Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Bravo’

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

May 31, 2017

Fire In The Hole!

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Spring started off with a bang for BRAVO!. The City of Idaho Falls in conjunction with Idaho Humanities Council and the Veterans Affairs Committee of Eastern Idaho sponsored a screening of BRAVO! in Idaho Falls’ historic Colonial Theater on April 6, 2017.

Over one hundred folks attended the screening which was followed by the audience’s spirited discussion of the film with a panel of Vietnam vets, a Vietnam-era vet, and a veterans’ counselor. Thanks to Mr. Ed Maronh and Mr. Bob Skinner and Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper along with the folks at the Idaho Falls Arts Council, the Colonial Theater, the City of Idaho Falls, the Idaho Humanities Council and the Military Affairs Committee of Eastern Idaho for their efforts in making the screening a big success.

Entrance to the Colonial Theater, Idaho Falls, Idaho

One of the most gratifying experiences for us was the number of youngsters who came to the event and who had a number of great questions about the history of the war and about current affairs including US involvement in the wars of the Middle East.

A number of folks also introduced themselves as teachers and college professors who entertained interest in showing the film to their students. We always love seeing BRAVO! used as an educational tool.

Coming up on the screening front: On or around Veterans Day, 2017, BRAVO! will be screened in Santa Fe. Please stay tuned for details.

Since since tomorrow is June 1, 2017, we thought a look back at some events and experiences in Vietnam fifty years ago, around June 1, 1967, would fit the moment.

The men of Bravo Company, 26th Marine Regiment, were dug in on the crest of wet and breezy Hill 881 South, not far south of the DMZ, not far from Laos, and west of the Khe Sanh combat base. At that time we Marines were patrolling off the hill, down tree lined draws, into monstrous swamps, along the ridges and into the shattered tree line of Hill 881 North, wearing only soft covers and no flak jackets.

That behavior would soon change, and we’d begin to go out of the wire wearing flak jackets and helmets. On June 7, 1967, elements of Bravo would walk into an ambush sprung by North Vietnamese troops that would leave 19 Marines and Navy Corpsmen dead and because the men were not wearing helmets and flack jackets, the damage inflicted by the NVA was much worse.

I remember enjoying going out on patrol without worrying about flak jackets and helmets, all the extra weight and the rivers of sweat they generated. But after June, 7, I didn’t mind wearing that extra gear.

As for June 1 itself…according to the command chronologies of the 1st Battalion 26th Marines, Bravo Company didn’t even go outside the wire on that date other than the requisite listening posts and ambushes (referred to quite often as “night activities”) that sneaked outside the concertina wire after dusk and hustled back before the sun came up.

It might have been about June 1 that we knocked down the copse of tall trees that obscured the fields of fire in front of 2nd Platoon’s sector down on the southern end of the hill.

I remember being on a work detail with a combat engineer—I think his name was Treadway—stuffing a satchel of C-4 plastic explosives inside a big roll of barbed wire. We inserted a blasting cap into one of the C-4 sticks, ran the wire back to a claymore mine detonator, and then we all ducked.

“Fire in the hole!”

What had once been a stately stand of very tall trees was gone. We knew it before the smoke cleared from the explosion. We knew it because as we knelt in the trench the overhead whine and whistle of what once was barbed wire and statuesque trees hurtled over our heads..

After that, we could see quite well, down to where the bend of the terrain turned steep towards the creek that babbled way below.

We needed to see so the NVA didn’t sneak up on us in the night and cut our throats. We had to destroy the trees and underbrush to clear our fields of fire. It was going on all over the Vietnam war zone from south to north. The enemy used the cover to his advantage and we destroyed the cover. Fire, explosives, bombs and Agent Orange. We needed to kill the trees.

The trench line on Hill 881 South.

Those early days of June 1967 were also encounters with huge rats and snakes and dripping mist and nights on listening posts with leeches crawling up your nose and into your mouth. It was violent thunderstorms with barrages of hail and so much precipitation that the runoff barreled down the trenches.

