Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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

April 11, 2018

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Fifty Years Gone—April 11, 1968

I fidgeted inside a Continental Airlines 707 in Okinawa waiting for the B-52s lined up on the flight line to take off. I glanced at the tattered and dog-eared pages of a Max Brand book I’d been trying to read for months about a buckaroo named Destry. Then I peered around at the others on the flight, all of them Marines (other than the crew), none of whom I knew. I looked out the port hole and studied the B-52s again. Their dark fuselages ginned-up images of hell, avengers and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When the B-52s finally rolled forward, their long wings drooped and prompted metaphors of sharp-taloned hawks.

And then we were airborne, over the Pacific, headed for home, my thoughts saturated with scenes and noises and stenches of the battlefield. And even though I tried to read about Destry, nothing else managed to crowd into my mind except memories of Khe Sanh.

We flew over Iwo Jima. It looked like a distorted version of a figure eight and I wondered about all those men who had died over that little piece of volcanic rock.

Iwo Jima from the air.

At El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, we deplaned. I wanted to drop down, do a pushup and kiss the deck, but I didn’t. We put up with Marine Corps hassle as we processed to go on leave and then board a bus to LA and the airport.

After I got my airline ticket to Tucson, I called home, trying to tell someone that I needed a ride, but no one answered. I finally contacted the mother of my best friend who told me she’d make sure someone showed up to get me.

I waited in the airport lounge, smoking Camels and drinking real beer—Coors beer—wanting someone to say something about me being home, being alive, being a Vietnam vet who’d sacrificed for his county. Nobody said a damned thing except the bartender who muttered “thanks” when I left him a tip.

Not long before I climbed aboard my flight, a young Marine came in and plopped down at the bar in a seat next to me. He was going on leave before shipping out for Nam. He wanted to know what it was like. I said, “Keep your head down.”

On the flight to Tucson, I sat next to a girl who seemed about my age. She wouldn’t look at me. I could have struck up a conversation but I didn’t know what to talk about. I didn’t think she’d care about 152mm artillery rounds that shook the ground, severed arms and legs, and if they landed too close to you, forced blood out of the pores of your body.

At Tucson, my parents met me as I headed down a set of stairs to baggage claim where my best friend and his fiancé waited. I could tell by the way they all stared at me that I wasn’t quite the person they’d expected.

We went to a well-known Mexican food restaurant in Old Town. I craved green chili. After we sat, I ordered a Coke. I wanted a beer but didn’t think my mother would approve.

Our meals arrived and I talked about Khe Sanh, what I saw, how I felt. They didn’t look at me, just turned to on their ground beef tacos, their green chili and queso enchiladas.

For decades after, when thinking about that moment, the top of my father’s balding head would invade my mind. It was what they showed me as they ate: the tops of their heads.

Blogger Kn Rodgers at Khe Sanh in 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

At the time, I thought nobody was interested in what happened and maybe, in general, that was the attitude of a lot of Americans; they didn’t want to have to consider the particulars of death and carnage. But now, I think, my family and friends just didn’t know how to respond to what I described, since the Siege inhabited a universe too far outside the ken of their experience.

So, I just shut up.

By myself in the back seat of my parents’ Buick, riding through the black Sonoran Desert night, I looked out the window and thought about Khe Sanh, the siege, the dead, my fear, the memories of which I naively imagined would just slip away.

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NEWS!

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime. Please check it out if you are interested, and please consider sharing this news with your friends and contacts whom you think might be interested in seeing the film. And please ask them to give us a review if they would. It will help get the film out to a broader audience.

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ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be screened in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

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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 Festivals,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 6, 2016

BRAVO! To Receive 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award

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After we put our first cut of BRAVO! in the can, I remember talking to one of the filmmakers we met during the editing process. An award winner himself, he talked about BRAVO! being a film that ought to be in the running for an Oscar.

At the time, with my lack of knowledge about the process of making films, I remember sitting out on the patio dreaming about Betty and me bouncing up the stairs to the stage to accept our Oscar our hearts thumping like .50 caliber machine guns. But then reality hit and we discovered how the Academy Awards really work.

First, you have to screen your film in both Los Angeles and New York and the funding requirements are overwhelming for an operation like ours. One hopes for a distribution agreement that would make it possible to have your film screened in LA and New York without you, the filmmakers, having to pay the tab for theater rental in those two cities. And though we tried to find a distributor, alas, it has yet to happen.

We’ve been on this filmmaking journey for six years now, and it’s been fun and rewarding and depressing and elating, a roller coaster ride for sure, and as we have gone along, we would have liked to see BRAVO! recognized by our peers, the filmmakers, and not having that happen was disappointing.

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Until last year when BRAVO! was recognized as Best Documentary Feature in the 2015 GI Film Festival San Diego and that took a huge bite out of the disappointment.

