Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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

October 11, 2018

Why I Fought the War

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Recently Betty and I watched a documentary film titled FIVE CAME BACK about filmmakers who served in the American military during World War II. Those men, Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, and William Wyler, produced some of the most iconic footage to come out of that conflict and in some cases placed themselves in great danger to get the shots to make the films.

One of the interesting aspects of discovering the military service of these men was how the films they made following their wartime feats changed and generally became more serious, thought-provoking pieces. Thinking about that, it comes to me that I also got a hell of a lot more serious about life after my service in Vietnam. My outlook became darker as I realized what we were capable of as human beings. Knowing it in the gut is different from knowing it in the brain.

As a filmmaker myself, I was also interested in why these men were compelled to go into harm’s way in order to document the events of WWII when they probably didn’t need to, and that led me to ponder why it is I went off to fight in Vietnam.

Over the years people have asked me if I “was drafted,” which I wasn’t, and I have found myself giving inconsistent answers when they subsequently ask me why I enlisted.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1967.

I don’t think what follows will be any great revelation about why a young man goes to war, but like others I served with and those before and after my time as a Leatherneck, I suspect I was moved by more than one reason.

Of course, unlike today, the draft was in effect when I enlisted in the Corps. I hadn’t received my draft notice but I wasn’t particularly interested in staying in college—they didn’t offer degrees in boozing and hell raising—so I expected the notice to arrive in my parents’ post office box as soon as the draft board got news that I wasn’t a serious student. So, maybe—and I want to stress the word “maybe” for all of the reasons that I lay out here—I decided to beat the draft notice and joined up.

How I joined is something of a story in itself that will remain for a later telling.

In World War I, II and Korea, members of my family served in the Army, the Navy, the Air Corps as it was known before Korea, and the Marines. I had five Marines in my family, one of whom was killed at Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1950, and since my father, a top sergeant in the Army during World War II, regularly derogated Marines, and since he and I regularly banged heads over everything, of course I chose to be a Jarhead.

I could have joined the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, or I could have just waited for the draft notice to arrive and then maybe I could get a doctor to provide a bogus excuse so I could be 4F, or I could beat feet for Canada. But I didn’t.

I tell myself as I write this that the Marines were my choice, in part, because they had a reputation for being the best and toughest to get through. I knew folks, again my relatives and some family friends, some school teachers, who were Jarheads, and they all had things to say that made the Corps look like it was tough—really tough—and they all warned me off of the Corps, and I believe now that the notion I needed to find out if I was man enough to make it was one of the primary reasons I joined the USMC.

A notion kind of parallel to that was the idea that going into battle was a way to see if one could measure up. And even though I’d read some of the “anti-war” literature such as Eric Maria Remarque’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, I suspect that all those messages about the horrors of war only made the specter of charging into the jaws of danger somehow attractive.

And so I went and did my duty and survived the horrors of Khe Sanh. When I came back, I subtly tried to rub it in my old man’s face since he spent all of his war time behind a desk working for generals.

A lot of folks think that patriotism was a big motivator for me and I suspect, a lot of other young men who went and fought in Vietnam, but I’m not sure it was a conscious one if it was a reason at all.

Most of us, back then, grew up around relatives who had fought the Germans and Italians, the Japanese, the Chinese Communists and the North Koreans, so service for a lot of us was something taken for granted. And there was the notion that we all had a duty to stand up and serve our country. Is that patriotism? Maybe.

Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller.

I had a second cousin, whom I called Uncle Bill, who was gassed while advancing through the thick woods of the Argonne Forest in the fall of 1918. There was Uncle Frank, shot in the head while serving with Brute Krulak’s Battalion of Marine Paratroopers on the island of Choiseul in WWII. I own a frosty memory of talk about my 1st cousin Reed Plumb, killed in action at Chosin Reservoir on the first day of the breakout. I imagine him stacked like a piece of cordwood in the back of a six-by with other dead Marines, frozen solid. There was a legacy attached to my being a citizen and some of it was inscribed in the blood of my family.

And so, for that reason and all the others mentioned and probably a few I haven’t even considered, I enlisted. Like those filmmakers I talked about when I began this piece, I came back with a darker view of humanity, but I went willingly into that maw of death.