We were covered in mud and shivered, the skin of our hands wrinkled with too much moisture. Nasty sores that oozed puss day and night and hurt every time you moved appeared on arms and legs. Huge hives hung in the bamboo patches with the meanest bees in the universe. When they attacked, they came full bore and in depth, leaving the Marines who were unlucky enough to disturb the hive with hands and faces swollen several times their normal size.

But yeah, compared to what we encountered a week later on 6/7/67, or seven months later when the Siege of Khe Sanh began, these inconveniences were really nothing.

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.

Film Festivals,Other Musings

September 24, 2015

BRAVO! Accepted into the G I Film Festival San Diego

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We have great news to announce! BRAVO! has been accepted in the inaugural GI Film Festival San Diego! Thanks to the Skipper (Ken Pipes) and his son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Sandra, we learned about this film festival and sent in our application. Lo and behold, we are in and scheduled with a prime time slot! What makes us happiest about this is that it couldn’t be more appropriate for BRAVO!’s first film festival, since every man in the film went to Camp Pendleton (San Diego County) for staging to go to Vietnam. San Diego County is where the story begins. And it’s the home of Bravo Company’s illustrious commander. Perfect.

GIFF-Laurel-three-colors

Ken and I will be driving to San Diego for the event. We would love it if each and every one of you could be there, too, but we know some of you cannot. If you ARE able to join us, we’d love to visit with you.

In order to get the attention of folks who could help BRAVO! find a national audience, the most important thing we can do right now is sell out the theater. This gets their attention. There are 200 seats, and anything you can do to help would be deeply appreciated.

BRAVO! will be shown at 12:30 PM on Sunday, October 18. The theater is located very near where last year’s Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion was held. It is located off the 163 freeway in the bottom section of the Hazard Center just off Friars Rd. (7510 Hazard Center Drive, San Diego, CA 92108.)

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Here is the link to purchase tickets. There is a discount for veterans and military, as well as members of KPBS public television. Scroll down to BRAVO!, and we encourage you to take a look at the rest of the festival, too.

We will be creating a Facebook “event” which you are welcome to “share.” It’s a great way to help get the word out.

The best part of this wonderful news is that it means more and more people will see and be aware of this story.

A heartfelt thank you to each one of you, in the film or not, for your interest, participation and encouragement in this journey. It has meant everything to us.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

December 4, 2014

On Letters Home

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I found them in an old blue binder, one of those flimsy ones with a cheap vinyl cover. All the letters I sent to my family while I was in the service from 1966 through 1969. I had no idea my mother had kept them. As I re-read them, I was surprised by a number of things: back then I had very poor penmanship although it was much more legible than it is now; I initially wrote in cursive, something that one sees very little of these days; I was naive at the beginning of my Vietnam tour, cynical and somewhat bitter at the end; except for several letters sent berating the anti-war protesters back home after we Khe Sanh defenders got infamous on the covers of Time and Life and Newsweek, for the most part, I shined my parents on about what was going on in the places I was located in Vietnam.

An envelope I used to write my parents while I was in Vietnam. © Ken Rodgers 2014

An envelope I used to write my parents while I was in Vietnam.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote on March 28, 1967, the day I got to Danang, Vietnam:

“Instead of getting 3-4 weeks of jungle training in Okinawa, we got 60 hours of shots, blood donating, plus work parties. We got here at 3:30 this morning via Continental Airlines. We’ve just been sitting around in the filth and heat and humidity–getting sticky and dirty…”

Or this from November 17, 1967:

“I got a new pair of jungle boots today–my other pair, 5-1/2 months old, were literally falling apart at the seams.”

On January 8, 1968 I wrote:

“By the time you receive this letter I should have only about 90 days left in country.”

On February 26, 1968:

“A newsman from NBC got my picture the other day. Look for my flick on TV.”

