Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Patrol’

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

February 25, 2018

The Ghost Patrol—Fifty Years Gone

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3rd and 1st Platoons of Bravo Company, 1/26 walked into two ambushes that decimated 3rd Platoon and a little later, part of 1st Platoon while it moved to reinforce 3rd Platoon. The event remains one of the most horrifying of my memories of that long and terrible siege.

Prior to this date, back in 1968, Bravo Company ran patrols out on the south and east sides of Khe Sanh without much action, and it was a surprise when 3rd Platoon marched into the initial ambush that morning.

The patrol is well documented in books and films, and the action’s memories haunt the Marines and Navy Corpsmen who managed to work their way back to the combat base. For some of the men, it took hours to get back. Some don’t really recall coming back. It is a horror story. The few Marines I recall seeing and talking with that day looked at me with eyes haunted by the terrors of that fire fight.

For us, back in the base, the news about the debacle out in the field came through radio communications. If one stood radio watch, he heard the sad and frightening blow-by-blow account through the frantic calls of radio operators on site. We also got the news from the sounds of warfare out to our front.

Photo of Marines on the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

It was misty that day, as it was on many days at Khe Sanh, but that didn’t deter the report of explosions and small arms fire that flew at us from out of the field.

We sat and waited and wondered if we would go out to relieve them. Several squads from our platoon, 2nd Platoon, mustered and saddled up and made way to the gate near the trash dump, and awaited orders to go out and help the Marines trapped in those ambushes.

Not picked to go out, I received orders to man a portion of the trench where our platoon was billeted. Instead of Marines in fighting holes all over the place, large gaps appeared between our manned positions. I recall thinking that if the NVA came at us right then and breached the concertina barrier, we were all, as the saying goes, “toast.”

That scared me. I recall Corporal A, who arrived at Bravo Company about the same time I did, being in charge of those of us manning the lines, and it was a great comfort to me when I heard the scuff of his boots in the red mud. I wasn’t alone.

Later, the Marines of 2nd Platoon who had been ordered to stand by to go out in the field began filtering back into our positions with wild tales of incoming pinning them down as they tried to move out the gate. They also cussed the higher-ups who put out the incomprehensible word that any relief for those wounded and dying Marines out there would not come to pass. Orders came down—some opinions I’ve heard and read attribute the orders to Lyndon B. Johnson, president at the time—for us to remain inside the combat base. We abandoned those men.

The stories that followed ate the inside of my guts, and that sensation remains with me today.

It took almost two months for the remains of those brave and forsaken men to be retrieved.

I recall, late on this date, fifty years ago, sitting in the trench with a Marine, Lance Corporal W, whom I knew from 3rd Platoon. A Native-American, he’d participated and lived through most of the combat action that Bravo Company had seen. He told me about what happened out there. About the death of 2nd Lieutenant Don Jacques, platoon commander of 3rd Platoon, about the ambush, and how he and others had carried the body of Lt. Jacques back. When he talked about bodies and wounds, the gunfire and death, I shivered.

Forty years later, when I first heard the fire fight of February 25th termed Ghost Patrol, I thought of cheesy movies and found the glib nature of the name offensive. But over the years, I’ve gotten used to it. I think it very appropriate, because the ghosts of those men keep appearing in my memory.

The ghosts show up in the families of the fallen, too. Last year I came in contact with a brother of one of the men who died on that patrol. He is haunted by the recollections of his brother back when they were young, and when his brother joined the Marines and went off for adventure and to do what generations of 20th Century America did: Joined up and fought. And what remains for him and for all of us, is the ghost, the ghosts.

Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the late Dan Horton.

The men of the Ghost Patrol are now just names to most people but the images of them lying in bomb craters with red water in the bottom, waiting for us to save them inhabit my being.

The ghosts often show up in my dreams. Together we man a trench in a night so dark it is almost impossible to see. I hear them breathing, the sound of dungarees swishing with motion, the clink and clack of weapons. And occasionally, I see some light, maybe the moon, the stars, or a flare, reflecting off the whites of their eyes.

And it haunts me.


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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

February 21, 2018

February 21, 1968—Fifty Years Gone

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A lot of the great followers of BRAVO! have become personal friends, too. Back when we first dreamed of making a film, Lance and Pam Thompson became some of our initial mentors and have been supporters for years. Recently they gifted me a beautiful book of narrative and photographs titled REQUIEM centered on the work of all the photographers who were killed or went missing in the Indo-China, Vietnam and Cambodian wars of the mid-twentieth century.

One of the first photos I found as I thumbed through the striking pictures was a portrait of Robert Ellison who snapped a lot of photos of Bravo Company during the siege before his untimely death on a flight into Khe Sanh on the 6th of March, 1968.

Jarheads like me often sat around the trench aware that Ellison might sneak up and photograph one of us and if you were lucky enough for that to happen, you wanted to appear most vigilant, squared away, warlike, masculine. I doubt he was interested in capturing any image except what was to him, the emotional truth of a moment, the ragged determination, the fright, the courage the defenders of Khe Sanh exhibited.