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh

September 26, 2018

Michael E. O’Hara Muses On Navy Corpsmen and Marines

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, a reprint of an entry from January 2016, 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.

John “Doc” Cicala, US Navy Corpsman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines 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.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh

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.

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.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara.

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.

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

September 5, 2018

I’d Rather Take a Beating

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

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

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To know him was a privilege, a gift.

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Post Combat Mental Health,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 22, 2018

But Still . . .

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First it was the dreams

No, wait, that’s not what was first; what barged in first was the envelopment, the saturation, the occupation of my bones and blood, my mind and my soul by the searing recollections of what happened at Khe Sanh.

The realization of what I’d seen men do to each other, do for each other, in some of the bloodiest combat in the Vietnam War, got on me, in me, over me . . . so all-encompassing that it’s really impossible to articulate the real impact of that kind of war experience. The whys, the implications of humanity’s behavior in combat haunt me to this moment.

And then it was sleep, as much time as I could steal. I was accused of having depression. I told everyone I was just tired.

Then, later, a few years, it was the dreams that began to snake into my brain like a slinking King Cobra intent on striking my mind and debilitating me for the balance of my life.

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

Forty-five years ago, I punched my first wife in the face when she tried to wake me and find out what was wrong, while I dreamed. Sometimes I remembered the dreams when I woke, but that time I didn’t. Other times I would come to in a cold sweat. Sometimes—and this still happens—I would awake to my heart hammering in my chest.

More than once I recall lying beneath the damp sheets in the dark, my breath sharp, eyes straining, listening for someone to come sneaking down the red clay trenchline and then realizing I wasn’t at Khe Sanh, but just coming out of a nightmare. I can’t tell you what it felt like as relief swept into my consciousness and literally over my body. I would lie there and think, “That’s not real. It’s just a memory.”

And there was rage, and estrangement and hyper vigilance . . . locking the doors and then checking again and again to see if they were locked.

If other drivers drove vehicles in a way that scared me or made me anxious, I burst into long diatribes about their family lineage. I still do.

I stopped toting my pistol twenty-five years ago because I was afraid that in a fit of rage I would shoot somebody for something that seemed monumental at the moment but only trivial after my rage—and the fear that fueled the rage—subsided. Then I’d witness the cell doors clang as I began my murder sentence.

If I heard something outside, either day or night, I’d rise—I still rise—from my desk, a chair, my bed, and move quietly to a window so I could peek out.

One Saturday night years ago a foolish young man—who at the time I didn’t recognize—who wanted desperately to be my friend kept calling me at midnight, just messing around, breathing into the phone and not talking. After six or seven of those calls, I screamed at him about what I would do if he didn’t stop.

Then he came to my apartment and scratched at the windows, the doors. My pistol was beneath the seat in my truck, so I rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife I could find. Trying to be stealthy, I sneaked up to the front door and listened. Outside, traffic hurried down 36th Street and somewhere a siren sounded. Then again, the sound of someone scratching the front door. My heart pounded and I felt like a young Marine engaged in hand-to-hand combat, enraged and deadly. I managed to unlock the door and throw it open simultaneously and then leap out with the knife held in position to drive it into the intruder’s vitals.

A big man stood there, trying to look in my front window. I took a long step and grabbed the collar of his shirt as he turned to look at me. Lucky for him and me, light from the next-door neighbor’s outside lamp shined on his face and I recognized him in time to stop the thrust of that knife into his heart.

Sometimes I was—I am—roused by the smell of rotting flesh—maybe a dead cow or someone’s deceased pet—which pulled me back to Khe Sanh where the wind would blow just right and you smelled the dead people out there in the no man’s land between the enemy and us. Then the memories would flood in.

Sometimes when I walked down the street or stood in the back yard, the loud bang of a car backfire or some other loud sound assaulted my being and I ducked or flinched as I looked around for the death associated with that noise and wished—not thinking, just reacting—for some place to hide. Then I’d hope that no one observed me in that moment of weakness. That hasn’t stopped, either.

Or the fireworks shows that my family expected me to attend. But the loud noises scared me and I couldn’t explain to them my fear. And I hated to admit it was fear.

Sometimes it was the sense that I was being watched by someone as I pushed a grocery cart down the aisle of the local store. Or maybe while I walked across the street. I still find myself stopping to look around and see who’s out there watching me.

