Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Ken Rodgers’

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

March 21, 2018

Friendly Fire–Fifty Years Gone

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March 21, 1968

On the morning of March 21, 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, went outside the wire. As far as I know, it was the first time anyone had ventured out into the hellscape surrounding the combat base since the Ghost Patrol debacle of 25February1968.

We went out early as the ever-present fog and mist lifted. We got on line, something Marines have done since the United States Marine Corps’ inception in 1775, and we swept off to the southeast towards one of the NVA’s trenchlines.

1st Squad was on the left, 2nd Squad in the middle and 3rd Squad on the right. The platoon sergeant and I were behind the formation, bringing up the rear. I was his radio operator.

Being a short-timer, I shivered and my mouth felt like the cracked bottom of a dry creek bed. I didn’t know what awaited. We went as feelers to test the enemy’s strength. I felt like a little chunk of chum to bait the NVA.

As we tread down an incline into a shallow valley, .50 caliber machine guns opened up from our rear, firing over our heads, giving all of us some cover. I could see the tracer rounds as they streaked like red jets into the tree line on the opposite ridge, our initial destination.

Grenade. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

As our formation neared the summit of the ridge, the .50 calibers firing from our lines were supposed to cease fire. As 3rd Squad reached the summit of the ridge, the .50 caliber fire continued. I witnessed as those big, hot rounds began hitting amongst our marines.

Busy monitoring the radio I carried made it difficult to process what I saw: that instantaneous chaos up there where that friendly fire had hit around our men.

That’s what we called it, “friendly fire,” like it was nothing to worry about. It was our friends shooting at us. So why worry?

My first encounter with friendly fire was on June 7, 1967, when the fire team I was in went out on an LP on Hill 881 South. One of our own men evidently hadn’t received the word about our departure. We exited the south gate and swung around on the west side below the wire a ways and settled in.

Not long after, something bounced in among us and the fire team leader, a seasoned warrior name John T. Poorman, said, “Grenade.” It went off right there amongst the four of us. We didn’t wait around, thinking it was the NVA sneaking up for an assault. We went straight up, with Poorman jabbering into the handset of our radio that we were “coming in.” We barged through the wire barrier in front of one of our machine gun bunkers.

Fortunately only one person was hit. It was Corporal Poorman, and his wound wasn’t serious.
We soon found out that one of our machine gunners, thinking the hill was about to be probed, lobbed that grenade down there. He was a “friendly.”

On a sunny morning in the fall of 1967, 2nd Platoon patrolled at the bottom of Hill 881 South when attacked by two Marine Corps Hueys. Lucky for us, a lot of big boulders were lodged in the creek we followed so we dove behind them and lay low while our lieutenant pleaded with someone out in radio frequency land to get those choppers to stop firing rockets and machine guns at us. They were friendly, too, and luckily, no one was hit this time.

But on 21March1968, someone did get hit, in the back, by friendly fire. Corporal Jacobs, 3rd Squad’s leader, took one in the back that destroyed his flak jacket and flayed the skin and muscles of his back. He required a lot of stitches but lived and went on to fight and earn laurels for his bravery and leadership in Vietnam. He was a hell of a Marine.

I have always marveled at the way the military, or large organizations of most kinds, like to coin a term for something that lowers war’s brutal nature to a case where the brutality appears less vicious, damaging, deadly.

Friendly fire. The word is accurate but infers incongruity, and if you are the one getting hit by friendly fire, it ain’t friendly.

People tend to blame things like friendly fire on the chaos of war and I suppose there is some truth to that, but there is also the human factor: not paying attention to what is going on and not doing your job, like passing along word about something, your own guys, your allies moving into harm’s way.

On 21Mar68 we made it back into the base and were exhilarated because, other than five Marines wounded by enemy activity and one by friendly fire, we got in the enemy’s trench, reached all our checkpoints and returned to our area without any of our own being KIA.

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

At the time, I recall thinking that the enemy had finally hightailed it back into Laos or up north to their own country. But the next night, the NVA laid an artillery shelling on us like we’d only endured a few times. They pounded the hell out of Bravo Company’s lines and I spent the night with my face buried in a fighting bunker. Unbeknownst to us, not far from our lines, the NVA massed for an attack with the intent of overrunning us, killing us all, or if not all, then marching our remnants up the Ho Chi Minh Trail into years of captivity.