Marines of Bravo Company, 1/26, on February 25, 1968. Photo by Robert Ellison. Used with permission.

We saw him often, in the trench with his camera, trying to be insignificant. But he knew his job was to portray the reality of war and so he willingly appeared at moments the grunts in the trenches tried to avoid such as the ammo dump going up in red and orange flame on 21 January, a trench full of very frightened men trying not to be pulverized by incoming 152 MM artillery rounds, the ambushed Marines of the Ghost Patrol. It was his job to show the world the ugliness of war in a stark and beautiful way.

My most memorable experience with him was on a day about a month into the siege when the base was taking an awful pounding from the NVA. When that happened—round after round after round of small stuff and big stuff and everything in-between shaking our world—I looked for a place to hide and so did most of the other Marines with whom I served.

We tried to get small. We tried to get away, but there was none of that—getting away. On the day in question, I sat in a bunker, back against a wall. On my left, the trenchline to the north, on my right, the trenchline to the south, and to my front, the trench itself passing right through the bunker where I sat.

I had my knees up against my chest and my head down on my knees, and I flinched with every explosion, and I bounced from the impact of the big ones that landed close and I…I don’t know if I can explain how it feels to be overwhelmed with the fear that all that artillery delivers along with the concussion and shrapnel and roar.

I do know that on that day, I sank deeper and deeper into an abyss. In reality, there was no escaping the physical aspects, the screams and the chaos, the men you knew were probably dying. No escape unless you could hide somewhere inside the mind.

Enduring the barrages allowed agony to creep into the small parts of your body, liver and lungs, vessels and veins, cells, molecules. It was physical input, what was happening outside, feeding what you were on the inside—the great and the ignominious.

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

I recall it well, after fifty years. My mind hightailed it away from my body. I could see myself not just sitting on my butt in the damp red mud, but also walking on a tightrope, or maybe a roof peak. On my left was insanity. On my right, sanity but with a caveat that outside, the end of the world as I knew it stalked. I was confused and didn’t know whether to jump to the left, to the side that whispered to me of safety (and some sort of insanity), or to the right, into the outside, the known, the specter of death, or maybe a leg gone, or an arm. No eyes, no jaw.

Lucky for me, I heard the snap of a camera shutter which drew me out of my mind, my fear. I looked to my right and there knelt Robert Ellison, taking photos of me.

I think I had mixed emotions. He had found me in a battle inside my mind, maybe at one of my worst moments at Khe Sanh, maybe the worst moment of my life. I was vulnerable, exposed, caught in the act of battling cowardice. (You couldn’t afford to be a coward there. Peer pressure would gobble you up, not to mention the guilt that would ride your back, spurring you like a devilish master for the rest of your life.) But I also understood that his intervention in my moment of doubt probably saved me from going crazy. And that has earned him my undying thanks.


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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

August 29, 2017

A Bridge In Pocahontas

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On September 15 of this year the folks who live in Pocahontas, Virginia, are going to rename and dedicate the Center Street Bridge, Route 1103, as the “Donald R. Rash Bridge.”

Donald Rash was a Marine in Bravo Company, 1/26 who was killed in action on March 30, 1968 in what has become known as the Payback Patrol where the Marines of Bravo Company went outside the wire at Khe Sanh to kick some butt, get even and find their fallen comrades still out on the battlefield since the Ghost Patrol of February 25, 1968.

Photo of Donald Ray Rash in Marine Corps blues. Photo credit: Virtual Wall

I didn’t know Don Rash, or if I did it was by sight and not by name. He was in the third platoon and I was a radio operator with the CP for Second Platoon. I didn’t know a lot of the men I served with outside of those whose lives were tangled up with my routine—standing radio watch, mail call, patrolling, noshing on C rations, sitting around “shooting the moose.”

Don Rash was posthumously awarded a Navy Cross for his action on the Payback Patrol. A Navy Cross isn’t a medal handed out for anything less than life threatening actions performed without regard for one’s own safety to help save fellow warriors, and/or for extraordinary combat action.

Navy Cross Medal

An excerpt from his Navy Cross citation gives an idea of what Don Rash did to deserve his award:

“Company B suddenly came under a heavy volume of small-arms fire from a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force occupying fortified positions. Although the majority of the hostile fire was directed at his squad, pinning down his companions, Private Rash disregarded his own safety as he unhesitatingly left a covered position and launched a determined assault against the enemy emplacements. Ignoring the hostile rounds impacting near him, he fearlessly advanced across the fire-swept terrain, boldly throwing hand grenades and delivering a heavy volume of rifle fire upon the enemy force. Although continuously exposed to the intense hostile fire, he resolutely continued his vicious attack until he had destroyed five enemy positions and killed numerous North Vietnamese soldiers. When his company was subsequently ordered to withdraw while under accurate enemy mortar fire, he steadfastly remained behind, and as he delivered suppressive fire to cover the evacuation of casualties he was mortally wounded.”

