Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Hill 881 North’

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 1, 2015

After the Siege

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The Siege of Khe Sanh ended for me the moment I got on a CH-46 and flew to Dong Ha. As far as I can recall, that happened around April 4, 1968. As the big bird swooped off, I looked back at Khe Sanh and began to let the notion that I had survived soak into my soul. I was gone.

I hopped flights from Dong Ha to Phu Bai to Danang to Okinawa to El Toro and finally to Arizona on April 11. No more killing. No more hiding in a hole. No more whiz bang smash crash kaboom from incoming; except in my dreams.

As I traveled from the war to home and then from bar to bar to bar in the United States, I fought like hell any attempts to wonder about what was going on at Khe Sanh. I read the papers every morning and read the daily death tolls but I had already managed to jam a metaphorical arm’s length between the Khe Sanh Combat Base and me.

The last few days in Khe Sanh I’d promised Alvarado that I’d contact his uncle as soon as I returned and I promised Jake the Snake I’d send him a fifth of Chivas Regal and I suspect I promised a lot of other things to the men I fought with. But as soon as my legs steadied on the tarmac at El Toro, I let all the promises drain out of me along with a ton of the tension that tied my neck in knots.

I immersed myself in the glory of home, my buddies, the alcohol, and the women, not that I could get close to them or anyone, family or otherwise. But I tried to forget it all and I for sure didn’t wonder what was happening at Khe Sanh.
For me it was kaput, finis, dead, over.

American warrior on Hill 471.

American warrior on Hill 471.

But it wasn’t. Men were still being killed and maimed at my old homestead. Besides the warriors still trapped inside the combat base and surrounding hills, elements of the 1st and 3rd Marine Regiments and the United States Army’s 1st Air Cav, in what was named Operation Pegasus, were driving up Route 9 in an attempt to relieve Khe Sanh.

On April 6 while I was in Phu Bai turning in my gear at the battalion rear, Marines and Corpsmen from Bravo 1/26 and Delta 1/26 went out on a patrol and picked up the remaining bodies of the Bravo Company men who were killed on February 25.
On April 6 through April 8, Marines from 2/26 were moving off of Hill 558 to drive the enemy from the field and were engaged in three days of vicious combat.

On April 13, two days after I got home, Felix Poilane, the French national whose family owned one of the coffee plantations at Khe Sanh, was killed in a plane crash while coming back to Khe Sanh. That day, I was already running around with my old college roommate drinking cases of Coors.

On April 14, Operation Pegasus was complete and Operation Scotland II began, and the main breakout by the Marines of Khe Sanh started.

In Operation Scotland II, elements of the 26th and 9th Marines began to drive into the surrounding country and maul the North Vietnamese Army. 1/9 hit Hill 689. Marines from 3/26 assaulted Hill 881-N, which had always been a symbol of the North Vietnamese Army’s ability to battle toe-to-toe with us.

While all this fighting was going on, I was boozing it up on Cinco de Mayo in Nogales, Mexico, and traveling to Phoenix to hang out in honkytonks. Then I was with 5th Battalion Recon at Camp Horno, and all the time, for me, Khe Sanh was over.
Later, while I was rappelling on San Clemente Island and running along the beach at Camp Pendleton, the Marines were still fighting and dying at Khe Sanh.

On June 18, Operation Charlie began with the abandonment of the Khe Sanh Combat Base a primary goal. To get this job done, more Marines died. Khe Sanh was destroyed by our own forces.

On October 9, 1968, a ceremony was held at Khe Sanh—or more specific, the base’s remains—to memorialize the men who died defending the place. By the time of the Khe Sanh ceremony in October, I had been transferred to San Diego to begin a year of . . . even though I was still a Marine . . . living somewhat like a civilian.

After the Siege ended, over 600 Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force personnel perished in Operations Pegasus, Scotland II and Charlie. That number is much larger than the number of men who died during the Siege itself.

To be honest, in the back of my mind, while I lived my stateside life, I knew men were dying over there. But I was trying to stuff all those thoughts and the memories they led to. But some encounters made it impossible to hide from the recollections of my time at Khe Sanh.

Casualties on Hill 689.

Casualties on Hill 689.

For instance, one of the men I served with as a radio operator at Khe Sanh was stationed with me at San Diego. We had shared a bunker for over a month during the Siege. In San Diego we never spoke of our time in Vietnam. I suspect he was doing the same thing I was, trying to bury the recent past. But every time I looked in his face, his weary eyes talked to me about the days and nights spent cooped up like rats, the times we went outside the wire and assaulted NVA trenchlines.

I was also stationed with a Marine who was an engineer with the unit that blew up the Combat Base during Operation Charlie. One night he described to me the action, explosion by explosion. It all made me sick with disgust.

