Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Eric Maria Remarque’

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.

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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.

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

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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/.

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

May 7, 2014

On Art and War

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We have art in order not to die of the truth.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Betty and I recently returned from a trip to California where we screened BRAVO!. On our way back to Boise we stopped in at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden outside Weed, California, to look at the sculptures. The work exhibited here is the brainchild of a group of veterans from the Weed area who got together in 1988 and brought in sculptor Dennis Smith to create the work. Dennis Smith is a Marine who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Left to right: Ken Rodgers and Sculptor Dennis Smith. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Left to right: Ken Rodgers and Sculptor Dennis Smith.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

The sculptures at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden are beautiful depictions of the human form as we might view it: engaged in war and yet at the same time reacting to the atrocities of war, or suffering from the aftermath. They are thought-provoking, expressive, and evocative of something more difficult to discover, the “Why” of war and it’s aftermath.

POW-MIA by Dennis Smith. Photo © Ken Rodgers 2014

POW-MIA by Dennis Smith.
Photo © Ken Rodgers 2014

In Smith’s sculptures there is a distinct conflict between art and war. Humans often thrive on conflict, on the junction of fear and redemption, good versus evil. We want conflict in our novels, in our movies, in our visual art. We say we don’t like conflict, yet we crave it on more than one level.

Some of our finest art is based on the never ending conflict between us. Consider Stephen Crane’s novella, The Red Badge of Courage, or Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. These stories are verbal works of art that capture the pure energy, the agony, the ecstasy of war and humanity’s propensity for creating war and conflict.

In more recent literature, Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn and Nick Warr’s Phase Line Green are fine examples of stories written about the Vietnam War that expose the depth and breadth of war and humanity’s experience in that conflict.

And it is just not in story and sculpture, but in poetry, too, such as the Vietnam War poetry of Bruce Weigl and Yusef Komunyakaa. As an example of war poetry, check out the piece that follows by First World War British Officer Siegfried Sassoon. I like how it mixes the beauty of lyrical poetry with the horror of war:

Hero

‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she’d read.
‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.

(Siegfried Sassoon, “Hero,” from the website: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/hero/.)

Another example of art applied to war in the form of poetry is Brian Turner’s “Here Bullet,” about the horrors of the war. Turner served in both Bosnia and in Iraq.

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

(Brian Turner, “Here, Bullet,” from the website: http://www.brianturner.org/poetry/.)

What about other examples of visual art? Below are two paintings created from events that occurred during the First World War. The initial painting, titled “Gassed,” is by the famous British artist John Singer Sargent, and the second, titled “A Battery Shelled, 1919” is by Wyndham Lewis. Both of these paintings depict the horrors of war via the beautiful tools of the painter, the tools of the mind, the memory and the painter’s genre.

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

(John Singer Sargent, “Gassed,” from the website: http://ind.pn/RksGnw.)

A Battery Shelled, 1919 by Wyndham Lewis

A Battery Shelled, 1919 by Wyndham Lewis

(Wyndham Lewis, “A Battery Shelled,” from the website: http://bit.ly/1mwza0q.)

The horrible glories that arise when art and war combine can also be portrayed through photography as in the following photo of Khe Sanh shot by the famous photographer, David Douglas Duncan, whose images are featured in BRAVO!.

Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

Having participated in war, I think something aesthetic intrudes into our minds as we retch at the carnage that man heaps on man. I think that is one way we can come to terms with all the horror: through the art that depicts it.

On a quiet night in the war zone, nothing is quite as arresting as the sight of Snoopy, or as some of us called it, Puff, firing at the enemy:

Puff the Magic Dragon

Puff the Magic Dragon

(An AC-47, Puff, from the website: http://cherrieswriter.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/when-puff-ruled-the-night-the-birth-of-gunships/.)

Or the terrible beauty of napalm dropped on human beings:

Dropping Napalm

Dropping Napalm

(Napalm dropped on Vietcong targets, from the website: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/photoessay.htm.)

Or the sight of concertina wire etched against muddy terrain:

Concertina Wire

Concertina Wire

(Concertina wire, from the website: http://bit.ly/1o0mAWF.)

I just finished reading the late war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s book about World War II, titled Brave Men. Pyle generally had a no-nonsense style of writing and describing, but when he really tried to get at the essence of how we kill each other in combat, he waxed poetic in a way that takes us away from the lists and statistics and into the human aspects of war, and not just the horrible, but the sublimely beautiful. Here is an excerpt from Pyle’s book that, to me, shows what I am trying to get at:

From the scattered green leaves and the fresh branches still lying in the road. From the coils of telephone wire, hanging brokenly from high poles and entwining across the roads. From the gray, burned-powder rims of the shell craters, their edges not yet smoothed by the pounding of military traffic. From the little pools of blood on the roadside, blood that had only begun to congeal and turn black, and the punctured steel helmets lying nearby…From the scattered heaps of personal gear around a gun. I don’t know why it was, but the Germans always seemed to take off their coats before they fled or died.

(Ernie Pile, from: Brave Men, Grosset and Dunlap, NY, NY, 1943 and 1944, Pp 309 and 310.)

I began this blog with a quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche that implies that we need art so that the truth of what we are doesn’t kill us. As horrible as war is—and believe me, anybody who has fought in one understands the essence of pure horror—we need to depict, portray and ponder how combat and its associated mayhem fit into who we are; and how can we best do that but through the beauty and truth we attain through art?

With that in mind, if you head in the direction of Weed, California, consider stopping in at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden to see some of BRAVO! brother Dennis Smith’s beautiful sculpture that contemplates our horrible human endeavor, war.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to 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 about the film and the Vietnam War.