You can read Don’s entire Navy Cross citation here.

Pocahontas, Virginia

Sometimes it seems to me that these citations for actions above and beyond the call of duty read a little like a stiff collar. On page 274 of Ray Stubbe’s book about Khe Sanh titled Battalion of Kings the entry about Don’s actions reads more like someone telling us a story about Don’s heroism on March 30, 1968:

“PFC Donald Ray Rash, a Marine with the point squad of B-3, overcame 3 NVA positions with grenades and small arms fire. When the company was ordered to break contact, PFC Rash remained behind to provide effective suppressive fire for the evacuation of KIA and WIA, and was killed when he was struck with shrapnel from one of the NVA mortars.”

But I think the most gut-wrenching words that move me more than anything when I think about Donald Rash’s award come from his fellow warrior, Michael E. O’Hara, who states in the documentary film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor:

“You just don’t know what it’s like to see a nineteen year old kid—I believe it was Rash, but I’m not sure, I think it was Rash—laid out on his belly in the mud, sticking his rifle in that direction and give you the thumbs up and tell you to go that (O’Hara points the opposite way) direction and he knows damned well he’s never going to get up out of that mud. He knows he’s dying for you.”

Pocahontas, Virginia, is an old coalmining town hard by the Virginia/West Virginia border in Tazewell County, and according to Wikipedia had a population of 389 folks in 2010.

So many of the men I served with in Vietnam were from towns the approximate size of Pocahontas. Maybe it was the Selective Service draft that was in place nationally back then that hastened young men to join the Marine Corps and/or maybe it was their patriotism that threw them in the trenches with me. Maybe it was something else.

Whatever the reason, we spent some intensely intimate moments together and not the romantic kind, but moments of fear and rage and revenge and redemption; moments of dark humor. I only met one or two Marines who set out to earn medals. Most of my comrades were just trying to survive, to do their jobs and to take care of their buddies.

I suspect that’s what Donald Rash was doing out there on March 30, 1968, just trying to survive, just trying to do his job, just trying to take care of his Marines. I bet he didn’t have any notion of being selfless when we first went outside the wire on that foggy morning.

Michael O’Hara. Photo credit: Betty Rodgers.

And thanks to men like Don Rash, I get to sit here and think about those days at Khe Sanh nearly fifty years ago when the Marines of Bravo Company, 1/26 stood knee deep in killing and misery.

So, here’s a salute to the memory of Donald R. Rash and what he did for us—all of us—on March 30, 1968. Semper Fidelis.

And may Don Rash’s bridge in Pocahontas be a suitable memorial to the price he paid in 1968.

If you are anywhere near Pocahontas on September 15, 2017, consider attending the dedication.

You can take a look at Don Rash’s Virtual Wall page here:


On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened on Idaho Public Television at 9:30 PM, September 21, 2017 in conjunction with Ken Burn’s documentary PBS series on the Vietnam War.

On November 1, 2017, BRAVO! will be screened at the Nampa Public Library, Nampa, Idaho. Doors open at 6:30 PM and the screening will begin at 7:00 PM.

On November 17 and 18th, 2017, BRAVO! will be screened in Santa Fe, NM. On the 17th, there will be an afternoon screening and an evening screening. On the 18th, there will be an afternoon screening. More details to follow.


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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

March 29, 2017

On Payback and Recapture

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One of the things that I’ve discovered during the process of making BRAVO! is how the memories of various men who went through the same events are different. What I remember, someone else doesn’t remember at all, or remembers in a very different way, or maybe the only difference is in a detail or two.

And a follow-up to that notion is the question: Because we don’t remember events the same, are all, one, or none of the memories not the the truth? And that begs another question: Does it matter?

Tomorrow, March 30, will be the 49th anniversary—if that is the correct word—of what has come to be called the Payback Patrol.

On that day, March 30, 1968, I had just a few more days to make it through my thirteen month tour of duty without getting hurt or killed.

Bayonet and Scabbard for an M-16

We had been told, as I recall, that the patrol out the southeast gate of the Khe Sanh Combat Base was to be a standard patrol to bring back the twenty-seven Marines and Corpsmen we hadn’t saved or salvaged from the nasty events related to the Ghost Patrol of February 25, 1968.

I also recall that when I was told that the patrol would be “standard” some little message kept sneaking into my consciousness whispering something like, “Don’t believe them. It will be hell out there.”

And as it turned out, it was. Twelve Marines lost their lives and most of the other ninety or so participants on our side were wounded. I think, collectively, we killed a lot of our adversaries. But to make matters worse, we didn’t have the opportunity to retrieve our fellow Ghost Patrol Marines because we were locked in mortal combat with the entrenched NVA for hours.

While I was interviewing the men of the film, BRAVO!, it surprised me that some of them recalled the events of March 30 differently than I did. Some remembered that they were told we were going out to assault an entrenched battalion of the NVA’s best troops. Not something I heard or if I did, I chose not to believe it, and if I did that, why? Because I wanted to put the best face on it? I suspect that could be the answer. Optimism is something I have a healthy load of.

