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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Horton’

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

March 22, 2017

Ghosties–Redux

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Forty-nine years ago yesterday, Second Platoon, Bravo Company, First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marine Regiment went outside the wire at Khe Sanh. BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on his memories of that day in this re-posting of a guest blog he wrote six years ago.

“Flanders”, a novel by Patricia Anthony, is set in France in WWI. It tells of a Texas farm boy, Travis Lee Stanhope, who joined the British Army and fought there Mar/Dec 1916. As time passes and casualties mount, Travis Lee begins to have dreams, dreams of a beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and a girl in a calico dress who assures him she will watch over his friends, his “GHOSTIES”, buried in the glass covered graves there.

It is 21 March 1968. It has been nearly a month since Bravo lost the third platoon and has been confined to the trenches. The mud, the rats, the constant incoming artillery, sixty days without respite. Bravo just lost another five Marines on the 6th of March as we watched a C-123 get shot down, which was also carrying fifty-two other personnel. We are becoming very anxious and are about to tangle with Charlie once again.

Left to right: Michael Carwile, Steve Foster, Michael O’Hara, Quiles Jacobs, Doug Furlong, Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

The second platoon, Bravo, leaves the wire pre-dawn. We position ourselves in front of FOB 3 where the Army controls the wire. We sit down in an “L” formation and wait for first light. We begin to rise at about 8 a.m. and it starts immediately. Red tracers from our rear (USA) and green to our right (NVA), then the mortars and RPG’s. My squad leader, Quiles Jacobs (Jake), is right in front of me and his flak jacket explodes in my face. It causes him to stagger a bit but he does not go down. He has been hit by a .50 cal bullet (USA). To my immediate rear are Doug Furlong and Dan Horton. They go down, hit by an 82mm mortar barrage, along with others. We are getting caught in a crossfire from the USA and the NVA. Someone failed to get the word we are in front of U S Army lines. Fortunately the friendly fire is soon checked and our heavy artillery quickly silences the mortars and small arms fire coming from the enemy tree line. I find myself, literally, holding both Horton and Furlong as we apply first aid and wait for the stretcher bearers. Many years will pass before I ever hear their voices again.

Amazingly, we are ordered to continue the patrol even though nearly twenty have been wounded and I think four have been evac’d. After a while I notice much blood running over Jake’s trousers from under his jacket. When I ask if he is alright, he just tells me to take over the point so we can finish our mission and get back. When we do, they put over 120 stitches in his back without any anesthesia and he still refuses to be med-evac’d.

We have gathered much on this patrol. We found siege work trenches, way too close to our lines, meant for a jumping-off point for a full frontal assault on our positions. We were able to locate many probable mortar and machine gun positions. The enemy trenches were scattered with dead NVA and beaucoup booby traps. Little do we know it will only be nine days until we all re-visit the ambush site for our final revenge. Jake, still wearing his bandages, will lead our squad headlong into hell once again. Flamethrowers, fixed bayonets, overhead heavy artillery, close air support (I do mean close) and napalm will rule that day.

Quiles Ray Jacobs and Dan Horton. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara

Tonight, all of Bravo will rest easy and dream of the beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and the girl in the calico dress who is watching over our “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves. Soon though, she will beckon thirteen more from Bravo to join her.

Present Day

Although Charlie did his best to lessen our numbers it would be a silent killer that would continue to cause casualties. Jake was the first on 19 April ’95 when the country’s eyes were on Oklahoma City. 1998, Bill Jayne and I would bury Don Quinn at Arlington. 2001 it was Doc Tom Hoody, then sometime along the way we lost Steve Foster. Many more would follow.

Dan Horton and I hooked up again in ’93 and had some really good times together. I was contacted around 2002 by Doug Furlong. He lived in Australia. I never saw him again but was able to enjoy our occasional conversation. Then in the fall of 2010 it was becoming obvious both these guys were in some serious danger. These were the two I held in my arms on 21 March 1968 and here they were both casualties again. Doug would leave for the garden on Halloween night and Danny, in all his glory, went there on 10 November, the Marine Corps birthday. I was absolutely STUNNED that it was these two who were wounded together, suffered together, and would die together some 42 years later. CANCER! All of them.

I attended Danny’s service in Detroit. He was laid out in his dress blues, rosary in his hand, and I found I just had no tears. I was so damn proud of him. He was Marine to the bone. Oorah!

