Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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

January 6, 2013

California Dreaming

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We are just weeks away from the forty-fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh. I think about the siege every day, but I don’t always think about the weeks immediately before its commencement.

After being relieved by India Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment on Hill 881S the day after Christmas, 1967, Bravo Company went down into the perimeter of the Khe Sanh Combat Base and took over their old lines on the east and southeast ends of the perimeter in what was called Gray Sector.

While in Gray Sector, we filled sandbags and filled sandbags and filled sandbags. We must have been taking a lot of photos, too, because in the course of creating the film, we came upon a fair number of photos that were taken in the time between vacating 881S and moving into Gray Sector.

Besides filling sandbags, we dug trenches, beefed up hooches, built fighting positions, sometimes ran ambushes at night as well as listening posts. And…we filled sandbags. When we weren’t doing that, or going on patrol, or sleeping and chowing down, we stood watch.

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base

Some of us had transistor radios that we played at night and listened to Armed Forces Radio. They played a lot of great tunes back then. The types of tunes then were often different than what warriors listen to now, echoing the cultural changes we have undergone since 1968. The country music wasn’t as slickly rock-and-roll as it is now, and the rock they played in 1968 was mild compared to what was to come as well as what I hear on the radio these days. They played a lot of soul music, too, which is a far cry from the hip hop young warriors probably enjoy today. Though the music may be different between then and now, I suspect listening to it in either era aroused similar emotions…longing, sadness, but also a sense of hope, that you just might make it home to be with friends and family doing the things you love to do.

Some of the music I remember was “Happy Together” by The Turtles and “I Just Stopped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In” by the First Edition which had Kenny Rogers singing the lead before any of us really knew who he was. We heard “Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry and “The Letter” by the Box Tops. We heard Wilson Pickett, and Martha and the Vandellas, and Dianna Ross and the Supremes, and James Brown and Lou Rawls singing about Chi-town’s “hawk.”

One of our favorite songs back then was Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” We used to try and sing along and I can only imagine how that sound carried over the concertina wire barriers, across the bamboo thickets and into the hidden posts of our enemy. Even now, when I hear that song, it takes me back to the trenches. It takes me back to the men I served with, a lot of whom are gone and as I think of them, I get misty and something catches in my craw.

When we listened to Otis singing, we tried to dance and boogaloo around the trenches and the bunkers while we puffed on Salems and Camels (which we were not supposed to be smoking on watch, or listening to music either, because we were breaking light and sound discipline). More than once, the duty NCO or Officer of the Day would come by and if we didn’t catch on to his imminent arrival, we’d get our butts chewed out.

When we figured out our singing wasn’t so hot, we’d let Danny Horton take over. Man, he could warble tunes as well as any of those folks we listened to. B J Thomas songs were his staple and he really liked “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and Papas. When he was singing, it took me back to my southern Arizona home and my friends, and sitting around the front room with my mom and dad talking. It made me remember sweet spring nights when the orange blossoms saturated the dark. It was a link to home, it was…how can I describe it…almost magic.

Dan Horton at Khe Sanh

After January 21st, we turned the radio down, or turned it off, because by then the war was way too up-close and personally serious, although I do remember hearing Hanoi Hannah taunt us when one of those who owned radios chose to turn her on. We also listened to the news and heard about how bad we had it at Khe Sanh.

And it was bad. It was bad all over Vietnam that late Winter and Spring of 1968. Maybe we knew that, but all we really knew was what we were enduring. And the radio was our tether to the outside, to Otis Redding and “California Dreaming.”

Speaking of California Dreaming, We are taking BRAVO! on the road in March and April. As of now, we have tentatively talked about screenings in Chico, Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno and the Camp Pendleton areas of California, and beyond to Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada, and Moscow, Idaho.

If you are interested in bringing the poignant sizzle of BRAVO! to your area as an educational or fund raising event, you may be interested in hosting a screening of the film. If so, please contact us so we can talk about what is required.