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh.

One of the other things I don’t recall is the order that Skipper Ken Pipes gave to his radio operator, Tom Quigley, to, “Be advised, fix bayonets.”

Tom Quigley passed that order along to the rest of us via our radio network and as a radio operator, I must have heard that order.

No less than five of the interviewees of the film remember that moment very well—the fixing of bayonets and the inference they took away from the order: that they would be involved in up-close and personal combat, in some cases hand-to-hand battle, and all the images of death in close proximity that one’s mind could dredge up to scare the hell out of you.

With that many of the men spontaneously recalling the event at the interviews some forty-two years later, individually with no prompting from me, I have come to the conclusion that I must have blanked that memory out.

I wonder why. Was it because the thought was too horrible for me to deal with?

I wasn’t personally part of the combat where Marines and NVA soldiers were locked in fights that required the use of bayonets. And since I wasn’t, maybe my memory and my mind settled on the things that did happen to me: getting hit in the side of the head by mortar shrapnel, watching Marines satchel charge and flame throw bunkers with the enemy in them, running out front to call in artillery fire so we could begin to retire and collect our dead and wounded, watching Second Lieutenant Moscato trip a booby trap and get hit in the chin with a Willie Peter round that caused his face to smoke, to find my buddy David Aldrich’s body being carried back to the base after we retired from the battlefield.

It was a horrible day. One of those times, if you are thinking about the Marine ethos, that you associate with what happens when Marines go to war. Although not as long-lived, but over its four or five hour duration probably as savage, the Payback Patrol was akin to Belleau Wood, or Peleliu or Chosin Reservoir. On March 30, 1968, there were enough monstrous memories for every one of us who survived to store away a whole bevy of them and still not recall everything.

Ken Pipes

It’s curious what you do recall, sometimes, from those moments. One would think that the only thing that mattered was those ultimate instances where your survival was challenged in a terrifyingly personal way in a grippingly personal moment. But one of my clearest memories is of the faces of the dead. How the NVA all looked to me like they were fifteen years old and how the faces of the dead Marines began to change color, becoming sallow, and after a while they seemed to me to be no different in that regard—the tint of the skin—than the enemy. And of course, in the most important way—all of them being dead—they were no different.

I have been thinking a lot, over the past few months, of memory and how important it is for our mental health, that we have the ability to extract these mementos of horror and retell them so we can somehow better deal with the effects they have had on who we have become.

And if one man’s truth isn’t the same as mine in terms of what we recall, I don’t think it really matters. What matters in this regard, it seems to me, is that we learn to confront the reservoirs of monstrance that our un-dealt-with memories harbor.

I know that tomorrow a lot of men who were on the Payback Patrol will join me in recalling their own individual memories of those particular instances—fixed bayonets, charging the NVA trench, killing other men up close—and thinking about them.


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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,The Basic School at Quantico,Vietnam War

May 18, 2016

The Basic School at Quantico

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In the last BRAVO! blog we wrote briefly about a visit we made to The Basic School (TBS) at Camp Barrett on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

While at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, his son-in-law Daniel Folz, Betty and I received an invitation from Marine Captain Joe Albano to come over to TBS and observe how Bravo Company’s ill-fated patrol of February 25, 1968 is currently being used to train Marine officers in the Scouting and Patrolling class. We were pretty excited about that, and surprised that they wanted to talk to us.

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O'Hara,  Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O’Hara, Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Upon our arrival we were greeted by Captain Albano, TBS Commanding Officer Colonel Christian Wortman, and Captains Josh White and Jason Duehring, an impressive group of Marine Corps officers. Captains Albano, White and Duehring are instructors at TBS training the future leaders of the Marine Corps.

And we were not the only ones excited about the meeting, so were these young officers. They were excited to meet two Marines who had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh as well as some of the folks involved with the production of BRAVO!.

After our welcome, the captains took us to various classrooms where the Scouting and Patrolling Operations class is taught, including a visit to the sand tables where the new officers work out scouting and patrolling scenarios.

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodges

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodgers

From there, we went to a lecture hall where Captains Albano, White and Duehring talked about how they teach the class and how they researched and worked on the Case Study related to the events of February 25, 1968.

When we first walked into the room, we noticed the BRAVO! DVD was sitting on the table with the instructors’ materials, which was a nice surprise. Then Captain Albano gave us an abbreviated version of the class. What surprised and humbled us even more was learning that the captains included clips from our film as part of the lecture. And a lot of the clips aren’t specifically about February 25th, but more about introducing the new lieutenants to the humanity of the Marines and Navy Corpsman they will command in the future. The presentation included Bravo Company men talking about, among other things, combat and brotherhood and fear.

During Captain Albano’s lecture, the students are advised of the events surrounding the Ghost Patrol—as the events of February 25 are commonly referred to—and to the disposition of troops on the ground on the morning of that fateful day. Then, amid the Marines of BRAVO! talking to them with the sounds of war in the background, the instructors, in a suddenly chaotic classroom simulation, fire questions at the students asking how they are going to deal with threats that are killing their Marines.