God knows I miss them all so. I still set time aside each day just for “my” Marines.

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.
Photo by Betty Rodgers

As for me, I will continue to dream of the beautiful garden, and enjoy the sweet smell of lavender, as the girl in the calico dress watches over my “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves, until such time as she beckons me also.
Sweet dreams, Marines!

Michael E. O’Hara grew up and continues to live in Brown County in Southern Indiana.

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 43 years.

____________________________

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,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 5, 2016

Full Circle

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Next week Betty and I will be journeying to Texas, to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion which will be held at San Antonio’s El Rancho Tropicana Hotel.

Just a little over six years ago, we set out from Montreal, Canada, where we were attending the Montreal Jazz Festival with our friends and relatives, Chuck and Donna Dennis, to head out to San Antonio for the 2010 reunion, and to film nine of the interviewees in the film, BRAVO!.

Back then, when we began the journey to tell the story of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the Siege of Khe Sanh, we had little to no knowledge of how to make a film. But, we knew we needed interviews, so undaunted, we marched on and showed up in San Antonio, made arrangements for a space to conduct interviews, picked up our videographer at the airport and proceeded to film the men.

John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael E O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese sat down and talked to me and the crew about their remembrances of the siege and what it meant to them then, in 1968, and what it meant to them in July 2010.

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

I often think of the intestinal fortitude these men demonstrated as they sat down and let their emotions bleed out for all the world to see. I recall sitting there across from them, hearing their stories, marveling at the way they just let it all spill out, and if it wasn’t all, it was certainly enough to wow the folks who would eventually work on and sit down to watch their powerful testimonies about fear, death, loss and ultimately, their victories over the obstacles that their experiences at Khe Sanh threw in front of them. The men were inspiring.

Now, six years later, we are going back to San Antonio and for me, it feels like we are coming full circle. Two of the men in the film, Dan Horton and the aforementioned Lloyd Scudder, are no longer with us as is also the case with videographer Mark Spear, and it makes me very happy that we got the interviews done—in the case of Dan and Lloyd—before these Marines left us.

I am also very grateful that we got to know Mark Spear before he made a way too early journey from those he loved and those of us who appreciated his sensitive, funny, artistic nature.

Some of the men in the film will not be there in San Antonio to sit around and talk about the war and our memories of it and how the film affected our views of that experience. And I wonder, in the case of those who have not said so, if BRAVO! in any way changed their lives, helped or hindered them in their ongoing drive to live on in spite of the mental and physical affects of the combat we faced during the Vietnam War.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

Personally, what can I say about what BRAVO! has done for me? Well, for starters, I can say that I am now hooked on making films.

And I am now immersed in the world of combat veterans and all the accoutrements both good and bad that come with having let oneself become so immersed. Organizations, acquaintances, events, travel—yes, it’s greatly changed the world I personally inhabit.

And I think, in some ways, it’s helped me come to grips with my own horrors, the ones that lurk just behind me as I try to keep the memories of January, February, March and early April 1968 caged in some form of mental box.

It taught me that the men I knew in the trenches at Khe Sanh survived (as did I) second-by-second high grade fear, wounds, loss, and in most cases came out the other end able to deal with all the bad stuff. It taught me that the soul, however one wishes to describe or define it, can be ripped, stripped, battered and stabbed, but in the end, it can still emerge in triumph.

The keenest knowledge I’ve gained is the realization that instead of being alone, I know that there are a multitude of warriors who have experienced what I did—the constant fear that rides you like you were an underfed jackass, the need to be brave even though it may lead to your death, the loss of your friends’ lives. I have siblings, so to speak, who have trod or are now treading the treacherous ground with me.

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

For years, intellectually, I understood that I endured what millions have endured in war, but emotionally, I felt all alone, out there on a limb so to speak where no one could reach me.

Making BRAVO! taught me that there are others, right now, out there with me.

So I’m looking forward to getting to San Antonio and seeing who I know so we can sit around and talk about it all. Maybe we will laugh and maybe we won’t, but it will not matter, because I will not be alone.

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,Veterans Courts,Vietnam War

June 15, 2016

On Veterans Courts

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Several weeks back we wrote a blog entry about how BRAVO! has become a part of the training regimen for new Marine officers at The Basic School at Quantico and we were amazed, as filmmakers, how the movie had grown into something we could not have imagined. What began as an attempt to tell a story about a small group of Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh has since been used, for example, in college film classes, and high school history classes, and several California prisons, and creative writing classes and as part of a symposium on the humanities and the Vietnam War.