While driving, I’d swerve to avoid a brown paper bag or a black plastic one because, maybe, just maybe, there could be a booby trap concealed inside. I considered myself pretty damned foolish when that happened, and yet . . .

And sometimes I felt the need to get away from crowds so I could stand back and watch to see who might be interested in doing me and mine harm. I shy away from crowds.

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Sometimes it was the need to get away from crowds because all those people crammed together could die—easy targets jammed up like that. One round. One suicide bomber wearing a vest full of C-4 and rusty nuts and bolts and steel ball bearings. You can see that happening, right?

And I know help is out there, and I’ve been to see the shrink—or shrinks—and I’ve done other things to mitigate the rage, the paranoia, the estrangement. But still . . .

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

July 30, 2018

Wayne Moore

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

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

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

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

Hi,

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

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

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

He dated my sister Linda and they were later married.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Wiese. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

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

John Hammer

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

July 11, 2018

Abandoned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

NEWS!

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

June 9, 2018

Betty Rodgers Remembers David Douglas Duncan

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When we learned about the passing of renowned war photojournalist David Douglas Duncan on June 7, 2018, I was flooded with a great sense of loss as I remembered our unique connection with him.

Back in 2011 when we were gathering materials for BRAVO!, our editor, John Nutt, suggested including some of Duncan’s powerful photos of the Siege of Khe Sanh in our film. We learned they were archived at the University of Texas (UT) in the illustrious Harry Ransom Center. We also learned that we would need to purchase rights from the university for use of the famous photos, would need to receive Mr. Duncan’s personal permission, and would have to pay him additional fees.

Debris at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of David Douglas Duncan.

The procedure began by faxing a letter of request to Mr. Duncan via UT. He was living in France and was 94 years old, so we figured it would take a while. We waited. Then one day the phone rang. It was none other than Mr. Duncan himself, calling from France! I was heartbroken that Ken was not home at the time to take the call, but here was a thrilling moment for me in the making of our film.

I remember two things from our conversation. The first question he asked was where Ken and Bravo Company were situated at the Khe Sanh Combat Base. When I told him next to the ammo dump, there was a notable silence, and then he said, “My God.” After another few moments, he said he would be honored to have us use his images, and that he would not require any additional fees.

Then we proceeded to have a wonderful conversation about the art of photography, something we had in common. I expressed my need to learn more about my camera, or that I needed a better camera, and he said that wasn‘t important at all…you can make great photography with any camera! And he said he had a new book coming out comprised entirely of photos from a Nikon COOLPIX point-and-shoot camera.

The airstrip at Khe Sanh.
Photo courtesy of David Douglas Duncan

Then he bid me adieu and the conversation was over. And so today we bid David Douglas Duncan adieu, with deep gratitude for his generosity founded on compassion, for his courage to tell the story of war through photography, and for the example of living his long life to the fullest.

To learn more about Mr. Duncan, here is a link to an earlier article in the New York Times.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Okinawa,Other Musings

May 28, 2018

The Bloody Chaos of Okinawa

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Today we want to share a guest post for Memorial Day from BRAVO! friend and supporter, Cobb Hammond. Cobb writes about military history for his home town newspaper, the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL.

As we commemorate Memorial Day, 2018, many may recall a battle a family member may have been wounded or killed in, or themselves a vet, may have lost a comrade in arms. It should be refreshed in our consciousness that our WW II veterans are dwindling in number, and on this weekend of remembrance it should be incumbent upon us to recognize a battle raging 73 years ago this month; The Campaign at Okinawa.

This last battle of the War was not only the bloodiest of the Pacific theater but exhibited some of the most brutal and horrific fighting and battle conditions of the war; in that this was the first allied incursion on what was considered Japanese soil. This invasion was the first step in what was the initial phase before the eventual invasion of the Japanese home islands. The island of Okinawa was only 350 miles south of mainland Japan and was 463 miles square. It was populated by nearly half a million civilians and some 155 thousand Japanese troops of the infantry, air corps, and the navy, of which 80 thousand were front-line infantry troops. The strategic planning of the Japanese leadership before battle was to concentrate troops in several sectors that offered the most efficient use of troops—as well as the idea of inflicting the highest possible damage on US troops as they advanced.

