Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Gregg Jones’

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 28, 2016

Ironies and Coincidences

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Thirteen days ago Betty and I left San Antonio, Texas, after the completion of the 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans reunion.
We were glad to see all our Khe Sanh Veteran friends, and to meet some folks we hadn’t met before.

We were also saddened because a lot of the men in BRAVO!, a number of whom we interviewed in San Antonio at the same location in 2010, were not able to be with us for a number of reasons. We did get to see and visit with John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley who are in the film. As always, it was great to talk about the present and to remember the past. It is especially nice to sit and talk to men who are the only ones who understand what one went through at Khe Sanh.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

Besides Doc Cicala and Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley, we also got to spend time with Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo 1/26, Bruce “T-Bone” Jones, Mike McIntyre, and Jim “Doc” Beal. What a heartening time we had with these fine men.

After all these years we tell our tales, our eyes big, sometimes with the faint acceleration of the heartbeat. Sometimes we slap a table top and laugh, some somber and dark moment remembered because of the black humor we employed to mitigate the constant fear that ground inside our guts.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

While in San Antonio visiting with our friends and comrades, we spent some time working on our new project, a documentary film about the wives of combat veterans. The working title for this new effort is I MARRIED THE WAR.

We met with a woman whose husband, whom we also spent time with, served during the Middle East war. In addition, we met a couple who have been married since he came home after the war in Vietnam. In addition, we also visited with a woman from the east coast whom we will interview about her experiences as the spouse of a Khe Sanh vet.

On our journey down to San Antonio from our home in Idaho, we managed to stop and spend a few moments of reflection at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. The memorial is a somberly beautiful structure that seemed to fit in an almost ungainly way against the flaming autumn colors of the surrounding Sangre de Christo Mountains. It wasn’t a complementary fit between the memorial and the red, golds and russets of the aspen and cottonwoods and maples and oaks. It was something more with a hint of irony. The memorializing of something horrible in contrast with something beautiful. The man-created versus the natural, and the stark dissimilarity between the two, was quite marked and emotionally attractive.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Betty and I also had the opportunity to spend some time with our longtime friends from Central Texas, Mary and Roger Engle.

We got to visit with Gregg Jones, author of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH. Gregg was in town speaking to a group associated with B-24 crews from World War II about his upcoming book concerning the B-24 Liberators of World War II.

The 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion was a fine experience, and on the road home, as always, we made time to stop and spend some moments taking in the locales we passed through. Particularly meaningful was the opportunity to journey off the more beaten paths of freeways and national highways and go to Pleasant Hill, New Mexico, in search of the grave site of Ken Pipes’ great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Pipes, who is buried in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Ken Pipes was the Skipper of Bravo Company, 1/26, and is dearly revered by the surviving men who served under him.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Pleasant Hill isn’t a town, it’s a community of farmers and cattle ranchers near the border with Texas. The locals congregate around a fire house, a church and the cemetery which are all separated by a quarter or half section of farm or grazing ground. The land is flat, part of the high plains where the wind loves to blow and you can see for miles.

We did find the Skipper’s great-grandfather’s grave, and it has been well maintained.

One of the many other ironies and coincidences I thought about on the trip was how, in the 1980s, I used to hunt pheasant at Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. At the time I had no idea the Skipper had relations buried in the cemetery there. I didn’t know anything about the Skipper other than he had led us through the Siege of Khe Sanh and he let me leave Khe Sanh a day earlier than my orders allowed. I can see him now in my mind as I recall him then, sitting in the Bravo Company command post, his arm in a sling and other parts of his body bandaged in clean white material already smudged with the blood red mud of Khe Sanh.

Adding to the eerie air of coincidence is the notion that my great–grandfather was also named Andrew Jackson, last name Rodgers, who also hailed from the same region as the Skipper’s Andrew Jackson.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

And then it was home for a time to get caught up before we move on with BRAVO! And I MARRIED THE WAR.