To the list of uses, add BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR as a tool to help veteran court personnel understand the ravages of war and why some veterans might go off the rails, so to speak, and run afoul of the law.

On June 1, 2016, BRAVO! was screened at the 2016 Justice For Vets Convention in Anaheim, California and an interested group of attendees watched the film and then participated in Q & A with the filmmakers. The questions asked were incisive and spoke to the attendees’ interests in veterans, TBI, PTSD, crime and justice.

The folks who came to see the film were judges, attorneys—both prosecuting and defense—court clerks, mentors, psychologists, police personnel, parole and probation officers, court coordinators, and more.

As I attended the conference, the thought came to me: Why do veterans deserve a different court system than everybody else and over the course of a couple of days, I got some answers.

Veterans courts aren’t the only courts that treat offenders differently. There are drug courts, and mental health courts and tribal courts, to name a few. So veterans aren’t the only folks getting special treatment in the justice system.

I heard more than one presenter at the conference explain it this way: Veterans went to serve the country and it is understood that the service was often hazardous. Now they have returned and have had some troubles transitioning into civilian life. Many of them have physical injuries and injuries to the soul and now it is time for us, American society, to serve them in their time of need. Like they did for us. And one of the ways we can serve them is to allow them to go through the veterans’ court program.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Apparently, the first veteran’s court was established in Buffalo, NY. There are over two hundred veteran court systems in the country now and the trend is growing in local jurisdictions nationwide.

And why? They seem to work. One of the founders of the Buffalo veterans court is Patrick Welch, PhD, a Marine who served as an enlisted man in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart for the wounds he received there. Dr. Welch told a group of us why veterans courts are important, “Because incarceration doesn’t work.”

So, to avoid institutionalizing veterans in the prison system, it is thought to be cheaper and more effective to run offenders through a special court system.

These courts are fairly new and the experience society has had with them has yet to stand the test of passing years, but time after time Betty and I heard that the recidivism—the rate of veterans coming back into the court system after having successfully completed veterans courts—is significantly lower than the old established court system. This is a major win.

We initially became interested in veterans courts here in Idaho where we have six veteran court systems and it appears they are doing a good job of helping veterans who run afoul of the legal system for one reason or another.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

We couldn’t be more pleased to know that BRAVO! has now become a tool to help veterans court professionals and volunteers understand the underlying trauma generated by combat.

And thanks you very much to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Justice for Vets, Terrence Walton and his entire staff at the NADCP for inviting us to screen BRAVO!

So, to the men of BRAVO!: Cal Bright, John Cicala, the late Dan Horton, Ken Korkow, Ben Long, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Tom Quigley, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese, a big oorah! Because in overcoming your reluctance (and fears) that created a barrier to you telling your stories about the Siege of Khe Sanh and all its horrors, you have, besides recording an important piece of history, become educators to the folks who administer our veterans courts.

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

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

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

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

January 16, 2016

On Navy Corpsmen

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael E. O'Hara

Michael E. O’Hara

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Fidelis to our Navy Corpsmen everywhere you serve.

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

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

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

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

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

August 5, 2015

On Drones, Ghosts, Facebook and the O-2 Skymaster

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I recently ran onto a spoof written last summer that satirized both Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and Google. In the article, Zuckerberg threatened to have Facebook shoot down all of Google’s drones. The piece, written by NEW YORKER satirist Andy Borowitz (you can read the entire Borowitz piece here), makes fun of the two gigantic social media and Internet companies, but the mention of drones as weapons owned by companies here in the United States got me to thinking about the insertion of drones into our everyday lives, not only as weapons but as tools for more peaceful tasks.

Both governments and businesses are using drones for a number of things. Last fall, while Betty and I traveled in the central California oil patch around Taft, we ran upon a drone hovering about forty feet in the air above the highway. I suspect that drone’s job was (or is) to provide security for the oil fields lining the road that runs north to south.

I had never seen a drone before, that I know of, but I have been paying attention to them a lot more now. As a filmmaker, I could buy one that would allow us to shoot movie footage from an aerial point of view. A quick look at a website curated by someone with the handle, “Droneguy,” lists a whole array of drones available for filmmakers to use. I suppose folks with other goals besides filmmaking might be interested in drones and the ability they allow a user to watch, record, spy. You can get a look at some of these drones at Droneguy’s site here.

