Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘F15E Strike Eagles’

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War,Warhawk Air Museum

June 14, 2017

On the Warhawk Air Museum and Journeys Through the Trenches of My Memory

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Last week I had the privilege of speaking before 150 folks at Nampa, Idaho’s Warhawk Air Museum. I talked about the making of BRAVO! and my experience at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Most of the attendees were veterans, many of them men who fought in World War II and Korea. There were also a good number of Vietnam War veterans as well as men and women who fought in the wars of the Middle East. We even had active duty United States Air Force officers, a front seater (pilot) and a back seater (weapons officer), who fly F-15E Strike Eagles out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Guest speaker Ken Rodgers and Barry Hill of the Warhawk Air Museum discussing the display screen prior to the event. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The Warhawk Air Museum is a local marvel as far as military museums go. Lots of old planes and choppers, but the most amazing thing to me is the personal testimonials and memorabilia available to view. As one of the men who attended the screening said, “It’s a very personal museum.”

The Warhawk also records video interviews of veterans talking about their combat experiences, sponsors field trips for school children and has educational classes so students in the area’s schools can learn about the military and wars directly from veterans, the folks who know the emotional aspects of combat.

Visitors who travel through Idaho go to see the museum as they pass through, and for some, a trip to the Warhawk is a destination in itself.

Thanks to Sue Paul and Barry Hill and the staff and volunteers at the museum for their support on my presentation as well as all they do for veterans and the memory of those who have served our country. If you are interested in finding out more about the Warhawk you can find their webpage at http://warhawkairmuseum.org/.

Some of the folks who attended the event at the Warhawk Air Museum. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Several weeks back I blogged about June 1, 1967. Today I want to write about June 14, 1967 at Khe Sanh. On today’s date in 1967 Bravo Company was dug in on Hill 881 South and still staggering from the events of June 7 when a patrol ran into an NVA ambush and we lost 19 good men.

Besides living with our collective grief and agony, at 16:15 on June 14, 3rd Platoon Bravo received an incoming sniper round and responded by calling in an 81 MM mortar mission that evidently silenced the sniper. Whether the sniper was actually nullified or if he moved to another location was not known.

Elsewhere in 1/26’s area of responsibility in the Khe Sanh region, Charlie Company discovered an enemy bunker and destroyed it with five pounds of C-4.

A look at Route 9 outside Khe Sanh. Notice the rough terrain.

The battalion’s command chronologies for 6/14 made the area sound relatively quiet for a war zone.

It was about this time that Bravo went out on patrol to Hill 881 North and beyond, and in the process of digging around in the old battle sites of the Hill Fights which happened in March and April of 1967, found the scattered remains of human bodies partially sticking out of the mud where a fresh torrent of rainwater had eroded what looked like a burial site.

Someone spotted a ragged uniform remnant and that led to someone else digging around in the red-mud mess and then a femur appeared out of the muck with swatches of what we assumed was an NVA uniform still attached. The bone was yanked out of the ground and the femur soon hung off the jungle dungaree trousers of some Marine whose name I cannot recall.

In my memory, I cannot see the Marine’s face but I can see that leg bone dangling off the left side of his dirty dungarees. I don’t think that lasted long. I suspect the platoon sergeant or some officer spotted the bone on the belt and delivered an order that the bone was to be disposed of. You hear stories over the course of your life about a Marine who cut off and collected the ears of his enemy or Marines who pulled the gold teeth out of the mouths of enemy corpses. I never saw any of that, but I did see the bone dangling off the leg.

I usually have a good memory for names and faces of the men I served with in Vietnam, but during this time frame, subsequent to the ambush of 6/7, the faces that haunt my memory are like a maze of eyes and mouths and skin colors. We were an ethnically diverse group, I believe, because that’s how it was back in the 60s before the draft was killed.

What became 2nd Platoon of Bravo 1/26 was a mix of men from both 2nd and 1st Platoons, which had taken the bulk of casualties from the event of 6/7/67. We had, for a short time, a new platoon commander, Ben Long, who went on to command 1st Platoon and then became Bravo Company’s XO during the Siege in early 1968.

A look at the mountains around Khe Sanh.

I often think how difficult it must have been to run an efficient platoon filled with a number of men who had no familiarity with each other. I know the Marine Corps prides itself on the ability of the NCOs to run the ship, but when you don’t know the man who’s got your back, it’s hard to trust him and if you don’t trust him, he knows it and if he knows it, he won’t trust you as much as he might need.

Fortunately we had a strong set of NCOs: Staff Sergeant Ward and Sergeant Blankenship and Sergeant Martinez, Corporal Dede, Corporal Poorman, Corporal Fideli and others whose names I can’t remember.

The Marines of 2nd Platoon were a dirty, ragged bunch, but Lieutenant Long and the NCOs held us together. We became a unit of Marines. We learned to trust each other and to work with each other despite a number of obstacles in leadership that kept coming to the fore after Lieutenant Long went to on to command the newly reconstituted 1st Platoon.

As the summer wore on, we moved from Hill 881 South to the combat base and then some of us went out on Route 9 for over a week after 1st Platoon busted up an NVA ambush intended to fry bigger fish, traffic of heavy guns going up to Khe Sanh. Then we moved on to Hill 861 and then back to the combat base and rivers of rain.