But that assault was shattered by our own air strikes and artillery and lucky for us, none of that supporting fire went awry to kill any of us with “friendly fire.”

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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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 6, 2018

March 6—50 Years Gone

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In late February and on the 1st Day of March, 1968, the NVA massed at least a regiment out to our front with the intention of overrunning the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Deep down in our guts, where the kind of knowledge resides that keeps you alive—not the information we learn later in life, but the intuitive stuff that dwells in our guts from our early ages—we knew they were out there and that they meant to kill or imprison us all. Knowing that turned us into salty, irreverent and determined men. We cleaned and loaded our M16s, our M60s, our M79s and waited for death to show his face.

Lucky for us, B-52 raids and heavy artillery attacks on the massing enemy forces blunted the impending assault.

Ron Ryan, KIA 6March68. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

Even though we never had to face crack NVA sappers breaching our concertina wire barriers during the 77 day seige, the consistent pounding of the incoming rounds and the threat of more attacks wore on us like big-gritted sandpaper rasping on soft wood.

On March 6th, a C-130 with the call sign BOOKIE 762 flew to Khe Sanh from Danang with a load of Marines, Navy Corpsmen and the freelance photographer Robert Ellison whose photos of the Siege of Khe Sanh became famous and who we’ve written about before in this blog series.

A near mishap with another aircraft forced BOOKIE 762 to abort its landing. The C-130 flew away from the combat base and crashed into a fog-enshrouded mountain, killing all aboard.

Stretchers at Khe Sanh. Photo by Dave Powell.

There were at least five Marines from Bravo, 1/26 on that flight, most returning from R & R. There were also a number of PFCs listed as being with H & S Company, 1/26, some of whom I am sure were new guys bound for Bravo Company as replacements for the casualties of the Ghost Patrol.

There were two men on that flight that I knew or knew of: the photographer, Ellison, and Corporal Ron Ryan, a machine gun team leader who had been with Bravo since the fall of ’67.

When people you know, and people you are related to by virtue of being in the same company, die, the realization that they will not be coming back gets up on your shoulders and weighs you down, and when the deaths accumulate, the accumulated burden debilitates more and more and more.

When I think of those deaths now, fifty years later, the thoughts still dredge up images of those Khe Sanh days, reminding me of the stacks of stretchers we would see outside the battalion aid station or Charlie Med.

The American poet, Dorianne Laux has written, “No matter what the grief, its weight,/we are obliged to carry it.”*

And with the added burden of the deaths of the men on BOOKIE 762, our grief, its weight, drove us down down down further into the depths of despair. And as the verse says, we were definitely bound to bear the weight. Which we did. Which we do.

When the word came down of the wreck of that plane, a bunch of us were standing in the trench jiving around, and “shooting the moose,” as I recall it. And then we were informed of the deaths—more deaths—and it was like there was no end to death and there would be no end and we were there to receive it and see it and deal with it.

We choked on the words stuffed down our throats, wanting to let them out. But they were trapped inside. All of us sucked long, hard drags on a Lucky, a Winston or a Salem and stared at the red mud deck, the chiseled red walls of the trench. Our thoughts about those men, Ryan, and the others, shrouded us, left us wondering if we would be next. Would it be us?

Lance Corporal R, a former mortician’s assistant from Albany, Georgia, with whom I had served in Bravo Company for almost a year, looked at me and shook his head.

A genuine wit and one of the great homespun philosophers with whom I have ever come in contact, he shook his head again and whispered to me, “Lord, don’t you know it’s a terrible thing.”

He paused, and from experience I knew he had more to say on the subject. He looked me dead in the eye for what seemed like a long time—his eyes seemed bigger than normal, their whites like lighted flares in the night—and then he said, “Better them than me.”

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh prior to the beginning of the siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

The brutal honesty of that saying, that moment, bored right down inside my guts and made me stop and ask myself what the hell I thought I was doing in Khe Sanh, the Marine Corps. Was a world so brutal as what we found at Khe Sanh something I wanted to be part of?

And even though I realized I agreed with him, and secretly reveled in my survival, I still felt some kind of guilt, some kind of loss, because those men would not be coming back to us—their family in Vietnam—nor would they go back to hug their mothers and their sisters, their wives and girlfriends.

And there was a passel of grief tied up in the notions that bombarded me as I kept thinking of those men, thinking of Lance Corporal R’s words, feeling guilty because I was alive.