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

On March 10, 1968, I wrote a diatribe, what I described at the time as “podium pounding” that included deleterious comments about the North Vietnamese and about the war protesters at home. Some of the more plain vanilla narrative from that letter follows:

“…we aren’t sitting around waiting to die, we are sitting around waiting for the time we can go home because we are alive and are going to live because it takes more than 16,000 (the real number of NVA was closer to 40,000)…idiots to beat 5000 (the real number of US personnel–USMC, Navy, Army, Air Force and South Vietnamese allies was closer to 6000) Marines face to face…”

As I read these letters I reflected on how long it took for letters to get delivered from my family and friends to me while I was at Khe Sanh, and vice versa, how long it took for mine to get home. It usually took weeks for correspondence to get from back-in-the-real-world (as we called it) to me in the bush. Oftentimes letters and packages got lost. Mail was our lifeline from the “real world.” It helped keep our morale up, helped stiffen our spines.

Photo of part of a letter I wrote my parents on March 28, 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. By this time I was trying printing my words as a way to make my letters more legible. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Photo of part of a letter I wrote my parents on March 28, 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. By this time I was trying printing my words as a way to make my letters more legible.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

Now, troops overseas can communicate almost instantly with the folks back home. Besides the old method—the mail—one can telephone, email, Skype, video teleconference and instant message. Same results, I think, but the immediacy of it all, I suspect, makes those direct contacts pretty common should a warrior choose it to be so.

Back in my day, you could go to Danang and wait in line in the middle of the night to call home. I only knew of one or two Marines who took advantage of the service. Most of the time I was mired in the bush and Danang was a long ways off, and when in Danang I was going somewhere, to a school or on R&R or to raise some hell at China Beach.

Think about how it must have been for Caesar’s legionnaires back in 53 BC. Correspondence must have taken months, if it happened at all, and once a warrior tromped off to Gaul, he may never be heard from again.

For most of us, family ties are strong and the memories of home and thoughts of returning there are a powerful bond that help Marines keep their spirits up and allows them to function whether it be on watch, on a work party or in battle.

While we fought in Vietnam, our loved ones needed our letters. We needed theirs.

On the screening front, we are pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Vietnam War

November 19, 2014

On Sweet Pacific Breezes and Film Screenings, Reunions and Survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

November 12, 2014

On Rosie the Welder and Other Folks Who Served Our Country

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I used to travel to Sonoma County, California, back in the early seventies and it seemed to me the place seethed with hatred of our war efforts in not just Vietnam, but all over the world. In my mind, the place was anti-war, anti-Vietnam, and in some cases anti-me.

I don’t think I’m the only person who felt that way. Parts of Northern California have earned a reputation as anti-military, anti-war.

Nevertheless, Betty and I moved to Sonoma County in 1990. Was it anti-war? Maybe. For a lot of folks. Did I care? Hard to say. Mostly I kept my nose to the work stone and spent my time living, keeping my war experiences held close and not for public consumption.

Tom Croft, emcee for the 14th Annual Sonoma County Tribute to Our Veterans. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Tom Croft, emcee for the 14th Annual Sonoma County Tribute to Our Veterans.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We moved from California after living there for 15 years. After our move, we began to travel, to write, to photograph and make a film about the Siege of Khe Sanh. The genesis of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR has led us across the country, Massachusetts to Texas, Idaho to Rochester, Minnesota. Fallbrook, California and Vista, California and San Francisco.

Last week we were back in Sonoma County where we were guests at the Sonoma County Tribute to Veterans Celebration. Eight hundred folks—some veterans, some not—attended the luncheon and panel discussion.

This tribute has been going on for 14 years. When we lived in Sonoma County, I’d heard about it. But Sonoma County, in my mind, was a place that didn’t have much truck with warriors. I was wrong.

Sponsored by a number of local Sonoma County Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs and emceed by our friend, Navy Corpsman Tom Croft, this event is one successful model for, in my estimation, how an homage to veterans tribute should look.

Vietnam War Army medic Ezbon Jen proctored a panel of veterans who talked about their war experiences. I (Ken Rodgers) served as a representative for the Vietnam War. Retired Army Colonel Pete Peterka, who first fought in World War II as a Marine, represented WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Regan Masi, a United States Air Force vet, represented the post-9/11 conflicts. Phyllis Gould spoke to the audience as one of our country’s original “Rosie the Welders” during World War II.