It’s kind of creepy thinking about how your neighbor could buy a drone, attach a camera to it and watch what you or anyone else is doing. And not just watching. A few weeks back, some kid apparently attached a gun to a drone, so the potential of attack and defense by individuals and organizations other than the military are very possible.

When I think of drones as weapons, I think about twenty-year-old kids sitting in a command center somewhere in Colorado directing drones to exterminate terrorists in Somalia and Pakistan and Yemen. I imagine those twenty-year-old kids are also directing their drones to act as reconnaissance assets that can help the troops in the field.

Air Force photo of a drone.

Air Force photo of a drone.

We’ve come a long way in the last forty-seven years with the airborne tools we use to help the ground-pounders locate the enemy.

Around Khe Sanh in 1967 and 1968, long before drones, it wasn’t that unusual to see small, manned, fixed wing, propeller driven aircraft fly over the bush looking for enemy movement. One type of plane that operated out of Khe Sanh was the United States Air Force’s O-2A. According to Wikipedia, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cessna_O-2_Skymaster), this plane was made by Cessna and owned the moniker, “Skymaster.” The plane was also known as “Oscar Deuce” or “The Duck.”

On January 17, 1968, four days before the Siege of Khe Sanh officially began, the men of Bravo Company, 1/26, watched as one of these Skymasters roared down the runway of the airstrip in an easterly direction, lifted off, seemed to stall and then tumbled out of the sky.

At the time, I recall it reminding me of hunting trips back home in southern Arizona and the way a quail would tumble out of the sky and then crash after I shot it with my shotgun.

The Skymaster fell and slammed into the red mud and dirt right out in front of our position. When I say, “our,” I mean Second Platoon, Bravo Company’s position.

It’s been over forty-seven years since that event and my memory may have veered a bit or grown a tad rusty, but as I recall that day, right after the plane came down, some of us, including me, ran out through the gate in the concertina barriers and the wire traps we had stretched across the terrain. We wanted to see if we could help the pilot.

I remember seeing two men inside. They frantically screamed at us but what they yelled I don’t recall. Maybe we couldn’t hear the particulars although I guarantee you we understood the gist of the situation.

The plane was smoking and burning and it must have been less than a minute when ammunition inside began cooking off from the heat. I don’t know if they were pistol rounds or rifle rounds or something larger, but as the fire grew and the heat burned our faces, we could hear the report of those cook-offs.

There were four or five of us Marines out there trying to liberate those men from that burning death trap. In my recollection two men in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, were part of the rescue party. Those two Marines were Michael E. O’Hara and the late Dan Horton.

But the burning Oscar Deuce was too hot, and we couldn’t get close enough to the doors to open them and then someone, maybe our platoon commander Lieutenant John Dillon, maybe the platoon sergeant Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, or maybe both came and yanked us away from the heat and the cooking off rounds and the imminent threat of that plane exploding.

For years, I’ve been haunted by the image of a man’s face staring at me from behind a veil of smoke, a window, the face screaming, but very little sound in my ears.

We didn’t get those men out and they burned to death. As to the cause, the verdict is mixed. One report indicated the downing of the Skymaster was due to enemy fire, while another said the debacle was not the result of enemy fire.

I don’t recall hearing any small arms fire as the plane lifted off, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. To me, what matters a whole lot more than what caused that plane to go down was the fact that two men died in there, two men whom we could see and hear and could not save. Two men with families and friends were not going home except in a black body bag. And we who witnessed the event are left with the detritus of the memories.

Air Force photo of a Cessna O-2A.

Air Force photo of a Cessna O-2A.

Those two men were the pilot, Air Force Captain Sam Beach, and an observer, Army Sergeant First Class Donald Chaney. You can read more about Sam Beach and Donald Chaney on the Virtual Wall at http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BeachSF01a.htm and http://www.virtualwall.org/dc/ChaneyDL02a.htm.

As I write this, I think that the use of drones as a way to spot the enemy might be an improvement over manned aircraft. If that vehicle had been a drone, then I wouldn’t have those memories haunting me, those voices yelling through the smoke, the ghost of that horrified face looking at me through the Skymaster’s windshield and there would be two less names on The Wall.

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

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

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

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

December 6, 2013

On Carson City, Kentfield and the Future of BRAVO!

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Here we are nearing the end of 2013 and it has been a fabulous year to be involved with filmmaking and with the folks who have been viewers and participants with BRAVO!