Northern Okinawa was defended by one-division, whereas the more challenging terrain of the south was defended by 3 additional divisions- as well as multiple specialized brigades. This area was turned into four heavily fortified, ‘hedgehog’ defense sectors, taking tactical advantage of the topography, and the dense emplacement of artillery and mortars made it the highest concentration of fire the enemy used in the Pacific War.

Marines in Okinawa, 1945. Photo from Department of Defense Archives.

The ideal defense employed by the Japanese commanders, were to allow all US ground troops to move well-inland, and then to defend every crag-laden hill, ridge line and ravine as our forces moved forward. This was a totally different strategy of previous island battles such as Iwo Jima and Tarawa, where the beaches themselves were heavily contested. Seemingly every ridge and hill contained natural caves and promontories; which typically had artillery encased inside steel doors and machine gun emplacements pointing down the fingers and draws of the hills.

As the battle commenced on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the two Marine divisions, plus a regiment landed on the central and eastern part of the island and attacked on a northerly axis, whereas the initial two army divisions wheeled south across the narrow waist of Okinawa. The Army’s 96 Inf. Division began to encounter fierce resistance from enemy troops on those rocky ridges very soon, as it slowly moved south. The Army’s 27th division landed on 9 April and took over the right, or western-side of the push south. There were now three army divisions attacking here.

Enhancing the difficulty of the battle were the spring monsoon rains, which started in mid-April and didn’t let up until early June. The American foot soldier and marine became mired in mud and flooded roads, exacerbating the ability to supply men, evacuate wounded and navigating the steepening terrain.

As Marine Corps regiments moved forward abreast, going to the aid of the army divisions pulled off the line for a brief respite, they—as their army brethren, encountered fanatical resistance from the Japanese defenders. Later, in the largest ‘banzai’ attack of the war, some 2,500 Japanese were killed, with some of the fighting devolving into hand to hand combat. As of now, five US Divisions were fighting south by southwest—going against these formidable defenses, footnoting places embedded in the memories of the brave souls doing the fighting, and now infamous in military lore. Names such as Sugar Loaf Hill, where 1,600 marines were killed and 7,400 wounded; Hacksaw Ridge- recently immortalized on screen, telling the story of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss—and the formidable Shuri Line, where the Japanese planned their last defense in a series of ridgelines and strong points, taking the better part of a month to extinguish the enemy resistance. Fighting was so prolonged and intense in this area, that casualty counts are unable to be accurate, however it safe to say, tens of thousands of Japanese and easily over ten-thousand US troops became casualties of some sort.

Guest blogger Cobb Hammond.

Not to be forgotten, was the intense combat at sea just miles offshore, as Japanese ships and kamikaze planes attacked US naval forces mercifully for weeks, with some 36 US ships sunk with another 380 damaged, as thousands of enemy pilots went down in fiery deaths. The morbid toll of he battle, which ended unceremoniously on June 22, 1945 was five-thousand naval personnel, 4,600 army and 3,200 US Marines, with total wounded exceeding forty-thousand. It should be noted that the Battle for Okinawa had more cases of combat fatigue and mental breakdown than any other battle of the entire Pacific War, as thousands were taken off the line- simply unable to continue. Japanese losses run as high as 140 thousand killed and additional one-hundred thousand civilians unfortunately perished in the crossfire of this hell. Denoting the widespread ferocity and valor exhibited in this campaign, 24 Medals of Honor were awarded; 14 posthumously, including one Tennessean. It should also be highlighted that the recent death of a friend of this writer, Memphis native William Phillips of the 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division was a participant in this campaign.

As we contemplate this solemn weekend, shall we remember the sacrifice of so many on the bloodied rocky dirt of Okinawa.

Cobb Hammond is a financial advisor with Hammond Financial Advisory/Money Concepts, Inc. He writes on military history and composes short stories as a hobby. You can reach Cobb at chammond40@yahoo.com.

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NEWS!

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

May 5, 2018

Cinco de Mayo–50 Years Gone

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On Cinco de Mayo my leave was about done, but before heading back to Camp Pendleton I traveled down to Nogales, Mexico, with friends, and we attended a bullfight. There was a lot of hoopla at the arena: folks all dressed up, the men in suits and the women in fancy dresses. I recall the men wearing fedoras that matched the hues of their outfits, white and tan and other tints of light brown. The ladies looked to me like they should be going to Mass instead of to a bullfight.