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O'Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O’Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White. Photo by Betty Rodgers

The class is taught, among other things, in a way that emulates the bedlam of combat, and if a student can’t come up with a solution to a question asked by the instructor within a matter of seconds, he/she gets told, “You just lost another Marine,” and the instructor turns to another student and fires questions at him/her. These simulated combat moments are intended to train the new lieutenants to think quickly and respond appropriately. The questioning is rife with tension and with an aura of the uncertainties encountered when opposing groups of warriors go to killing each other. Fear, confusion and pressure are recognized as elements one encounters in combat and which cannot be understood by a leader until they are experienced.

After Captain Albano finished up, we repaired to The Hawk—the club at TBS—for some refreshments and some time to talk about the film, war, Vietnam and the more current wars that the captains fought in.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

For years we have thought of BRAVO! as a way to preserve history and to educate the public about the Siege of Khe Sanh and the horror of combat, about brotherhood and death and fear. What an overwhelming thought it is to realize the men of BRAVO! are also helping to train today’s Marines.

Thanks to Captain Albano and the instructors at The Basic School for sharing their efforts with us old-time Marines and our guests.

Semper Fi!

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

February 24, 2016

On February 25th

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Forty-eight years ago on February 25, 1968, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment’s Third and First Platoons were trapped in a nasty ambush that has since become something of a legend in the lore of the Marine Corps.

Third Platoon, on a patrol outside the wire at Khe Sanh Combat Base, was ambushed by troops from the North Vietnamese Army and when elements of First Platoon attempted to relieve Third Platoon, they were also ambushed.

I wasn’t out there that day. I was sitting inside the wire, peering in the direction from which the gunfire and explosions were coming, and listening to the strained voices of men in extreme danger come over the radio.

I have written about the event—now known as The Ghost Patrol or the Lost Patrol—before, and one of the reasons I keep writing about it is because the memories of that day and the men we lost preys on my mind.

Photo of Marines on the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Photo of Marines on the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

At the time, and for some time after, we, the Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo Company, didn’t call it The Ghost Patrol or the Lost Patrol. I don’t think we called it anything. We didn’t need to because it loomed large in our psyches and in some regards, for some of us, it remains so today.

Unfortunately for mankind, this kind of event is fairly common in warfare and I suspect will remain so as long as we humans send our warriors into harm’s way.

You don’t have to go back very far in history to find record of the mayhem that ensues when a combat operation falls apart. S. L. A. Marshall, in his book titled THE RIVER AND THE GAUNTLET about the American 8th Army’s debacle in Korea, describes in detail fire-fight after fire-fight in which American troops were wounded, killed and captured, their units chewed up by the Chinese Army in November of 1950.

The thing that’s on my mind now, as I write this, is that if it is so common, why is it so devastating to us? Of course it’s because these sorry, dismal events happen to real people. More than maps and strategies, the things that we as warriors often remember are the faces or our comrades before and after the combat, the memories of a shared can of peaches or pears, three on a match, telling stories about back home as we brew coffee in a C-ration over the heat from a chunk of C-4. It’s personal.

In our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, we manage to capture some of that sense of loss that we, the men of Bravo Company, felt, as the events of February 25 tumbled about us. The loss. Such a waste. If only things had occurred differently. But they didn’t. They don’t. And of course, it wasn’t just us. Every service has had and will have the moments where close comrades are lost as an operation falls apart.

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

There was a civilian photographer at Khe Sanh (there were several) when the events of February 25 happened, and his name was Robert Ellison. Ellison captured some graphic and profoundly revelatory photographs of some of the Marines and Corpsmen involved in The Ghost Patrol. He was roaming around outside the base perimeter, helping wounded Marines struggle in while he took photos of the faces of war. What he captured on film reveals the men in ways that are heart rending. I share a few of his photos in this blog.

Unfortunately, Robert Ellison became a casualty of the Vietnam War on March 6, 1968, while aboard a plane on its way back to Khe Sanh from the coast. That plane crashed into a mountain outside the combat base and Ellison was killed along with all the other men on that flight. The photographs he left us are a powerful legacy.

Marines hauling a casualty during the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines hauling a casualty during the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Yes, combat is about people and personal loss and the things that happen to our souls when we go through the nightmares of war. In many ways, I think, our souls are damaged, often until the end of our lives.

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

April 1, 2015

Composing for Khe Sanh

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It began about two years ago, when I sat down with Ken and Betty Rodgers over coffee to talk music. The Rodgers had completed a documentary film, a legacy project, honoring the heroic men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. They were in need of a composer to finalize an almost-complete soundtrack, teeming with an impressive list of musicians that had eagerly contributed their talents.

I felt a growing connection to the Rodgers as I learned about their project: an authentic documentary honoring war heroes and their families, preserving priceless historic and emotional accounts of the brave Khe Sanh Marines both living and passed on. I wanted to learn more, and was honored by the possibility that my music might be part of something so universally important. I also started to realize that it could be important to me on a personal level as well . . .