Last month we screened the film at Western Nevada College in Carson City, Nevada, as part of WNC’s veterans club celebration of Veterans Day, 2013. One of the memorable elements of that event was the number of young Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans who attended. Betty and I had intense discussions with those young vets about the film and how their experiences so often mirrored what the men of BRAVO! described in the film.

Before the screening at Carson City, Betty and I took a walk with Marine and BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire, Mr. Terry Hubert, up to the WNC observatory, enjoying a moment of relaxation before the show began.

A big thanks to Terry for his efforts in arranging the Carson City screening, to retired Marine Corps Major Kevin Burns who is the veteran faculty advisor at WNC, to the WNC Veterans Club, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 388, Marine Corps League Detachment 630 and the Nevada State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America, all of whom made this event a great success.

Earlier in the day, Betty and I had a great time with Terry Hubert and his granddaughter Kayla at the Veterans Day Parade in Virginia City, Nevada. It was a glorious day weather-wise and the streets were lined with a wide variety of parade onlookers including veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East wars. The parade featured hot cars, bands, ROTC units, horses, floats, veterans and characters dressed like the old-time denizens who lived in Virginia City back in the heyday of the silver boom.

At the Virginia City Veterans Day Parade: Nice tail gate. OORAH! Marine!

Moving on to California and the San Francisco Bay area, we stopped for a lunch of tacos with Khe Sanh veteran and big-time BRAVO! supporter Mike Preston. As so often happens with Mike and others, our conversation tilted mightily toward deceased Khe Sanh heroes.

On November 14th we screened BRAVO! at College of Marin in Kentfield, California, in association with the College of Marin Veterans Association. A big thanks to Craig Wheeler and Ben Wilson of the college veterans and to Vietnam veterans Brent MacKinnon and Ted Wilson for all the work it took to put this screening together. College of Marin’s James Dunn Theatre was a first-rate venue, and the college’s catering department prepared a delicious array of food for the reception

The audience was varied with veterans present from a variety of our nation’s conflicts. Also attending were BRAVO! film and sound editor John Nutt (a Vietnam veteran) and his wife Ann. The Nutts brought an interested group of independent filmmakers to view the film and discuss its historical, artistic and technical aspects. Included in this particular group was filmmaker Christopher Beaver who has been a valued consultant on the production aspects of BRAVO!

We finished up the evening at College of Marin with a panel discussion emceed by Craig Wheeler. The panel included Vietnam Veterans Ted Wilson, Brent MacKinnon, Sunny Campbell and Ken Rodgers.

At the Virginia City Veterans Day Parade: Check out Kayla's cool cap!

Associate Producer Carol Caldwell-Ewart was on hand to help us manage the screening details and as always she did a great job.

Deceased Marine and BRAVO! interviewee Dan Horton was represented at this screening by two of his cousins, Janet and Kathryn Horton. It was a real pleasure to meet them, to see the similarities they had with Dan, and to remember Dan’s and my time together at Khe Sanh and after.

On the following day we traveled to San Francisco to discuss a possible screening of the film at Fisherman’s Wharf on March 30, 2014, which is Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day and the anniversary of a major event for Bravo Company during the Siege. A big shout-out goes to nephew Troy Campbell, Executive Director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit Association, for helping us make this contact. And yes, it was the opening day of crab season, and what do you suppose we ate?

It was a great trip that capped off a truly stellar year for the film in which screenings were hosted in Fresno, Clovis, Sonora, Soledad Correctional Training Facility, Kentfield and Santa Rosa, California, Casa Grande, Arizona, Reno and Carson City, Nevada, and Moscow and Eagle, ID. In addition, BRAVO! was screened for six-hundred-fifty-plus active duty Marines at Twentynine Palms, California where Bravo Company’s beloved skipper, Ken Pipes, represented Team Bravo.

2013 also saw the release of DVDs of the documentary film for purchase. The response has been good and we appreciate all the folks from around the country who have bought copies of BRAVO!.

Last but not least, we were honored to be featured, along with BRAVO!’s own Steve Wiese, on Dialogue on Idaho Public Television, a news program hosted by Marcia Franklin.

Things are already shaping up for 2014 as we are in negotiations for screenings in Las Vegas, Nevada, San Francisco, Modesto, Fallbrook, Sacramento and Sebastopol, California, and another screening in Casa Grande, Arizona.

