Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Betty Rodgers’

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

November 11, 2019

Vieil Ami

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Guest Blogger and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on the passage of time, war, the film and comrades in this blog for Veterans Day, 2019.

Fall 2019

Vieil Ami

When I first arrived in a place that would change my life and the lives of many others forever, it was October 1967. I made many friends, each unique in their own way.

We were Marines, charged with guarding a lonely outpost high in the Annamite Mountains in northwest South Vietnam. It is known as the backbone of Vietnam.

One of my new acquaintances, among many, was a young man from Casa Grande, Arizona. It was a while before we became close. Many nights we would test each other’s knowledge, mostly about history. But time and events would bring us all together. Brothers-in-arms is much more than a simple cliché.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Time would pass and eventually we all went our separate ways. Some forgot and most did not. For many years we all would relive, at least in the memories of our minds, the friends and events that had shaped each and every one of us. Everyone processed that experience differently.

It would be 25 years before I would see my good friend from Casa Grande once again. I would also be introduced to his beautiful wife. We would find ourselves gathering with all those friends from long ago in Washington, DC. It was the 4th of July, 1993, and Bravo Company 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment had assembled once again. We would all descend on “The Wall” to touch the names and remember old comrades who never made it home to “The World.”

Although we stayed in touch over the next few years, it wasn’t until 2009 that he attended his next reunion. It was in Denver. I wasn’t planning on going that year until he called. I could tell he had something on his mind. He came to DC when I asked; I would go to Denver.

Denver was great. Lots of friends from Bravo were there. It would be the last time I saw Danny Horton before he passed. When I arrived, my friend from Casa Grande was there waiting for me to arrive. It was very emotional. Ken Rodgers has been a good friend my entire adult life and his beautiful wife Betty was just awe struck at the emotion we both shared that day over ten long years ago. Much has happened in that time. They have since visited our home twice. Betty and Maxine hit it off well and interestingly, Betty still keeps in touch with my daughters via FB. They all got along very well in DC in ‘93 and remain friends to this day.

But I was curious as to what Ken had on his mind when he called me. He never did really say. However, we were all sitting around a table sharing stories and Betty made the statement what a shame it would be if this was all lost, and someone should be writing it all down. I casually asked her what she was waiting on, not fully understanding what the two of them were thinking.

Within weeks after getting home, they had developed a plan. They were going to make a movie about Bravo Co at Khe Sanh in 1968. Most, not all, showed up in San Antonio next summer and Ken and Betty started filming interviews. For those, like Danny Horton, who couldn’t be there due to health concerns, they went on the road. One year later they debuted what would become one of the most profound war documentaries ever produced.

Common Men
Uncommon Valor

It has earned numerous accolades across the spectrum. It has also brought Ken and Betty great validation for their work. One of the great moments in my life was when Ken and Betty asked me to attend their awards ceremony at the Marine Corps Museum in the spring of 2016. They had received a prestigious award for their work by our peers in the USMC. It was a black tie formal event with more Marine Generals than I had ever seen in one place in my life. Ken and Betty were, as we say colloquially, “standing in tall cotton” and I could not have been happier for them. But he wasn’t going to forget his old friend, either.

Left to Right: Filmmakers Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers, and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. Ohara at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Awards Ceremony. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz

He made sure the Lt. Gen. who was the emcee that evening asked for another Marine to stand for special recognition as a 3 Purple Heart survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh. I have to tell you, it was the proudest day in my Marine life. Even my old friend and CMH recipient Harvey Barnum came over to congratulate me. It was a moment I will cherish forever.

As I stated previously, we all have processed our feelings about those emotionally charged days differently. It would seem “Bravo!” would become my good friend’s catharsis. He and Betty travelled all over the country screening their film at Legion halls, VFW posts, theaters, prisons, universities and more. Sometimes they found sponsorship, other times they just went. As the awards mounted, other folks began to seek them out.

The Commanding Generals of Marine bases found it a useful tool. One such event drew a very large crowd at Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton. Whenever possible, the men from Bravo themselves would show up and participate in after-action discussions. I made 2 such screenings myself in Springfield and Chicago, IL, and went with them to the Marine Basic School in Quantico, VA, where they trained young Marine Officers using Bravo! as a training tool.

They have been pursuing this for ten long years, and are now producing another documentary.

I will always be in touch with my dear friends who now call Boise their home. However, speaking for myself, I believe we are both getting past our need to process our experiences. As another old friend and fellow Vietnam vet likes to say “I’ve put that book back on the shelf.”