And this year, 2016, brings even more good news for the film. The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation will be awarding BRAVO! the 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award for Documentary Feature on April 23 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Major Norman Hatch was a photographer and filmmaker who landed with the Second Marine Division at Tarawa where he shot footage for an award winning documentary film about that battle. He also documented the Marines’ combat on Iwo Jima and went on to spend forty-one years working with military films and photography.

This award is like getting a double shot of praise because the judges who chose BRAVO! are film industry professionals, so we are getting some more kudos from our filmmaking peers. And there is another angle to look at, too. To be chosen for this extraordinary award by this organization of warriors is for us every bit as important, if not more so, as being recognized by moviemakers.

To be told by your fellow warriors, so to speak, that yes, here’s to a job well done and yes, BRAVO! speaks to the agony and ecstasy of war, is an honor that makes us feel like we will pop all the buttons off the front of our shirts and blouses.

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, will be presenting Betty and me with this award. BRAVO! brother Michael E. O’Hara, who is in the film, plans on joining us (along with his son-in-law, Daniel Folz) for the event as does one of our biggest supporters, our friend Betty Plevney. It should be a great evening, beginning with the awards ceremony followed by a dinner at the Museum.

In some ways receiving the Major Norman Hatch Award feels like we’ve come full circle since it was a grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation back in 2010 that jumpstarted BRAVO!

We are humbled and happy and raring to go east to Quantico.

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 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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 16, 2016

On Navy Corpsmen

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on Navy Corpsmen and Marines

The latter part of 2015 was not especially kind to me. I had a serious surgery in September and in November I suddenly fell ill once again and suffered a somewhat sustained period of time in the VA hospital, about 45 days all told. I am now home and greatly improved, Thank You very much. I mention that only because it reminded me of a time long ago and the special folks who endeared themselves to me.

Never, in our glorious past has any one group of individuals EVER earned the respect and the admiration of Marines across the globe than our FMF Navy Corpsmen, more commonly referred to as “Doc.” Most folks have no idea what these brave men have endured just to be called Doc. They train with the Marines, they deploy with the Marines, and they patrol with the Marines. They are as much a Marine as anyone can be without actually enlisting. Not a patrol goes through the wire without Doc.

Doc is everywhere. He was on the beach at Tarawa and on every island campaign in the Pacific. There was even a Doc who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Doc was at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir when Chesty Puller’s men were withdrawing through that awful frozen (-30) tundra of North Korea. Doc not only tended to the wounded but was required to deal with many horrific amputations due to frostbite. Sometimes they had a real M.D. to help, but not very often.

Doc was in Lebanon in 1958 and again in 1983 when the Marine Barracks was attacked and over 200 Marines were lost. Doc is everywhere. Doc has been to all the little unknown conflicts most people have long since forgotten. Doc also went to a place that became known as “The Nam.”

2 January 1968. Bravo Company, 1/26 had been deployed Oct-Dec to 881 South. When we left the hill the day after Christmas, 1967, we ran a long operation up the Rao Quan River to the north. It was January when we got back and were assigned to the combat base. The NVA had broken a truce (SOOPRISE) and we were called back to the base. We sacked in with Alpha Company on the north side of the runway. By midnight, Danny Horton and I were delirious. We had not used our purification tablets which made our water non-potable, and as a result were really sick.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh.

Our platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, was dispatched to tend to us and we were taken straight away to a tent. A firefight had just erupted with members of Lima Company close to the tent we were in. I was so sick I never moved from the table. Everyone else was on the ground. This was the beginning of my very first hospital stay, if that is what you would call it.

I think I was there 16 days, maybe. They finally said we had amoebic dysentery. It can kill you if not properly treated. But Doc was there. This tent was known as the BAS, Battalion Aid Station. It was a dark, sandbagged hole in the ground. I don’t remember much of the first ten days but I know Doc took wonderful care of me. Soon I was discharged from BAS and sent back to Bravo. I was very weak.

I would see or hear about Doc’s brave actions many more times during the Siege. You see, the reason Marines love Doc is because they know that if they take a bullet, if they lose a limb to a mortar round and call for Doc, he will come, just like he has always done. It makes no matter how heavy the volley, Doc will charge into the guns to tend to his wounded Marines. He has always done so and he continues to do so to this day. Make no mistake, Doc for sure is one of our most unsung Heroes.

Doc Cicala from our 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, is a fine example. Shot through one of his lungs and with grenade fragments to his groin, he still continued on the day of the 25 February ambush doing what he could to help guide others who were literally crawling back to the perimeter on their stomachs.

Second Platoon’s Doc Thomas Hoody, who spent many nights braving the incoming artillery patching up Marines, would visit me in the night twice during the month of March to check on my wounds.

I am sure the Docs in first platoon showed every bit as much raw courage and bravery as well. But one of the most searing moments of my tour came on 30 March when Doc and I met up close and very personal when our roles were reversed in the middle of one of the bloodiest damn firefights of the entire war.