Thank you all who support BRAVO!

DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale with a limited-time special offer at http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

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.

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

January 19, 2013

BRAVO!: An Appreciation

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BRAVO! supporter Jean Hegland muses about the film, history and the Vietnam War

Although I grew up with the Viet Nam war, it was never very real to me. I was born in 1956, and in the 1960s when my parents began to watch the nightly news on our family’s first television, reports of Viet Nam conflict were nightly fare when I wandered into the living room to check on dinnertime. After Walter Cronkite had finally announced, “And that’s the way it is,” and the television was turned off, discussions about the wrongness of the war and the inadequacies of the politicians who were promoting it were often a topic of my parents’ conversation as we ate.

But despite its frequent appearance in my family’s living and dining rooms, in many ways the Viet Nam war was an abstraction. I knew my parents were against the war—I couldn’t fathom how anyone could actually be for the crumpled bodies and destroyed landscapes I glimpsed on our TV screen—but no one I knew was directly affected by the conflict. My parents’ affiliation with the military had ended when they were discharged at the end of World War II (my father from the Army and my mother from the WAVES); and the draft was cancelled and the conflict in Viet Nam was officially over before any of my brothers or boyfriends were impacted. Later, when I went to college, there were few vets in the circles I ran in, and those I did meet—and occasionally even dated—seemed very reluctant to discuss their experiences in what they called “Nam.”

I suppose I was used to veterans staying silent about their war experiences. Although my mother privately told me that my father had been decorated for his service when he was a medic in the South Pacific, he himself never spoke of his experiences to anyone. I never heard my uncle or my aunt speak about their experiences in WWII, either, nor my other uncle who had been a fighter pilot in Korea, nor my great uncle who fought in France in WWI. And of course my ancestors who’d fought for the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War and those who fought for America during the Revolutionary War were also silent.

Novels such as Johnny Got His Gun, and The Red Badge of Courage, and later, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Things They Carried, and Matterhorn taught me a little about what war might be like for a soldier, but I have Ken and Betty Rodger’s remarkable documentary film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to thank for bringing the experience of soldiers at the Siege of Khe Sanh excruciatingly close.

I understand that no one who wasn’t there can ever really appreciate what those men endured during the 77 days of siege, and I also have some inkling of what a truly remarkable group that particular battalion of soldiers were, but after having watched Bravo! I feel I know much more than I did before about a soldier’s experience of the horror, pity—and glory—of war.

I wonder if anyone can listen to Cal, John, Daniel, Ken Korkow, Ben, Frank, Mike, Ken Pipes, Tom, Ron, Ken Rodgers, Lloyd, Peter, Steve, and Michael share their stories without experiencing both shudders and tears, if anyone can watch that film and not be haunted by it afterwards. Each time I watch Bravo!, I am appalled by the situation those men—then kids the age of my lovely son and his dear friends—were literally thrust into as they leapt out of moving planes and had to scurry to safety. I am heartbroken by the suffering they endured and the appalling waste that occurred. But I am also struck by the fierce, bright spirit of each of those men, by their commitment to each other in the face of such horrible odds. I am stirred not only by their courage in 1968 when they sacrificed so much to defend what turned out to be “a worthless patch of ground,” but also by their courage now, as veterans willing to risk further tears and nightmares in order to share their memories with the rest of us. Thanks to them, I feel I understand much more than I did before—not enough, to be sure, but a great deal more.

Bravo! has not changed the opinion I grew up with that the Viet Nam War was a horrible mistake, but it has deepened my sympathy for everything that those who fought in it endured, increased my appreciation for everything that they achieved, and my gratitude for the huge sacrifices that they made. It has given me fresh insight into all the silent warriors in my own family, too, and has encouraged me to reflect on the strange and compelling machine that war is, and why it is that we humans seem to have such a hard time getting beyond it. For all that, I am very grateful.

In addition to expressing my gratitude to the brave men who allowed their intimate stories to be captured on film, I also want to applaud Ken and Betty Rodgers, whose hard work and commitment brought Bravo! into being, and whose skill as interviewers (along with Mark Spear) and vision and craft as story-shapers helped to make Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor the compelling—and transformational—film that it is.

Jean Hegland is the author of the novels Into the Forest and Windfalls.

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.