I cannot express how good it makes me feel to know that my good friend seems to finally be at peace with the life-changing events that brought us together so many years ago.

Guest blogger Michael E’ O’Hara. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Their film has also helped bring closure to our fellow Marines from Bravo and many other vets who have experienced the healing power of this magnificent piece of American history during the Vietnam War.

Although there are a few Marines from Bravo still living, Ken and I are the last of the 2nd platoon 3rd squad who have maintained contact throughout the years.

Toujours Fidele, Vieil Ami,
Michael E. O’Hara

Michael E. O’Hara served with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Michael, the recipient of three Purple Heart Medals for his wounds while serving at Khe Sanh, is also one of the warriors interviewed for the film BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available @

A digital version of BRAVO! is available in the US on Amazon Prime Video @

In the United Kingdom, BRAVO! is available on Amazon Prime Video UK @

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

June 4, 2014

BRAVO!’s Michael E. O’Hara Delivers a Stirring Speech; News on Upcoming Screenings

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara was the guest speaker at the Brown County, Indiana, Memorial Day celebration hosted by Veterans of Foreign War Post 6195. The event was held on the courthouse lawn and Brown County’s fallen veterans of war were honored. Michael O’Hara is an articulate and passionate man who, when he sets out to do something, does it with an eye to perfection. His speech is moving and memorable and does us all proud. You can read Michael’s speech here:

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo!

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!

On a separate note, as we move into the summer season, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in a number of places. Here’s what we can tell you about future showings right now. We hope you will join us or send an interested friend or relative.

• Springfield, IL – The Staab Family of Springfield presents BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR on June 13, 2014, 7:30 PM, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts located at:

420 South Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois.

The film’s producers, along with several of the men featured in the film, will take part in a Q & A session immediately following the screening. Never before have so many of BRAVO!’s stars attended any one screening. You will meet Cal Bright, John Cicala, Ben Long, Michael E. O’Hara, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers and Tom Quigley. Springfield is Tom Quigley’s hometown. Also in attendance will be the film’s Associate Producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.

This is a free event, but donations will be gratefully accepted for a proposed Purple Heart Memorial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Here’s a link to the radio ad about this event. You will hear the voices of Dan Horton, Steve Wiese and Michael E. O’Hara. Staab Family IN HONOR WEEKEND 060414

Michael O'Hara in Vietnam

Michael O’Hara in Vietnam

• Chicago, IL – Union League American Legion Post 758 presents BRAVO! on July 24, 2014 at the Union League Club of Chicago.
More details to follow.

• Southern California – We are screening the film in Southern California around The Marine Corps Birthday and Veteran’s Day. Specific times, dates and locations to follow.

• If you would like to host a screening in your town this summer or fall, please contact us immediately.
DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

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

July 20, 2012

A Tour of Hell in a Small Space

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Stephen Hunter, former film critic for the Washington Post and creator of the Bob Lee Swagger novels reviews BRAVO!

Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor: A Tour of Hell in a Small Space


We live in an age obnoxious in its corruption of the ancient genre of documentary film. The profusion of cable channels with their insatiable need for product has largely diluted the field with reports from Area 51, speculations on ancient aliens, and re-creations of the Battle of Gettysburg with twenty-five extras. Thus, it’s a privilege and an honor to come across a work as disciplined and rigorous as Ken and Betty Rodgers’s Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. No recreations, no ancient aliens, no saucers.

Just a tour of hell in a very small space, among young men in the prime of life hammered by the existential fury of war. Theirs wasn’t to question why, theirs was do nothing–and die, too many of them. The film is a two-hour examination of the ordeal of the siege at the Marine Operation Base at Khe Sanh from January through July of 1968. The focus is on Bravo-1-26, a Marine infantry company that was on the bull’s-eye for the worst seventy-seven days of the siege, during which life consisted primarily of two endeavors: digging and praying.

The Rodgerses really aren’t interested in history. They provide no voice of authority in the film, no god of context who sets things up geopolitically or even tactically. No pointy-heads or critics explain in front of animated maps the movements of the units, the terrain, the consternation of the policy people ten thousand miles away, the press coverage. Nobody second-guesses or explains, from the safety of a paneled den, what Ken Pipes, Bravo’s CO, should have done. Instead the filmmakers simply let the boys speak. The Rodgerses are noble witnesses who have committed to recording this all-but-forgotten aspect of that all-but-forgotten time and place. And they know enough to turn on the camera and shut up. So the film finds its rhythm in the excellent editing of John Nutt, which juxtaposes the recollection of several Bravo survivors, men and officers, with archival film.