Out in the crowd, I saw uniforms on bent bodies that spoke to me of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge. I met Vietnam vets who ride their motorcycles all over the west to funerals for Vietnam vets. I met a former Navy pilot whose father was a colonel of Marines who spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s allegations against loyal American citizens. The Commandant of the Marine Corps eventually asked for this colonel’s resignation and got it, and now the colonel’s son has carried on the family tradition as an ardent spokesman for Veterans for Peace.

I once thought that Veterans for Peace were men and women who, because they were for peace, were against those who fought in war. But in my recent experience, I don’t think that’s the case. They just want peace and who doesn’t? No one hates war like a man or woman clamped in the teeth of fright as he or she is compelled to kill his or her enemy.

Panel Members, left to right: Phyllis Gould, Regan Masi, Colonel Pete Peterka, Ken Rodgers. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Panel Members, left to right: Phyllis Gould, Regan Masi, Colonel Pete Peterka, Ken Rodgers.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

And so, last week it was very gratifying for me to see the nearly 800 folks collected together to honor veterans of many wars. And in a place that has had a reputation for not liking or supporting veterans.

You can view a short YouTube clip of Ezbon Jen interviewing Ken Rodgers @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyvcD-XMSWY.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Newport Beach, California, this Saturday, November 15, at 10:00 AM. American Legion Post 291 will host the screening at their facility located at 215 E. 15th Street, Newport Beach. Your $10.00 donation at the door will benefit the Fisher House of Southern California which offers shelter and support for veterans who are dealing with a medical crisis. Come out and see this profound film and support the Fisher House.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

October 8, 2014

On Medford, Massachusetts; Vincent Mottola and Honoring Veterans

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One of the more gratifying experiences we’ve enjoyed with our BRAVO! encounters is the recognition that is coming to so many of the men who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the outfit’s time in Vietnam. On September 28, 2014, Vincent Mottola was honored in his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts.

Unlike a lot of other wars in which United States armed forces have been involved, the honors and remembrances due the men and women who served in Vietnam have been slow to come.

Regardless of how one feels about the morality or efficacy of our efforts in that war, the men and women who fought and died there, not to mention those who have returned, were not responsible for our government’s choice of wars. They were called to serve and they did, some giving the ultimate sacrifice for, in most cases, something they thought was worth doing.

Honoring Vincent Mottola. Photo Courtesy of Marie Chalmers

Honoring Vincent Mottola. Photo Courtesy of Marie Chalmers

So we are very happy to crow about the honors that are coming now to the men of Bravo who gave up their youth, their naiveté, and in many cases their lives for something they thought was of value.

Below are some photos taken and sent to us by Vincent Mottola’s cousin, the vibrant Boston native, Marie Chalmers. These photos are of the ceremony conducted in Medford, Massachusetts, where Vinnie Mottola was memorialized by having a street corner named in his honor.

Vinnie is one of the veterans to whom BRAVO! is dedicated, thanks to the generosity of the Mottola family. He was killed in action at Khe Sanh Combat Base on February 23, 1968. You can find out more about Vinnie here.

Below are some photos of the event in Medford. Photos courtesy of Marie Chalmers.

This first photo is of the street sign for the newly named corner.

Vincent A Mottola Square

Vincent A Mottola Square

The second photo in this three-photo series is of Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn and the Marine Corps color guard.

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The last is a photo of Vincent Mottola’s family who joined together at the naming of Vincent A Mottola Square.

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Ooorah and Semper Fidelis, Vincent Mottola!

We look forward to upcoming screenings at the Meridian Library in Meridian, Idaho, on October 22; Oceanside, CA, on November 1; and Newport Beach, CA, on November 15, 2014. Please join us and invite your friends.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter or spring, please contact us immediately.
DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help us reach more people.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Marines,Vietnam War

July 9, 2014

A True Friend to BRAVO!

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Meet Carol Caldwell-Ewart, BRAVO!’s Associate Producer. You’ve seen the name in the credits, perhaps even met Carol, but we’d like to tell you a little more about her.