My grandfather served in World War II as a Marine during the battle of Iwo Jima, and he had been an elusive mystery to my family ever since his return after the war ended. Growing up, I never had much of a relationship with my grandfather; he made it quite clear to the family that he preferred isolation—a need that was ever-increasing toward the end. When I found out he took his life, there were so many questions unanswered, and my family was left in emotional confusion.

Robin Zimmermann's grandfather in the USMC. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

Robin Zimmermann’s grandfather in the USMC. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

Briefly hearing Ken’s accounts, I started to think about the opportunity to learn about war, about the toll it takes on soldiers, from the men who have the most important stories to tell. For many reasons, I missed the opportunity to learn about war from my grandfather. Now I had the opportunity to do so, exploring a world foreign to me through something so personal—creating music.

Leaving the meeting with a DVD, I went home and watched Bravo! for the first time. It emotionally overwhelmed me, it challenged my thoughts, it changed everything I ever knew about war. The endless complexity of emotions, ranging anywhere from rage, fear, devastation, and emptiness, to youth, hope, family, love. It opened my eyes to the ravages of Khe Sanh, and to the horrors of battle that veterans such as my grandfather had seen.

I started to think how it could at all be possible to reflect war and its compound emotions by eight simple notes. I was more driven than ever to compose these pieces of music—but now the question was . . . how?

Accepting the challenge, and accompanied with the fear that I wouldn’t—even couldn’t—get it right, I got to work. I began by interviewing Betty and Ken, asking for words, colors, emotions, thoughts that they wanted to portray. A ritual with every filmmaker I work with, I’ve learned throughout the years that the emotions and thoughts I take away from watching a film may not be exactly the emotions the filmmaker wants to portray to the viewer. Emotions are different than messages, and messages are the bridge between the film and audience.

A young Robin Zimmermann with her grandfather. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

A young Robin Zimmermann with her grandfather. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

A lengthy back-and-forth ensued as I wrote, presented, Ken and Betty listened, and I altered as requested. Because there was so much complexity, there were lots of experiments with different approaches—sometimes from a female, motherly voice, sometimes brooding and dark, sometimes lilting and requiem-reminiscent.

Leaving my emotion aside and focusing entirely on the film in front of me was tough. Initially, I believe my thoughts got in the way and contributed to some cluttered and confused musical compositions. What instruments to employ was a topic highly discussed. Strings such as violin and viola sometimes seemed right, sometimes not at all. There was a delicate balance between an orchestral feel vs. too heavy-handed and hymn-like. One prominent color that Ken felt represented the film’s Ghost Patrol scene was gray—feeling cold, stunned, numb, isolated.

Repeatedly composing to scenes of devastation did take a toll on me. The more I watched the heroic men on screen, the more familiar they became to me, although we hadn’t met. Spending hours in a studio with no-one but your film protagonists, you develop a sense of familiarity with those you repeatedly observe, and their pain and tears become increasingly more personal. That familiarity, combined with a clear understanding of my grandfather’s pain, made for a highly challenging yet enormously rewarding journey.

Ken and Betty were wonderfully supportive in the creative process, and equally as supportive in helping me to understand my grandfather’s actions as a result of war. Their musical suggestions and edits pushed me and challenged me; I am a better composer because of it, and I feel a greater understanding and sense of catharsis about my grandfather. A heartfelt thanks to Ken and Betty for the life-changing experience, and to our war heroes who fought (and continue to fight) for our safety and freedom.

-Robin Zimmermann, 2015

Robin Zimmermann is a Los Angeles-based composer, performer and sound creator for independent film and multimedia. A musician for over 20 years with classical training in piano, flute and voice, her works span genres and fields, creating unique and eclectic soundscapes designed to heighten space and simulate environments. In 2010, Robin was honored as one of four internationally selected composer fellows for the Sundance Institute Composer and Documentary Lab.

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

February 25, 2015

On the Ghost Patrol and a School at Khe Sanh

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For years I wasn’t sure what date it was but I sure as hell could remember what I now know are the events of February 25, 1968. Now we call it the Ghost Patrol, but back then it was only heeled into my memory as the day of catastrophe.

Mark me, I was a lucky man in Vietnam. Even though Bravo 1/26 saw lots of action, I missed most of the face-to-face fire fights. The Ghost Patrol was one of those events I missed. What I didn’t miss was the mental and emotional responses that arose as a result of me being there at Khe Sanh, watching, listening to, the horror of the Ghost Patrol. Yeah, we could see it, kind of, and we could hear it out there and we watched the survivors straggle back in and we knew that there were Bravo Marines out there, dying, being bayoneted, shot, maybe tortured but we couldn’t go out and get them. Some higher-ups put a stop to the company’s attempts to rescue their brothers.