And the grief weighed down and I am obliged to carry it—even now.

*Dorianne Laux, “For the Sake of Strangers,” from her book of poems, WHAT WE CARRY.

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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,Khe Sanh,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 26, 2016

When a Community Honors Their Own

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We have been all over the USA showing Bravo! to groups of people who’ve invited us. It’s always gratifying when someone wants it shown locally in Southwestern Idaho, which happened last November. The Boise State Veteran Services Office hosted a screening as part of the Veterans Week activities on campus.

Attending that event were women from the local Eagle Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, also known as the NSDAR. Not long before meeting them in person, we learned that they had decided to nominate Bravo! co-producer Ken Rodgers for the NSDAR’s Founders Medal for Patriotism, a very prestigious national award given to a person “who has displayed outstanding patriotism in the promotion of our country’s ideals of God, home, and country.” As part of this country’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, this was intended to thank Ken for serving, and for telling the powerful story of his company of Marines through film.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

The submission involved a lot of effort, including letters of recommendation from across the nation. We were thrilled when we learned that the award had indeed been granted by the national committee, and that it would be presented locally by the Eagle Chapter.

So on May 12, we got dressed up and drove to the Bishop Tuttle House in downtown Boise for the event. When we arrived, the ladies busied themselves with setting up the podium, tying balloons and decorating tables while we greeted a wonderful crowd of friends, old and new.

Visiting before the beginning of the ceremony. Left to Right: Lance Thompson; Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel; Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services, Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs, Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel, Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

We were gratified by the diversity and size of the gathering that came to be a part of the evening. These folks represented a chunk of the many friends that we have met in Idaho over the years.

Before the festivities commenced, Ken was awarded his own special tribute by eight-and-a-half-year-old Nicholle Bacon, a handmade certificate that was so spontaneous and so special he hung it in his office.

The program started with a welcome from Shannon Lind, an invocation by Jana Kemp, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Barbara Grant, and the American’s Creed led by Anita Allex.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

Then we heard comments from three champions of Bravo!. Lance Thompson spoke about how Ken resolved to give voice to those who had so long kept silent. Elaine Ambrose noted, “We were – and are – exact opposites. Ken’s quiet, distinguished, respected, and reserved. I’m noisy, clumsy, tolerated by others, and regarded as a comedienne. But, we both love to write, we honor our military, and we love our country.” Norma Jaeger gave us two quotes during her comments: Isak Dinesen said, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.”

Ken was then presented with the beautiful medal, and an American flag that has flown over both the US Capitol in Washington, DC, and the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. This was followed by Rebecca Bowen-Odom, who, along with her husband, Ron, was the mastermind behind the award. Rebecca read a congratulatory letter from Mindy Kammeyer, Reporter General of the NSDAR. Apparently Mindy was a flight attendant during the Vietnam War, serving our young men as they flew off to Vietnam, and then when they came back home again.

Ken spoke briefly about what the award and the film mean to him, commenting that he is not a rah-rah-let’s-go-to-war kind of patriot, but one who wishes to remember all who have dedicated a portion of their lives in service to our country. He closed his remarks by naming some of the men in his Bravo Company band of brothers who either lost their lives in Vietnam, or have since passed away. Those names became a very moving work of poetry.

A complete surprise was in store at this point in the program when Bravo! co-producer Betty Rodgers was presented with the NSDAR award for Excellence in Community Service for her part in producing the film.

Finishing up the evening with a bang was Idaho’s Senator Marv Hagedorn who spoke about his own military background, and then read a proclamation from the governor of Idaho, C. L. “Butch” Otter, declaring May 12 as Kenneth and Betty Rodgers Day! One of the whereas statements reads thusly:

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening's awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening’s awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

WHEREAS, those whom see “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor” will forever remember the story of the Siege of Khe Sanh, understand that freedom is not free and recognize that combat lives on forever in the daily lives of those who have experienced it.

The proclamation further states that the awards represent our “combined efforts to honor the service of Vietnam War veterans and their families.”

And that is where we turn to you, dear reader, and say we share these accolades with every single person who has walked the walk with us in one way or another. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we thank the NSDAR for the recognition, and especially Barbara Grant for her energy in keeping us informed throughout the entire months-long process.

Boise’s KTVB Channel 7, the NBC affiliated station, was on board to record the ceremony. You can view a short clip here.