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

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

December 31, 2014

Author Gregg Jones Blogs About Writing His Book, LAST STAND AT KHE SANH

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The Americans who fought and bled and stood firm at Khe Sanh in 1968 will be a part of my life forever. That’s the payoff I treasure most after writing Last Stand at Khe Sanh. Among the extraordinary people who graced my life during this project were Ken and Betty Rodgers. Their powerful film on the men of Bravo 1/26 was a source of early inspiration for me. At the invitation of Ken and Betty, I’ve put together a Q-and-A about my Khe Sanh literary experience. It draws on questions I’ve gotten from Khe Sanh veterans and readers at large, as well as my personal reflections on this unforgettable journey.


I discuss this at some length in the introduction to Last Stand at Khe Sanh. The Vietnam War was a great and tragic event that hung over my childhood. My early fascination with the American Civil War piqued my curiosity about what American soldiers were experiencing in Vietnam. My mother had lost her oldest brother in World War II, and that deepened my interest in the war and the rising human cost of the conflict. I identified with the men who answered the call and served in Vietnam. I always believed that I would have been a grunt in Vietnam if I had been born ten years earlier. When I decided to write a book about Vietnam, Khe Sanh drew me in. It was a high-stakes showdown in the war’s pivotal year, and a dramatic setting for an examination of the American combat experience in Vietnam.

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones

Cover of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH by Gregg Jones


I knew I would have to limit the scope of the book to the siege months to tell the human story in some depth, but that still meant constructing a complicated narrative that unfolds over four months, from January to April 1968. Another challenge was the fact that the action at Khe Sanh plays out in several different locations: the combat base; Hill 881 South; Hill 861 and 861 Alpha; the Rock Quarry and Hill 64; Khe Sanh village; and Hill 558. Contemporary readers expect a cinematic experience in a work of narrative history, and that entails conveying a story through the experiences of compelling characters. I wanted to turn a spotlight on as many men as possible without overwhelming the reader. It was a constant balancing act. There was one final narrative challenge: Khe Sanh didn’t end with a big pitched battle or a scene like Santa Ana’s soldiers pouring over the walls at the Alamo, or Pickett’s charge crashing against Union lines on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. The closest thing to a dramatic final act at Khe Sanh was the 3/26 assault on Hill 881 North on Easter Sunday, April 14, 1968. But even that wasn’t really the final act: The killing and dying at Khe Sanh continued for another three months, out of the spotlight, before the base was abandoned.


It was gratifying to give a voice to men who had not been heard before. I was trying to find a mix of representative characters, from the COC at Khe Sanh Combat Base down to the grunt-level of line platoons on the hill outposts. Obviously, some of the men who populate the narrative of Last Stand at Khe Sanh had appeared in previous books, but many hadn’t. I also was very inspired to tell the stories of men who had lost their lives at Khe Sanh, to put a face on brave and selfless souls who had faded into the mists of history. I wanted readers to know something about the final moments of men like Tommy Denning, Jesus Roberto Vasquez, Joe Molettiere, Eugene Ashley, Jonathan Nathaniel Spicer, and so many others. They deserve to be remembered, as do their comrades who returned from Vietnam.


It took much more time than I expected to identify and correct the errors in historical records and previous books about Khe Sanh, and to reconcile discrepancies in the accounts of eyewitnesses I interviewed. There were a couple of instances where individuals had clearly created embellished accounts to recast themselves as heroes. It took a lot of digging and checking to get it right. Finally, it was painful to have to edit and tighten the manuscript and lose the stories of so many men.


With unlimited time and money, I would devote another three years to interviewing Khe Sanh veterans, digging through the archives, walking the battlefield and tracking down NVA veterans. I would spend another year or two writing, fact-checking, proofreading and polishing the manuscript. A publisher’s deadlines never seem to leave enough time for everything that needs to be done.


