Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Fred McEwan’

Khe Sanh

July 16, 2011

On Red Clay and March 30, 1968

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Our readers who are not veterans of the many combat actions in and around Khe Sanh, Vietnam, may be interested to know that there is an organization of Khe Sanh veterans that hosts an annual reunion, sponsors scholarships for college educations and produces a regular journal titled Red Clay. The ground around Khe Sanh was that particular ferric-laden clay that sticks to everything and stains a bloody red. Red clay was one of the salient features of Khe Sanh that still lives on in the memories and dreams of those who struggled to get out of there alive.

In the latest issue of Red Clay, the editor, Mr. Tom Eichler, included a number of articles about Bravo Company. The list includes a reprinted newspaper article from Marysville, California about the movie Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, discussion and information on what has been called the Ghost Patrol that occurred on February 25, 1968 and an article written by Ken Pipes, the former commanding officer of Bravo Company during the siege and one of the men interviewed for the movie. Titled, “With Bayonets Fixed KHE SANH—30 March 1968,” which Lt. Colonel Pipes wrote some years back, the piece tells the story of Bravo Company Marines on March 30, 1968, which is also an event chronicled in some depth in the film.

Last week, I received a telephone call from Charles Davis, Lt. Colonel, USMC Retired. Lt. Colonel Davis was the S-3 officer for the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and was tasked, as I understand it, with planning the event on March 30th. He told me that Fred McEwan, Colonel, USMC Retired, the commanding officer of 1/26 at the time and he, Lt. Colonel Davis, had been discussing Ken Pipe’s piece and thought that Ken had been overly modest about his contributions that day, and Lt. Colonel Davis sent me his thoughts.

Lt. Colonel Davis told me I could use his information if it helped our project and I thought I might quote some of what he had to say about Ken Pipes as Bravo Company’s commanding officer on that nasty, brutal and glorious day, 30 March, 1968. As for the plan he and his S-3 staff prepared for the day, Lt. Colonel Davis said:

…(it) contained some of the most extremely difficult and complicated maneuvers found in the small unit tactics handbook: movement to contact under cover of darkness coupled with a planned linkup prior to the attack. All of this occurred with a backdrop of continuous supporting fires from every weapon available to a Marine Infantry Battalion, as well as some borrowed from other services in the area. Normally a unit in the attack would use only one source of fire support at a time. In this raid 105’s, 155’s, 175’s, 4.2 mortars, 81MM mortars and Air were used to isolate the battlefield from the bulk of the enemy forces and our attacking company to maneuver within the defined area of concentration. This tactic required careful adjustment by the unit in the attack to prevent friendly casualties.

So, what we hear from Lt. Colonel Davis is that the plan was very difficult to institute and that Ken Pipes’ leadership was a key factor in its being implemented so successfully. More words on the matter from Lt. Colonel Davis:

A plan of attack such as the one Ken and his troops were asked to undertake would normally only be attempted after numerous rehearsals with well seasoned, experienced troops (a la Seal Team 6 in the bin Laden raid). Nothing about Khe Sanh was normal and therefore the question needs to be asked, why was the raid so successful? Ken, in his usually modest and unselfish attitude, attributes the success to those under him as desire for revenge and the efforts of his Officers and Staff NCOs. While I would never take anything away from their contributions, I would submit Ken’s strong will, military skill and determined leadership was the final factor that carried the attack to its successful completion… He led from the front. When the enemy using “imitative deception” briefly shut down fire support that allowed them to fire several mortar rounds, almost wiping out Ken’s command group and wounding Ken, he refused evacuation, continuing the attack. Even the loss of his artillery FO, Hank Norman, and his radio operator did not deter Ken from continuing the attack. (A key critical element in the planning of what should have been a Battalion raid was to make up for the lack of manpower with massive use of all available supporting arms.) Though painfully wounded, Ken strapped on the radio, coordinated the fire support and led the attack simultaneously. In fact, Ken even personally dispatched several enemy who attacked while Ken was overseeing evacuation of dead and wounded Marines. During the planned withdrawal, Ken was the last to leave the battlefield.

Those of us who served with Ken Pipes know that he was an exemplary commanding officer. In the best tradition of the United States Marine Corps, he led his men, as Lt. Colonel Davis says, “from the front.” When you are a Private, a PFC, a Lance Corporal, a Corporal, and you see your officers and staff non-commissioned officers leading you “from the front,” it makes it easier to charge into the breach of harm’s way and take the fight to your enemy, because that kind of leader shows you how effective combat needs to be accomplished under conditions of extreme difficulty.

And to those of us who served with Ken, we also know that he had other characteristics not always attributed to Marine Corps officers; he genuinely cared about his men and their concerns, he spent time with them on an individual basis, and he had and still has empathy. Lt. Colonel Pipes was awarded a Silver Star for his actions on March 30, 1968.

And for those of us who still survive those days in Khe Sanh, he still leads from the front.

On a separate note, next week Betty and I are on our way to Rochester, Minnesota to the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion. While there, we are going to show the movie, as it is now, to the men we interviewed. After that, we are going to take our show to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California where we will do the final sound mix with our editor John Nutt and the man who will actually do the sound mix, Mark Berger. We have a goal of finishing this film by August 15, 2011. Then we encounter a whole new endeavor. Getting it out so the world will know the story of Bravo and the Siege of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War, as the interviewees see it now, forty-three years on.