As BRAVO! Marine Steve Wiese always says, “Bravo lives on!”

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

July 29, 2015

BRAVO! at the Northgate

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Earlier this month, BRAVO! was treated to some pretty special attention in Idaho. Filmmakers Betty and Ken Rodgers were the guests of Maggie O’Mara of Idaho’s KTVB Channel 7, the NBC affiliate in the southwestern part of the state. Maggie interviewed both Betty and Ken, gave them the distinction of Seven’s Heroes, and produced a short piece about the making of BRAVO!.

Later in the week, the Rodgers went on live TV with KTVB’s Carolyn Holly in a segment that included the interview with Maggie. Carolyn wanted to talk about the film, the Vietnam War and about a screening of BRAVO! that occurred at Boise’s Northgate Reel Theater on July 2, 2015. You can see the 3-minute news clip here.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers preparing for interview at Boise's KTVB.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers preparing for interview at Boise’s KTVB.

The screening at Northgate was a fundraiser for Eagle, Idaho’s FIELD OF HONOR and was attended by one hundred filmgoers.

Eagle’s FIELD OF HONOR is a living tribute, flying six hundred American flags to “show appreciation to U.S. military personnel, including our veterans, who defend our freedoms and preserve the country’s safety.” The annual celebration begins on Armed Forces Day and runs through Memorial Day weekend. You can find out more about the Eagle Field of Honor here.

The BRAVO! crew really enjoyed working with Field of Honor organizers Heather Paredes and Kathy Coburn. We met a lot of great folks at the July 2nd screening, and enjoyed visiting with BRAVO! supporters young and old.

Left to right: The Eagle Field of Honor's Heather Paredes and BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers at the screening of BRAVO! at Boise's Northgate Reel Theaters.

Left to right: The Eagle Field of Honor’s Heather Paredes and BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers at the screening of BRAVO! at Boise’s Northgate Reel Theaters.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town in late summer, fall, or 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 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,Vietnam War

January 7, 2015

Author Julie Titone Muses on War and Writing

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When I drive U.S. Highway 95 through North Central Idaho, I often stop near the top of White Bird Hill. A shelter there overlooks the battlefield where Nez Perce braves tangled with the U.S. Cavalry in 1877 before taking their epic flight toward Canada.

One time, a Montana family was there beside me, surveying the high-country panorama. Two grade-school boys were debating who kicked whose butt in the historic battle. Finally the younger one turned to his mom and asked, “Did we lose?”

An older man who was with them replied. He said: “Everybody loses in war.”

Book cover for BOOCOO DINKY DOW, MY SHORT CRAZY VIETNAM WAR

Book cover for BOOCOO DINKY DOW, MY SHORT, CRAZY VIETNAM WAR

Uncle or grandpa, I don’t know. But I’d bet that man was a veteran. I heard his same weary conviction in the voice of Ken Rodgers when he told me once, “Nobody hates war more than a soldier.”

If you’re reading this, you know Ken served in Vietnam. He and his wife, Betty, created the “Bravo!” documentary about the siege of Khe Sanh, capturing the memories of Ken and the other Marines who survived those 77 hellish days. They travel widely to screen the film.

I know Ken and Betty because I’ve been on a similar journey, giving readings from the Grady Myers memoir “Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War.” The title comes from the way American soldiers pronounced beaucoup dien cai dau, a French-Vietnamese expression that meant very crazy. Off the wall.

I was married to Grady during the 1980s. Like Betty, I was the wife who decided those war memories should be preserved. Besides, as a journalist, I knew a good story when I saw one: A funny, artistic and nearsighted Boise teenager is transformed into Hoss, an M-60 machine gunner who nearly dies in battle.

PFC Grady Myers

PFC Grady Myers

I was the scribe for “Boocoo Dinky Dow.” Grady, a professional artist, provided illustrations. After he died in 2011, I published the book.

I found it satisfying to honor a talented man, the father of my son, by making his experiences part of the Vietnam War literature. “Boocoo Dinky Dow” is in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial archives and Texas Tech’s Vietnam Archive. It has found its way into libraries and veterans’ centers, has been discussed in book stores and living rooms. Grady’s war-related artwork is now in the permanent collection of the National Veterans Art Museum.

Publication did more than end a decades-long book project. It started a personal journey. My life is richer for the torrent of stories coming back at me in return for sharing Grady’s.