Richard Blanchfield had served better than 6 years as a United States Marine. He got out, enlisted in the United States Navy and became a Doc. He was a replacement for the Third Platoon on 30 March. He had only been there a few days at the most. I didn’t even know him.

By the time I met him, the entire company was at “Fix Bayonets” and we were definitely engaging Charley. In fact, we were all in a virtual dead run to get these guys who had killed so many of our fellow Marines. Doc Blanchfield was well ahead of me. He had already tended to a wounded Marine and had just got up on the edge of a bomb crater when mortars simply rained down on him and the whole command group as well.

When I reached the edge of the crater, he was about halfway down and sliding in the loose dirt. There were two dead Marines and numerous dead NVA in the crater. Those two Marines certainly earned their pay that day. Doc had, by this time, stuck 2 morphine needles in his own leg. His arm was nearly blown off at the shoulder. At first I was in as much shock as he was, but I regained my composure and began to tie him off. After slowing down the bleeding, I tied two battle dressings together and wrapped him all around so he at least wouldn’t do any more damage to what was left of his arm. I thought he would die.

The battle was still in full assault so I laid him back and comforted him as well as I could and left him. I have not seen him since but he did survive and miraculously his arm was saved.

Michael E. O'Hara

Michael E. O’Hara

After getting involved with the Khe Sanh Veterans in 1992 I found out Doc Blanchfield was living in Oceanside, California. We talk once a year on the phone. He has never failed to send me a card for each and every holiday since that first call. I still have not seen him. He was very pained by what happened to him and I understand. He did say Thank You that first call.

Like I said earlier, I was in the hospital over this past Veterans Day holiday. Most folks understand that 10 November is the Marine Corps Birthday, so we were also celebrating 240 years of glorious history. That is a very long time for sure, a time in which we have come to celebrate the lives and courageous acts of many from our ranks. I could write pages, even a book or two recounting all of our Heroes for sure.

A wheelchair-bound Marine (a volunteer) was my only visitor on this Marine Corps Birthday. He had lost both legs in Vietnam. We had a grand conversation. He brought me candy, S/F.

I have read a great deal about the wars of the last ten years and the men who have gone in my stead now that I am old and grey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you this generation is lost. I am just as proud of our young Marines today as I ever have been.

And never forget this: Wherever you find these Marines, you will find Doc, ready, willing and able to charge into the guns if necessary. He will, as he has always done, come when he hears the word Doc.

Semper Fidelis to our Navy Corpsmen everywhere you serve.

Michael E. O’Hara served with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during 1967 and 1968. He earned three Purple Hearts.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter, 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 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,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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

June 28, 2012

On Memorial Day, Buena Vista, Iwo Jima, Remembrance and BRAVO!

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Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara, who served with Bravo Company at the Siege of Khe Sanh, muses about remembrance.

I recently was involved with our local Memorial Day ceremonies in which I involved my babies (granddaughters) to a very large degree. About a week before, we were attending a piano recital my oldest was giving at a local church along with many other children.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of the Estate of Daniel Horton

I was sitting there contemplating what I was going to say at the upcoming memorial services as we listened to all the other kids playing before Emma had her turn. There was a huge cross of colored glass embedded in the high wall of the sanctuary and I was sort of mesmerized by its beauty. It came to me as I was sitting there: The truth about what all men come to realize who have experienced the same kind of combat Bravo Company had to endure.

I knew I was going to talk about a young man named Stephen Kennedy. It was 1847 and he was fighting at the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American War. He and the rest of the men from my county were called “Brown County Blues” because they had purchased new denims before going off to war. The battle was nearly over when young Kennedy saw his captain fall from a musket ball to his chest. (Kennedy would eventually marry his captain’s daughter and fight in the Civil War.) Kennedy charged across the fireswept terrain dodging a hail of gunfire and dragged his young captain to a place of safety. Captain Taggart’s dying words were these, “Tell my folks I’ll see them in the good world. Now be a good soldier, Kennedy, and return to your company.”

They buried Captain Taggart there in Mexico in a few days and then they were all off for home. On his way home, young Kennedy came to know these three simple truths, truths that all young men who go off to war soon learn:

1. The Lord had come to claim Captain Taggart’s soul on 23 February 1847. (By the way, that is the same day in 1945 the Marines raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Captain Taggart commanded “E” company. The Marines on Iwo who raised the flag were also “E” company.)

2. Within days young Kennedy would help the earth reclaim his captain’s bones.

3. Most importantly, on the long trek home while traveling up the Mississippi on a steamboat, young Kennedy realized that the duty, the awesome responsibility of carrying home the precious memory of his beloved captain fell to him and him alone. He carried out his duty well for it is duly recorded in many places.

Sound familiar? Is that not what we have all carried with us for so long…those precious memories? Is that not what Betty and Ken have done with BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR? I say so, and I say they both have done it well. Our men will live forever.

You can find details about the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima in an interview of flag-raising participant John Bradley here. For more infomation about the Brown County Blues, check out this link.