All those men who had died before, during, and after the Siege . . . thinking of them made me think, what a waste. Those brave and frightened men who died during the relief and the breakout, men of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 26th Marines, 3rd Recon, and associated support units, pilots and flight crews. Seabees and Corpsmen and pilots and air crews from the Navy, pilots and air crews with the Air Force, pilots, air crews, special forces and ground-pounders with the United States Army. People like the photographer Robert Ellison, killed while serving as a civilian photojournalist. All the ARVNS and the local Bru montagnards who fought with us and died. Yes, it all made me sick with disgust.

I think a lot of fellow Vietnam veterans still battle memories of their time in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. For their sake, I hope the sacrifices made on both sides accomplished something beyond the death and despair.

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.

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

October 22, 2014

More on October 1967

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Last week we wrote about the month of October around the Khe Sanh Combat Base. One of the main themes of the blog was that the most difficult thing to deal with was the weather. We don’t think that was the case in the rest of Vietnam. Operations were conducted from north to south searching for both North Vietnamese and Vietcong combat units. Thousands of men and women died on both sides, the troops led by the forces of the United States and those fighting for the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government. The fighting was brutal and the body counts high.

The airstrip at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of David Douglas Duncan

The airstrip at Khe Sanh.
Photo courtesy of David Douglas Duncan

But not at Khe Sanh. For a time and place that saw the savage springtime battles centered around the hills, 861, 881 South and 881 North, the battle action was strangely non-existent in October 1967. Compared to the conflagration of the Siege and associated fights, October 1967 at Khe Sanh was almost Paradise. Leeches, patrols, rain and mist, work parties, slick red mud and too much water were all, in the big picture, little to nothing.

According to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, the men killed in action at the Khe Sanh TAOR in October 1967 were as follows (if you are interested in knowing more about these men, please check out the links to the virtual wall following each name):

On October 13, 1967, Marine Corporal Melvin Sink (http://www.virtualwall.org/ds/SinkMF01a.htm) was killed by friendly fire while leading an ambush off Hill 881-South.

On October 15, 1967, Army Sgt. Charles Baney (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BaneyCL01a.htm), and crewmembers Airman 1st Class Lawrence Berneski (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BerneskiLA01a.htm), Captain Erle Bjorke (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BjorkeEL01a.htm), 1st Lieutenant James Hottenroth (http://www.virtualwall.org/dh/HottenrothJR01a.htm), Tech Sergeant Edward Mosley (http://www.virtualwall.org/dm/MosleyEx01a.htm) and Airman 2nd Class John Snyder (http://www.virtualwall.org/ds/SnyderJH01a.htm) were killed when the C-130 they were either inspectors on or crewing, crashed and burned at the east end of the Khe Sanh airstrip.

On October 30, 1967, Captain James Bennett (http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BennettJH01a.htm) died from injuries sustained in the crash of an Air Force O1-E spotter at the Khe Sanh air strip.

Even when the war was quiet, in terms of combat, the dangers of operating in bad weather, in tough terrain, in the light and in the night was dangerous and took the lives of good men and women such as those represented herein…

We look forward to the upcoming screening at the Meridian Library in Meridian, Idaho, at 6:30 PM this evening, October 22.

Also on tap is a screening in Oceanside, CA, 10:00 AM on November 1 at the Veterans Association of North County, 1617 N Mission, Oceanside, CA. Donations go to renovate the VANC Resource Center. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Vanc.events@gmail.com.

Oceanside Screening Info

Oceanside Screening Info

Later in November, a screening will be held at American Legion Post 291, Newport Beach, CA, 215 15th Street, Newport Beach. Screening begins at 10:00 AM on November 15, 2014. Proceeds go to benefit the Fisher House of Southern California.

Please join us for one of these events and please invite your friends.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. 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/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help us reach more people.

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

June 15, 2013

On Super Gaggles, CH-46s and Re-Supplying Khe Sanh

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Marine Michael Phillips flew re-supply choppers into Khe Sanh and the surrounding hills during the siege. Here he tells us what it was like.

My name is Michael Phillips, and I was a Marine Corps pilot with HMM-364 Purple Foxes helicopter squadron during the siege at Khe Sanh. Every day during the siege, we sent 8 CH-46’s to resupply the hills and Khe Sanh between 24 February 1968 until 9 April 1968. This came to be known as the “Super Gaggle” in aviation history.