You probably know that United States Marines pride themselves on the fact that they don’t leave their dead and wounded behind. We bring them back. We go get them. But we didn’t go get them. Not until much later when all hopes of survival were extinguished. So for 47 years, we have been—I say we because I suspect the rest of the men in BRAVO! who missed the action on February 25, 1968 feel like me—ashamed, angry, distraught and, yeah, I know you can’t change the past but sometimes the memories of that day are more like the present; the breath of a deadly mist hanging over the sopping sandbags lining the trench; the sound of Hueys firing rockets; bombs and napalm roaring in the ears. The smell of death and cordite. Yeah, shame and anger.

For years I thought we’d left 33 men out there. I don’t know where that came from. Could have been that’s what the unofficial official figure was. When we went back out to get them on 3/30/68, that’s how many I thought we’d pick up. And for years I’d lie awake in the middle of the night with the memory jabbing me to remember those 33 bodies lying out there doing what dead bodies do. Now I know it was not 33, but 27 men left out there. But the numbers belie the real issue: Warrior brothers left to die out there in the aftermath of the Ghost Patrol on February 25, 1968.

Kids at Khe Sanh school

Kids at Khe Sanh school

On a more hopeful note, I received a message from a Mr. Bill Shugarts who served with the United States Army in Vietnam and who is now a docent with National Park Service at The Wall. Bill is also involved with a group of folks who travel to Vietnam and help out the locals there with schools and housing.

I told Bill I could put up some photos and info on the BRAVO! blog about what he and others are doing in Vietnam with Global Community Service, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Here’s a link to the website for the organization:

Here is a notice about one of the schools their work within Khe Sanh and some of the items Global Community Service provided through the donations they received from folks like you and me:

Khe Sanh Library Project’s Phase 2

Students and teachers at Pa Nho School, a satellite branch of Khe Sanh Primary School, now enjoy a computer, a reading table for ten students, ten reading lamps, four outdoor reading benches, a Cassette/CD player, four big bookshelves, and many new books. In December, over 130 young children enjoyed the new items.
Here’s an anecdote from one of the students at Pa Nho School:

I love the bookshelf very much. It is colorful and it has many books. I like reading picture books. And I also love the CD player. I thought it was for playing music but you can also study English, shared Ho A Dinh (age 9).

As I write this, I think about the dichotomy of it all. Ghost Patrol, bayonets, AK-47s, bodies left behind. A school in Khe Sanh, 47 years hence, pencils and CD players, bookshelves. Maybe there is some good to come from all this. Bill says the people he meets in Vietnam love Americans. Maybe some good came from all that. Was it bad, what occurred…or was it just part of being human?

If you are so inclined, consider putting your computer curser on that web link for the Global Community Service organization ( and send along a donation, large or small, to help the kids in Khe Sanh.

More kids at Khe Sanh school.

More kids at Khe Sanh school.

On the screening front:

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be shown at the Egyptian Theater in Boise, Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Discounted advance tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here at

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held at the Williams Conference Center at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 27, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, suggested donation of $5.00, and there will be beverages and snacks provided; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015, at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, 6:00 to 9:00 PM; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, 6:00 to 9:00 PM; and in Pocatello, Idaho, 6:00 to 9:00PM.

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

April 9, 2013

News About Screenings in Moscow, Idaho and Sonora, California

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Here’s the info on the screening of BRAVO!, COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR in Moscow, Idaho, on April 19, 2013 at 6:30 PM. Screening is at The Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre at 508 South Main Street, in Moscow. Doors open at 6:00 PM. There will be a panel discussion on aspects of and the nature of war across generations and conflicts. At the screening you will be able to meet the filmmakers, Ken and Betty Rodgers, the film’s principal videographer, Mark Spear, as well as Mike McCauley and Ron Rees, Bravo Company Marines who are in the film.

This screening of BRAVO! is sponsored by the University of Idaho’s Operation Education and English Department, and is free of charge but donations to Operation Education are strongly encouraged. Operation Education assists disabled combat veterans in attaining a college degree. You can find out more about Operation Education at

Thank you to the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre (, Ed McBride and Dan Button of Operation Education, and Kim Barnes and Laura Pizzo from University of Idaho’s Department of English, and Julie Titone for making this screening possible.

SONORA, California

On May 18 (Armed Forces Day), 2013, BRAVO! will be screened in Sonora, California. Below is the notice about the screening and the film from Khe Sanh brother Mike Preston, who is mainly responsible for the screening:

Here is a 2 hour first run movie like you will never see anywhere else, not at any theater, it is shown only privately. This film was made by Ken Rodgers (and his wife Betty), who lived the whole experience with Bravo Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. This is about the 77 day siege of Khe Sanh starting 21 January 1968; the Tet Offensive. It also covers the ill fated “Ghost Patrol” of 25 February and subsequent action in retaliation such as ”The Payback” battle on 30 March which was the only Marine Corps bayonet charge in Vietnam history and the only one since World War 2.

Less than 100 men participated and 19 were KIA . There were over 100 Purple Hearts earned that day, some men having multiple wounds . Other awards were 2 Navy Crosses, 8 Silver Stars , 9 Bronze Stars with “V”, 2 Navy Commendations w/V. One hell of a heroic day!