The fancy red and black advertising bills that hung all over the walls of the city announced three matadors who would kill three bulls as part of a wider celebration to observe the holiday which commemorates the Mexican Army’s defeat of a French army at the Mexican city of Puebla in 1862.

The white walls of the arena reflected the bright light. It’s warm that time of year on the Arizona-Mexican border and besides the weather, the beer, Modelo, was warm and something that I’d prefer not to consume but I did. Every time I took a swallow it caught in the back of my throat and I wasn’t sure if it would go down and stay down or rocket out through my nose and my mouth all over my lap and the people sitting in front of me.

The Kill

The bullfights seemed steeped in a tradition I didn’t really understand; the honoring of the bulls as if they were heroes, the formal entrance into the ring by the participants that reminded me of Marine Corps ceremonies I’d been a part of. The matadors and picadors reminded me of ancient warriors, and the horses protected by what looked like quilted armor hinted at a more martial tone to the event. Bugles blew at what seemed like critical moments in the performance and I thought of bugle calls we answered to in the Corps: Taps, Reveille, Assembly.

And then the torment and killing of the bulls began. The toreros—bull fighters—stabbed the bulls with sharp, short spears called banderillas and men on horses stabbed the bulls with long spears and the matador used a cape to tire out the animal and to create a kind of performance art before killing the bull with one clean thrust of a sword that punctured his tortured and weakened heart through a soft spot behind its lowered head.

What bothered me was how the crowd loved the action and cheered at the torture the bulls were put through, the stabbing and the capes the matadors used to entice and lead the bulls around the bullring.

The first two matadors failed to kill the bulls cleanly and the crowds did not like that, hissing and acting like the bull had more of their respect than the men who were supposed to kill the animals.

The third matador, who was the star of the whole day’s shebang, did manage to kill the bull with some panache and I had to admire his apparent physical skills, even though the repeated stabbing of the bull on the neck and shoulders beforehand tipped the odds in the matador’s favor.

Watching the bulls stagger around made me dizzy and the beer turned pretty damned bitter and the crowd’s thirst for the savagery of it all surprised me. It seemed a metaphor for what I’d seen at Khe Sanh. Brutal battles, bayonets grinding into bone, death-maimed men, and all of us, on both sides—NVA and Yanks—debauched with savagery.

The bloody images of Khe Sanh, that bull fight, the cheering Mexican crowd rejoicing in the chaos, visions of dead men lying in the dust, the incompetent matadors down in the ring, the bulls staggering around the sandy arena with hearts as big as the State of Sonora were all mixed up in my mind. Ole! Dios mio!

I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough, almost knocking several men down as they stood on the steps in the aisle as I charged out of the bullring. I knew enough border lingo to understand the names they called me but instead of punching someone in the nose, I had to escape the scenes of the bulls being dragged from the sandy arena floor, the bouquets of red flowers and fedoras tossed into the ring. The scarlet of the flowers highlighting the burgundy tint of the blood on the ground.

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

Outside, I squatted in the shade up against the walls of the arena and waited for my friends to come out. They thought it was glorious and a righteous example of culture and history and the influence of Spain’s glory days upon the world.

That memory is clear in my mind and I have gone back to it many times, me sitting on my haunches looking up at them as they talked excitedly about the action in the ring, their smiles, me seeing the blood red mud of Khe Sanh, dead men dragged down the dusty road.

Dios Mio! The savagery.

***

NEWS!

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

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

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

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

***

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

***

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

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

Documentary Film,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 3, 2018

We Need Your Help

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Friends of BRAVO!, we’ve now received 72 fabulous reviews on Amazon Prime, but we need to reach 100 before Amazon will promote Bravo Company’s story to a whole new audience. Can you help us hit the mark?

If so, click the link here: https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In and stream the film (you can let it run in the background on your computer or TV, but you must stream the entire film), THEN go to Amazon on your computer or smartphone and write a brief review and rating. There are several options for viewing, including FREE to Amazon Prime members.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU for helping. We really appreciate your support!