The men are now all middle-aged, wearing the comfortable padding of the good life in the country they fought so hard for. (You will think, as I did: Boy, if anyone ever earned the right to comfort, it was these guys.) As they talk, a narrative emerges, and the Rodgerses and Nutt cut away to mostly grainy film, as well as to the extraordinary photojournalism from the siege by David Douglas Duncan and Robert Ellison. The record reveals much that has been forgotten, if it was ever noted in the first place: the squalor of the installation itself–it looked like a large urban garbage dump by siege’s end–and the feel of the thunder of the incoming.

Other samples of the combat experience emerge, without emotional underlining: the endless fatigue, the endless labor (sandbags had to be filled and stacked each day, human waste had to be burned, supplies had to be offloaded and stockpiled) and the hideousness of what small pieces of heated supersonic metal and vast energy waves of percussion can do to human flesh. The directors also make clever usage of sound; occasionally, the screen goes dark, and all we hear is the sound of bombardment, a living symphony of mayhem, as recorded on site by an enterprising Marine historical officer.

In general, the movie progresses chronologically, its first concern the arrival of the grunts to the site itself and their initial bewilderment at the intensity and complexity of the situation. It follows through long periods of consistent bombardment, the loss of a large patrol, and could be said to “climax”–the word implies melodrama, but the film is defiantly anti-melodramatic–in Bravo’s assault outside the wire late in the siege of a section of NVA trenchline. The arrival, in July of 1968, of a relief force, effectively ending the siege, is not treated as a triumph but a relief.

The tone is modest, severe, and utterly melancholic.

Regardless of one’s position on the politics and the policy that made this episode seem inevitable, one can only wonder at the toughness, the love, and the deep sense of comradeship that got the young Marines–most were twenty or younger–through the ordeal. But no bugles are played, no drums are beaten. The men themselves are now, as they were then, quietly magnificent. No Rambos here, no bravado or warrior zeal.

Most break down at one point or another, and request that the camera be shut down while they compose themselves. Even now, years later, the loss of so many friends and the harrowing nature of the dread that crushed against them are still written vividly on their faces. These are the things that never go away, that we expect our fighters to bear up under. It is pleasing to report that most seem to have done well, and ultimately rejoined and contributed to society. That’s the only happy ending the movie provides.

To call Khe Sanh a “battle” is somewhat misleading. The idea, just like the French plan in 1954, was to expose a large unit to enemy attack, under the assumption that it would prove so tempting that the enemy would soon arrive. The second part of the assumption was that the Marines, with their superior firepower and discipline, would destroy the attacking force and break the back and ultimately the morale of the human waves in the wire. But, as at Dien Bien Phu, the enemy never came. Instead, the NVA lay back and assaulted by mortar, rocket, artillery, and sniper fire.
Only that one time, late in the engagement, did Bravo emerge from the wire and engage North Vietnamese regulars in a brief but bloody attack, vividly recalled here by all who participated.

Still, at the grunt level, the experience was mostly about the play of right-time/right place dynamics, as most of the survivors recollect a moment or seventeen when they went into the hole on the right instead on the left and in the next second the hole on the left was obliterated by a shell. They were all–to cite a famous Bill Mauldin cartoon from World War II–refugees from the law of averages.

The base’s umbilical was resupply by air. Some of the most horrifying moments in Bravo! portray the intensity of arrival and exit, as the C130s hit the runaway in mid-bombardment, spew men and material without ever really coming to a halt, then crank into a 180 at the end of the runway and take off again, all amid bursting shells. Nobody who arrived or departed in that fashion ever forgot it, and the graveyard of burned fuselages and sundered wings that became the central architectural feature of the otherwise low-lying bunker city is an image of war at its fiercest.

A more historically oriented film might cover those brave pilots, as well as the fighter-bomber jocks who slathered the low-lying surrounding hills with napalm and contributed significantly to prevent Khe Sanh from becoming an American Dien Bien Phu, as well as the B-52s that turned much of the outlying jungle to mulch. Such a film might interview someone over the rank of O-3, might even provide a map that would locate Khe Sahn in country and suggest why the war’s managers considered it a good strategy. To their credit, the Rodgerses don’t care. It’s immaterial.

This is a grunt film that looks at history from over the lip of the trench. To watch it is to think: Where did we get such men?

Stephen Hunter was chief film critic for The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post. He is author of the Bob Lee Swagger novels.

Stephen Hunter’s review of BRAVO! is reprinted here with permission from the July/August 2012 issue of The VVA Veteran, the national magazine of the Vietnam Veterans of America.