Our day began with a 05:30 briefing at Phu Bai, then up to Quang Tri to be briefed again by General Hill. After that we flew over to Dong Ha and picked up our externals. Since it was IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) at Dong Ha, our first aircraft took off on a heading for Khe Sanh, aircraft # 2 took off 10 degrees to the left, aircraft # 3 10 degrees to the right, etc., until all 8 were airborne. We normally punched out around 8,000 feet, on to Khe Sanh where we would orbit for 30-40 minutes while the artillery, F4 Phantoms, A6 Intruders and A4’s provided gun support for the hill that we would resupply. One of our biggest concerns was that of a mid-air collision. We had so much air support that F4’s were constantly zipping in front of us. At that altitude and at our weight, we barely had enough power to maintain elevation, so when we flew thru their exhaust it was not unusual for us to lose control and drop 3-400 feet prior to regaining control.

When the command was given for us to begin our run, we had to lose 8,000 feet of altitude but still maintain enough power to land at the LZ. On the way down our gunners would begin firing their .50 caliber guns, careful not to hit the Marines on the ground. The NVA AK-47 was not very dangerous to us until we reached around 1,500 feet in elevation above the LZ. The major problem for us was maintaining proper spacing between aircraft, or we might have to attempt to hover at 900 feet. We simply did not have enough power to do so. It was essential that aircrafts #1, 2 and 3 get on to the hill or the LZ at Khe Sanh and off without wasting any time. Or else the balance of the flight was trying to hover, and a pilot could not do so.

Hill 881 South was our most difficult as we owned that hill and the NVA owned 881 North. We could always count on intense fire from there. One hill that did not receive much publicity was 558. This hill was in a slight ravine and there must have been 100 mortar tubes there. Keeping them supplied with ammo was a fulltime job.

After we completed the resupply we left for Quang Tri, refueled and flew back to Phu Bai. Every Marine base in I Corps was surrounded. When we got back, our gunners took the .50 caliber guns out of the A/C down to the perimeter as we got hit by the NVA each night. Our crew chiefs worked all night to fix the battle damage to our A/C. We could have done nothing without the crew chiefs. They were superb.

It was not unusual for us to take 50 rockets at a whack. Afterwards the NVA would always put a round in every half hour, so out to the bunkers we went. This ensured that we got very little sleep. Flying that CH-46 lacking sleep was a chore and all of our pilots became extremely rude, ugly, tense and it did have an effect on how efficient we were.

Approaching Hill 881 South (or any of the other Khe Sanh LZ’s) was somewhat more sophisticated than I mentioned earlier. When we began our descent it always reverted back to the individual pilot’s skill and his ability to shoot a good approach. Controlling the rate of descent, controlling spacing, controlling air speed, maintaining turns (RPM’s), running out of ground speed and altitude at the same time over the LZ was imperative. Dropping the external as “softly” as possible was a never-ending challenge. If any of the A/C in front of you did not do these things, you had to make adjustments, quickly. We simply did not have enough power to hover at 1,000 feet so sometimes one had to drop out of the sequence and go to the Khe Sanh Combat Base airstrip to hover, then air taxi to the hill. This was not a good thing as the Combat Base runway always took a lot of rockets and mortars, and you were exposed to more fire than desired.

If one A/C screwed up, overshot the LZ, he had to come to a complete hover, back up to the zone, bounce around some; this took time. It was time that the A/C behind him did not have to sacrifice. The CH-46 does not stop on a dime. In our haste to get in and out, sometimes our airspeed was excessive. It was adjustment time for everyone behind the pilot who was trying to get into the LZ.

Prior to flight school, I went to Basic School in Quantico. There I studied tactics, explosives, rifle range (M14) .45 pistol, everything that a Second Lieutenant is supposed to know. (Not much, huh?) As a result I had many friends that were 0311, and it provided me with a very good understanding of what the grunts were going through. Since I was not there with them, I could not actually experience in depth their plight, but I did have enough knowledge to admire their courage, never giving up, never leaving a wounded man in a hot zone.

During and after Tet, I had occasion to fly many medevac missions. Some of these required that I land in a rice paddy, 100 meters from the tree line where we were taking intense fire. The plexiglass cockpit and 1/8 inch aluminum skin of the A/C did not slow down an AK-47 round, and we paid a price.

I am proud to say that in the Marine tradition, we never left a wounded man in a hot zone. Never. He was coming out, and was going to be on a hospital ship in 20 minutes. It was not that I was a hero, all of our pilots, and all of the pilots from other squadrons did the same. All in a day’s work to support the Private with a bayonet on the ground. The same was true if one of our recon teams was compromised. They might have to run for a mile to find a LZ big enough for us to land, but we took them out.

Probably more than you wanted to know about the day-in, day-out life of a CH-46 driver.

You guys were the greatest, a shame that none of you (us) ever got the recognition that we deserved.

On a separate note, DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale at https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

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