Carol was our friend in Sonoma County long before we moved to Idaho and became filmmakers, and was quite interested and encouraging when we decided to tell the story of the Vietnam War through the experiences of Bravo Company during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

In spite of the fact that she works fulltime-plus, has many interests and talents such as editing, business and creative writing, travel, pottery, family and dance, Carol asked what she could do to support our efforts. She believed in what we were doing, and knew we couldn’t do it alone.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

So Carol set forth and developed and managed three separate Indiegogo fundraising campaigns which were all successfully funded. Had it not been for these efforts, and her own personal donations, we would not have had the resources to complete BRAVO!

Once we had all our material gathered and interviews completed, it was time to choose an editor, and Carol played a significant role here as well. We were fortunate to hear from Vietnam veteran and long-time sound and film editor, John Nutt, who was interested in working with us, but we had not met him face-to-face—he lived in California and we are in Idaho. Once again, Carol stepped up. She went to see John for that critical first meeting and subsequently was confident it would be a good match. Sure enough, she was spot on.

Carol joined us at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County when we were there for the final sound re-mix. This was to be the first time she gained a glimpse of the breadth and power of the story she had worked so hard for. She was with us when we screened it to the employees of Skywalker Sound in Lucas’ state-of-the-art theater.

Once the film was ready to be shown to invitation-only crowds, Carol then asked to host one of our very first screenings for our northern California donors. She pulled out all the stops with the location, the food and beverages, and the huge crowd of friends, family and supporters.

Since then, Carol has attended many of our screenings, working in the background to be sure all the details were attended to, and handling DVD sales to enable us to talk with people. She has designed and printed programs, and pitches in to help the hosts when they need it, such as checking sound equipment, arranging food on platters, and directing guests to the venue. She is an excellent spokesperson.

We are also extremely grateful when we send text off to Carol and ask her to don her editor’s hat (of course, it’s a red one…Carol’s favorite color). We may have struggled and struggled to word something well and just not been happy with it. In a matter of minutes, Carol has reworded it to be exactly what we wanted.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the goody table on the SS Jeremiah O'Brien. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the goody table on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Over these last four years, Carol says she has grown to love the men in the film and admire their courage in telling this story. Yet in all this time, she had met just one other Bravo Company Marine besides Ken. So when she learned there would be a significant number of the men in attendance at our recent screening in Springfield, IL, she decided to travel there to meet them. Carol flew there at her own expense, and knew each face the minute they walked in the room.

Little did each of them know whom they were meeting…this amazing woman who has championed them and their story from the very beginning. She has stood by them and honored them and given a great deal of herself to be sure the film did not languish in some obscure corner. Fortunately over the time Carol was in Springfield, the men did come to know her too.

And so here, on behalf of everyone involved with the film, we would like to express our deepest gratitude for all you have given, Carol, with no expectation of anything in return. We appreciate your warm smile, your keen mind, your generous heart, and your belief in all of us. May you receive the same degree of friendship you give so well.

Carol Caldwell-Ewart and  BRAVO! Marine Mr. Ben Long get acquainted in Springfield, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Carol Caldwell-Ewart and
BRAVO! Marine Mr. Ben Long get acquainted in Springfield, Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois on July 24, 2014. Sponsored by American Legion Post 758, this event begins with registration at 5:00 PM. The film will be screened at 5:30 with a Q & A session with Co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara following the screening. Complimentary snacks will be provided and there will be a signature bar with beverages of your choice.

The program will end at 8:00 PM. Reservations are required. To reserve your seats please go to the Eventbrite registration page @ https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com/.

Please note, this event is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.
If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

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

June 18, 2014

Notes on the Springfield, Illinois Screenings of BRAVO!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

June 11, 2014

Remembering June 7, 1967

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As I write this blog, the date is June 7, 2014. Recognition of the date leads me to ponder a June 7 forty-seven years ago.