My editor at Da Capo Press, Bob Pigeon, had very high hopes for Last Stand at Khe Sanh. He loved the finished manuscript, and this fall submitted the book for three major prizes. Leatherneck magazine called Last Stand “a classic,” and scores of veterans have told me that Last Stand captured their Khe Sanh experience better than any previous book. But the fact is that Last Stand at Khe Sanh hasn’t found the “larger audience” that I hoped it would find. The men who fought at Khe Sanh deserve to have their story told, and word of mouth is a powerful force in the history genre. Last Stand at Khe Sanh is still selling, and the paperback edition will be out next spring.

Gregg Jones

Gregg Jones


Absolutely. I became a journalist because I wanted to experience history as it happened. I witnessed some extraordinary history in my thirty years in journalism. When I left daily journalism in 2010 to devote myself to chronicling American history, I dreamed of writing books like Last Stand at Khe Sanh. Getting to know some of the men who fought at Khe Sanh and telling their story has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

Gregg Jones is the author of three critically acclaimed nonfiction books: Last Stand at Khe Sanh, Honor in the Dust, and Red Revolution. He reported from Afghanistan in 2001-02, and has covered insurgencies, revolutions and other major news events on five continents during his four decades in journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe and other U.S., British and Australian newspapers and magazines. He has been honored with numerous awards and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was based in Asia from 1984-89 and 1997-2002.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

April 17, 2012

Why Khe Sanh? Why Now?

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Today’s guest blogger, nationally recognized historian and journalist Gregg Jones, muses on the Siege of Khe Sanh.

In the autumn of 2010, I had just finished writing a nonfiction book about America’s rise to world power in the Spanish-American War and the subsequent colonial war in the Philippines that bedeviled Theodore Roosevelt’s young administration. While my editor read my manuscript, I began weighing possible subjects for my next book. I had spent years researching the death of my uncle and eight comrades on a B-24 bomber crew in World War II, and so that story was high on my list. At the same time, another subject called to me: America’s war in Vietnam.

My interest in the Vietnam War had its roots in my lifelong love of American history. Growing up in a small southeast Missouri town, the American Civil War had been my passion, and I had devoured books by Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote. I was nine years old in the summer of 1968 when we piled into our ’64 Chevy Impala for a family vacation to Washington, D.C. I persuaded my parents to stop at every Civil War battlefield in our path, but each day our journey into America’s past was jolted back to the present by newscasts and headlines about the widening war in Vietnam. As we walked through Arlington National Cemetery a few days later, we could not help but notice all the fresh graves. We watched in solemn silence as a flag-draped coffin passed the Custis-Lee Mansion on a horse-drawn caisson, and then, some minutes later, the sound of Taps echoed over the hallowed hills. Back home in Missouri, my family followed events in Vietnam on the CBS Evening News and in our local newspaper. Every so often, the paper wrote about some hometown boy who had died in America’s service in Indochina. Eventually, fourteen young men from my hometown of 15,000 people would never return.

Gregg Jones

Two years ago, as I began to seriously consider a book on the Vietnam War, I debated two questions: What should be my focus? And could I write something of lasting historical value? Three events occupied my thoughts: the battle for Khe Sanh; the Tet offensive; and the fall of Saigon. As a student of American military history, I had long been fascinated with the former two events. While I read everything I could about Khe Sanh, I initially decided to take a broader approach and chronicle the experiences of several men who fought in Vietnam in 1968.

Almost from the beginning, I found myself drawn deeper into the epic story of Khe Sanh.

Three Khe Sanh veterans—Michael O’Hara, Tom Quigley and Dennis Mannion–were my first interviews in the project. When I first contacted Michael, he was wary. He wanted to know who I was and why I wanted to write this book. They were fair questions, and I answered these and others in detail. I explained that I had been a Pulitzer Prize finalist in my 29 years as an investigative journalist and foreign correspondent, and I had spent 10 years in Southeast Asia.

