Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘C-4’

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

January 16, 2019


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I woke this morning and thought about the date, and like most mornings as I lie in bed, I contemplated what I’d done while in Vietnam on that same date.

On January 16th, 1968, the morning was probably misty and the sense of urgency that had risen since the early part of the month was alarming to a lot of us.

I have written about this before, about the word coming down from Battalion and Regiment that something big was about to occur.
I was on the back end of my tour and kept telling myself that it was all bullshit, like a boy crying wolf, something the higher-ups simply dreamed up to keep us on edge like fighting men need to be.

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

In the late Spring of 1967 I’d been sent down to Phu Bai to a combat demolition school, and so over the course of the year, I’d been called upon to detonate suspicious caches of mortar rounds and rocket rounds we’d found out in the field while on patrols.

I always had a healthy respect for det. cord and blasting caps and C-4 and explosives large and small.

“Fire in the hole,“ I’d yell, and hope like hell that the NVA hadn’t planted that little cache on top of something bigger—a thousand pound bomb or something like that—which would erupt beneath me when I set the smaller load of munitions off. If that happened, I’d be blown to smithereens.

Anyway, on or about this date in 1968, I went on a detail with a Marine whose name I can’t recall to set out some munitions that would blow the hell out of anyone trying to come through the rows of concertina wire—the German kind—that we’d been stringing every morning the weeks before.

Roll of concertina wire.

This Marine, who was a machine gunner and also a combat engineer, stuffed rolls of barbwire with sticks of C-4 that, when detonated, would turn everything and everybody that was exposed into shards and splinters and toothpicks and chunks of bloody flesh and bone and sinew. And it wasn’t just him; it was me, too, doing the stuffing, trying to keep my mind on my business so I didn’t manage to blow the two of us to kingdom come.

Sensations like spider legs crept up my spine as we loaded the explosives in the rolls of wire and then inserted a blasting cap in the top of the C-4 and strung detonator wire back to bunkers so that, if and when—and at the time, “if” was there in my head, and as long as “if” was there, the reality of what was to come remained only a possibility—the NVA came through our wire defenses with his blood curdling screams. And if that happened the Marines in their bunkers could squeeze the detonators and blow the enemy to pieces.

If, yeah, if. We were just being prudent. We were exercising the caution that maybe we should have had back in September and December when it seemed all we did was slip and slide in the monsoon slop, never building any decent bunkers or trench lines.

As I did my dangerous and dirty work, I stymied thoughts of the mayhem of screaming voices, AK-47 reports, explosions, and then, when my handiwork was set off, the bloody chaos of bodies torn to shreds and how if one was caught out in an open place above the sandbag trenches, he’d be taken apart so that no mortician could ever put him back together.

Roll of barb wire.

I tried not to squirm as I thought about my endless curiosity and how I might want to watch what madness I’d created when one of those makeshift weapons went off, and in my desire to witness it, lost my head to the hurtling shards of metal thrown from the exploded barbwire.

Here’s the thing, I know I had that thought because it haunts me now as I write this; it haunts me every time I think of it. So I clung to my notion of “if.”

In my mind, just because we were up all night on Red Alert, and working all day on barriers and sandbags and trenches and bunkers, and improving the qualities of our defenses didn’t mean anything would ever come of it.

I’d heard it all for almost eleven months; I’d heard it all.



On a separate note:

Betty and I are making another film titled I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II until the present. We have finished interviewing eleven dynamic wives and have now embarked on turning their stories into a documentary film.

I Married the War

This last Monday morning we delivered all our footage, photos and a preliminary script to our editor, John Nutt.

We are soliciting donations to help us get this movie edited, sound mixed and color corrected. If you are in a giving frame of mind, please check out the website for the new film at and scroll down to the section about donating.

We appreciate our friends and followers and know we cannot succeed at our filmmaking efforts without their generous support.


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

February 24, 2016

On February 25th

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Forty-eight years ago on February 25, 1968, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment’s Third and First Platoons were trapped in a nasty ambush that has since become something of a legend in the lore of the Marine Corps.

Third Platoon, on a patrol outside the wire at Khe Sanh Combat Base, was ambushed by troops from the North Vietnamese Army and when elements of First Platoon attempted to relieve Third Platoon, they were also ambushed.

I wasn’t out there that day. I was sitting inside the wire, peering in the direction from which the gunfire and explosions were coming, and listening to the strained voices of men in extreme danger come over the radio.

I have written about the event—now known as The Ghost Patrol or the Lost Patrol—before, and one of the reasons I keep writing about it is because the memories of that day and the men we lost preys on my mind.

Photo of Marines on the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Photo of Marines on the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

At the time, and for some time after, we, the Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo Company, didn’t call it The Ghost Patrol or the Lost Patrol. I don’t think we called it anything. We didn’t need to because it loomed large in our psyches and in some regards, for some of us, it remains so today.

Unfortunately for mankind, this kind of event is fairly common in warfare and I suspect will remain so as long as we humans send our warriors into harm’s way.

You don’t have to go back very far in history to find record of the mayhem that ensues when a combat operation falls apart. S. L. A. Marshall, in his book titled THE RIVER AND THE GAUNTLET about the American 8th Army’s debacle in Korea, describes in detail fire-fight after fire-fight in which American troops were wounded, killed and captured, their units chewed up by the Chinese Army in November of 1950.

The thing that’s on my mind now, as I write this, is that if it is so common, why is it so devastating to us? Of course it’s because these sorry, dismal events happen to real people. More than maps and strategies, the things that we as warriors often remember are the faces or our comrades before and after the combat, the memories of a shared can of peaches or pears, three on a match, telling stories about back home as we brew coffee in a C-ration over the heat from a chunk of C-4. It’s personal.

In our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, we manage to capture some of that sense of loss that we, the men of Bravo Company, felt, as the events of February 25 tumbled about us. The loss. Such a waste. If only things had occurred differently. But they didn’t. They don’t. And of course, it wasn’t just us. Every service has had and will have the moments where close comrades are lost as an operation falls apart.

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

There was a civilian photographer at Khe Sanh (there were several) when the events of February 25 happened, and his name was Robert Ellison. Ellison captured some graphic and profoundly revelatory photographs of some of the Marines and Corpsmen involved in The Ghost Patrol. He was roaming around outside the base perimeter, helping wounded Marines struggle in while he took photos of the faces of war. What he captured on film reveals the men in ways that are heart rending. I share a few of his photos in this blog.

Unfortunately, Robert Ellison became a casualty of the Vietnam War on March 6, 1968, while aboard a plane on its way back to Khe Sanh from the coast. That plane crashed into a mountain outside the combat base and Ellison was killed along with all the other men on that flight. The photographs he left us are a powerful legacy.

Marines hauling a casualty during the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines hauling a casualty during the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Yes, combat is about people and personal loss and the things that happen to our souls when we go through the nightmares of war. In many ways, I think, our souls are damaged, often until the end of our lives.

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

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