it is a white phosphorus round of some kind because the squiggly white guts of the thing come flying at me and some of them hit me in the face. I curse him. Not once, but many times and scold him as I approach to see what kind of damage he’s encountered. When I get even with him and then in front, I see the round has smashed him in the chin and lower jaw. It’s all white smoke and stink and Willie Peter (what we call white phosphorus.) I pack his face with red mud, since Willie Peter burns on contact with oxygen. I get him to the temporary aid station at the rear of the battle field. Willie Peter, I keep thinking at the time, is poisonous. I imagine that the white phosphorus that hit my face is burning deadly holes in me, so I pack red mud on the spots. I curse the lieutenant again.

– On the way back into Khe Sanh Combat Base, the sky is yellow and filled with smoke. Explosions from our stuff, 105mm artillery and bombs dropped by our Phantoms.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the late Dan Horton.

-Marines walking down the road and hitting the deck every time enemy rockets scream in. Hitting the deck jolts my head, my neck, my knees, jams the lip of my helmet into my upper spine.

– I spy two Marines dragging a dead body. I get close and see the back of the corpse’s flak jacket and even though the dead Marine is dragged face down in the dirt, I know it is Corporal A, who begged me the night before to take his dog tags and a letter to his parents telling them he would die on this patrol. I didn’t take the letter or his dog tags. I screamed at him, “if you feel that way, it’s what will happen.” It bothers me that he is being dragged like that, like he is something not worth picking up and carrying. But I don’t do anything about it.

Something about my failure to help him still haunts me and the shrapnel still resides in my skull.

***

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.