I told Michael about the years of work I had done on weekends and holidays to unravel the mysteries of my uncle’s lost bomber crew, tracking down family members of the men and arranging for a memorial to be placed in the Austrian meadow where the bomber crashed on the afternoon of October 1, 1943. When I told him that the remains of my uncle and his comrades had been returned to the United States in early 1950 and buried in a group grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, he could barely contain himself. Michael had stood almost in that exact spot, paying tribute to several comrades from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. It turned out that some of the Marines killed in the “Ghost Patrol” of 25 February 1968 had been buried in a group grave just a few yards from my uncle’s crew.

Months passed and Khe Sanh continued to dominate my thoughts. Michael, Tom and Dennis shared their experiences and generously put me in touch with other men who had served there. I became an associate member of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Last summer, I drove up to Rochester, Minnesota, to attend the annual reunion as Michael’s guest.

Those three days I spent with the Khe Sanh veterans rate among the most memorable 72 hours of my life. I met some exceptional men and their families, and witnessed the extraordinary bonds that forever sustain Khe Sanh survivors. I spent hours recording the experiences of Ken Pipes and other Khe Sanh veterans like Ghost Patrol survivor Cal Bright. (I also witnessed some priceless karaoke performances by such iconic Khe Sanh Marines as Tom Eichler and Bruce “T-Bone” Jones.) I left Rochester inspired by these men. On the drive back to Texas, I resolved to focus my book on what the defenders of Khe Sanh had endured and achieved in those red clay hills in 1968.

Four weeks later, I handed my literary agent a 40-page proposal that laid out the book that had begun to take shape in my head—a narrative history of the epic battle for Khe Sanh, based on extensive interviews with enlisted men and officers who were there. My agent sent the proposal to a dozen top trade publishing houses in New York and Boston. There was immediate interest, but ten publishers eventually retreated to the tired conventional wisdom regarding books on America’s most unpopular war: We like the proposal, but Vietnam War books just don’t attract enough readers…. I wanted to say: Well, they should! Fortunately, two publishing houses believed in my vision for a new book about Khe Sanh. I settled on Bob Pigeon at Da Capo Press, who told me that he had long wanted to do a major book about Khe Sanh.

And so the project, now a book focused solely on Khe Sanh in 1968, took life.

The project timetable calls for me to deliver a manuscript to Da Capo by 31 December of this year. As of this writing, I have interviewed 52 men who served at Khe Sanh in 1968, and I will be speaking with many more in the coming days. I have been moved and inspired beyond words by the accounts I have heard, testaments to the camaraderie and indomitable spirit of the men who served at Khe Sanh. The great challenge I face in the months ahead is transforming these hundreds of hours of priceless interviews into a narrative worthy of these men and their service.

Among the powerful accounts I have gathered is that of a fellow writer who had been a young Marine rifleman from Arizona in 1968. Spending time with Ken Rodgers and his wife Betty at the Rochester reunion had been one of my personal highlights. I had become aware of their film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, even before I began contacting Vietnam veterans. Later, Ken and Betty generously invited me to attend the private screening of their film with Bravo Company veterans. I thought I had steeled myself for the experience, but the power and raw honesty of Ken and Betty’s interviews swept away my defenses. I’ve never shed more tears than I did while watching the scarred survivors of Bravo Company speak of their experiences at Khe Sanh.

As I move ahead with my own modest effort to preserve the history of Khe Sanh, I am closely following Ken and Betty’s important work to bring Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to a wide audience. Financially and emotionally, they put themselves on the line to make this film. It is an extraordinary piece of documentary art. Whatever your opinions of the war, the young Americans who served our nation in Vietnam deserve to have their stories told in movies like Bravo!, and in books like that which I hope to create. If I may paraphrase Ken and Betty’s powerful prologue, this is not a pro-war or anti-war statement. This is about what happened. And, as Americans and intelligent beings, we need to remember.

A Missouri native, Gregg Jones is the author of Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream (New American Library/Penguin, 2012) and Red Revolution: Inside the Philippine Guerrilla Movement (Westview Press, 1989). He is currently writing a narrative history of the 1968 battle for Khe Sanh, which will be published by Da Capo Press in 2013. He was a Pulitzer Prize-finalist investigative reporter and foreign correspondent before writing books full time.