I’ve heard stories from Marines, Navy and Army vets. But also from nurses and protesters and USO performers. And COs who were conscientious objectors and COs who were commanding officers. And pilots and submariners, professors and cops. And women who waited for brothers and sons who came back unscathed, at least on the outside. I’ve talked to people forged by war and people broken by it.

Even the stories I don’t hear intrigue me. At “Boocoo Dinky Dow” readings, I’ve learned to watch for the guy at the back of the room, a guy in his 60s. He sits there, arms crossed, maybe nods a time or two. As others in the audience come up to chat, I look over their shoulders and see him head out the door. Can he not bring himself to talk about what he did in the war, having suffered what journalist David Wood calls “moral injury”?

Author Julie Titone and Vietnam Veteran Bill Crist at the National Veterans Art Museum

Author Julie Titone and Vietnam Veteran Bill Crist at the National Veterans Art Museum

Maybe he doesn’t feel worthy of recognition. Or doesn’t think he’ll get it. One combat vet told me, “I don’t want to be thanked for my service. I didn’t want to go. I was drafted.” Two sentences later, he was explaining how he worked hard not to resent Iraq and Afghanistan vets for having been welcomed home by the public.

Mixed emotions and complexity are the hallmarks of this war-story enterprise. How must it feel to have watched buddies die in a war that became a synonym for failure? Last time I Googled the words “another Vietnam,” there were 143,000 results.

I feel plenty of confusion myself. I grapple with the increasing awareness that, in addition to horror and waste, war yields friendship, pride, and the occasional vanquishment of evil. War is a stage for both despicable crimes and crystalline acts of conscience. As Grady’s memoir and the “Bravo!” documentary show, war can inspire art.

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

Author Julie Titone with Khe Sanh Veteran Steve Orr

When Ken told me that “nobody hates war more than a soldier,” he was responding to some angst I shared with him. I was fretting about the fine line that exists between honoring warriors and promoting wars. I didn’t want to step over that line. Frankly, I’m still not sure where it is.

But Ken is right. Most combat veterans fully understand the words that Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe said in surrender. That he was tired of fighting. That he would fight no more, forever.

Julie Titone’s articles and photographs have appeared in regional, national and international publications as well as college textbooks and literary collections. She lives in Everett, WA. To learn more about the authors of “Boocoo Dinky Dow” and to order the book, visit shortcrazyvietnam.com.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

November 12, 2014

On Rosie the Welder and Other Folks Who Served Our Country

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I used to travel to Sonoma County, California, back in the early seventies and it seemed to me the place seethed with hatred of our war efforts in not just Vietnam, but all over the world. In my mind, the place was anti-war, anti-Vietnam, and in some cases anti-me.

I don’t think I’m the only person who felt that way. Parts of Northern California have earned a reputation as anti-military, anti-war.

Nevertheless, Betty and I moved to Sonoma County in 1990. Was it anti-war? Maybe. For a lot of folks. Did I care? Hard to say. Mostly I kept my nose to the work stone and spent my time living, keeping my war experiences held close and not for public consumption.

Tom Croft, emcee for the 14th Annual Sonoma County Tribute to Our Veterans. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Tom Croft, emcee for the 14th Annual Sonoma County Tribute to Our Veterans.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We moved from California after living there for 15 years. After our move, we began to travel, to write, to photograph and make a film about the Siege of Khe Sanh. The genesis of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR has led us across the country, Massachusetts to Texas, Idaho to Rochester, Minnesota. Fallbrook, California and Vista, California and San Francisco.

Last week we were back in Sonoma County where we were guests at the Sonoma County Tribute to Veterans Celebration. Eight hundred folks—some veterans, some not—attended the luncheon and panel discussion.

This tribute has been going on for 14 years. When we lived in Sonoma County, I’d heard about it. But Sonoma County, in my mind, was a place that didn’t have much truck with warriors. I was wrong.

Sponsored by a number of local Sonoma County Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs and emceed by our friend, Navy Corpsman Tom Croft, this event is one successful model for, in my estimation, how an homage to veterans tribute should look.

Vietnam War Army medic Ezbon Jen proctored a panel of veterans who talked about their war experiences. I (Ken Rodgers) served as a representative for the Vietnam War. Retired Army Colonel Pete Peterka, who first fought in World War II as a Marine, represented WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Regan Masi, a United States Air Force vet, represented the post-9/11 conflicts. Phyllis Gould spoke to the audience as one of our country’s original “Rosie the Welders” during World War II.