There are 15 Marines interviewed who are participants in the film itself. These guys are the “been there done that” gang, common men, uncommon valor. This film has a lot of historical significance, being about the longest and biggest battle of the 10 year conflict.

Seating is limited to 400 tickets max. Tickets are $10.00 and are available on line at Vietnam Veterans of America #391 for each of the two showings at 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM at Columbia College. There are also 3 trailers to see from the Bravo website. Just click below. If tickets are sold out and if you show up at the door at show time and there are any no-shows, you will be seated. All email tickets will be ”will-call” at the door. Tickets will also be available at Columbia College: Call Michelle Vidaurri at 588-1505. In Calaveras County, contact Bravo Project chairman Mike Preston @ 795-1864. Tuolumne County, contact Carol Southern at 938-3848.

Please send this to all who may be interested.

Thank you,
Mike Preston

Vietnam Veterans of America #391

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

December 21, 2012

Guest Blogger Ken Frier Muses on BRAVO!

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I find it odd at times when I think back on the Vietnam War and compare it to the wars we have now: The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. The times were bad, the country divided and somehow as opposed to now, the men serving were blamed for the war, even the draftees.

I never served in the military, but was almost drafted in 1970. I was a full-time student and could have received a Student Deferment, but did not; I could have also volunteered but did not. No, I decided to wait out my time and let fate have its way. When I received my lottery number (39), I knew that it was just a matter of time before I would receive a notice for induction from my draft board. As most of you know, it was a nervous time, but somehow I was drawn to the war and knew that whatever happened, that it was my lot in life.

Ken Frier

Once I arrived at the Induction Station in Jacksonville, Florida, the Marine greeting us informed 11 others and me that we would be one of the 10% of the draftees who would be going into the Marine Corps. When I asked the Navy Corpsman the reason, he smiled and said sarcastically, “To replace all of the Jarheads who are getting killed.” I did not want to die, but somehow his words meant to me that I was going to have it the roughest, to be one of the toughest, one of the few, one of the proud. It is for that reason that I have always been drawn to the Marine Corps; they had it the toughest, often had the worst equipment, they could “hack” it, they were the finest we had to offer up and I have felt guilty ever since that August day in 1970 when I failed my physical exam in Jacksonville, Florida.

* * *

In my research for my novel 1968 written under my pen name Kenton Michael, I met Retired Marine Colonel William Dabney who was the Company Commander of India/3/26 and the unit which replaced Bravo/1/26 on Hill 881S in late December 1967. India was similar to Bravo along with countless other Marine units in Northern I Corps of South Vietnam in 1968, in that the men volunteered to be there (except for the few like myself who were drafted). They were scared, resolute in doing their job, griped and complained, and took care of each other. After several initial interviews with Col. Dabney, I determined that he did not fully believe in the reasons for the US being in Vietnam. I asked him, “Why was it you actually volunteered to be a company commander in Vietnam if you did not believe in the reasons we were there?” He paused, then simply stated, “It was the profession that I chose; I did not make policy, I carried it out. Those brave young Marines chose to be there and I believed they deserved a fighting chance to survive and that meant they needed good leadership; that is why I volunteered, no other reason.”

* * *

To meet Ken Rodgers through email by chance, and to see the documentary BRAVO! has touched my soul. Growing up in Tampa, Florida, I knew Dennis Baptiste whose older brother, Michael, was in the “Ghost Patrol” and was one of the men left to the elements after dying on February 25, 1968. I have thought many times of the fear that those men in that patrol felt when they knew they were cut off, seeing their fellow Marines falling all around them, the loneliness, the hopelessness, fearing they would never see their loved ones again. Then what it must have been like for the survivors of Bravo Company to sit there day in and day out getting pounded by the relentless NVA artillery and rocket fire, knowing less than a 1000 yards away lying there were the bodies of their brothers and the NVA who ambushed them. (As a side note, the Baptiste family was briefly given hope that the body of Michael might be someone else when one of the Ghost Patrol Marines who was supposedly buried in the mass grave in St. Louis, PFC Ronald Ridgeway, stepped off the plane as a freed POW in 1973, but to no avail.)

Ken Rodgers told me he was not a hero; he was not correct. Col. Dabney of India/3/26 told me every Marine who endured Khe Sanh was a hero. From the constant fear of incoming, to the fear of being overrun as the French were at Dien Bien Phu, to the lack of proper food and sanitary conditions. Surviving Khe Sanh meant as I said while waiting for my physical exam, being a US Marine meant you could “hack” it. BRAVO! tells the story of these everyday Marines who were just common US men who found themselves in a dire situation who displayed uncommon valor; no different from the men of Iwo Jima and the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.

Semper Fi,

Ken Frier

Ken Frier is a 5th generation Floridian who attended the University of South Florida and pursued a career with the United Stated Postal Service. He now lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia, where he is working on his second novel. You can find out more about Ken’s novel 1968 here or here