It was a summer of long patrols and nights spent out in the mist and rain waiting for an enemy that would not show up. Occasionally we took sniper rounds or someone got a glimpse of the enemy, but there was little action and when there is not action, Marines turn to work to keep themselves out of trouble.

So we dug and dug and filled sandbags and installed culverts made from 55 gallon drums with both ends cut out so the trenches would drain and we wouldn’t have to stand knee deep in the water that accumulated from the incessant precipitation.

We were damp and dirty and often soaked. But we persevered.

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

May 15, 2015

The Thunderbolts

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I don’t recall much about the Marine who recruited me into the Corps in the summer of 1966. A lot of men who served with me know the names of their recruiters, but I only recall a hazy image of a rawboned, hardened man who piqued my interest by advising me that the Corps was tough and to make it a young man had to overcome a series of obstacles, and the difficulty of those obstacles limited the number of men who would eventually call themselves Marines.

My recruiter was right about the challenges of becoming a Marine, especially the overcoming of the obstacles that bar one from becoming part of that fraternity of men who can call themselves Devil Dogs.

An upshot of being part of the Marines is an attitude that as a Marine, you served with the best. Not one of the best, but the absolute best. And for me, it followed that all other services were generally inferior to the Marine Corps. I learned to call men and women who served in the Army “dogfaces,” men and women who served in the Navy “squids,” “swabbies” or “ducks.” Folks who served in the Air Force were “fly boys” or “wing-wipers.”

Even if you were in the Corps, if you worked in supply or chow or the armory, you were a “pogue.” If you were in the Marine Air Wing, you were, once again, a “wing-wiper.”

When I joined the Marine Corps, my recruiter guaranteed me a spot in the Air Wing if I went in for four years. By the time I finished my recruit training, when they told me I was to be a grunt, I had no desire to raise hell about not being made a “wing-wiper.” By then I was indoctrinated. I was—and indeed wanted to be—in “the best.” My service at Khe Sanh reinforced my opinion about the ranking of services. The men I fought with were the best. No doubt in my mind.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, right, visits with Thunderbolt pilots.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, right, visits with Thunderbolt pilots.

Yet though we, the Marines of Khe Sanh, withstood the onslaught of North Vietnamese Army fury for over seventy days, it would be naive not to give credit to the people who supported us. The pilots and other warriors who bombed the enemy to our front, who supplied us, who worked in the rear to make sure the necessary supplies and ordnance were available . . . the men and women who did that were “dog faces,” “ducks,” “wing-wipers” and “pogues.”

I believe that without the efforts expended by those folks on our behalf, I very well could have been either dead or locked up in an NVA prison camp.

Nevertheless, over the ensuing years since surviving my time in Vietnam, I have on too many occasions referred to “dog faces” and “swabbies.”

And it wasn’t just a one-way pejorative harangue from Marines towards other services. I’ve been called “sea going bell hop” and “jarhead” more instances than I care to count. My father, who was a top sergeant in the Army, took every chance he could to derogate Marines. Often he called them “gyrenes” coupled with any one of a number of expletives that I will not mention.

But true to all that is existentially Jarhead, I laughed at all those pejoratives and interpreted them as loving nicknames that the lesser warriors of the world employed to name the finest.

With that as background, last week, BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, BRAVO! supporter and Navy pilot Leland Nelson, Betty and I ventured down to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho, where we had the honor of screening BRAVO! for the pilots, navigators and support personnel of the United States Air Force’s 389th Fighter Squadron, the Thunderbolts.

We met a number of pilots and navigators and weapons officers, and I must say, these young warriors were mighty impressive. They gave us a look at some of their jet planes, the F15E Strike Eagles, one of the Air Force’s more successful fighter-bomber aircraft.

The jets our warriors fly into harm’s way are so high tech that the people asked to fly and maintain these planes need to be smart, tech-savvy, and own nerves of steel. At the speeds these weapon systems fly, split second decisions are the name of the game and those who participate must be physically fit and mentally sharp.

The folks we met at Mountain Home, from my observations, seemed to own all the necessary skills to fly the F15E, plus they are funny, curious, polite and driven to serve the nation.

I don’t really care if one hates war or loves it or ignores it, the young folks we have operating these high grade weapon systems, be they F15E or stealth weapons or tanks or choppers, are worthy of our respect and admiration. They don’t make policy for this country. They aren’t politicians or generals. They are the folks who do the deed when called upon.

And all of us who journeyed down to Mountain Home couldn’t have been more impressed or prouder of these “kids,” as I like to call them.

These “fly boys” and “fly girls” are a special breed of folks who are willing to put their lives on the line and do so at high speeds.

Driving home, I decided to stop referring to our servicemen and women as “Squids” and “Dogfaces” and “Wing-Wipers.”
They deserve to be called warriors.

Christina Iverson, a big friend of BRAVO! and one of the folks responsible for the film’s great reception in Idaho served with the Thunderbolts prior to mustering out of the Air Force. She had this to say about the 389th Fighter Squadron: “The best life lessons for me were while I was assigned to the 389th Fighter Squadron: Thunderbolts. Hard job, good people.”

Christina Iverson, BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire. Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography

Christina Iverson, BRAVO! supporter.
Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman, Blue Planet Photography

A big Marine Corps OOORAH! to Air Force Major Staci “Rio” Landers for setting up this event.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer or fall, 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.