Out in the crowd, I saw uniforms on bent bodies that spoke to me of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge. I met Vietnam vets who ride their motorcycles all over the west to funerals for Vietnam vets. I met a former Navy pilot whose father was a colonel of Marines who spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s allegations against loyal American citizens. The Commandant of the Marine Corps eventually asked for this colonel’s resignation and got it, and now the colonel’s son has carried on the family tradition as an ardent spokesman for Veterans for Peace.

I once thought that Veterans for Peace were men and women who, because they were for peace, were against those who fought in war. But in my recent experience, I don’t think that’s the case. They just want peace and who doesn’t? No one hates war like a man or woman clamped in the teeth of fright as he or she is compelled to kill his or her enemy.

Panel Members, left to right: Phyllis Gould, Regan Masi, Colonel Pete Peterka, Ken Rodgers. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Panel Members, left to right: Phyllis Gould, Regan Masi, Colonel Pete Peterka, Ken Rodgers.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

And so, last week it was very gratifying for me to see the nearly 800 folks collected together to honor veterans of many wars. And in a place that has had a reputation for not liking or supporting veterans.

You can view a short YouTube clip of Ezbon Jen interviewing Ken Rodgers @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyvcD-XMSWY.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Newport Beach, California, this Saturday, November 15, at 10:00 AM. American Legion Post 291 will host the screening at their facility located at 215 E. 15th Street, Newport Beach. Your $10.00 donation at the door will benefit the Fisher House of Southern California which offers shelter and support for veterans who are dealing with a medical crisis. Come out and see this profound film and support the Fisher House.

If you or your organization 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 raise more public awareness of this film.

Film Screenings

July 23, 2014

BRAVO! in CHICAGO!

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Tomorrow night, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in the Crystal Room at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois. Registration will begin at 5:00 PM, with opening remarks at 5:15. The screening will begin promptly at 5:30. A question and answer period will follow the screening from 7:30 to 8:00. On hand for the Q & A will be BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, Khe Sanh Veteran and retired Chicago police officer Tom Eichler, and Co-producers of the film, Ken and Betty Rodgers.

Union League Club of Chicago

Union League Club of Chicago

The event is free but you must reserve a seat by going to: https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com. There will be snacks available and a signature/cash bar with beverages of your choice. Please note, the attire is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

The screening is sponsored in part by American Legion Post 758, the Union League Club of Chicago, and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.

Here are the bios for the folks on the Q & A panel:

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!
Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael O’Hara was wounded three times at Khe Sanh before he returned to the US to finish his enlistment as a Primary Weapons Instructor. After his release from active duty on the early release program, Michael went back to Indiana to become a homebuilder. For more than 20 years, he has been a major force in Brown County, Indiana veterans affairs, owning a big heart for all combat veterans past and present.

Tom Eichler, a Chicago native son, was with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh where he was wounded and awarded the Silver Star for his actions. Discharged in 1968, he joined the Chicago Police Department where he served until his retirement, and remains one of their most decorated officers. He currently serves as President and Treasurer of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association.

Tom Eichler

Tom Eichler

Ken Rodgers is the man who wrote, co-produced and co-directed Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. He recalls standing on the heliport at Dong Ha after leaving Khe Sanh, looking back at the Annamite Mountains where the battle occurred, and thinking, That’s one hell of a story. It took Ken a lifetime as a controller and business manager to find his true calling as a filmmaker and finally tell this story of the siege, the story of his Bravo Company brothers, his Khe Sanh brothers…the story of all Vietnam veterans.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken’s wife Betty Rodgers grew up in a family of veterans with a WWII-era mother who believed in recording veterans’ stories so their sacrifices would be remembered by future generations. After attending Khe Sanh Veteran reunions with her husband, she realized his story and the story of these men would eventually be lost, so she proposed this film…this collaboration with Ken…as a way to preserve Bravo Company’s unique moment in history.

Betty Rodgers

Betty Rodgers

Please join us for this memorable event.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall or winter, 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 you can help spread the word about the film.

Guest Blogs

May 28, 2014

BRAVO!

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Guest blogger Lance Thompson has been a tireless supporter of BRAVO! as well as a member of our loosely formed but essential Advisory Board. The producers of BRAVO! are indebted to him for these services as well as his unending encouragement.