Not long after returning from Vietnam in April, 1968, I was cruising the streets of my home town with one of my high school friends who looked at me and said, “Rodgers, you could fall in a bucket of manure and come out smelling like a rose.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to that comment but now I remember thinking that, yeah, I’d been lucky in my life.

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers, co-producer, co-director of BRAVO!, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

During the Siege of Khe Sanh I was one of the lucky members of Bravo Company. I didn’t go out on the Ghost Patrol and my platoon, 2nd, wasn’t in the first wave of attackers as we assaulted the NVA on March 30, 1968. Yes, I had to deal with incoming and snipers and going out on listening posts at night, but for the most part I was pretty lucky. And yes, I learned to tell where incoming was going to hit by the sound it made leaving the tube and yes I didn’t stick my head up so a sniper’s round could rip the top of my head off, but sometimes you didn’t hear the incoming leave the tube and sometimes you had little choice, you had to stick your head up. So you needed some luck to survive.

Some folks say that luck is only being prepared but in the case of the Marine Corps, you really don’t have any choice about when you get picked to go into action.

I was pretty lucky before the Siege, too, because I didn’t go out on the Bravo Company patrol of June 7, 1967. Two squads from 2nd Platoon went out on a company-minus patrol which we thought would be a routine exercise off the north end of 881 South that morning. The squad I was in was chosen to remain behind and man the lines. I was pretty new to the outfit, so I remember that it seemed like just another day in my tour. Instead of humping the hills outside of Khe Sanh, I’d fill sandbags and stand watch.

It wasn’t long before we could hear activity going on and it wasn’t the kind of activity that you want to hear. Even though I didn’t know a lot of the guys in our platoon very well, I can still remember feeling empty. Empty and a little frightened, too. Our squad leader was monitoring the action on a radio, or trying to, and gave us some confused information about what was going on. It all sounded like a lot of chaos to me. Bravo Company hadn’t been lucky and had walked into a well-planned ambush, or at least that’s what I remember.

A trench line on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of marines.org

A trench line on Hill 881 South.
Photo courtesy of marines.org

Eventually the battle was ended and our men came back in. There was only one problem. We were short 18 Marines and Corpsmen. And I knew some of them.

I had never felt anything like what I felt as I heard the list of names of our dead and saw the blank look on the faces of the men who returned. I knew well enough to keep my mouth shut and not say anything stupid. I wanted to apologize and to sympathize and to…I wanted to reach out to them but I realized that wouldn’t do much good.

The men of 2nd Platoon who didn’t go out on that patrol sat there and talked in hushed voices. Inside, in my guts and my chest, I felt drained, like something had vacuumed my innards. I couldn’t imagine what the men who had been out there felt like. (Later in my tour, during the Siege, I would get firsthand experience.)

One of the things I remember best from that day is my fireteam leader’s reaction to news that his best buddy was KIA. They’d come over from 3/26 about a month before. My team leader was the most stoic man I ever knew but on that day he cried. He didn’t try to stop the tears. He didn’t try to hide them. He let them go and they streamed down his brown face. I wanted to reach out and hug him but we didn’t do that kind of thing back then, or that’s what I believed, anyway.

A few days later we reorganized the platoon and within several weeks we acted like we had forgotten all about what happened on June 7. But we hadn’t. We were just trying to move on, hoping to be lucky enough not to end up like those good men who hadn’t come back from that action.

The names of those men:

Lance Corporal James Blaz
Lance Corporal John Chase
Corporal Ronald Crooks
Lance Corporal Ronald Enderby
Corporal Edward Furlong
Private Gale Gotti
PFC Thomas Healy
PFC Kenneth Johnson
Lance Corporal Kenneth Keefer
PFC Steven Millett
PFC Larry Morris
PFC Wayne Pitts
PFC Frank Shovlin
PFC Philip Van Deusen
Lance Corporal Edward Vercouteren
HN (Corpsman) Gregory Vercruysse
Corporal Walter Ward
PFC Larry Worthen

Semper Fi, Marines.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

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

May 21, 2014

Anatomy of a Photograph

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One of the seminal images associated with BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR is a photo provided to us by BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley. When we interviewed nine of the men in San Antonio in July 2010, Mike brought a copy of the image presented below and we knew immediately that it would be an important addition to the film. The men in this photo were in Third Squad, First Platoon of Bravo Company, 1/26.