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

November 10, 2012

On Tun Tavern, November 10th and Dan Horton

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Today is the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps which had its beginning at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Tun Tavern, a meeting place of some importance in 18th Century American history. Benjamin Franklin recruited militia there in the 1750s to fight Native American uprisings. Future presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson held meetings at the tavern, as did the Continental Congress.

On past birthdays, I have celebrated in local pubs, at formal dinners and elegant luncheons, but I spent the 192nd birthday on Hill 881, west of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines garrisoned the hill from mid-October of 1967 until the day after Christmas of that year.

On November 10, 1967, I am sure there was some kind of celebration up on the hill to take note of this important date to all Marines, but I do not recall what it was. Some of the Bravo Marines and Corpsmen who are still alive might be able to remember such a celebration.

On November 10th, 1967, Third Platoon, Bravo Company went out on a patrol at 06:50 hours and returned about 11:00 hours. Second Platoon sent out an LP and an ambush that night. I am sure First and Third Platoons did likewise.

Most of what I recall about mid-November of 1967 was rain and mist and cold. Official records kept by the 26th Marines say that the rainfall for the month of November was about four inches, but in my memory it rained all the time up there on Hill 881, and we patrolled in the drip and the sop and the mud. We worked in the mud and we slept in dripping hooches and sometimes out on the ground with leeches crawling into our noses. We went on ambushes and listening posts and long patrols through creeks and rivers and marshes over the ridges to the west, towards the Laotian border. We stood watch in wet mist that hung so close you couldn’t see ten feet. Oftentimes all night, all personnel manned the trenches as red alerts kept us up watching for the NVA to come hurling through the foggy dark onto our concertina wire barriers and into our positions.

It was wet, it was boring, it was ham and lima beans, beans and franks, chicken noodle soup, day in, night out. If there was a cake cutting on November 10, which is traditional on the Marine Corps Birthday, I don’t remember it on our hill, in our outfit.

I remember wet and work and little sleep and undermanned squads sick near to death of the routine. The only things to spice life up were the occasional sniper rounds snapping past your head as you filled sandbags or dug your trenches deeper, or the recon outfits that landed on the hill and departed the hill’s gates for more dangerous territory.

And what really interests me now, in 2012, is how tough we thought all that was…the mud, the rain, the damp, the leeches, the long patrols, the all-night red alerts in a blinding fog. And it was tough. But we didn’t know what tough was, compared to what would happen to us beginning on January 21, 1968. But that is a different subject, for a different time.

One of the men who served with me in Third Squad, Second Platoon, Bravo Company on November 10, 1967, was Dan Horton, a tough Detroit kid who we all wrangled and fought with, but whom we all loved. And could he sing. He used to sing tune after tune on those cold wet nights and we thought we had BJ Thomas right there in our leaky-roofed hooch. Dan used to yell all the time because he wasn’t getting treated fairly, and sometimes he’d go to fists with other Marines over it, but when the real fighting started the following January, he was there, covering your back and your flanks, his weapon locked and loaded. And he was there, too, fighting the leeches and the rain and the cold mists of 881.

Dan was one of the fifteen Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo Company featured in the film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

Unfortunately, for those of us who loved and revered him, for those of us who still survive from that 1967 Marine Corps Birthday, Dan left us to go to another universe, another Tun Tavern. And fittingly, if he needed to leave, he left us on the Corps’ 235th Birthday, November 10, 2010. Sempr Fi, Marines. Semper Fi, Dan Horton.

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

May 15, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Dan Horton

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In early 1966, at the tender age of seventeen, Dan Horton enlisted in the Marine Corps at Wayne, Michigan. Dan said that at the time he was “lost and had nowhere to go.” His Marine Corps recruiters took him to his high school and tried, along with school officials, to talk Dan into staying enrolled, but Dan was on a mission.

Dan Horton at Khe Sanh

He arrived at Khe Sanh in June of 1967 while Bravo Company was on Hill 861 South. Dan was a rifleman in Second Platoon and was wounded while on patrol outside the Grey Sector on March 21, 1968, during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

After Vietnam, Dan was stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California and then in Washington, D.C.

After his stint in the Corps, Dan returned to Michigan where he had a long career as an animal control officer.

Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

When asked about his time at Khe Sanh, Dan said, with a twinkle in his eye, “It is what it is, and that’s what it is.”

Dan Horton, a Marine every day of his life since entering boot camp, passed away on November 10, 2010, the Marine Corps’ 235th birthday.

We miss Dan Horton. Semper Fidelis, Dan.