One way to evaluate a creative work is to repeat the experience. Whether it’s a book, a song, a painting or a film, a creative work can usually make some sort of impression the first time. It is on subsequent occasions when the quality is determined.

The last time I saw Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor was more than a year ago at a screening at Boise State University. Several of the veterans who are featured were on hand to answer audience questions. The film was well received and the audience was clearly moved. The experiences of the Marines had a profound impact on those who viewed the film.

Lance Thompson Photo courtesy of Kearney Thompson

Lance Thompson
Photo courtesy of Kearney Thompson

So I wondered, now that I know the story, have seen the interviews, and am familiar with the incidents that are described in the film, would my reaction be the same? I was a little surprised that my experience was different. On first viewing, I thought Bravo! could have been shortened, that some interviews were repetitive, and that certain editorial choices were questionable. During the most recent viewing, I found no problem with the length or the pace, and the interviews lost none of their impact. In fact, I found myself wondering about what material was left over. I wanted to know more about these men, wanted to hear more from them, because this film still makes me care deeply about them.

My wife is a career coach for creative people. One of the issues her clients often bring up is whether or not they can make a living in a creative industry. While she assures them it is quite possible, the question shouldn’t be whether or not a creative person can make a living. It should be whether or not a creative person can make a difference.

Creative media have great potential to reach and affect a wide audience. This power can be wasted in works whose primary attributes are sensational, meaningless and transitory. But the best creative works illuminate, inform, and inspire.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Sherry Briscoe and KIVI-TV Anchor Don Nelson. Photo courtesy of Pamela Thompson.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Sherry Briscoe and KIVI-TV Anchor Don Nelson.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Thompson.

Ken and Betty Rodgers are undeniably creative people. They are accomplished practitioners of prose, poetry, photography, and now documentary film making. Additionally, they support and encourage other creative people. When they decided to make this film, they committed their creative talents to a worthy cause.

Any honest war film raises the implicit question of why. Why did it happen, why did it cost so much, why was I there? Ever since I saw the first rough cut of Bravo!, I knew the answer to one of those questions for at least one of the Marines. Ken Rodgers was there so that he could tell this story. But he couldn’t do it by himself. That’s why Betty Rodgers is there. It took both of them to commit to this project which has taken more time, effort and hard work than either of them ever anticipated. But if not for them, then the voices in Bravo! would never have been heard.

Ken and Betty Rodgers used the creative talents they both possess in abundance to honor those who have earned it. Through this film, they have revealed truth, stirred emotion and brought light to darkness. For those who have little or no knowledge of this moment in history, the experience of combat, or the sacrifices made by Americans in uniform, Bravo! offers insight and honesty both rare and vital to any work that stands the test of time.

So if you are browsing through the DVD collection and wondering if Bravo! is worth another look, I assure you it is. You’ll find the themes timeless, the voices truthful, and the impact undiminished.

Lance Thompson has written for television, been a script doctor for motion pictures, and is an award-winning motion picture advertising consultant on over 500 campaigns. He has written for magazines and newspapers here and in the UK. He conducts screenwriting workshops and was founding president of Idaho Media Professionals. He recently had his original screenplay DC Undercover optioned by Picturewell Studios in Los Angeles. As an actor, he has appeared in Discovery Investigation’s I Was Murdered, and was host of Treasure Valley Community Television programs Capital Rap and Idaho Media Showcase.

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

July 15, 2013

BRAVO! To Screen in Southern Arizona

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The Paramount Theater, in Casa Grande, AZ, will be screening BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR in a benefit for the Pinal County Veterans Memorial Foundation.

Casa Grande, AZ is BRAVO! co-producer and co-director Ken Rodgers’ home town.

Details about the screening are below.

The Paramount Theater’s Paramount Film Fest

PROUDLY PRESENTS:

An Independent Film Documentary by

Casa Grande’s own Ken & Betty Rodgers

“BRAVO!” COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR

The 77-day Siege of Khe Sanh

A story of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion,

26th Marines during the Vietnam War

The event is to benefit the Pinal County Veterans Memorial Foundation

THURSDAY – JULY 25, 2013 – 7 PM

TICKETS, $10.00 EACH and MAY BE PURCHASED online – www.paramountfoundation.org,
or by CALLING (520) 836-4200 OR YOU CAN BUY TICKETS AT THE DOOR

PARAMOUNT THEATRE 420 N. FLORENCE STREET, CASA GRANDE, AZ 85122

DVDs of BRAVO! will be on sale at the Casa Grande screening and are also now for sale at https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please like us at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/.