3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, Bravo, 1/26. Photo by Author Smith Photo Courtesy of Mike McCauley

3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, Bravo, 1/26.
Photo by Author Smith
Photo Courtesy of Mike McCauley

One of the major desires we had as filmmakers was to make sure that as many of the images and sounds as possible were generated during the actual time of the battle. This includes photos, film, video, and oral interviews, so having a photo like this, taken of men who were actually in Bravo Company in that time and place was very important to us. Not only were we interested in the photo being genuine, we were interested in the aesthetic value the picture holds. I say holds because there is something organic to this particular image that captures the sadness, the sorrow, the horror, the stoic courage and the brotherhood experienced by the men who fought at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Marines in the photo are listed below. Please note that in the Marine Corps in the 1960s, you rarely called anyone by their first name. You probably didn’t know their first name. In regards to the “unknown” there were so many men who came and went as replacements-in and casualties-or-deaths-out, that you often didn’t have time to know their names. You may not have wanted to know their names, because that meant you would have to get to know them and you did not want to get to know them because if they were killed you had to deal with the personal grief that ensued as a result of their deaths. Please also note that some of the names may not be spelled correctly since we are relying on memories of over forty years.

Back row, left to right:

Black, Paben, Shockley, Unknown

Front row, left to right:

McCauley (Mike, from the film), Britt (Ted), Sinkowietz, Beamon, Roper and Wiese (Steve). Steve Wiese was the squad leader of 3rd Squad and is also one of the men featured in the film.

According to Mike McCauley, this photo was taken by Author Smith who was killed in action in what has come to be called the Payback Patrol which occurred on March 30, 1968. According to Steve Wiese, Author Smith was KIA while overwhelming a NVA machine gun bunker. You can read more about Author Smith here: http://www.virtualwall.org/ds/SmithAC03a.htm.

Mike McCauley

Mike McCauley

Of the other men in this photo, Ted Britt was also KIA on March 30. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his actions on that date. According to Ted Britt’s Silver Star citation:

While reorganizing to continue the attack, his squad was suddenly pinned down by hostile mortar and machine gun fire. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Private First Class Britt alertly pinpointed the primary source of fire and unhesitatingly left his covered position to assault the automatic weapons emplacement. Fearlessly moving across the fire-swept terrain, he reached the fortified bunker and, delivering a heavy volume of accurate fire, killed four enemy soldiers and silenced the hostile fire. Continuing his determined efforts, he launched another attack against an enemy fighting hole, and while boldly advancing, he was fatally wounded.

You can read Ted Britt’s entire Silver Star citation here: http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=23309.

Photography is a way for us to record the present so folks can understand what was happening at a given moment. Photography is journalism but it is also art that allows us to acquire the visceral, personal knowledge that can’t always be given us in words. We feel the moment, the subject, the place.

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

This photo of the men in Third Squad, First Platoon, Bravo 1/26 gives us a peek at the time and the place and the sadness, again, of the Marines of Khe Sanh. That peek is related to the aesthetic power photography holds. The image is in black and white and captures the mood of the men at the siege. Somehow, that array of grays and blacks and whites reveals messages to us.

The faces in this photo are gaunt and mildly disturbed. The men you see are young, none of them over twenty years old. Fear has aged them. They are not happy yet they seem determined. They are a team, a brotherhood, and they are not creations for a Hollywood film. Some of them are not coming home and they may know that. Some of them were probably wounded soon after this photo was taken. Some of them were killed later at Khe Sanh, as well as after Bravo 1/26 moved south. Some of them are probably trying, right now, to forget what happened to them and their comrades at Khe Sanh.

And some of us remember and feel we have…and I emphasize the “have”…to tell the story of what happened at Khe Sanh, to the men of BRAVO!, to all women and men in all wars, and this photo, with its real men, its real heroes, plays a critical role in helping us create the narrative.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.