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

January 19, 2013

BRAVO!: An Appreciation

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BRAVO! supporter Jean Hegland muses about the film, history and the Vietnam War

Although I grew up with the Viet Nam war, it was never very real to me. I was born in 1956, and in the 1960s when my parents began to watch the nightly news on our family’s first television, reports of Viet Nam conflict were nightly fare when I wandered into the living room to check on dinnertime. After Walter Cronkite had finally announced, “And that’s the way it is,” and the television was turned off, discussions about the wrongness of the war and the inadequacies of the politicians who were promoting it were often a topic of my parents’ conversation as we ate.

But despite its frequent appearance in my family’s living and dining rooms, in many ways the Viet Nam war was an abstraction. I knew my parents were against the war—I couldn’t fathom how anyone could actually be for the crumpled bodies and destroyed landscapes I glimpsed on our TV screen—but no one I knew was directly affected by the conflict. My parents’ affiliation with the military had ended when they were discharged at the end of World War II (my father from the Army and my mother from the WAVES); and the draft was cancelled and the conflict in Viet Nam was officially over before any of my brothers or boyfriends were impacted. Later, when I went to college, there were few vets in the circles I ran in, and those I did meet—and occasionally even dated—seemed very reluctant to discuss their experiences in what they called “Nam.”

I suppose I was used to veterans staying silent about their war experiences. Although my mother privately told me that my father had been decorated for his service when he was a medic in the South Pacific, he himself never spoke of his experiences to anyone. I never heard my uncle or my aunt speak about their experiences in WWII, either, nor my other uncle who had been a fighter pilot in Korea, nor my great uncle who fought in France in WWI. And of course my ancestors who’d fought for the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War and those who fought for America during the Revolutionary War were also silent.

Novels such as Johnny Got His Gun, and The Red Badge of Courage, and later, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Things They Carried, and Matterhorn taught me a little about what war might be like for a soldier, but I have Ken and Betty Rodger’s remarkable documentary film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to thank for bringing the experience of soldiers at the Siege of Khe Sanh excruciatingly close.

I understand that no one who wasn’t there can ever really appreciate what those men endured during the 77 days of siege, and I also have some inkling of what a truly remarkable group that particular battalion of soldiers were, but after having watched Bravo! I feel I know much more than I did before about a soldier’s experience of the horror, pity—and glory—of war.

I wonder if anyone can listen to Cal, John, Daniel, Ken Korkow, Ben, Frank, Mike, Ken Pipes, Tom, Ron, Ken Rodgers, Lloyd, Peter, Steve, and Michael share their stories without experiencing both shudders and tears, if anyone can watch that film and not be haunted by it afterwards. Each time I watch Bravo!, I am appalled by the situation those men—then kids the age of my lovely son and his dear friends—were literally thrust into as they leapt out of moving planes and had to scurry to safety. I am heartbroken by the suffering they endured and the appalling waste that occurred. But I am also struck by the fierce, bright spirit of each of those men, by their commitment to each other in the face of such horrible odds. I am stirred not only by their courage in 1968 when they sacrificed so much to defend what turned out to be “a worthless patch of ground,” but also by their courage now, as veterans willing to risk further tears and nightmares in order to share their memories with the rest of us. Thanks to them, I feel I understand much more than I did before—not enough, to be sure, but a great deal more.

Bravo! has not changed the opinion I grew up with that the Viet Nam War was a horrible mistake, but it has deepened my sympathy for everything that those who fought in it endured, increased my appreciation for everything that they achieved, and my gratitude for the huge sacrifices that they made. It has given me fresh insight into all the silent warriors in my own family, too, and has encouraged me to reflect on the strange and compelling machine that war is, and why it is that we humans seem to have such a hard time getting beyond it. For all that, I am very grateful.

In addition to expressing my gratitude to the brave men who allowed their intimate stories to be captured on film, I also want to applaud Ken and Betty Rodgers, whose hard work and commitment brought Bravo! into being, and whose skill as interviewers (along with Mark Spear) and vision and craft as story-shapers helped to make Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor the compelling—and transformational—film that it is.

Jean Hegland is the author of the novels Into the Forest and Windfalls.